Animals, trains and circuses are at the heart of many of Peet's books. His beautifully drawn illustrations are original and whimsical. His quirky characters have distinctive personalities and real problems that kids can relate to. Peet does a great job having his characters solve their own problems and there's often a surprise ending.
While I’m fond of all of his books (he’s written 34, and yes I've read them all!), here are a few you might want to start with:
Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent
Chester the Worldly Pig longs to do something with his life before he ends up as "sausage and ham." Disgruntled with farm life, he runs away to the circus. While things don't turn out exactly as planned, Chester has a few adventures along the way. Once his circus gig is up, Chester resigns himself to going back to the farm to fatten up. Then someone discovers something quite amazing about him (I won't spoil it here) and his life is turned around.
A great story about pursuing your dreams, even when it appears that all is lost.
The Wump World was written in 1970 and was one of the first "pro-environment" children's books. (It was written a year before Dr. Seuss's The Lorax.) The Wumps are adorable creatures who live peacefully in their idyllic world until the Pollutions come racing down in their spaceships. The Wumps retreat to a cave as their planet gets taken over by the evil, smoke-spewing Pollutians. Eventually, the Pollutians leave to try and find a cleaner place to live. You'll find yourselves rooting for the Wumps and their planet. Luckily, the last page leaves you with a sense of hope for their future.
Below is a complete list of Mr. Peet’s books.
(I believe that most of them are still in print.)
The Ant and the Elephant
Big Bad Bruce
Bill Peet: An Autobiography
Buford the Little Bighorn
The Caboose Who Got Loose
Chester the Worldly Pig
Cyrus the Unsinkable Sea Serpent
Encore for Eleanor
Farewell to Shady Glade
Fly Homer Fly
The Gnats of Knotty Pine
How Droofus the Dragon Lost His Head
Hubert's Hair Raising Adventure
Jennifer and Josephine
Jethro and Joel Were a Troll
Kermit the Hermit
The Kweeks of Kookatumdee
The Luckiest One of All
Merle the High Flying Squirrel
No Such Things
The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg
Randy's Dandy Lions
The Spooky Tail of Prewitt Peacock
The Wump World
Zella, Zack and Zodiac
Bill Peet worked for Disney Studios for twenty seven years. He was the only storyman in the history of Disney to do all the storyboards for two entire animated feature films (The Sword and the Stone and 101 Dalmations). Other films he worked on included The Jungle Book, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Dumbo, as well as many others.
There's an exhibit of Bill Peet's drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago until May 24, 2009.
I want to tell you about an activity I did with each of my kids when they were in first grade. I approached their teachers at the beginning of the year (this would work with second or third graders too) and asked if I could come in weekly and read the class a Bill Peet story. Each teacher agreed, and I came in once a week for the entire school year and read to the class. By week six, the minute I stepped into the classroom, the kids would start chanting “Bill Peet, Bill Peet, Bill Peet.” He was a rock star in their minds. It was gratifying to see that a children’s author/illustrator could have that kind of appeal for elementary school kids!