The ABCs of Building Your Picture Book Collection

What, you thought you could just walk into a bookstore and buy a book? How do you determine whether or not a picture book is worthy, not only of your book budget, but also the limited bookshelf space in your home?

A good picture book has universal appeal and is worth adding to your home library regardless of the ages of your children. I have learned, with regret, that most titles do not remain in print forever, and used copies are often exorbitantly priced.

I began investing in my personal collection of picture books almost twenty years ago. One of my earliest purchases, Reynard the Fox by Alan Vaes, is a lovely volume, but has been largely ignored. This morning, my 11yo son brought it to me, sharing the details in the illustrations he had particularly enjoyed.

My nearly twenty-year-old investment is accruing interest.

How do you develop a good picture book library? A trusted review or booklist is a great place to begin, but the purchase decision is subjective. Here, in extended detail, is the process I generally follow from first sight to final say.

An Alphacritical Approach to the Evaluation and Acquisition of Picture Books for Personal Collection Development

Appealing artwork (yes, I first judge a book by its cover.)

Book title (Is it clever? Promising? Or yet another “I love you” book?)

Curiosity (Am I intrigued enough to pick it up?)

Discovery (I open the book…)

Endpages (Sometimes plain, but there are often clever devices such as quilt designs in The Quiltmaker’s Gift or the Elephant and Piggie books)

Frontmatter (The story might actually begin on the title page)

General storyline (Either flip through or read it)

How it’s written (Quality matters)

Illustrations (Beautiful or dippy? Do they enhance the story or just break up the text?)

Juvenile appeal (Will this appeal to the intended audience? Is it written for children, or a nostalgic book for adults?)

Keep reading? (Is it good enough to finish, or have you closed the book already and put it back on the shelf?)

Love the ending? (Satisfying conclusion? Predictable?)

Make a difference in your life or someone else’s? (Do you see the world in a fresh way?)

New pleasure or experience? (Does it make you laugh? Help you love your neighbor?)

Other’s opinions (Ask a child or a friend if you aren’t sure or if you love it and want to see if they agree)

Purchase or borrow? (Will this be readily available at your library, or is it worth buying so you can read it for years to come and share it with friends?)

Questions to share with a listener or another reader (Did you notice? What was your favorite…)

Read it again? (And again and again?)

Story (Is it beautifully written? For explanation, see here)

Truth (Does it profoundly reflect God’s Truth? Again, see here)

Universal or limited use? (A good picture book has universal appeal, for multiple ages and seasons of life.)

Value (Okay, do I buy it new? Used? Order on Amazon or support my local independent bookstore?)

Where do I shelve it? (Ummm…)

X (Cross palms with coin or sign the check or credit card confirmation)

Yes!!! (You did it!)

Zealously share it. Read it aloud. Or leave it lying on the coffee table for someone else to admire the artwork, behold the book title, and curiously discover the book. Because that’s how your investment accrues interest.

If my family were establishing a picture book collection for a new library on a desert island, here are the first ten we would put in our backpack:

(Thank you for indulging my creative whimsy. That’s more than ten, so I’ll have to leave behind the can opener, I guess.)

Looking for more great suggestions? There are plenty of enticing lists in the forthcoming Redeemed Reader Companion!

What would you add to the New Island Free Public Picture Book Library?

Support our writers and help keep Redeemed Reader ad-free.

FREE through January 31!

Reading Ahead for You

Reviews and Resources Weekly in Your Inbox
Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.


Megan is Associate Editor for Redeemed Reader who loves nothing more than helping readers (and non-readers) find books which are not only a good fit for them, but also combine Truth and Story. She has never regretted reading all those fairy tales in childhood, even though she didn’t realize at the time how much they matter to real life. She is the founder of Literaritea Press and plans to publish her first picture book soon. Megan lives with her husband and five boys in Virginia where she enjoys knitting, playing with words, and mountain views.


  1. Betsy on September 28, 2018 at 6:51 am

    Love it! I’d add Burton’s Katy and the Big Snow to the other Burton books and still count that as one book :-). My boys are voting for Becker’s wordless trio: Journey, Quest, and Return. I’m partial to The Right Word by Bryant/Sweet. But I can’t even begin to narrow it down to 10 books. THANK GOODNESS I could count Elephant and Piggie as early readers and not have to factor them into this exercise….

  2. Sarah on October 1, 2018 at 10:24 am

    Definitely the Quiltmaker books, The Quiltmaker’s Gift and The Quiltmaker’s Journey, The Gardener (I cry every time), Seven Simeons, The Prince in the Golden Tower, the Beckers’ books, Frances books, Chrysanthemum, (perhaps a collection of Kevin Henkes), The Squire and the Scroll…not sure what else. Thanks, this was fun!

  3. K. Hollister on October 3, 2018 at 7:48 am

    I love “The Little House,” by Birginia Lee Burton, and “The Water Hole,” by Graeme Base.

  4. The Warren & the World Vol 6, Issue 40 on October 6, 2018 at 3:00 am

    […] Read more. […]

  5. Maureen on August 20, 2020 at 5:49 pm

    The Library and other books by Sarah Stewart

Leave a Comment