OK Store's Guide to the Best Children's Books Out There

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If you're a resident of – or have ever visited – Los Angeles then you're probably familiar with OK Store, the mid-city home goods store that's been a haven for design-heads for nearly two decades. It's been my go-to spot for picking up special gifts for years and I rarely leave without grabbing something for myself as well. This gem of a shopping experience is expertly curated by owner Larry Schaffer, a native Southern Californian, who obsesses about architecture, art, and Los Angeles culture. The brand new dad (hi Leowulf!) also maintains a wonderfully thoughtful children's section, piled high with the stuff that design-conscious parents are equally as happy to enjoy themselves. Schaffer's children's book collection is especially dynamite, in part, thanks to Larry's own predilection towards well-made titles. He's done his research, and we get to benefit. Here, the 18 kids books he vouches for (that moms and dads will want to read over and over again, too).

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1. Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty

"This is one of our new favorites about a creative kid who is always getting in trouble for using his imagination. In the end he becomes a hero when he saves his classmates with his creative talents. It has great illustrations that follow the celebration of individualism and self-expression."

2. The Cubies ABCby Mary Mills Lyall

"A satire in the form of a children’s alphabet book, this book light-heartedly pokes fun at the avant-garde. It was originally meant to be a response to the launch of Cubism at the first Armory show in 1913 (the same year the book was first published)."

3. Sparkle and Spin by Ann Rand and Paul Rand

"This is one of the few children’s books available in reprint with illustrations by Paul Rand, one of the most important graphic designers of the mid-twentieth century. Rand is mostly know for designing the iconic logos of IBM, Westinghouse, Yale University Press and many others."

4. In This Book by Fani Marceau

"Illustrated by one of the best-known children’s books illustrators today,  Joëlle Jolivet is known for her oversized full color illustrations of animals in her earlier book Zoo-ology. This book shows many of the beautiful everyday things and people in the world."

5. A Long Piece of String by William Wondriska

"We love old books that are either still in print or have been republished.  Originally published in 1963, A Long Piece of String was both written and illustrated by William Wondriska.  This book is wordless and follows a piece of string through visual cues of the alphabet, allowing a parent to narrate their own ever-changing tale."

6. Ounce Dice Thrice by Alastair Reid

"Written by Alastair Reid with over 100 illustrations by Ben Shahn, I discovered this book through a review of it by Daniel Pinkwater on NPR.  Another reprint of an old classic, this is a wild exploration of words – real and imagined – how they sound, how fun they are to say out loud, and what, if anything, they mean."

7. The World is Round by Gertrude Stein

"Who knew Gertrude Stein wrote a children’s book?  Originally published 1939, this is a book written in Stein's unmistakable rhythmic style (and beautifully illustrated by Clement Hurd of Goodnight Moon fame). The story abstractly chronicles the journey of a girl named Rose exploring the ideas of personal identity and individuality."

8. Baxter the Pig Who Wanted to be Kosher by Laurel Snyder

"This story is about Baxter the pig, who having been told about the delights of Shabbat dinner, decides to go on a quest to become kosher. This tale leads Baxter on a trail of discovery through Jewish culture. Half illustrated, half collage, this book looks like an iconic books from the 1960’s."

9. Three Ladies by the Sea by Rhonda Levine

"Illustrated by  the renowned Edward Gorey whose gothic figures are both dark and wickedly funny, Rhona Levine tells a lyrical story of three off-kilter Edwardian maidens."

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10. Wild Animals by Rop Van Mierlo

"We're are not quite sure this is even a children’s book, but this limited edition art book of “wet on wet” watercolors of animals by Dutch Rop Van Mierlo is evocative, abstract, and irresistible."

11. A Giraffe and a Half by Shel Silverstein

"This book just celebrated its 50-year anniversary and we're huge fans of its rhythmic story. It's written in poem form where every page adds another verse onto the previous. The story of a boy and a giraffe who learn how to give is written by the wild, eccentric, and all-around prolific illustrator and writer Shel Silverstein."

12. House Held Up By Trees by Ted Kooser

"Illustrated by Jon Klassen – the rising star of children’s book illustration – this book was written by former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winning poet Ted Kooser. A wistful and beautiful story about growing up, trying to tame nature, and rediscovering the beauty of childhood."

13. Bruno Munari’s Zoo by Bruno Munari

"This book is among Bruno Munari's most graphically stunning works. Meet the kangaroo, who is all legs but doesn't know it, the zebra in his striped pajamas, and the humpy camel, who has a seat for you. Young readers will enjoy Munari's bright, bold illustrations; older readers will appreciate his wry humor."

14. Henri's Walk to Paris by Leonore Klein

"The story of a young boy who lives in rural France, and dreams of going to Paris. One day, after reading a book about Paris, he decides to pack a lunch and head for the city. The visuals, illustrated by Saul Bass, are unbelievably magical."

15. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

"It's the tale of a bull who doesn’t want to enter the bull fighting ring: Instead, he just wants to spend his time amongst the beautiful flowers in the pasture. This book is on every list of the best children’s books of all time for good reason, and I constantly hear adults saying that this is still their favorite book."

16. Juanita by Leo Politi 

"Originally published in 1948, this beautiful story takes place in downtown Los Angeles on Olvera Street. It deals with the age-old traditions of birthdays, Easter, and music in Los Angeles' Latino community. This is a delightful introduction for children to the many cultures that makes up Los Angeles."

17. The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse

"The wonderful tale of a young boy and his faithful best friend – a bright red balloon – and their adventures. When the balloon pops, he's devastated...then he sees an astonishing sight! This book is full of beautiful photos of Paris in the 1960’s, and follows the story arc of the movie by the same name."

18. Dog Dreams by Michael Wertz

"This book follows the dreams of a whimsical dog as he dreams during a nap (haven't we all wondered?). Printed in bright contrasts of blue and red, this book has the beauty of a 1960’s letterpress art poster."

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