Remember hanging out in libraries? Sigh… Once a weekly go-to, now a distant memory for my kids, and likely yours, too. In their absence, our book collection has grown. Acquiring books during the pandemic has been akin to stocking up on frozen vegetables. You’re gonna need those books — and they’re good for you.
Between our own book purchases (often an alternative to buying one more plastic toy), generous extended family — including a great-aunt that used to work at a children’s bookstore — and our neighborhood’s Little Free Libraries, we’ve been fortunate, and we’ve been reading.
Many of our books end up being read obsessively for a week, never to be child-selected again (ahh, the beauty of libraries!). But there are some that we keep going back to. The ones we’ve all memorized and have stolen phrases from for our everyday kid conversations. The ones that were totally worth buying…
The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss (Happy Birthday to the beloved author!)
We’ve ventured far into the wacky world of whosits and whatsits, but we always return to the gold standard. Every preschooler is exploring their autonomy and nothing illustrates the wild possibilities better. Plus, it’s so apropos for the times, Sally and boy with nothing to do.
Freight Train, Donald Crews
This one is a must for the little train lover in your life. It’s short and simple, but will stop your busy toddlers in their tracks until it’s “going, going…gone!”. They won’t even realize they are learning their colors and prepositions, in addition to the trivial train lingo.
Another vehicle favorite: Good Night, Little Blue Truck
Nanette’s Baguette, Mo Willems
Reading is ten times more fun with the built-in theatrics that Mo Willems provides. This one is longer than his classics, but the plot is no more complex. Nanette must bring home a baguette before eating it all and being “beset with regret.” Show me a more clever rhyming book—I’ll wait!
The Good Egg, Jory John
From a young age we are taught to be “good,” which often leads to “perfect,” including everything around us. Relatable? Kids and adults alike will enjoy this one and the humorous way it teaches us to be kind to ourselves and accepting of others.
Mixed: A Colorful Story, Arree Chung
For preschoolers, the most powerful books on race use concepts and visuals from their own small worlds. This age-appropriate story about embracing our differences uses the whole color wheel and cartooned facial expressions to show how diversity makes a better place for all.
I Just Forgot, Mercer Mayer
There’s just something about Little Critter books—which were favorites of mine as a kid too. My youngest likes finding the hidden critters on each page. I assume my daughter can relate to the “I have more agency than you think” attitude mixed with the “mistakes are ok” messages.
Tickle Time!, Sandra Boynton
Up your tickle time game with this simple board book by a classic author. Kids of all ages will enjoy the nonsensical strings of made up words, followed by being tickled high and low, and left and right. It’s a perfect almost-bedtime book when you need to reign the giggles into bed.
Another Boynton favorite: Dinosaur Dance
The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson
If I’ve learned anything from my countless hours of Paw Patrol viewing, it’s that kids love repetition and formulaic storytelling. The Gruffalo does this well, taking you on a journey through the woods and back again with masterful rhyming and humor.
Also in the series: The Gruffalo’s Child
Tuesday, David Wiesner
My daughter had me “read” her a word-less book for months, as if she was trying to memorize my ever-changing story. The almost word-less Tuesday will teach anyone the power of good illustration and storytelling. Bonus: you can make the story as short or as long as needed!
Another unconventional favorite: The Book with No Pictures
Benny and Penny in Just Pretend, Geoffrey Hayes
This comic style book depicts the love-hate relationship between young siblings better than I’ve seen anywhere else. Benny doesn’t want anything to do with his sister Penny, until he does. When he called her a dumb, bad little sister, well, that was just pretend.
Another favorite from the series: Benny and Penny in the Big No-No!
*What are your must-have children’s books? Share in the comments!