16 of the Best Children’s Picture Books to Gift and Cherish

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Do you remember your favorite book as a kid? The books we read when we are young stay with us all our lives – whether we recognize their influence or not. Perhaps you practiced your first reading with Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon, or learned the dual meaning of bravery and caution through Ludwig Bemelmans’ Madeline series. Today’s youth are learning to read in a new golden age of children’s literature. A stream of fantastic new books, valued for both artistic and educational value over the past decade, have sought to ensure that every child can find themselves on the pages.

In an age of distance learning and iPads, picture books are more important than ever for children. Read on to discover our curated list of the best children’s picture books for young readers. We’re far from final, but we’d like to highlight classic stories, award-winning releases, and some adorable favorites in between. With breathtaking works of art and heartwarming stories, there is something for everyone to give away or enjoy. When you purchase any of the links below, you are supporting independent bookstores through Bookshop.org.

Children’s books for the youngest readers

Please, Mr. Panda from Steve Antony

Please, Mr. Panda from Steve Antony

This charming board book is an appropriate lesson for toddlers learning “please” and “thank you.” Sullen (yet lovable) Mr. Panda’s Donuts only go to the animals who remember those magical words.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats

Parents and grandparents will remember this Caldecott Medal-winning story about a 1962 snow storm that turned Brooklyn into a winter wonderland for little Peter. He puts on his red snowsuit and explores the new surroundings with a sense of wonder that children would identify with and remembered by adults.

Please, baby, please from Spike Lee

Please baby please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee illustrated by Kadir Nelson

Written by legendary director Spike Lee and producer Tonya Lewis Lee, the charming iteration of this book will have your toddler sing along. Follow a precocious boy and his exhausted parents as they go through the routines that young families are so familiar with.

Click, Clack, Moo: cows like that

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows of this type by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Betsy Lewin

This Caldecott Honor recipient is now 20 years old, but it’s still an enchanting story of some disaffected cows with a typewriter and a very stressed farmer. The little ones will love the repetitive sound effects, and adults may be amazed at the brilliance of the cows as they use labor punches to assert themselves.

Children’s books for every unique child

Krone: Ode to the fresh cut

Krone: An ode to the fresh cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James

This beautifully illustrated story, a Newbery Honor Book and a Caldecott Honor Book, elevates black boys with joyous illustrations. A young man realizes that a fresh haircut from the barber is like a magical crown – it brings joy and encourages black boys to present themselves as the brilliant, confident young men they are every day. You can also read My Modern Met’s interview with author Derrick Barnes.

Bunheads by Misty Copeland

Bunheads by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Setor Fiadzigbey

Misty Copeland, the American Ballet Theater’s first black prima ballerina, can now add the best-selling children’s author to her list of artistic achievements. Her charming book about a young girl playing ballet for the first time will be published in September 2020 and will commemorate her first steps in dance. Young dancers – and anyone nervous about trying something new – will love this book.

Thunder Cake Patricia Polacco

Thunder cake by Patricia Polacco

This late 1990s story continues to be a favorite for its quirky Russian-inspired folk art that recalls the author’s childhood days with its babushka. The story is a perfect book for children learning to deal with fear or fear. It is about a young girl who is afraid of thunderstorms. Her grandmother sends her to gather ingredients for a thunder cake, a process that teaches her not to fear the storm. Young readers and their parents can even follow the recipe.

Julian is a mermaid

Julian is a mermaid by Jessica Love

As the 2019 Stonewall Book Award winner, this sweet, powerful story follows a boy who dreams of dressing up as a mermaid after seeing fabulously dressed people on the subway. Although worried about what his Abuela will think, Julian learns a lot about self-love and loving others.

Mercy to the President

Mercy to the President by Kelly Dipucchio, illustrated by Leuyen Pham

US Electoral College can be difficult to explain to children, but this book is a perfect introduction to electoral politics and why choosing the right candidate is important. Young Grace is running for a bogus president at her school against a boy who seems to work a lot less than she does. This book deals with a tough lesson in sexism in an age-appropriate way and is part of the complex answer when your child, like Grace, asks, “Where are the girls?”

The proudest blue

The Proudest Blue: A Story of Hijab and Family by Ibtihaj Muhammad with SK Ali, illustrated by Hatem Aly

Being proud of who you are is the theme of this cute sibling story of Olympic gold medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad and acclaimed child author SK Ali. Two young Muslim sisters are excited when the oldest puts on their beautiful blue hijab for the first time. When they encounter hostility to their identity, they must learn to be strong and proud together.

Eyes that kiss in the corners

Eyes that kiss in the corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated by Dung Ho

This picture book is available for pre-order and will be released in January 2021 and follows a young Chinese-American girl’s journey to self-love. She realizes that her eyes are different from those of many of her classmates, but that they are beautiful and expressive, just like those of generations of strong women in her family. The young girl realizes that she is just as beautiful as her mother.

Award-winning books that kids love (and can make adults cry)

The quiltmaker's gift

The quiltmaker’s gift by Jeff Brumbeau, illustrated by Gail de Marcken

Once upon a time, when a king who had everything discovered what he wanted: a beautiful quilt from a humble quilt maker. The woman always gave her creations to those who needed her warmth, but she promises to give the king a blanket if he really needs one too. In his greed he begins to give away his princely treasures, only to discover that he likes to give without expecting anything in return. The bestselling story of generosity is combined with illustrations by Gail de Marcken that will delight young and old eyes.

A sick day for Amos McGee

A sick day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin E. Stead

We all have sick days, but this book is sure to cheer anyone with a cold. Zoo keeper Amos McGee is a close friend of all the animals he looks after. If one day he doesn’t come to work, his friends know he must be sick. A whole menagerie descends on his house to cheer him (and you) up like only best friends do. The woodcut illustrations won the Caldecott Medal in 2011, and you’ll be tempted to frame the pages for your child’s room.

Here we are

Here we are: Notes on life on planet earth by Oliver Jeffers

This 2017 New York Times bestseller by Oliver Jeffers was written for the author’s own child. Through gentle humor, the book offers an introduction to the world that every young person needs. With a resounding critical acclaim, the School Library Journal called this book “a sweet and delicate distillation of what every Earthling needs to know and potentially lifelong striving to achieve”.

Last stop on Market Street

Last stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson

Winning a 2016 Newbery Medal, a Caldecott Award, and a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award, this book explores the relationship between CJ and his grandmother through dialogue about their urban environment. The two together find beauty in everyday life in a way that both children and adults will appreciate.

Cynthia Rylant The relatives came

The relatives came by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Stephen Gammell

This 1986 jewel is more relevant today than ever. The relatives push up the street in a rustic station wagon, making the house crowded, loud, and full of excitement. After a summer of joy and love, the young narrator’s sadness when the relatives leave is understandable. However, she knows that they will be back next summer and they will all be together again. This book is guaranteed to be a fine articulation for the fact that family is always family, and one day we’ll be together again.

Best picture books for kids

Photo: Stock Photos by TATIANA BOBKOVA / Shutterstock

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