25 Great Picture Books You Should Read to Your Kids


I love books.  And I really love sharing a great picture book with my kids.  I kind of have a hard time saying no to books.  Which means we’re overflowing with books.  But in the process, we’ve discovered some really wonderful books.  Some of these are old classics that seem to have fallen out of popularity, and some are newer.  But all are great books.  And there’s absolutely no order to this list – just the order I found them on our overflowing bookshelf.

1. Trashy Town

Both my kids loved this book.  It’s all about a trash man, Mr. Gilly, who drives around Trashy Town, emptying trash cans.  “Dump it in, Smash it down!  Drive around the Trashy Town!”  It’s wonderfully rhythmic and fun.

2. Llama Llama Mad at Mama

As a parent, you’ll love this book.  Kids love it to, because they can totally relate to running boring errands with mom and getting angry.  Plus the text is super cute, and we can all relate when little llama gets upset about the ladies with too much perfume on.  (Equally enjoyable are all the other Llama Llama books, but this one is my favorite.)

3. The Paper Bag Princess

This has been a favorite of mine since I was in high school.  Preschoolers won’t really get this book, but elementary schoolers will love it.  Princess Elizabeth is set to marry Prince Ronald, when a dragon attacks the castle and kidnaps the prince.  Elizabeth can only find a paper bag to wear (the dragon burned up all her clothes) and sets off to rescue her prince.  She outsmarts the dragon and saves the prince, but he doesn’t appreciate that she’s wearing a paper bag.  (And she tells him off!)

4. Toestomper and the Caterpillars

Toestomper isn’t the nicest guy.  He likes to be “mean, rude and disgusting!”  But when he comes across a bunch of caterpillars, he begrudgingly takes them in, and eventually learns to be nice.  The art in this book really makes the story – the pictures are beautiful and full of detail.

5. The Snowy Day

This one is a classic, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.  This book captures so well a child’s joy at playing in the snow.  It’s even more special when you learn that it was a book that pioneered the portrayal of African-American children in picture books.  I think every house needs a copy of this book.

6. Half of an Elephant

This book is out of print, and it’s a shame.  One night, the world splits in two, along with everything on it.  A poor elephant tries to replace his other half, with some not so successful results.  The pictures are made with collages, and make the story fun to look at.

7. Tikki Tikki Tembo

This is hands down one of my favorite picture books ever.  Poor Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo falls down the well, and his poor little brother has to keep saying his very long name over and over so the old man with the ladder can rescue him.

8. Alphabet Adventure

Alphabet books tend to be a little boring.  I mean, how many plots can you have that involve naming the 26 letters?  But this one’s fun.  The lowercase alphabet is going to their first day at school, but lowercase i loses her dot.  The letters search all over looking for it.  What’s fun about this is that the dot is on every page, and eagle-eyed kids can find it.  Audrey and Bruce Wood have 2 other great alphabet books with the same cast of characters, but this one’s my favorite.

9. Sam and the Tigers

This is a retelling of the old Little Black Sambo story, and it’s wonderful.  Sam lives in a place called Sam-sam-samara where all the people are named Sam (but it doesn’t get confusing, because everyone knows which Sam is which) and the animals talk and live amongst the people.  Sam sets out on his first day of school, dressed so brightly that Mr Sun will need sunglasses, but on his way he meets up with Tigers who want to eat him.  Instead he trades his clothes, which leaves Sam alive but sad.  The text descriptions are wonderful and this book is full of fun characters.

10. Miss Rumphius

When Miss Rumphius is a little girl, she promises her grandfather that she will do 3 things – visit faraway places, grow old beside the sea, and do something make the world more beautiful.  The first 2 she accomplishes with ease, but she’s not sure what she should do to make the world more beautiful.  It’s a great way to get kids thinking about what they can do to make the world more beautiful, and in the meantime, they can enjoy the beautiful pictures in the book.

11. Stranger in the Woods

This book tells it’s story with photographs, and beautiful ones at that.  The text perfectly captures the personalities of the animals who are trying to figure out who the stranger is that has appeared in their woods during a snow storm.  Fortunately for the animals, the stranger provides yummy treats!

12. Millions of Cats

This is another old classic.  An old man sets out to find a kitten, and comes to a hill covered with cats.  He tries to find the cutest one, and before he knows it, he’s chosen every single one.  The repetition of “hundreds of cats, thousands of cats, millions and billions and trillions of cats” make this book so enjoyable to read and to hear.

13. Dragons Love Tacos

This book is just fun and silly.  Dragons love tacos, but they hate spicy salsa.  Guess what happens if you invite dragons over for a taco party, but accidentally serve them spicy salsa?

14. Z is for Moose

I think this is my new favorite picture book, just because it’s so funny.  Zebra is directing an alphabet book, and Moose is really anxious for his turn.  He starts showing up in all the pictures starting with letter D, asking when it’s going to be his turn.  Then, when we finally get to M, it’s for Mouse, and Moose throws a tantrum.  Zebra makes up for it in the end though.  This book is silly and so much fun.

15. How Do Dinosaurs Eat Their Food?

Kids love dinosaurs, and it’s even better when the dinosaurs are behaving badly.  These dinos through tantrums, stick beans up their nose, they’re picky and rude.  The pictures illustrate this all wonderfully, even with cleverly hidden dinosaur names, and the book even manages to sneak in a few lessons in table manners.  Dinosaurs, of course, have very good manners.  There are many “How do Dinosaurs…” books, but this one is my favorite.

16. King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub

King Bidgood is taking his bath, but he won’t get out of the tub!  Various members of the court try to help, all with disasterous results.  The beautiful pictures make this story funny and a joy to look at.  The level of detail is amazing.

17. Pilot Your Own Rescue Helicopter

This one is out of print too, and it makes me so sad.  This book is so delightful.  It comes with a little magnetic helicopter and “flight controls” that you use to fly the helicopter around the book.  There are holes cut into the page to allow the helicopter to fly from one page to the next.  My kids have so much fun flying the helicopter around and rescuing the patient.  Search used book stores and remainder book sites for this – it’s well worth it.

18. Meanwhile Back at the Ranch

One day, Rancher Hicks has to go to town.  He drives 84 miles to Sleepy Gulch and leaves his poor wife Elna at home.  Rancher Hicks is sad that Elna has to miss all the excitement in Sleepy Gulch – like watching a turtle cross Main Street – and “meanwhile, back at the ranch,” Elna wins a contest, stars in a movie, gets to meet the president and more!

19. The New Kid on the Block

This is my all-time favorite book of poetry.  It’s smart, funny, clever and a joy to read.  Kids will easily commiserate with “Homework, oh homework, I hate you, you stink.” and chuckle with “No I won’t turn orange if I eat this orange”.  The poems are just delightful, and a great introduction to poetry.  (I still have my copy of this book from when I was a kid, and I’ve actually had it signed by the author, twice – once, when I was 8 or 9, and again last year when Noah and I went to see Jack Prelutsky in DC!  He was pretty pleased to see such a well loved copy.)

20. Dear Zoo

This is a delightful little lift-the-flap board book.  Toddlers (and preschoolers) love it.  The protagonist writes to the zoo to get a pet.  On each page they send him a box, and you lift the flap to see what the animal is.  The zoo animals are, of course, not suitable pets, for a variety of reasons, so they get sent back.  It’s cute and funny.

21. More More More Said the Baby

Another toddler favorite, this book tells 3 delightfully poetic stories about 3 babies.  They’re sweet and fun, and will always leave your little one asking for “more, more, more!”

22. The Rose in my Garden

Told in a similar manner as the nursery rhyme “The House that Jack Built”, this is the story of a garden.  It starts with a rose, and a bee that sleeps on the rose.  Then all the other flowers fill in around it, each richly described, until a mouse enters the picture, and the garden and things get messy.

23. Everywhere Babies

This is probably my favorite toddler book ever. It beautifully highlights the differences in how babies are raised, and how they’re all still loved.  For example –  “Everyday, everywhere, babies are fed – by bottle, by breast, with cups and with spoons, with milk and then cereal, carrots and prunes.”  The illustrations are wonderful to look at and show all kinds of families.  It’s a perfect first birthday present.

24. Press Here

This book is practically magical.  It’s interactive, and so much fun.  It starts with one yellow dot, and the words “Press here, and turn the page.”  The one dot becomes 2, then 3, then magically transforms (or so it seems) as you interact with the book.  We liked this book so much, we had to buy a copy for Daniel’s preschool too.  It’s delightfully fun.

25. Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock

This is such a wonderful book for 4 and 5 year olds.  Anansi the spider is a trickster, and incredibly lazy.  One day he discovers a magic rock that makes you fall asleep whenever you say “Isn’t this a strange moss-covered rock?”  And of course, he uses this to his advantage.  He gets every animal in the forest to say it, so he can steal the delicious foods they’ve gathered.  But Anansi can’t fool Little Bush Deer!  Kids can’t help but giggle every time one of the animals starts to say “isn’t this a strange….”  There are a couple other Anansi books by Eric Kimmel, but this is the first (and in my opinion, the best).

Which one are you going to read first?  And what are your favorite books for kids?

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