You’ve just decided to give a child you know the perfect gift: a book. But with so many books on the shelves, how do you know which ones are mom-approved?
Recently, when I interviewed a group of moms about building personal libraries for their kids, many of them excitedly brought up specific children’s book titles they and their kids love. Many of them specifically mentioned stories that celebrate diversity. Others told me about books that teach valuable life lessons. And yet others gave me titles of books that, at the end of the day, just bring joy to their homes.
Whether or not you’re a parent, when it comes to shopping for kids’ books, it never hurts to get as many perspectives as possible. So, I put together this list of mom-approved books for children between the ages of 0 and 5 years.
Mom-Approved Books About Diverse Communities
Many moms are passionate about helping their kids understand diversity in their communities through books. Sometimes they want to introduce their children to characters who don’t look or act like they do, and sometimes they want their children see themselves on the page. Either way, these stories provide windows on a range of different characters and their worlds.
Festival of Colors by Surishtha Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal, illustrated by Vashti Harrison (For Ages 2-8)
Siblings Mintoo and Chintoo can’t wait to celebrate Holi, the Indian Festival of Colors, with their family members, friends, and neighbors. Mintoo and Chintoo do their part by gathering flowers, so they can dry out the petals and crush them into vibrant powders that they’ll toss in the streets when the big day arrives. Festival of Colors is a brilliant extravaganza focused on making fresh starts and coming together as a community.
Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel and Emily Haynes (For Ages 4-8)
An inventive retelling of the Hindu classic Mahabharata, this is the story of Ganesha, who has the head of an elephant, a magic mouse, and a sweet tooth he just can’t ignore. But one day, against the warnings of his friend, he eats a jumbo jawbreaker laddoo and breaks his tusk. Will Ganesha be able to learn from his mistake?
I Am Enough by Grace Byers, illustrated by Keturah A. Bobo (For Ages 4-8)
Told through lyrical prose and vivid illustrations, this book is an ode to learning to respect and be kind to yourself and the people around you.
Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You by Sonia Sotomayor and Rafael Lopez (For Ages 4-8)
A group of friends set out to plant a garden with all types of plants and flowers. While they’re working, they begin to notice each other’s differing abilities and disabilities. As the story unfolds, they learn that asking each other about their differences—including diabetes, asthma, dyslexia, stuttering, autism, Down syndrome, and more—helps everyone feel understood and less alone.
A Kids Book About Racism by Jelani Memory
Written with young kids in mind, this book introduces the concept of racism in a way that’s clear, engaging, and designed to spark conversation. In a visually interesting way, kids will learn what racism is, how to spot it, and how it feels to experience it.
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss, illustrated by EG Keller
This is the story of Marlon Bundo, a black-and-white male bunny who falls in love with another male bunny, Wesley. When a Stink Bug starts to pick on them, the bunnies’ friends rally around them in a celebration of true love and acceptance of differences.
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed, illustrated by Stasia Burrington (For Ages 4-8)
Inspired by the life of Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel into space, this story starts with Mae as a child, dreaming about dancing in space. But when she tells everyone at school she wants to be an astronaut, her teacher is skeptical and her classmates laugh. As the years pass, Mae relies on her curiosity, persistence, and belief in herself before she finally achieves her dream.
Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoët (For Ages 4-8)
As a child growing up in Pakistan, Malala watches a TV show that features a boy with a magic pencil that he can use to help other people. Malala makes a wish for her own magic pencil and imagines all the ways she could make life better for her community, and ultimately the rest of the world. Since Malala can’t get a magic pencil, she decides she needs to figure out how to make a difference using the resources available to her.
Wings for Per by Ingri and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
As a young boy in pre–World War II Norway, Per Bugge begins to learn about the value of freedom. Eventually, he moves to America, then returns to Norway as a World War II flyer. In order to fight to protect his family and community from tyranny, Per must find the courage and strength that lives inside of him.
Mom-Approved Books for Learning Life Lessons
Moms also appreciate books that present teachable moments and conversation starters. These books both capture their kids’ attention and also illustrate some of life’s important lessons.
Little Excavator by Anna Dewdney (For Ages 2-5)
When a neighborhood park needs to be built, Dump Truck, Loader, Backhoe, and Crane are ready to jump in and do their part. But Little Excavator wonders what it can do. It’s too small to do most things very well—until one day, none of the other equipment can fit on a narrow bridge. Finally, it’s Little Excavator’s chance to step up and save the day.
Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel (For Ages 4-8)
Sofia and Maddi do everything together—they live near each other, go to school together, and play at the same park. But when Sofia discovers that Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough money to fill their fridge with food, she has to decide between telling her parents so they can help and keeping her promise to Maddi that she won’t tell anyone else.
Only One You by Linda Kranz (For Ages 4-6)
To a very small fish like Adri, the ocean can seem scary and overwhelming. But as Adri sets out into the sea, readers follow his vividly illustrated journey as he tries to remember the advice his parents have given to him about navigating other creatures and challenging obstacles, as well as their reminders to stay hopeful and appreciate what’s around him.
The Great Kapok Tree by Lynne Cherry (For Ages 4-7)
Richly intricate illustrations introduce kids to the lush Amazon Rainforest in Brazil. A giant Kapok tree lives in its center, doing its part to keep its community of animals, people, and other plants thriving. When a man arrives and begins cutting down the tree, the residents of the forest wait until the man is asleep, then whisper in his ear about why the tree matters to their survival, in hopes that they’ll persuade him to leave the tree alone.
What Should Danny Do? by Adir Levy and Ganit Levy, illustrated by Mat Sadler (For Ages 3 and Up)
In this story, kids get to choose the direction the story takes. Their various choices will lead them to one of nine different endings as they journey with Danny, Super-Hero-in-Training, through the moments in his day. Will he yell to get his way or ask for something politely? Will he share with his brother? Forgive another kid when she accidentally spills on him? All of their choices add up, determining the consequences—positive and negative—Danny will face at the end of his day.
Mom-Approved Books for Making Reading Time Fun
Of course, sometimes, reading should just be fun. While these moms agreed that this is true for kids of any age, it’s especially important for babies who aren’t old enough to have conversations. Plus, there’s no better way to instill a lifelong love of books than to make reading something kids can’t wait to do. These board books are recommended for the youngest of kids.
Do Cows Meow? by Salina Yoon (For Ages 0-3)
This book introduces all the animals in the barn. Each bright, colorful animal’s mouth features a colorful flap that kids lift up to discover its sound.
Pajama Time! by Sandra Boynton
This book brings a beat to bedtime. Kids can sing and dance along to the rhymes while they enjoy the illustrations of funny animals like a jump-roping chicken and an elephant in footed pajamas.
Now that you have a list of mom-approved books, go ahead and give your kid—or any kid you know—not only a book, but also hours and hours of joy, discovery, and fresh perspectives of the world.
If you’re looking for more ideas, check out 31 of the top children’s books.