Obviously many books can serve as the ten best children’s books to delight and educate your children. This is especially true since it’s not about the substance you read to your kids but the act and tone and exposure to words.
But what about the grown-up’s experience? – shouldn’t the best children’s books delight us, too?
I’m far too selfish only to think of my kids when reading. I better be delighted and educated, as well – and that, for me, is what qualifies books for being on a list of the ten best children’s books.
Below are 10 of the best children’s books in my kids’ collection, as well as a few more foregone conclusions for classics that should just be in your collection by default.
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud & David Messina – Feelings are sometimes abstract and hard to articulate for kids. Even grown-ups often wonder “what’s the point in being kind for kindness’ sake?” Further, why bullies are mean is particularly complex. But this book gives you tools for explaining the self-interest in being kind and why bullies are mean. It feels like a corporate H.R. in-house self-publish. But trust. You’ll find it unmissable.
Tuba Lessons by T.C. Bartlett and Monique Felix is magical. Plain and simple – evocative illustrations inspiring children to fill in their own blanks. Trust me – open the cover and watch the kids dive in. There are very few words – so challenge your kids to narrate the pictures, themselves!
Little Boy by Alison McGhee and Peter H. Reynolds – For those of us who struggle with being present and mindful, this book, with its unique cadence and adorable illustrations helps parents slow down and think of the importance of days made of now. It’s too bad the book is specifically gendered and focused on a white boy’s perspective. The only improvement would be to expand the lens to universal gender and skin color.
I Stink! by Kate & Jim McMullan The best children’s books lend themselves to creative voicing and a personality that leaps off the page. This, the first in a series, is educational and entertaining and allows the reader to be as ridiculous as possible. You’ll never look at garbage trucks the same way.
The importance of cooperation and teamwork is one of the most fundamental we should pass on to our littles. And Little Blue Truck always shows that life is easier when we work together. Further, the rhymes and illustrations are entertaining for everyone.
The Secret Circus by Johanna Wright Similar to Goodnight Moon, this beauty combines uniquely simple illustrations with quiet language perfect for lulling little ones to sleep and allowing grown-ups to take their time with the sparse language and just revel in the quiet of the story.
Nutshell Library by Maurice Sendak – – The author of Where the Wild Things Are created masterpieces of childhood wonder and unique illustrations. This series of mini-books allows kids to experience unique stories (and alphabet repetition) in a tiny package that kids can organize, discover and (re)organize.
Press Hereby Heuvé Tullet – Reading this book requires children’s interaction giving them a sense of cause and effect. They will insist on executing every page’s instruction and will result in tons of delight. And if your kids are like mine, hours of repetition and ripped pages that have been repeatedly over-loved.
Stuck – Oliver Jeffers – Another element of children’s book magic comes from nonsensical storylines that delight. This is one of those. Just trust me. How Much is a Million? – Conceptualizing large numbers is tough for anyone. This book actually illustrates a million. It’ll expand your mind and warm your heart.
City Dog Country Frog by Mo Willems While Mo can do no wrong, and all of the pigeon books are must-haves and Piggy and Gerald are modern classics, this wonderful book about a friendship through the seasons gently introduces loss and sadness in a way that may introduce your children to your own tears.
Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s. Again, children grapple with complex ideas of feelings and numbers that are fascinating to contemplate and very difficult to illustrate and understand. And haven’t YOU wondered what a million looks like? Look no further. This gem literally illustrates it for you. This wonderful book is guaranteed to blow your mind as well as your kid’s.
Also, I have to include the basics, without which your kid’s cursed to live a pointless, unfulfilled life. Kidding. (Sorta.)
Honorable Mention: Goodnight iPad by Ann Droyd(?). Despite being a parody (knock-off) of one of the best children’s books of all time (see above), its application to modern life is hilarious and apt. What it lacks in originality, it makes up for in cleverness.
And all of these bags could be easily carried in the best daddy diaper bag with confidence that your kids will love them and you won’t be annoyed.
But our 3-day holidays merit reflection and comprehension in my book, too. My kids don’t JUST get to have a day off for Veteran’s Day or Labor Day or Martin Luther King Day or Presidents Day. No matter how abstract or morbid the holidays might be, we WILL be talking about them.
As a slight departure, recently, my kid streamed Newsies (the Broadway musical) at school. And she told me at dinner, “The kids were struck.”
That she even had the vaguest concept of the word, “strike” impressed me. Love it when Broadway introduces complexities into our kids’ lives without us having to step on our lecturing soap boxes.
Anyway – filing that away for Labor Day when I get to say “worker’s rights – you know – like in Newsies!”
So, anyway: back to asking my kids “What’s the reason for Presidents Day?”
This one is pretty straight-forward: honor our national leaders who bring us freedom, leadership, respectability, honor, progress, and protection.
Except at a time in life when we all question our leaders, look back on the dichotomy of goodness in our revered forefathers who were tyrants (Andrew Jackson) slave-owners (two-thirds of of them before 1865), philanderers (a vast majority, no doubt), and liars (all of them except Obama.)
Just the other day, my older kid said to me, “You know Donald Trump wasn’t the first President to be impeached, right?”
I responded (completely missing the point of her proclamation), “I didn’t even know you knew that word.”
“Bill Clinton was also impeached,” she said.
“I didn’t even know you knew who Bill Clinton was,” I responded, again: completely missing the point of her thoughts.
At a time when the presidency has been besmirched and degraded by unfathomable measures, I wonder if it might be time to alter the meaning (and name) of this holiday.
President’s Day began as a celebration of Washington’s birthday and was made an official national holiday in 1879. By the late 1960’s, congress changed the holiday (and Labor Day and Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day) to a “Uniform Monday holiday” providing for predictable Monday holidays. This law, signed by Nixon in 1971, served multiple purposes:
But given our current lack of Presidential nobility, along with endless re-discovery of our leaders, perhaps it’s time we made President’s Day about “Great American Leaders” day?
We don’t need birthday anniversary holidays for every single American of note, be they white, male, indigenous, female, of color or whatever. What if we had a holiday devoted to a value? (I know. I’m sounding dangerously conservative, here.) But like – a “Values Day” – a day where we think about things like the Scout’s Law or basic tenets of honesty, loyalty, or kindness.
Or hell, to be thoroughly American, maybe it’s “Liberty Day”. (Although, how would that differ from the 4th of July?)
I’d even be more inclined to have “Founding Fathers’ Day”. Aside from that itsy-bitsy awkward historical factoid of slavery (and their wealth, position, misogyny and snobbery) at least they didn’t start wars, assassinate Latin American leaders, or exploit foreign workers.
Scratch that. We’d be splicing hairs. Of course they did all that.
But at LEAST they happened to be in the right place at the right time to construct the world’s first democratic constitution.
Which was, objectively, a good thing.
At any rate, we currently have a holiday that most people think of as an extra day of skiing that’s devoted to 230 years of men who frequently did horrible things.
Maybe it’s time to update? What’s the point and not just the reason for Presidents Day?
Regardless, given all the mental gymnastics it takes me to discuss (with myself) the meaning behind President’s Day, we can all recognize there’s a lot to ponder and question around a dinner table on a Monday night with our children.
No matter which way you look at it (or which political side of the aisle from whence you hail) any discussion of context, history, ideas and values means parenting for good.
My second born son, Colton, gives me tremendous experience in dealing with whiny kids. He is a magnificent study in extremes. He is adorable. He could charm the wallpaper off the walls. His seductive grin makes mincemeat of the hardest of child-hating hearts.
And at the opposite extreme, what I call: #tearlesscrying.
Not tantrums. It’s worse. He whines incessantly.
Seriously, y’all. It’s soul-sucking. Dealing with whiny kids is, well…parenting. I know. But this is another level.
Believe me, Colton does not lack for coddling. Remember the whole ‘He’s so cute” bit? He’ll snuggle for hours. (Well, 15 minutes). It’s heaven to hold him in my lap after a nap. (Though his nap mainly consisted of 30 minutes of silence and 20 minutes of what? You guessed it: #tearlesscrying.)
I’m raising my kids as activists because I’m petrified of raising children without gratitude…just…entitled little shits who expect gifts, holidays and rights without appreciation for the significance of, well…anything.
And I annoy myself when I feel my feet step onto my own insufferable
soap box to preach in response to my kids exhibiting selfishness:
“I don’t WANT to write thank you notes.”
“I don’t WANT to go see Papa walk in the Veteran’s Day
“I don’t WANT to do another march.”
“It’s gonna be boring.”
And you know what? I’d prefer binging Netflix and eating
Lucky Charms straight from the box instead of recognizing historic achievements
or trying to change the world, too.
So raising my kids as activists is integral to my parenting because it cultivates appreciation and gratitude.
If nothing more, it’ll help my kids be grateful for the days
I DON’T pull their lazy asses out of their routines and force them to stop and
think about the world beyond themselves.
In 2019 America, we live in a world of comfort and walk
paths of least resistance. Furthermore, my kids are white and middle class, giving
them all the more carefree existence.
We don’t come from a long line of money. Our ancestral tree includes two salesmen, three teachers, a labor attorney, three factory workers, a coal miner and several farmers.
Thanks to activism of the last hundred years leading to labor reform, a minimum wage, union protections and education (especially for women), my family is no longer one of subsistence farmers or coal miners. (With all due respect to this demographic, as well. Activism helps them, too!)
Not to mention the fact that I’m a gay father and decades of
activism made it possible for me to be a father.
“OMG, what friggin’ things to I need to pack in my bag to
keep them tolerable?”
“They’re going to complain the entire time.”
“My shoulders are going to be killing me with these extra
“How big a flask should I bring?”
“Is it wrong for me to make a march a drinking moment?”
“KIDS! YOU MUST POOP, NOW! THERE’LL BE NO PLACE TO POOP ON
(That’s a way to sell your kids on activism.)
I began raising my kids as activists by dragging them to the Women’s March in 2017. I knew they would NOT be thrilled. But I prepped their expectations, and went through a familiar refrain: “This is not going to be the most fun day. It might be a bit boring. But this is an important experience in which you’re going to learn. And it’s important you understand we are here because bad things are happening to other people. In this case: women.”
As for the march, most of the time I was the only one suffering.
Them: “Daddy? When will this be over?”
Me: “You think Gandhi whined about twenty four days it took to march to the sea?”
Them: “Daddy? I’m thirsty.”
Me: “Welp, lucky for you, I have an extra water bottle and tons of snacks. No, wait. Not that water bottle. That’s a flask. Gimme that.”
Them: “Daddy? My feet are tired.”
Me: “Isn’t that too bad? Kids marched on Selma without a stroller.”
My kids are so lucky – to have been born with money, light skin, to an educated family and in the United States. I will gather them to march for injustice and force-feed their gratitude for not having been born in 1910, or slums in developing nations, or with a skin color making them the target of deplorable, institutional, societal bigotry.
Without activism, powerful, rich white men get all the comforts of life and leave the rest of us to fend for ourselves because the man will always keep the people down; the needs of the rich will always come before the needs of the rest of us and this all needs to change.
So I will raise my kids as activists who understand gratitude – from sacrifices made by veterans giving us national holidays to birthday thank you notes.
I will raise children who maintain their sense of justice – because fairness is a concept children understand better than most adults…and mine will maintain that concept.
I will raise my kids as activists because this world needs more gratitude and the fight for justice goes on and on.
And their temporary discomfort just might help them appreciate those lazy mornings with Netflix and
Lucky Charms just a bit more.
I’ve written a variation on this theme, before, but it’s the greatest hope I have for my kids.
“Daddy? You be ‘Anna’ and I’m going to run away from you with my cape and you say, ‘No, Elsa! Don’t go!’ Ok?”
Even Colton, who’s words are limited to “pee-pee” and “nana” gets into it. When he sees anything Frozen, he shouts “Anna!”
As already discussed, our household is ruled by Frozen. (Actually, Thomas the Train still rules, but there’s a lot of Disney princessifying going on.)
Frozen thrills Ellison. He plays all the rolls: Kristoff,
Sven and (especially) the sisters. I’ve gotten good at fashioning
dresses out of old swaddlers (blankets, not Pampers.)
The other day I figured, “Eh, he hasn’t watched it in two weeks. Why
not?” As we waited for the movie to load on my computer, Ellison jumped
on the bed shouting, “Hooray! Hooray! I’m so excited to watch Frozen!”
He shouts “hooray” sans irony. I mean, who talks like that? It’s so…earnest, so…“Barney” dialogue.
After a recent snowstorm, we built “Olafs” in our backyard with some play-date friends, a boy (age 5) and his sister (age 3).
When Ellison started singing, “Do you want to build a snowman?” the boy said, “I hate Frozen. It’s all about love. And I hate love.”
“Wow. That’s…specific,” I sputtered.
His little sister said, “Yeah. I don’t like it, either.”
“Oh,” Ellison said; then (matter-of-factly) added, “I like it!”
It was as if they’d said “my name begins with R” and he said “Oh. Well, my name begins with E.”
And in that moment, I felt a desperate need to stop time, grab Ellison, and say, “Buddy, you go ahead and LOVE Frozen with all your heart, just as you do, now. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
Their mother rolled their eyes saying, “Whatever. They were both dancing around in Frozen dresses, this morning. Peer pressure. It’s no longer cool for him to like the movie. And his sister’s just following.”
“Already?” I thought. “At five years old social acceptance looms?”
I hate that.
I’ve spouted lessons for my son in this blog. But above all, I wish
most for him to hold on forever to that innocence where he loves what he
loves. If he’s thrilled with Frozen or football or fungi, I’ll be elated to talk about it.
How I wish he could live divorced from anyone else’s opinion.
Watching his captivated face as he’s engrossed/scared/delighted watching
Frozen warms my heart.
Eventually, I know he’ll follow crowds.
I know he’ll say to me, “Daddy, don’t hug me so much,”
or “Daddy, it’s not cool to sing,”
or “Daddy? Can you drop me off at the corner? I can walk the rest of the way myself.”
But I wish it wouldn’t happen soon.
Son, just hold on to whatever makes you feel joy and free and light
and inspired. And if whatever inflames your passion is something that
isn’t cool for the outside world, I promise you: it’s safe in our house.
So act out Frozen or play football or become bizarrely obsessed with fungi.
Your passion and interests are always safe with me.
I know you’ll be influenced by others far too soon.