Kid Picks: Picture Books
Updated: Apr 28
Sharing books with my children is one of the most fulfilling and fun parts of parenthood for me. It sure beats laundry and homework! Reading played such an important role in my own childhood, and I longed for the chance to introduce my kids to some of the characters and stories I loved the most (more on that here).
I read Goodnight Moon to my son dozens of times, night after night, when he was just a newborn. I didn't mind too much when he pulled nearly all of the books off his bookshelf as a toddler because he sat down right in the middle of the pile and started turning pages. My daughter and I would sit together and read picture book after picture book to pass a morning together. Sometimes I had to hold gingerly a well-loved and well-worn favorite so a page wouldn't fall out just at the climax of the story.
While we've largely moved on to middle-grade and YA novels, picture books hold a special place in my reader's heart. Some bring back strong memories of bedtime stories read aloud softly in the dim light at the end of a long day. Others remind me of the laughter we shared over a surprise or funny ending. Picture books inspire and delight young minds (and older ones!) through the power of the illustrations and sometimes highly nuanced stories told in deceptively simple prose.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are just a few of my family's favorites.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Yes, this one is a classic of children's literature. The story of the wayward Max and his adventure with the Wild Things was published in 1963 and won the Caldecott Medal the next year. This was the first book my son thought of when I asked him about his favorite picture books. He response isn't surprising. Where the Wild Things Are came in at number one in a 2012 ranking of the Top 100 Picture Books for the 21st Century. You can see the full list from the School Library Journal here. One of my favorite anecdotes about this book is that Maurice Sendak fought with his publisher about the last line of the of the story, in which Max discovers that his dinner is still hot. Apparently, the publisher wanted Sendak to cool things down by calling the dinner "warm" instead. Obviously, Sendak's word choice won out.
The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon with illustrator Jake Parker. I stumbled across this picture book at my local library not too long after it was published in 2011. We checked it out again and again before finally adding it to our home library. My whole family adores this book about the exploits of Awesome Man, a totally awesome superhero who can stop any bad guy. Of course, this superhero also has a super secret. This is a fun and funny book, but I have teared up reading the last line almost every single time. Just last month, Chabon and Parker released the sequel, Awesome Man: The Mystery Intruder. You better believe I didn't wait long this time to bring Awesome Man flying back into our lives.
My love for my next Kid Pick actually goes back before I even had children! I spotted Zen Ties by Jon J Muth in a bookstore and fell in love with it right then and there. Zen Ties, published in 2008, is about a lovable panda named Stillwater. In this book, which is a follow-up to the earlier Zen Shorts, Stillwater welcomes his nephew Koo, who only speaks in haikus, for a visit. Stillwater introduces Koo to his young friends and neighbors while also teaching them about compassion and what really ties us all together. This is a thoughtful and gentle tale that teaches its lesson with grace and charm.
Two bedtime tales made our family list, including the 2013 Steam Train, Dream Train by Sherri Duskey Rinker and illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld. This is the same writer/illustrator duo who brought us Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site (another great choice). Steam Train, Dream Train is as much a lullaby as a story. Animals load up the train with treats and toys for a moonlit run. The soft rhythm of the words complements the cool tones of the illustrations, and I always find myself whispering by the end of this read aloud.
Lights Out, Night's Out is another good bedtime selection. Written by Willian Boniface and illustrated by Milena Kirkova, this picture book told in verse introduces us to all kinds of nocturnal animals and shows us what they do while the rest of us are sleeping. The pictures of the animals in their nighttime world are still bright and colorful. Our copy of the book is even a glow-in-the-dark edition, which means certain parts of each page light up. This did cause us a bit of trouble, however, when my daughter wanted me to read the entire book in the dark. The pictures may glow, but the words do not, and I couldn't see to read them! We finally agreed to enjoy the glow-in-the-dark feature after the story.
Finally, our list of family favorite picture books ends with Sky Color, written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds. A young artist named Marisol learns to expand her thinking and her palette when she doesn't have the paint color she needs for a big, important project. Marisol is a great role model for my artistic daughter and for anyone learning to explore new possibilities and to reach for more interesting solutions to problems. We also just like painting so Sky Color inspired some new refrigerator-worthy creations!
There's a certain joy that comes with reading a beloved book over and over again. For me, that joy only grows when I'm sharing the experience with my children. We return every now and then to these picture books and others that were such an important part of our early reading time together.
What picture books stand out to you from your childhood? What books were favorites with your family? Best wishes for further reading!