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10 Best Children’s Books in 2020

10 Best Children’s Books in 2020

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.

Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry

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 Here by 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.

How Big is a Million? by Anna Milbourne & Serena Riglietti

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.

Culturing My Kiddos with Museums and Experiences

Culturing My Kiddos with Museums and Experiences

My mother was an inordinately thorough tourist and, I admit, when it comes to culturing my kiddos, this apple didn’t fall far from its tree.

But in my childhood, it could be 6pm and we’d have been in a museum for the previous five hours and my mom would still be reading Every. Single. Panel in Every. Single. Exhibit.

After which, Mom would’ve remembered our AAA guide book’s recommendation and suggested, “Oh, that house where some obscure author slept one time in 1857 is just 16 more blocks away.” So we’d keep going.

She’d drag my whiny ass everywhere. And I do remember complaining; like…the entire time.

I swore I’d never be the same.

But I still wonder – is it worth it?

I feel empowered by walking out of a museum within 90 minutes because, let’s face it…nobody has that kind of attention span. Or hip-flexor strength. Or stamina in their shoulders to hold a backpack of snacks and water bottles and jackets and an iPad (for emergencies) while staring at dinosaurs/paintings/historical dioramas for four hours. (Even when that backpack is the best/coolest diaper bag for dads.)

But folks…I did it, today. Culturing my kiddos became my #1 mission…to their extreme annoyance and boredom.

I’m in London with my partner (after two months solo in NYC). But he’s still working all the time as his two Broadway shows are prepping for opening nights on the West End. So it’s still just me and the kids.

Except, again: we’re in London. Totally foreign city to me. No clue how to navigate with kids. Ugh. Pray for me – with a charming accent.

So today we went to the British Museum. We saw mummies. Lots of mummies. Mummified adults the size of my 5yo, mummified cats, a mummified alligator, a mummified eel (wtf?) The kids were horrified/fascinated/traumatized. But mostly bored.

My kids gaping at mummies, then quickly bored. Culturing my kiddos is worse that pulling teeth.
My kids gaping at mummies…one second before they’re over it and bored.

Seriously – we saw one mummy and my 3yo says, “I’m bored. Let’s go home.” Admittedly, he might’ve been overwhelmed by the 3,000 students mobbing the room of 3,000 year-old mummies. But really, I think he was like, “Nothing to TOUCH in this museum? This place blows.”

But we were in the GD British Museum. We weren’t gonna leave without seeing some more priceless stolen treasures. (I kept saying “And the British stole that, and the British stole this, and that…” Curiously, neither of them asked “why?” or “but stealing is bad, Daddy.” They just begged to leave without demonstrating a shred of moral rectitude.)

So I dragged them to see the Samurai armor since we’d recently read “Night of the Ninjas” of the Magic Tree House series.

(BTW: zzzzz.)

We continued. “Hey look, kids – a 3-story tall statue of Buddha!”

“Daddy? Can we go to the cake pop store?” (Read: Starbucks.)

“Shut up and look at this amazing stolen Roman thingy.”

“Daddy, my stomach feels angry that we are here. Can we go?”

“Are you gonna throw up? No? Then look at that sarcophagus.”

“No. I mean, yes, I’ll throw up. If we stay here.”

“Can it, kid. Look at these stolen friezes from ancient Greece.”

And then: The Rosetta Stone. I mean – the translator that opened humankind to a trove of another rich civilization. Kids, this is one of the most important archaeological finds in all human history!

I mean…the ROSETTA STONE. This is bare minimum for culturing my kiddos!

My kids rolling their eyes in front of the Rosetta Stone as I'm trying desperately at culturing my kiddos.
My kids rolling their eyes in front of the Rosetta Stone.

Okay, okay. So they’re only 5 and 3. I should cut ’em a break. But we’re in the BRITISH MUSEUM for stolen’s sake!

“Look guys! Sphinxes and obelisks and some old stolen temple, oh my!”

“Daddy? Can we buy a present?”

“No. Look at this medieval…metal thingy.” (I’m boring myself, by this point.)

“I hate it, here, Daddy. There’s nothing to do but look at stuff.”

“Right, but you’re growing smarter by the second. I just know it. You’ll pass that test to get into the G&T program and I’ll never have to worry about you being dumb. I’ll just worry about you being a drug dealer at Ivy league schools. And that’s preferable to you being stupid.”

“Daddy, don’t say stupid.”

And then, it happened. We stumbled into a room of pilloried splendor that even my kids couldn’t avert their eyes. They were transfixed, they were they were stimulated. My nagging and dragging had been worth it. They were changed beings from near-toddlers to almost-tweens. Such magic a little T&A can do…even for little American, uncultured troglodytes.

For ten titillating and hilarious minutes, butts, boobs and penises made us all giggle and thrilled my kids. They were finally engaged and curious.

But after those ten minutes (make it six), and they were back to…”Daddy, this is boring. I wanna go.”

And we did. We’d been there an hour. Pretty good compromise, if I do say so, myself.

Santa With a Side of Jesus

Santa With a Side of Jesus

I know – I’m exhausting: I just can’t abide y kids NOT undersatnding the reason behind any celebration, and so even at Christmas (even though we aren’t regular church-goers), I need my kids to have Santa with a side of Jesus. Or vice-versa. But let’s be honest: our culture focuses MUCH more on Santa than Jesus.

Like yours, my kids are obsessed with receiving presents. It always makes me nervous they’ll become unappreciative, acquisitive kids lacking any appreciation for the reason for the season. I fretted about it. So I quizzed them:

“Why do we celebrate Christmas?”

“To get presents!”

“Right, but beyond that, people believe someone named Jesus was born.”

And my innocent child blandly responded, “Jesus Fucking Christ?”

We were actually decorating the Christmas tree in this moment and my partner and I could absolutely not look at each other for fear of guffawing uncontrollably.

After we both bit the inside of our cheeks til we tasted blood, I responded, “Well, we usually don’t use his middle name.”

Anyway.

This year, we’re reading diverse books about Rudolph and Santa with a side of Jesus.

As I’ve alluded, I’m a believer in a higher power, a worldly energy, a united human spirit. But I don’t think there’s a grandfatherly figure with a white beard deciding whether or not we get into pearly gates. And Biblical stories?, word-for-word?…not so much.

Of course we embrace the spirit of Christmas, spreading joy and good tidings and all that jazz. But (as with appreciating Veterans’ sacrifices on Veteran’s Day – and that it’s not just a day off from school, and that Labor Day celebrates sacrifices made by people once working in deplorable factory conditions – and that’s it’s not just a day off from school), the birth of a baby named Jesus is the reason for Christmas – not just getting presents from Santa.

That’s the origin of this holiday; the why. I want my sons to know why we celebrate Christmas and why we give gifts in the same spirit of the wise men and kings bringing gifts to Jesus.

I won’t allow my kids to go through life not understanding the why – of pretty much everything.

No need to lump me in with people who get freaky-outy about keeping the “Christ” in Christmas. I really don’t think Jesus would (is?) insulted by secular shopping mall decorations or red Starbucks cups lacking snowflakes. If He weren’t so full of forgiveness, I’m sure he would be rolling his eyes at us…like incessantly.

The “war on Christmas” just sells more advertising on FOX. Christians are not the victims. And if you’re really that pure a religious observer, you should be able to separate your authentic & personal celebration from consumer frenzy.

Sorry. Stepping off my soap box.

Anyway.

Recently, I read an interesting tidbit in the NY Times about how Washington Irving (he of Legend of Sleepy Hollow fame) crafted a Christmas tradition for America and helped invent Santa Claus. (So much to unpack, here…not the least of which is we crafted our own consumer Christmas frenzy. How…American.)

Until the early 1800’s, there was no national Christmas holiday, like…anywhere; let alone the United States. They didn’t even have Santa with a side of Jesus. Christmas was even approached differently by Episcopalians and Unitarians and every other Christian denomination. (Some saw it as blasphemy. WTF?) But in a book parodying the history of NYC, Washington Irving made the Turkish St. Nicholas the patron saint of NYC. Then Irving’s neighbor wrote a poem for his daughters describing St. Nicholas as a “Ripe jolly old elf.”

Up to that time, Alexander Hamilton and Mayflower refugees weren’t dreaming of sugar plums or fretting over any war on Christmas.

It was a religious holiday celebrated by some, not by all.

Isn’t that fascinating? (I love our current culture of revisiting history with different lenses.)

I’m excited to pass this history on to my kids and help them understand the why, plus the crafting of traditions from mistletoe to crèches and mangers to Coca-Cola Santa Claus.

For this year, my kids still see Santa and say presents presents presents. But when I nag, “Why do we celebrate Christmas and give gifts?” they parrot, “Because Jesus was born.”

“And what do we do besides get presents?”

Give presents.”

So they regurgitate my words. I’m okay with that, for now.

Next year we will work on generosity, world peace with a side of virgin births.