No matter how many books your child has in their library, you’ll still wind up reading many of them over and over. I do not like them, Sam I Am!
But luckily for us parents and caregivers, there are a ton of witty, fun, and socially conscious children’s books that won’t make you want to throw the book across the room on the millionth reading. I enjoy them so much, I find myself turning to these books myself when I need to be cheered up!
Children’s Books for Adults and Kids
Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima
Kelp has never quite looked like the other narwhals in his pod. Sure, he has a tusk, but he’s never found it easy to swim in the strong currents like his friends, and seafood has never looked appetizing.
But one day, Kelp swims to the surface and sees an animal just like him—up on land. Kelp finds a community of unicorns just like him, but soon he misses his family in the ocean. He struggles with his identity: is he a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? Kelp is clever, though; he soon finds a way to bring both sides together.
This book is perfect for anyone who has felt a little different from those you grow up with, but not quite at home when you finally find “your people” (so, basically, all of us). The artwork also makes me extremely happy; the underwater rainbows are particularly gorgeous.
King Baby by Kate Beaton
All hail King Baby! I love Kate Beaton’s comics for adults, so this picture book was one of the first additions to my kid’s library. And I love it so. King Baby is an adorable tyrant, bestowing his loyal subject with smiles and achievements.
This is a great book for adopting voices and sound effects—the family cooing over a new baby, the grunts of a child learning to crawl. Like some of the best children’s books, this story is best performed rather than read.
But what I enjoy most about this book is the clever ending. When it comes to kings, and babies, no one rules forever!
Neither by Airlie Anderson
In the Land of This and That, there are blue bunnies and yellow birds. Right? So why is Neither born not quite a bird and not quite a bunny?
Neither struggles to fit in, but then they decide to find a place where their differences aren’t a weakness; they’re just part of what makes Neither wonderful and unique. They travel to a world full of color and variety—the art is really gorgeous—and find a welcoming home much different than This and That. It’s the Land of All.
But what happens when Neither’s old compatriots stumble into this bright new world?
I love that my son will grow up learning about a nonbinary world in which there is a place for everyone. This book is a great foundation for understanding how preconceptions hurt everyone, and that you can’t judge a bird by its bunny ears.
Danza! by Duncan Tonatiuh
Amalia Hernández was a dancer and the founder of El Ballet Folklórico de México. One hundred years after Hernández passed away, this book was published to introduce young readers to a side of history not seen in many other children’s books.
I love a good nonfiction children’s book, and the narrative comes to life with Tonatiuh’s illustration style. (You might recognize Tonatiuh from another favorite, The Princess and the Warrior.) The book is informative without ever becoming dry or boring. The dancing livens up any story time!
Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome and James E. Ransome
Another fantastic nonfiction book about an important woman’s life! This story is told in really beautiful verse with gorgeous flowy watercolor art. The story explores names and identities and legacies, but it does so in an accessible and entertaining way.
I love how fiction encourages kids to dream and imagine better worlds, but I also love teaching them about history from an early age. I actually learned more about Harriet Tubman myself—I hadn’t known much about her work as a suffragist and Union nurse/spy.
I hope reading stories like these means my kid will be a little more interested in history—and the often marginalized but very important people who have shaped our country.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts
Ada Twist is curious about every part of her world. What are the pointy parts of a rose? Why do hairs grow in your nose? Her parents encourage her inquiries—even when she tries to put the cat in the washing machine.
Ada Twist, Scientist is an engaging exploration of science and passion. Like other titles in this series—Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer—the book encourages children (especially girls) to pursue fields that have often not embraced diversity—and to change all that by doing what you love.
Lucía the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza and Alyssa Bermudez
Lucía dreams of being a superhero in her cape and mask, but when the boys on the playground tell her girls can’t be heroes, she’s taken aback. Her grandmother soon reveals a secret about Lucía’s past: she comes from a long line of luchadoras, women who have participated in lucha libre traditions.
The news buoys Lucía’s spirits, but when she confronts injustice at recess, she struggles with fighting for what is right and maintaining her secret identity.
Lucía is a spunky fighter radiating with joy and energy. I particularly love how this story examines the role of superheroes helping those in need—not just fighting.
Yo Soy Muslim by Mark Gonzales and Mehrdokht Amini
This father’s poetic letter to his daughter, where he encourages her to embrace the many identities that make her the person she is, is equally parts encouraging and heartwarming.
Dear little one,
…know you are wondrous.
A child of crescent moons,
a builder of mosques,
a descendant of brilliance,
an ancestor in training.
And the illustrations are just as beautiful. I love how the book celebrates heritage and faith—Muslim and indigenous identities and more. It’s about bringing together different worlds, and then passing them down to your children—something everyone can relate to.
Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Eight-year-old Cassie Louise Lightfoot dreams of flying above her apartment building, looking down on 1939 Harlem. She soars above the George Washington Bridge, laid out sparkling like a necklace. Her father helped build that bridge, but he still has not been able to bridge social chasms in a union denying him membership because of his African American and Native American roots.
In her flight, Cassie is free, floating far above a world where her place is never quite assured, buoyed by hopes for her family’s future.
This book is magical and nuanced, exploring fraught histories and identities but also encouraging kids to keep dreaming anyway—keep flying, carried up by hope. Truly a classic.
If Everybody Did by Jo Ann Stover
This is perhaps the book I remember best from my childhood. It ranges from the fun and silly—if everyone stepped on Dad’s feet, they’d be flat as a pancake—to the important—if everyone littered, the roadsides would be filled with garbage.
It’s a not-preachy way to teach kids to be sensitive to others and to think for themselves about the consequences of their actions. I hope these morals stay with my son as they have with me!
The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak
This book has no pictures—but this non-picture picture book one of the most creative and imaginative stories I’ve read.
I love how engaged and resourceful this book demands the narrator to be, in terms of voicing the story, and the child to be, in terms of picturing the story.
Also, the writer in me loves any book valuing words so much. And it really is funny!
The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers
What happens when your favorite crayons revolt? Beige and Brown feel unjustly compared to each other, Black and Blue need breaks from their usual jobs, and Orange and Yellow fight over which best represents the sun.
In this story, Duncan must work with all of the colors so he can get back to his favorite activity—making art. It’s a delightful—and very colorful—meditation on mediation and valuing the everyday objects you take for granted.
Hilda and the Troll by Luke Pearson
This is a picture book that I bought for myself long before I had a kid, back when I first started reading comics and graphic novels, and I loved it! Now, the parent in me particularly enjoys the strong mother-daughter bond and Hilda’s sense of responsible adventure.
I’m also a sucker for books set in the North, with snow-swept environs and magical creatures—both real and imagined—around every corner. Hilda is no-nonsense and fun, and Pearson employs excellent world-building. These books are quirky and fun for all ages.
Teddy’s Favorite Toy by Christian Trimmer and Madeline Valentine
Of all of his toys, Teddy’s favorite is a doll with excellent manners and fierce fighting skills. But when the doll accidentally takes a trip in a garbage truck, Teddy’s mom comes to the rescue.
Not only does this book encourage boys to play with all kinds of toys, thus teaching young readers about diversity and overcoming gender norms—the women are portrayed as strong, capable, and accepting. (This would be a great Mother’s Day gift!)
Like several titles on this list, I first discovered the book via the helpful staff at One More Page Books and More in northern Virginia—big ups to local indies!
I Love My Purse by Belle DeMont and Sonja Wimmer
Speaking of boys happily demolishing gender norms—Charlie’s red purse, given to him by his grandmother, is one of his most beloved possessions. But when he decides to take it to school, many people—even his dad—ask him why he has to take such an “unusual” item out in public.
But Charlie is undaunted. Soon, his wholehearted joy inspires those people in his life to take more risks out of love—from his dad wearing a bright Hawaiian shirt to work to the crossing guard sporting sparkly footwear. It’s more important to be true to what you love and who you are, they learn, than to try to fit into what the world expects of them.
Need I say more about why this book is so amazing?!
All right, I will. My youngest brother loved carrying around a beautiful beaded purse when he was little, and he got a lot of teasing about it (including from me and his other siblings). I wish we’d had this book back then; it would have taught him that it’s okay to love things like purses, and it would have taught us, his family, that it’s okay to see others love things.
Do Not Open by Brinton Turkle
In the wake of one of her beloved seaside storms, Miss Moody scours the beach for new treasures—and she finds a mysterious bottle. Fooled into ignoring the words “Do Not Open” on it, Miss Moody must find a way to save herself and her sidekick, a cat named Captain Kidd. And oh, does she!
I particularly love that the only thing Miss Moody is afraid of—or so she says—is a tiny mouse. As someone with a phobia of rodents, I FEEL that!
My husband grew up with this book, and I wish I had. We both love the story so much, we have a painting of one of the panels hanging on our living room wall.
This is a charming tale of a plucky woman facing down a monster with cunning wit and a sensible sense of humor—who doesn’t need such a reminder every day?