Do you remember your favorite book as a child? The books we read when young stay with us throughout our lives—whether we recognize their influence or not. Perhaps you practiced your first halting reading with Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, or learned the dual importance of bravery and caution through the Madeline series by Ludwig Bemelmans. Today’s youngsters are learning to read in a new golden age of children's literature. Appreciated for both their artistic and educational value, a stream of fantastic new books over the last decade has sought to ensure every child can see themselves reflected in the pages.
In a time of remote learning and iPads, picture books for children are more important than ever. Read on to discover our curated list of some of the best children's picture books for any young reader. While far from definitive, we seek to highlight classic tales, award-winning releases, and some adorable favorites in between. With stunning artwork and heartwarming stories, there's something for everyone to gift or enjoy. Shop any of the links below and you will be supporting independent bookstores through Bookshop.org.
Children's Books for the Littlest Readers
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
This charming board book is a lesson in proper manners for toddlers learning “please” and “thank you.” Grumpy (yet lovable) Mr. Panda's doughnuts only go to the animals who remember these magic words.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Parents and grandparents will remember this Caldecott Medal-winning tale about a snowstorm in 1962 which turned Brooklyn into a winter wonderland for little Peter. He puts on his red snow suit and explores the new surroundings with a sense of wonder kids will relate to, and which adults would benefit from remembering.
Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee, illustrated by Kadir Nelson
Written by legendary director Spike Lee and his wife producer Tonya Lewis Lee, this book's charming repetition will have your toddler chanting along with you. Sweetly follow a precocious tot and his exhausted parents around as they go through the routines so well known to young families.
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin
This Caldecott Honor recipient is now 20 years old, but it is still a charming tale of some dissatisfied cows with a typewriter and a very stressed farmer. Little ones will love the repetitive sound effects, and adults can marvel at the cows’ brilliance to use labor strikes to get their way.
Children's Books for Every Unique Child
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
A Newbery Honor Book and a Caldecott Honor Book, this beautifully illustrated tale uplifts Black boys with joyful illustrations. A young man realizes that a fresh haircut from the barber is like a magical crown—bringing joy and encouraging Black boys to present themselves as the brilliant, confident young men they are everyday. You can also read My Modern Met's interview with author Derrick Barnes.
Bunheads by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey
The first Black prima ballerina of the American Ballet Theater, Misty Copeland can now add bestselling children's book author to her list of artistic accomplishments. Released in September 2020, her charming book about a young girl trying ballet for the first time is reminiscent of her own first steps into dance. Young dancers—and anyone nervous to try something new—will love this book.
Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco
This late-1990s tale remains a favorite for its whimsical Russian-inspired folk art which harkens to the author's childhood days with her babushka. A perfect book for children learning to cope with anxiety or fear, the story follows a young girl who is afraid of thunderstorms. Her grandmother sends her to gather ingredients for a thunder cake, a process which teaches her not to fear the storm. Young readers and their parents can even follow along with the recipe.
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
The winner of a 2019 Stonewall Book Award, this sweet, powerful tale follows a young boy who dreams of dressing up as a mermaid after seeing fabulously dressed people on the subway. Although he worries what his abuela will think, Julián learns a lot about self-love and loving others.
Grace for President by Kelly Dipucchio, illustrated by Leuyen Pham
The U.S. Electoral College can be hard to explain to kids, but this book makes a perfect introduction to election politics and why it’s important to choose the right candidate. Young Grace runs for mock president at her school against a boy who seems to do much less work than her. Tackling a hard lesson of sexism in an age-appropriate way, this book is part of the complex answer for when your kid, like Grace, asks, “Where are the girls?”
The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with S. K. Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly
Being proud of who you are is the theme of this sweet sibling story from Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and acclaimed children's author S. K. Ali. Two young Muslim sisters experience excitement as the elder dons her beautiful blue hijab for the first time. When they encounter animosity against their identities, they must learn to be strong and proud together.
Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho
Available for pre-order and due out in January 2021, this picture book follows a young Chinese American girl's journey of self-love. She realizes that her eyes are different than those of many of her classmates, but that they are beautiful and expressive just like those of generations of strong women in her family. The young girl realizes she is beautiful, too, just like her mother.
Award-Winning Books Kids Will Love (and May Make Adults Cry)
The Quiltmaker's Gift by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken
Once upon a time, a king who had everything discovered one more thing he wanted: a beautiful quilt by a humble quiltmaker. The woman always gave her creations to those who needed their warmth, but she promises to give the king a quilt when he, too, truly needs one. In his greed, he begins to give away his princely treasures, only to discover that he likes giving while expecting nothing in return. The bestselling tale of generosity is paired with illustrations by Gail de Marcken that are sure to delight eyes young and old.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead
We all have sick days, but this book is sure to cheer up anyone with the sniffles. Zookeeper Amos McGee is a close friend of all the animals in his care. When one day he does not show up to work, his friends know he must be sick. A whole menagerie descends on his house to cheer him (and you) up, as only best friends do. The woodblock illustrations won the 2011 Caldecott Medal, and you'll be tempted to frame the pages for your child's room.
Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers
Published in 2017, this #1 New York Times bestseller by Oliver Jeffers was written for the author's own child. Through gentle humor, the book offers the introduction to the world any young human needs. With a resounding critical reception, the School Library Journal dubbed this book “a sweet and tender distillation of what every Earthling needs to know and might well spend a lifetime striving to achieve.”
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
Winning the 2016 Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Honor, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor, this book highlights the relationship of CJ and his grandmother through dialogue about their urban surroundings. The two together find beauty in the everyday in ways that both children and adults will appreciate.
The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell
This 1986 gem is more timely now than ever. Bumping up the road in a rustic station wagon arrive the relatives, making the house crowded, loud, and full of excitement. After a summer full of joy and love, the young narrator's sadness when the relatives leave is understandable. However, she knows they will come back next summer and all be together again. Guaranteed to make homesick adults cry, this book is a beautiful articulation that family is always family, and one day we will be together again.