What are your lesser-known, but still deeply-loved, children's books?
October 9, 2013 11:44 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to give a few books as baby shower presents, while avoiding the books that are really well-known. Please share your under the radar gems!

Friends have requested gifts of childrens' books for their upcoming baby shower.

I'd like to avoid giving them books that are standards on everyone's radar and favorites list (e.g., Goodnight Moon, Very Hungry Caterpillar).

My budget is $60. Books for any age in childhood are fine, but I prefer to skew to 5 and under. My friends like to travel, are into the arts (theater and dance especially) and are generally very eco-conscious...but they are open to books of all stripes/themes.

What are your favorite childrens' books that are lesser-known?

posted by LittleFuzzy to Shopping (108 answers total) 129 users marked this as a favorite
Tacky the Penguin (maybe this is more common now, but it's not Goodnite Moon or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs)
The Secret Chicken Club
posted by radioamy at 11:49 AM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: My all-time favorite is Miss Rumphius, aka the Lupin Lady. The message is as beautiful as the illustrations, and is one that I think creative/artsy people would appreciate. Another one with awesome illustrations that I will keep forever is Why Do Mosquitos Buzz in People's Ears?
posted by lovableiago at 11:50 AM on October 9, 2013 [12 favorites]

+1 for Miss Rumphius - I LOVE that book. My 2 year old nephew really, really liked This is Not My Hat. And I like Extra Yarn, too.
posted by hungrybruno at 11:53 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Symphony City

Anything by Jon Klassen (he's getting popular right now but most people without kids wouldn't know him.)
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:53 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm a fan of Voyage to the Bunny Planet. Also, though Harold and the Purple Crayon is somewhat known, I'm the only one who ever gifts that at any of the baby showers I have been to.
posted by gudrun at 11:54 AM on October 9, 2013

I love Chris Raschka's picture books.
posted by Jeanne at 11:56 AM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: When I moved to the UK, I discovered some wonderful, can't-miss children's books that are recognized as classics here, but aren't as widely read in the US. You don't specify where you are, but assuming you are in the US, I think you would likely be the only one to give your friends The Tiger Who Came To Tea or Mog The Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr; The Gruffalo or Tabby McTat by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler; and The Witch's Children & The Queen by Ursula Jones and Russell Ayto.
posted by yankeefog at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2013 [6 favorites]

Sendak's In the Night Kitchen is one I gave to my nephew last year at Christmas time; he was five at the time.
posted by singinginmychains at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I found On The Day You Were Born for my cousin when she had her first baby; it would fit the "eco-conscious" bone quite well.

This may be out of print, but I discovered a picture book called Zeek Silver Moon when I was a child, and it was a depiction of exactly the kind of early-70's vaguely-bohemian-hippie childhood I secretly kind of wanted, so I've always liked it. It is a quite lovely series of slice-of-life moments from what is depicted as a very happy early childhood.

If you know they're expecting a girl, Neil Gaiman's recent Blueberry Girl is lovely. It is a poem he wrote for Tori Amos' daughter that later got published.

David Weiner's Tuesday is pictures-only and bloody hysterical.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:59 AM on October 9, 2013

It was a random purchase from a used book store, but all three of my kids have loved Sally and the Some-Thing.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2013

Frog and Toad books.
posted by Asparagus at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

I'm a big fan of books with no words (I just get so sick of the same words since you re-read them so often). So if you like Goodnight Gorilla (which is great), you might also like the lesser known:
10 minutes til Bedtime Peggy Rathman
Pancakes for Breakfast

You discover new things in the illustrations each time you read them which makes it much more fun.
posted by biscuits at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Butternut Hollow Pond
Crafty Chloe
Firefighters in the Dark
If You Decide To Go To The Moon
Jazz Baby
King Hugo's Huge Ego
The Happy Lion
The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
The Paperboy
The Sissy Duckling
Wilma Unlimited

For really young children, my favorites are Leslie Patricelli board books, such as No No Yes Yes, Quiet Loud, Yummy Yucky, and Higher Higher. Those are really fun and interesting for a young child.
posted by Dansaman at 12:00 PM on October 9, 2013

I remember loving The Little Island. It's by the same author as Goodnight Moon, and has a similarly poetic kind of cadence to it. Younger kids might lose patience with it, but I remember it beginning to sink in around age 5.
posted by saramour at 12:01 PM on October 9, 2013

Click, Clack, Moo
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Press Here by Herve Tullet

Very fun to read and interactive.

Anything by Dr. Seuss but particularly/ Mr. Brown can Moo gets the reader to make all kinds of silly noises

Is your mama a llama?

posted by MadMadam at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: The Color Kittens is super wonderful - both a pleasure for adults to read, and a pleasure for children to listen to.
posted by piato at 12:02 PM on October 9, 2013 [4 favorites]

Hank Finds an Egg is my daughter's current favorite.
posted by alms at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2013

Kevin Henkes has some books that are lesser known but as wonderful as his better known pieces.
posted by hmo at 12:04 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Doodles the Deer-Horse.

It's been out of print for eons. But I loved this book when I was a wee kiddo. LOVED it! (I still have a copy!)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:05 PM on October 9, 2013

The night is just perfect for Bats at the Beach. I judge books on how the words flow when read aloud.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 12:06 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Each Peach Pear Plum
posted by coppermoss at 12:06 PM on October 9, 2013 [10 favorites]

I give Richard Scarry books a lot as baby gifts because I loved them as a kid.
posted by cecic at 12:06 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm not sure if The Monster at the End of This Book has crossed into well-known standards territory, but it is really the best kids' book of all time.
posted by Metroid Baby at 12:07 PM on October 9, 2013 [14 favorites]

Pants Off First!
Little Owl Lost
posted by Kabanos at 12:07 PM on October 9, 2013

Zen Shorts is one of my favorite books of all time.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:11 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

It's not a picture book, but I was given The Phantom Tollbooth when I was pre-school aged and it was read to me and I loved it. I can still hear my babysitter's voice reading it! I have read it on my own several times (as a child and as an adult).
posted by radioamy at 12:14 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I loved loved loved No Flying in the House. Amazon says it's for 8-12, but I was probably 6 when I read it.
posted by amarynth at 12:18 PM on October 9, 2013

Some I've enjoyed reading to my toddler:

Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb (board book version is abridged; avoid it!)

Ten Apples Up On Top!

The Donut Chef
posted by steinwald at 12:19 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

my go-to (for families who celebrate Easter, at least): The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes.
posted by scody at 12:19 PM on October 9, 2013 [3 favorites]

From the illustrator of the now well-know Go the f**k to sleep, there is the new book It's Just a Plant: A Children's Story of Marijuana.
posted by Kabanos at 12:20 PM on October 9, 2013

Hmm, are you/they comfortable with used books if you can find them in good condition?

Where's Wallace by Hilary Knight was unfairly eclipsed (and ripped off, I've always thought) by Where's Waldo in the 1980s - it's a nice story with absolutely wonderful illustrations; there are several full page spreads where you have to look at every detail to find Wallace the orangutan, who keeps escaping from the zoo - and after a while you notice there are other recurring characters that show up in all the scenes too. A delightful book.

Three to Get Ready by Betty Boegehold was one of my absolute favorites; the illustrations are really charming and the three stories have good moral messages that aren't too heavy-handed.
posted by usonian at 12:23 PM on October 9, 2013

I Like You is a delightful book for children and adults alike.
posted by trunk muffins at 12:24 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Orange Pear Apple Bear.
Duck on a Bike.
Seconding Press Here--fun, brilliant book.
posted by johnofjack at 12:26 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can't go wrong with James Marshall, including:

Space Case, but especially George and Martha.

I also like the Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile books by Bernard Waber.

Not exactly lesser-known, but newer on the scene, is Mo Willems. Kids love the Pigeon books, and the Knuffle Bunny books are lots of fun as well.
posted by mogget at 12:32 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My babies have both adored the Richard Scarry illustrations in I am a Bunny. It's just a year of watching seasons change with a bunny guide, but the pictures are colorful yet gentle nature scenes that a baby can inspect for ages.
posted by waterlily at 12:33 PM on October 9, 2013 [7 favorites]

I'm not sure how well known these are, but my go-to baby shower gifts are the aforementioned The Monster At The End of This Book, Mouse Paint, The Fuzzy Duckling, Home For A Bunny, If You Were My Bunny, and I Am A Bunny.

I guess I really love bunnies!
posted by divined by radio at 12:34 PM on October 9, 2013

omg, I love I Am A Bunny. Little Nicholas is so cute!

Animal Orchestra
Anything by Taro Gomi.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:35 PM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: I adore Blueberry Girl. And Press Here is great fun.

The Curious Garden by Peter Brown is an eco-conscious picture book that's sort-of about the High Line in NYC

Subway by Christoph Nieman is fantastic. (His others are good too, but this is the one that is kiddie crack.)

Freight Train by Donald Crews is endlessly entertaining to little ones. (Also "Truck.")

Global Babies is pictures of babies (in fairly traditional dress) from around the world ... it is BABY CRACK.

Most art museums have at least a couple of artsy ABC books in their gift shops, that's a good place to browse, usually kind-of random, smaller press things.

FYI, I got five copies of Goodnight Moon at my baby shower. My kids are 4 and 2 and only one copy remains intact because they have LOVED FOUR COPIES TO PIECES, so don't worry too much about duplicates!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

A lot of these suggestions are absolutely fantastic books, but they are the opposite of lesser known. I suggest Helen Oxenbury, who I believe really is lesser known, at least in the U.S. Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes was the first book that my now-1.5 year old totally loved. He loves it so much that he won't let us read it to him anymore. Kids are weird. He also loves Clap Hands, which is part of a series of short books, that might make a nice gift as a set.
posted by Xalf at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Chico Bon Bon in Monkey with a Tool Belt and all the other books by Chris Monroe.

There Are Cats in this Book, There Are NO Cats in This Book, and others by Viviane Schwarz.

Traction Man is Here and everything else by Mini Grey.

Julia Donaldson's Stickman is terrific.

James Marshall's Willis is my favorite children's book, but it appears to be out of print.
posted by Francolin at 12:39 PM on October 9, 2013

This is the House that Jack Built illustrated by Simms Taback is crazy fun.
posted by Kabanos at 12:48 PM on October 9, 2013

Okay one more. WALLY: The Whale who Loved Balloons is out of print, so you'd have to get used. But this story about a young whale who eats too many balloons and flies away is delightful and beautifully illustrated.
posted by Kabanos at 12:56 PM on October 9, 2013

The board books that were loved to death in our house were Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (there is a nice lift-the-flap version now) and DK's My First Body Book (great photos of babies and toddlers).

If they have any religious leanings, I also love Cynthia Rylant's Give Me Grace, which is a gentle set of prayers for each day of the week. It's theistic but not religion-specific.
posted by Flannery Culp at 12:59 PM on October 9, 2013

Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, by the Provensens, sticks in my head still, having recently exited the picture book phase with my kids. It works as a "learning the animals book", but also conveys the personalities of some actual animals the authors knew. And now I feel like I know those cats and sheep and hens that lived at Maple Hill in the early 1970s. It's a toddler friendly book that nonetheless creates a very real portrait of a place.
posted by bendybendy at 12:59 PM on October 9, 2013 [5 favorites]

Pat The Bunny.
Harry The,Dirty Dog And Sequels
Susan Meddaugh's Martha Books
Rosemary Wells
posted by brujita at 1:06 PM on October 9, 2013

There are some books I will re-buy for all subsequent grand-kids. Here's the list in terms of author/illustrator. They're British, so may not be so well known elsewhere.

Jeanette & Allan Ahlberg, Peepo; Each Peach Pear Plum; Burglar Bill. Lovely books, still in print at sensible prices.

Pat Hutchins, You'll Soon Grow Into Them, Tich; One Hunter; Don't Forget The Bacon; Rosie's Walk.

Shirley Hughes, Up & Up. I can't believe that seems to be out of print! Gorgeous book in comic-strip form. We were'nt into all of Shirley Hughes but Up & Up is pitched just right for small kids.

Michael Rosen, Helen Oxenbury, We're Going On A Bear Hunt.
posted by glasseyes at 1:09 PM on October 9, 2013

Me...Jane, a sweet book about Jane Goodall.
posted by ghost dance beat at 1:10 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

Jenny and the Cat Club by Esther Averill
Any of the Moomin books by Tove Jansson
posted by matildaben at 1:22 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

the Frances books... Bread and Jam for Frames by Russell Hoban.

The Attic Mice by Ethel Pochocki is absolutely charming.
posted by jrobin276 at 1:36 PM on October 9, 2013

The B Book. I have vivid memories of this.

Another US to UK transplant recommending Donaldson & Schiffler's books (The Gruffalo, etc.). They're all pretty well done.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 1:36 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Scaredy Squirrel


Sheep in a Jeep

Anything by Richard Scarry
posted by stampsgal at 1:42 PM on October 9, 2013

Best answer: I love picture books that still manage to have a twist ending. The Biggest Thing in the Ocean makes me giggle each time.
posted by Liesl at 1:46 PM on October 9, 2013

Trouble for Trumpets.

Now sadly out of print, it is no exaggeration to call this a masterpiece of book illustration. Illustrated by Peter Cross, the mesmerising works of art in this book fall somewhere between Breughel the Elder, Richard Dadd and Albrecht Durer. I spent my childhood immersed in it.
posted by mani at 1:50 PM on October 9, 2013

Red Wagon, a lesser known (but adorable) sibling of The Loud Book! and The Quiet Book.
posted by BibiRose at 1:54 PM on October 9, 2013

Oh, and Hopper and Wilson.

I am also in love with the illustrator Naoko Stoop. She's done a very nice Noah's Ark book, and Red Knit Cap Girl.
posted by BibiRose at 1:57 PM on October 9, 2013

Response by poster: What terrific suggestions! Thank you and please keep them coming. There are just so many wonderful ideas.
posted by LittleFuzzy at 2:08 PM on October 9, 2013

The staggeringly wonderful Where's Wallace? is worth your time, and will captivate anyone who opens it. (You get to find a group of people in each setting.)
posted by Arch1 at 2:15 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yard Sale! (the author is author Anne Tyler's daughter)

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat

Secret Agent Josephine's books - from popular blogger/artist Brenda Ponnay
posted by maxg94 at 2:35 PM on October 9, 2013

For about a year, when she was about 3, our daughter demanded a daily reading of Over and Over.
posted by mr vino at 2:47 PM on October 9, 2013

nthing Jenny & the Cat Club. I loved them as a child and have since gotten a convert in my goddaughter

Also Who Needs Donuts.
posted by brookeb at 2:55 PM on October 9, 2013

I also really loved the Ant and Bee series of books by Angela Banner.

And check out the New York Review of Books Children's Collection.
posted by brookeb at 2:58 PM on October 9, 2013

One we loved for its not pastel illustrations is Chicky Chicky Chook Chook, which is fun to read and fun for small hands to hold (those yellow chickies on the cover are fuzzy).
posted by Kaleidoscope at 3:08 PM on October 9, 2013

Donkey Donkey by Roger Duvoisin.

The Big Pets by Lane Smith
posted by vespabelle at 3:16 PM on October 9, 2013

I CTRL-F'ed to see if someone had mentioned this book yet and hit your username first. My go-to book for this is the classic Little Fur Family by the Goodnight Moon lady Margaret Wise Brown. It's available as a board book (with fuzzy belly) or the hardcover is nice, the paperback makes it seem flimsy because it's short. I would also give a big thumbs up for Frog and Toad who have a nice sort of friendship and accessible storylines for little kids. I also like the Little Bear books which are classics, by author Elsa Holmelund Minarik and illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
posted by jessamyn at 3:32 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

I Am a Bunny has been a big hit in our family.

posted by corey flood at 3:35 PM on October 9, 2013

I am maybe slightly freaking out right now that Where is the Green Sheep is maybe out of print. We didn't have the bilingual version, which seems to be readily available, and I'm sure is at least as good (doubly good?!). My kid loves this book.
posted by freezer cake at 4:18 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
posted by ravioli at 4:22 PM on October 9, 2013

Everyone knows about Russell Hoban's Frances books, which are great, but not everyone knows that he wrote a lot of other books which are also great. Most of them, sadly, are out of print, but they're worth looking for in used book stores or online (if you don't mind giving used books.)

Margaret Wise Brown's Wonderful Storybook is another out of print book worth looking for. My favorite story is the one about the little girl who gets a steam shovel for Christmas and accidentally flattens a lot of people and animals. (There is a happy ending.)

I could list many others that are out of print, but here are a few that aren't:
The Maggie B. by Irene Haas
My Farm by Alison Lester
Orangutan Tongs by Jon Agee

And for kids who are ready for chapter books (and probably a bit older than 5), it's hard to beat Tove Jansson's wonderful Moomin books. Comet in Moominland is the first one.

I also enthusiastically second the recommendations for Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm and Little Fur Family.
posted by Redstart at 4:24 PM on October 9, 2013

The Nutshell Library by Sendak. It's four tiny books packaged in a tiny box. They're great for Mom or Dad to keep in their bag for emergency entertainment.
posted by amelliferae at 4:30 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Eric Carle did a book that he dedicated to Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers). It has absolutely beautiful and funny illustrations and my toddler loves it to pieces. It has repetition, rhyme, babies and their mothers, and suspense.

It's called Does A Kangaroo Have A Mother Too?* and I suggest you get the paperback version because the illustrations are gorgeous in the large size.

*SPOILER!! Yes, yes, of course they do!
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:37 PM on October 9, 2013

Jamberry is another great rhyming book. The illustrations are detailed and a whole lot of fun.
posted by the young rope-rider at 4:41 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Peace at Last
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 4:50 PM on October 9, 2013

I don't know how well-known these are nowadays, but when I was a kid, these were some of my favorites:

Travelling to Tripiti by H.U. Steger
Nothing at All by Wanda Gag
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Lentil by Robert McCloskey (actually, everything by Robert McCloskey)
Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel, and The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
The Wump World by Bill Peet (excellent ecology message too)
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Mr. Picklepaw's Popcorn by Ruth Joyce Adams
posted by auntie maim at 4:58 PM on October 9, 2013

Seconding Ten Little Fingers & Ten Little Toes. My daughter was given this for her first birthday a couple of weeks ago and she loves it. I kept it next to the bed and at least once a day she takes it down and sits there looking at the pictures by herself, something she has never done with a book before.
posted by Wantok at 4:59 PM on October 9, 2013

A few books from my Scholastic-catalog elementary school book ordering days, and from memory (three):
1) Sitti's Secrets (N.S. Nye);
2) The Lady and the Spider (F. McNulty); and
3) Weird Parents (A. Wood)
Books are the best gifts in my obviously biased opinion.
posted by simulacra at 5:19 PM on October 9, 2013

Angela Banner's Ant and Bee. The only reason I am only the second person to recommend Ant and Bee is because they were entirely out of print for long intervals, and -- well, you can see remnants of what the pricing was like in the Amazon listings -- $338.28, etc. I once sold a heavily stickered-up Ant and Bee on eBay, with many photographs of the damage, and it got bid up to >$50. Once one has had Ant and Bee, one must return to Ant and Bee; it is positively galvanic on the developing brain.

Given the 'into the arts' part you might check out Harlin Quist-published books, which are collectibles now but mostly still affordable. In particular, Eugene Ionesco's Story Number 1 (& 2, 3, & 4).
posted by kmennie at 5:29 PM on October 9, 2013

One more recommendation:
1) Angelo; Cathedral; The Way Things Work (and, really, any book by David Macaulay)
posted by simulacra at 5:35 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

Else Holmelund Minarek's Little Bear books, with the original Maurice Sendak illustrations. Delightful, gentle, and charmingly illustrated.

Margery Williams' The Velveteen Rabbit, again with the original 1922 illustrations. That one takes some growing into, though.

Can you tell I have a thing for original illustrations? I can't stand it when they feel the need to modernize them into pablum.

Martin Waddell's Owl Babies is a little board book gem.
posted by Smells of Detroit at 5:47 PM on October 9, 2013

Yes on The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I also really love Anno's books - they're largely wordless and the artistry (and variety!) is really fantastic. They're well represented in libraries, but I see fewer of them in home collections, it feels like - perhaps because they're less read-aloud and more visual exploration.
posted by clerestory at 5:52 PM on October 9, 2013

Arty the Smarty was a favorite of mine. Sadly, it's out of print now, so copies range from $30 on up.

I also remember loving the Little Bear books, illustrated by Maurice Sendak. The stories within stories! The shoes that followed the little elf, pit pat, pit pat, pit pat, pit pat ...

We've bought the Little Lit comic book series (edited by Art Spiegelman) for friends' kids (and ourselves).
posted by mon-ma-tron at 6:32 PM on October 9, 2013

I also love "Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes"! Be warned, I cry when I read it!
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:37 PM on October 9, 2013

Well, of all the books I've read to my son so far, Where's Spot is the only one that made me legitimately tell a funny story.
posted by ch1x0r at 7:28 PM on October 9, 2013

Suzuki Beane.
posted by The corpse in the library at 7:37 PM on October 9, 2013

I've been buying the Baby Lit books lately. Anna Karenina is awesome but my favourite is Jane Eyre. All in Board Book form for the little ones with literacy/numeracy cleverly done. Perfect for well-educated parents.

Baby Brains is fantastic, parents and children respond really well to it my storytimes, as they are artsy they may enjoy the sequel Baby Brains Superstar as well.

Since they like travel, you might want to look at the most popular/classic books from the countries they like the best. You can find some amazing books that are both universal but also so very localised in each country. Here are 100 suggestions for Canada from the Toronto Public Library.
posted by saucysault at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2013

Fair warning: these are by and large not board books but instead for toddlers to kindergarten-age children and even a smidge older occasionally (I'm not a children's librarian!).

Everything listed should have strong illustrations and a multicultural focus:

-Allen Say, Emma's Rug (I adore Kamishibai Man but it's probably a little past your age range)
-Yuyi Morales, Just a Minute! A Trickster Tale and Counting Book (Yuyi Morales has just stunning illustrations and a number of books to choose from)
-Tomie dePaola, Let the Whole Earth Sing Praise or Strega Nona
-Leo and Diane Dillon, Mother Goose Numbers on the Loose or the aforementioned Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears or the very fantastic, absolutely classic, but way too advanced The People Could Fly (which comes in two versions, illustrated by the Dillons, written by Virginia Hamilton)

This one's neither overlooked nor especially multicultural, but toddlers embrace it with every fiber of their being: David Shannon's No, David! and the rest of the David series.
posted by librarylis at 8:22 PM on October 9, 2013

Not a specific suggestion, just wanted to share my ace in the hole for folks in your situation whenever they come into the bookstore where I work: The Kids IndieNext List (Here's the Fall 2013 one).

Brand-new but seriously excellent children's books as suggested by independent booksellers around the country. Since they're new, the parents are not likely to know about them already or receive them from other gifters. It also avoids the problem many of the books in this thread will have - being old or rare and not as easy to find.

Some recent favorites:

Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
Unicorn Thinks He's Pretty Great
The Day the Crayons Quit
Hank Finds an Egg

One more thing, if you're going to a baby shower, these and many of the other suggestions in this thread may be most appropriate for 3-6 YOs and not so much for newborns. For a book the parents can share with their child immediately, try Indestructibles. The pages look like regular paper, but they're waterproof and can't be harmed by being chewed, torn, etc. Also the drawings are really neat and they're like $5 a pop.
posted by moons in june at 8:52 PM on October 9, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Runaway Bunny, also by Margaret Wise Brown.

And +1000 for Each Peach Pear Plum -- my kindergarten teacher read that to our class, everyone loved it, and fights would break out over who would get to borrow that book each time we went to the library thereafter.
posted by emeiji at 9:07 PM on October 9, 2013

Tuesday - what happens when frogs fly.
Animalia - oversized picture book of the alphabet with many items for each letter
A Boy, a Dog and a Frog - a series of wordless books.
Pinkerton - a great Dane who has issues following directions.
Love You Forever - story of a mom who loves her son and covers him up every night until she is too old, and then he does the same for her and his own son. Brings tears to my eyes every time I read it.
Little Critter Books - featuring Just Me and my Dad, Just For You, and my favorite Just
Go To Sleep. Also, Just Lost and Just a Nap.
The Night Before Christmas (if they celebrate.)
posted by 101cats at 9:48 PM on October 9, 2013

For the small set:
Cows going past
Set of 12 little tiny Fisher Price board books - 25 words/book
Yummy Yucky

The best Seuss book that nobody ever heard of is If I Ran the Circus. This book is fantastic. I give dramatic readings of it at work. I work in software.
posted by crazycanuck at 10:03 PM on October 9, 2013

I have such fond memories of Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles. Books like that (imaginative, deeply emotive, fun) really helped me grow into the avid reader I became.

Caveat: the internet says its for 8 and up. It's a reasonable judgement.
posted by justalisteningman at 10:28 PM on October 9, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know much about childrens books, but I know Emily, who was my next-door neighbor for five years. She moved here from north California with a big smile, with her singing dog Benny and a bicycle in a white Volvo wagon that'd been in her family since two years after she was born. What a character!

Basically, I was also living next door to Joone as she unfolded in water color, gouache, colored pencils, just about any other medium, as Emily found her totally. Emily wrote and illustrated the book, lived with Joone for years.

I love Emmer -- about impossible not to, she's a trip -- and I love Joone, too, being as how she's a big piece of Emmer. Em got frustrated in it once, started writing something else and I'm all like "Nunh-unh -- Joone." because Joone is great. I bet you'll think so, too.
posted by dancestoblue at 12:01 AM on October 10, 2013

Hairy Maclary! (really, NO ONE?)
posted by superfish at 2:01 AM on October 10, 2013 [2 favorites]

Ones that haven't been mentioned that I and my daughter both liked:

Put it on the list!
You and Me
Big Red Lollipop
Please, baby, please
13 words

Good list! Watch out, library, here I come.
posted by mgogol at 7:16 AM on October 10, 2013

Oh, one more (a lot of fun, not well-known but brilliant and sadly out of print): Elephant Buttons.
posted by johnofjack at 8:09 AM on October 10, 2013

Make Way for Ducklings is so well loved that there's a statue dedicated to it in the Boston Public Garden.
posted by Spiced Out Calvin Coolidge at 8:45 AM on October 10, 2013

Couple new ones I love: Bear and Bee; It's a Tiger!
posted by BibiRose at 11:11 AM on October 10, 2013

The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshopper's Feast is visually stunning and has stuck with me for years. (Sample images here)
posted by cadge at 11:30 AM on October 10, 2013

Sorry can't link

Andrew's Bath by David M McPhail
Sam's Potty by Barbro Lindgren
This is the Bear by Sarah Hayes & Helen. Craig
posted by drunkonthemoon at 4:21 PM on October 10, 2013

posted by gursky at 12:43 AM on October 11, 2013

Response by poster: There are too, too many to mark as favorites! As an update, so far I have purchased:

The Tiger Who Came to Tea
Blueberry Girl (it's a girl!)
I'm The Biggest Thing in the Ocean
I am a Bunny
The Color Kittens
Global Babies
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears

I have no doubts that I will return to this list many, many times in the future. Thank you all so much!
posted by LittleFuzzy at 6:12 AM on October 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Blueberry Girl is pretty awesome, yes. As is Gaiman's Instructions.

It's out of print, but Englebert Sneem and his Dream Vacuum Machine is AWESOME if you can find a copy online. ABE books would have it, I bet. All of Daniel Postgate's stuff is good.

I have also been a gigantic fan of Daniel Pinkwater's since I was a boy. For the little ones, there are the Irving and Muktuk books (they are bad bears who steal muffins), Bear's Picture, and The Big Orange Splot, among others. For older readers, The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death was a revelation to me as a child.
posted by middleclasstool at 6:18 AM on October 11, 2013

Chiming in late, but I have fond memories of The Paper Bag Princess, a subversive story about a Princess who has to rescue her Prince using brains rather than braun. She rescues the Prince, but he rejects her ("Come back when you look more like a Princess," he says) so she leaves him there and goes off to live her own life.
posted by Acey at 6:25 AM on October 11, 2013

La Corona and The Tin Frog
posted by turbid dahlia at 6:07 PM on October 13, 2013

Whose Mouse Are You
posted by grubby at 9:17 AM on October 15, 2013

My son loved the books that Lois Lenski wrote in the 30s. The Little Airplane was the first one we stumbled across at the library. The Little Train and The Little Sailboat are great too. They describe real-world things and processes and include lots of interesting words.
posted by pb at 8:36 AM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Bad Case of Stripes is good.

The Virginia Lee Burton books are all-time favorites of all my kids.

Paddle ToThe Sea is old but very nice.
posted by wenestvedt at 10:11 AM on October 16, 2013

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