Adventures in Reading: 20 Wonderful Picture Books
Sept. 19, 2021
We know that children who read for about twenty minutes every day, do better academically than those who don’t. Picture books make great reading materials since they can be consumed from cover to cover in just a few minutes.
Get your child reading all sorts of books; fairy tales and fairy tales turned on their heads; silly books and books about serious topics; books about people from all walks of life; books that thrill, books that comfort; books about pets, hobbies, and adventures; fictional stories, stories about real people; books with bright vivid colors, books with unusual illustrations; books with no pictures, books with only pictures. Enrich your child's activities with reading worksheets which have a connection to books the child has just read: Three Little Pigs, Cinderella, or even informational text about flowers or mountain animals.
Variety in reading material sustains interest, engages a range of thinking skills, and fosters empathy.
Here is an annotated list of some very fine picture books and what makes them appealing.
Books for Preschool to Kindergarten
The Haircut Theo Heras
This book has very thick pages for a toddler to turn without tearing. The illustrations are simple with warm, soft colors. The story prepares your child for a first haircut and will set the stage for other “first” experiences. Here is something to put in your tool kit for helping your small child with facing fears.
Llama Llama Meets the Babysitter by Anna Dewdney
A rhyming story presented with detailed illustrations, this book is a lovely read for both parents and small children. The story shows children how to express their worries, and parents how to reassure and comfort. In a happy ending, the babysitter turns out to be a familiar face who serves ice cream at the local store.
Dino Does Yoga by Sofie Engstrom
This is an introduction to yoga for children ages 3-7. A baby dinosaur leans poses while observing what’s going on around him; the reaching arms of a pterodactyl inspire the Warrior pose, watching the ants on the ground leads to the Downward Dog. The rhyming prose will help your child remember the poses. This book inspires children to be observant and to be creative in coming up with poses.
Box Meets Circle by Aaron Hartline
With a minimal use of language, this is a fun exploration of 3D shapes, and if you will, friendship. It would be good if you had a small ball (example of a sphere and something shaped like a cube handy when you read this book with your small child. This will provide opportunities for the child to test ideas and discover properties of the shapes through reading as well as through doing (rolling, sliding, touching the edges and sides). An added message is the idea that people, like shapes, are different.
The Sun is My Favorite Star by Frank Asch
Simple, large, vivid illustrations with minimal text introduce the concept of the sun as a star. Over the course of a day, the girl in the story notices movement of the sun. This book might inspire your budding scientist or artist to experiment with shadow lengths as a day progresses, or paint a beautiful sunset.
No David! By David Shannon
Maybe it’s the silly drawings. Maybe it’s because all the mischief David gets into sounds familiar to many children. Maybe it’s because at the end of the day, mom still loves him. Whatever the appeal, kids seriously love this book.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willem
If you have a small child, you’ve likely heard of Mo Willem and his adorable books about an adorable pigeon. It’s probably the interactive nature that makes this book a smash hit, or maybe it’s the pigeon’s relatable toddler-like persistence. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is the author’s first and it’s so much fun, you’ll want to check out his other books.
Books for Emergent Readers (Grades 1-3)
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
This delightful children’s picture book has all the things you expect in a fairy tale - a princess, a prince and a formidable villain (in the form of a dragon). It also has what you don’t expect in a fairy tale, flipping the damsel in distress trope right on its head and delivering a heroine that children have adored since 1980.
Bugs in My Hair by David Shannon
Warning, this book will make you itchy! Another fun book told with trademark David Shannon humor and imagination, this book is about a kid who gets lice and hassle of getting rid of them. Along the way, we learn some interesting tidbits about words like “nitpicking” and “lousy”. Your child will want to linger over the quirky, richly textured illustrations.
The Dark by Lemony Snicket
In this book, the dark is a person who lives in the basement and goes out at night. This premise makes for very interesting use of language and story telling, which is to be expected from the creator of A Series of Unfortunate Events. This is a lovely story about overcoming fears.
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs by Jon Scieszka
Think you know the story of the Three Little Pigs? Think again. This story, told from the point of view of A. Wolf, attempts to set the record straight, shedding comical new light on an old tale. Both the text and the illustrations are equally entertaining, making for a good chuckle before bed. The story can also be a study in media literacy; what test do we apply to information we receive? Is something true just because it is in newsprint, or just because it’s been repeated many times? These are vital questions for children growing up in an age when misinformation and disinformation are rampant.
Horton Hatches an Egg by Dr Seuss
You might know that Horton hears a who, but did you know that he also hatches an egg? He does, and it’s no mean feat! This epic Dr Seuss story takes us to all kinds of places as the faithful Horton sticks with his commitment to hatch the egg abandoned by the no-good Mayzie. It’s Dr Suess, so expect silly rhymes galore, loads of repetition to improve reading fluency, and a sprinkle of life lessons.
Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke
Goblin and Skeleton are best friends. One day, some adventurers storm their home and take everything, including Skeleton. To rescue his friend, Goblin must travel a hostile world where nobody likes a goblin. Establishing a world of goblins, elves and trolls in a heart beat, this book is entertaining and heartwarming. It makes for many “Read it again!” moments with your young ones.
More Advanced Picture Books
The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
What do you do when a train magically appears outside your front door on Christmas Eve? You get on it, of course! This classic tale of innocence and wonder makes a great read at Christmas time or any time of the year.
Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Restless and bored, Peter and Judy discover a board game called Jumanji, they have no idea how much excitement they’re about to unleash in their quiet, suburban home. If you’ve seen the movie(s) you might think this will be a long read, but it’s not; the tension crescendos and resolves in a satisfying ten minutes.
The Enemy (A Book About Peace) By David Cali and Serge Bloch
This thought-provoking book takes us into the trenches where a soldier waits for a chance to kill his enemy, or for the war to be over - whichever one comes first. One day, he puts on disguise number three (his manual gives him this kind of information, including what makes his enemy a beast that he must kill). He sneaks into his enemy’s trench and is quite surprised by what he learns there. Simple, direct and powerful, this award-winning picture book about empathy is worth an occasional reread throughout the growing up years and beyond.
The Fool and the Phoenix (A Tale of Old Japan) by Deborah Nourse Lattimore
The main character in this story makes a startling discovery that could get him killed. Set against the backdrop of an ancient Japanese dynasty, this story borrows from the history, myths and legends of the time to weave a tale of betrayal and greed, of courage and faithfulness.
Riding the Tiger by Eve Bunting
Eve Bunting is known for her advanced picture books and this one does not disappoint. It is a fantastic story about a boy who is lured by a tiger into a dark world and what he must do to escape. This book offers an opportunity for you to reinforce valuable comprehension skills such as making inferences and providing evidence to support claims. Older children enjoy the mysterious nature of the story and challenge of puzzling out what the metaphor of the tiger really means (hint: there are more than one right answers).
The Flower by John Light
If there ever was a picture book version of The Hunger Games or 1984, this is it. In this story, Brigg lives in a dystopian world where some unseen power controls the lives of the people. Brigg finds his own way to resist the oppression. It’s a beautiful story about hope, resilience and courage.
Voices in the Park by Anthony Browne
This story captures an incident in the park from four different points of view. It’s an ordinary afternoon, and the incident is commonplace in the lives of these characters, but it tells a lot about who they are and the nature of their lives. The story helps children see that people experience events in different ways. The smart story telling, along with the strangeness of the illustration, is right in keeping with the acclaimed author’s style. If you’re looking for an interesting bedtime read with substantial ideas to talk about, this picture book fits the bill.
Skipping nighttime read aloud is a common mistake when teaching children to read. One reason this wind-down routine often gets skipped is that finding good picture books can be hit or miss. I hope you found this list helpful.
What favorites would you add to the list? Leave a comment with beloved picture book titles for other readers to discover.
The article has been prepared by Jacqueline Smith, Kids Academy's author.