Children’s picture books deliver their lessons most effectively when they do so in a way that seems almost accidental, by telling a great story, giving readers a rich experience, and oh, by the way, including an essential message. These ten fun books are a blast to read, and just might have something to say about respecting wild animals and pets that belong to other people, being brave for the first day of school, and taking care to head to the bathroom before it’s an emergency.
The Pawed Piper, by Michelle Robinson and Chinlun Lee
The narrator of The Pawed Piper has a quest: “I wanted a cat to cuddle.” When she announces this to her mom, busy with a baby sibling, and her bearded hipster dad, they don’t take immediate action on her request. So she does, filling her room with items cats like and luring them in with catnip and dishes of milk. Soon, all the cats of the neighborhood are hanging out in her feline-friendly paradise. But then she notices all the “missing cat” notices that have gone up around the neighborhood, and realizes she has to reunite some kitties with their families. Chinlun Lee’s illustrations capture the unique personalities of dozens of cats who look so real, you might just find your own cat depicted.
Truman, by Jean Reidy and Lucy Ruth Cummins
Truman also explores the bond between a young girl and her pet—in this case, Truman the turtle. Sarah takes great care of Truman in their apartment, “high above honking taxis and growling trash trucks.” One day Truman notices some inexplicable occurrences: Sarah straps on a backpack big enough to accommodate thirty-two tortoises, leaves him more green beans in his bowl than usual, and boards the number 11 bus going south. Waiting for Sarah to return, Truman is patient at first, but eventually he embarks on an epic journey to find her. This sweet story about heading to school, told from an unexpected perspective, will ease first-day jitters.
Can I Keep It?, by Lisa Jobe
Wild animals can captivate kids as much as pets do, and this book gently teaches an important lesson about letting wild creatures be. A little boy traps a squirrel and asks his mom if he can keep it. His mom asks him, “If you were a squirrel, where would you want to live?” The boy realizes the place for a squirrel is in a tree, but that doesn’t stop him from trying to capture other wild animals, including a frog and a bird. He finally learns the right kind of pet to bring home—a cat who needs a family.
One Dark Bird, by Liz Garton Scanlon and Frann Preston-Gannon
“When starlings are startled or threatened,” Garton Scanlon writes, “they come together to form a murmuration—a single-seeming mass that performs coordinated, acrobatic dances in the sky.” But an occurrence this extraordinary requires not just straightforward prose, but art and poetry to capture its beauty and singularity, and One Dark Bird delivers. While counting forward and backward, the rhymes and illustrations convey the wonder of a murmuration, its purpose, and its serendipity to all who behold it.
One Shoe Two Shoes, by Caryl Hart and Edward Underwood
If your kids can’t get enough of counting books, after counting birds, let them count shoes. Follow the dog in this bright, rhyming book as he goes out for a walk and sees all kinds of shoes, and returns home to find mice making an alternative use of his family’s footwear. Kids will have fun keeping track of all the shoes and mice, who take off on adventure in a pair of roller skates.
Vroom, by Barbara McClintock
Speaking of taking off, a little girl named Annie who stars in this book zooms all over the country in her toy silver race car, inspired by the one the author was given when she was little. Watch Annie vroom through farmland pastures, delicate rock arches, cool forests, and a busy city. She even accidentally enters an IndyCar race, but she still makes it home for bedtime.
What Does an Anteater Eat?, by Ross Collins
Often adults get to be the know-it-alls, so kids love it when they can supply the answer. This delightful book about an anteater who’s not sure what he’s supposed to eat will give young readers the opportunity to fill him in. The puzzled anteater realizes he’s hungry and walks around asking different animals what he’s supposed to eat. Your kids won’t be able to resist shouting out the answer, but that doesn’t mean that he’s going to listen. At the end, he concludes that a banana must be his essential food.
I Need to Wee!, by Sue Hendra and Paul Linnet
We’ve all been there—that desperate moment when we or a child we care for has to use the facilities right away. This hilarious story features a toy bear named Alan and a robot who realizes, judging from Alan’s strange, hopping dance, that they need to get him to the bathroom immediately. Alan becomes slightly distracted from his mission, stopping to grab a balloon and a bite of cake, and when he gets to the bathroom, the line is too long. So the robot helps him improvise. If you’ve ever had to get creative when nature called, you’ll be cracking up at I Need to Wee!
The Right One for Roderic, by Violeta Noy
Little Roderic “was the smallest ghost in the largest family that had ever lived throughout the centuries.” All the other ghosts in his family are perfectly happy wearing simple white sheets to cover their ectoplasm. But Roderic feels like nobody notices him, and he wants to stand out. So he experiments with fashion. Wacky hats and colorful scarves make Roderick happy, but his family doesn’t approve. Still, Roderic isn’t content returning to a white sheet wardrobe again, so he takes a stand for his own individuality and reaches a compromise with his family in this adorable book.
Pick A Pumpkin, by Patricia Toht and Jarvis
After summer vacation, what’s likely to be most kids’ favorite time of year? Halloween! It’s never too soon to start looking forward to the next Halloween, and its attendant rituals of pumpkin picking and carving. Patricia Toht’s verse conveys the semi-yucky fun of pulling out a pumpkin’s innards: “Lumpy chunks. Sticky strings./ Clumpy seeds. Guts and things.” Jarvis’s energetic, autumn-hued mixed-media collages will put you in the Halloween mood.
What new picture books are you excited to bring home?