Reading aloud to children is one of the best ways to strengthen the bond between child and parent, broaden kids’ imaginations and finally get restless little ones to go to bed at night. It’s also imperative for their overall development. The Children’s Bureau reports that reading to kids at a young age (read: as soon as they’re out of the womb) improves their cognitive growth, strengthens their language skills, makes it easier for them to concentrate and readies them for academic success down the road. With a payoff this great, you’d think we’d be walking around with books glued to our hands.
Of course, finding the perfect book that strikes a balance between colorful (visuals spark creativity and prolong engagement), educational (whether the book teaches kids about counting or the value of diversity) and uplifting (because no one wants to end the night with a buzzkill story) isn’t always a breeze. If you’re looking to beef up your bookshelves with some literary goodness, you’ve come to the right spot. Ahead, we’ve rounded up 10 of the best picture book titles of the year. Happy reading!
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates! by Ryan T. Higgins
The first day of school can be scary for kids who are used to spending time at home surrounded by familiar things. For Penelope Rex, a kid dinosaur, those things are, well, other dinosaurs! So when she joins a classroom of human children, Penelope learns the hard way that eating the kids in your class — even if you spit them out — is no way to make new friends. With a little help from her parents and teacher, Penelope overcomes her ferocious appetite and learns to get along with her new pals.
We Don’t Eat Our Classmates!, $14.81 at Amazon
Mae Among the Stars by Roda Ahmed
This uplifting picture book, written by Roda Ahmed and illustrated by Stasia Burrington, is inspired by Mae Jemison, the first Black American woman to travel to space. In the book, a young Mae sets her sights on outer space and learns that with hard work, a strong commitment to education and a lot of curiosity, she can achieve anything she set out to accomplish.
Mae Among the Stars, $14.57 at Amazon
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Jill Twiss
A book that’s just as fun for parents as it is for kids, A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo is a hilarious, sweet literary treat from HBO’s Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Intended as a parody of Charlotte Pence’s (yes, that Pence) book, Marlon Bundo’s A Day in the Life of the Vice President, this picture book, written by Jill Twiss, tells the story of a darling bunny who falls in love. The problem? Little Marlon Bundo has fallen in love with somebunny of the same sex. This book (lightly) examines same-sex marriage and politics while also teaching kids that love is love.
A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, $8.27 at Amazon
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
The New York Times’ best-selling author Vashti Harrison brings kids an incredibly inspiring history lesson in her gorgeous picture book, Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History. This book is a bit on the longer side (97 pages) but is worth every page turn. Readers will learn about 40 groundbreaking women in Black history, including poet Maya Angelou, pilot Bessie Coleman and abolitionist Sojourner Truth. Trust us; this is one kids book you’ll want to read (and reread).
Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History, $11.89 at Amazon
The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld
Processing grief and loss is hard at any age, but especially so for kids. Cori Doerrfeld’s The Rabbit Listened is an endearing book about a child named Taylor who loses something dear and needs a support system. But what kind? After meeting with a few animal friends, Taylor learns that sometimes, the best way to get through a hard time is just having someone who will listen.
The Rabbit Listened, $14.61 at Amazon
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Julián has a dream. He wants nothing more than to be a majestic mermaid whose beauty emanates and touches everyone he meets. Julián also has a big concern. He’s scared that his grandmother (and the outside world) will disapprove of his newfound style. Jessica Love’s Julián Is a Mermaid is a charming, lovable story of one boy’s journey of self-discovery and acceptance.
Julián Is a Mermaid, $13.72 at Amazon
Petra by Marianna Coppa
Meet Petra, an adorable rock whose circumstances are continually changing. One minute she’s minding her own business in a patch of grass, and the next, she’s sitting sky-high in a bird’s nest. Rather than dwell on the negatives, however, Petra learns to put a positive spin on things, turning significant transitions into life-changing, enjoyable experiences.
Petra, $13.42 at Amazon
Drawn Together by Minh Lê
Drawn Together is a stunning exploration of how people spanning generations and language barriers can come together and find similarities. In this book, written by Minh Lê and illustrated by Dan Santat, a young boy visits his grandfather and discovers they have difficulty communicating. Instead of giving up on each other, the boy and his grandpa find a common bond through drawing and form a meaningful lifelong relationship.
Drawn Together, $10.91 at Amazon
I Am Enough by Grace Byers
I Am Enough is an aspirational book both parents and kids can feel good reading. From actor Grace Byers, this picture book is all about the importance of loving and accepting yourself — and others — at every stage.
I Am Enough, $14.24 at Amazon
I’ve Loved You Since Forever by Hoda Kotb
If you grew up reading Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, you’ll adore I’ve Loved You Since Forever by acclaimed journalist and Today coanchor Hoda Kotb. The sweet book delves into the unconditional love parents feel for their children. Suzie Mason’s lovely illustrations perfectly complement Kotb’s elegant prose in this bedtime story you will cherish forever.
I’ve Loved You Since Forever, $14.24 at Amazon