50 Family Favorite Picture Books

This month, my youngest child turned five. I find myself experiencing something largely unfelt for the last ten years…nostalgia. For these past ten years, I have been in perpetual, day-to-day survival mode. I have experienced all manner of “mom” modes, including, but not limited to:

  • Newborn Haze Mom
  • Zombie Mom
  • I Can’t Even Mom
  • “That” Mom
  • Judge-y Mom
  • Mama Bear Mom
  • Defeated, Deflated, Detached Mom
  • Yell-y Mom
  • Sobbing Mom
  • Bribing Mom
  • Oh No You Didn’t Mom
  • These Toddlers Will Be The End of Me Mom
  • and above all HOT MESS MOM

But I have never (well, rarely ever) been Nostalgic Mom. You know, the one who sees a baby and immediately sighs, reminiscing through rose-colored glasses, and pining over those best memories that rise to the top.

Nostalgic Moms used to cause very real stress for me because, with them, I had a constant feeling that I was not “enjoying the moment” enough, or present enough, or “treasuring it all up in my heart” enough. I was overwhelmed, out-numbered, exhausted, and perpetually at a loss. I had never been far enough removed from the intensity of it all to experience anything else. Now, I liken it to swimming in the ocean. When waves are rolling in at a pace that allows you to catch your breath in between, you can look around and appreciate the beauty, majesty, and power of them. At this rate, even the large, overwhelming, crushing waves can be absorbed. But when the waves come in at such a pace that each time your raise your head out the water, another crashes over you, even the smallest waves become thoroughly incapacitating and panic inducing. That is what much of the early days of mothering felt like for me. And so, nostalgia was very far removed.

But now, suddenly, with the coming of my youngest child’s fifth birthday, I am becoming Nostalgic Mom. I see a tiny baby and I coo and aww and remember (only the good things). I see an older baby grab their mom’s face and turn it to them and I can almost feel the hands of my own children years ago. I see a new walker heading in the opposite direction of their heavily pregnant mother and my mind rewinds to the joy of my children’s first tentative steps while stubbornly blocking out the endless chasing that followed. I see a toddler throwing a fit in the store and I smile at the exhausted, embarrassed mother in solidarity but feel no shared panic.

I am, at long last, far enough removed. The waves are rolling in at a relatively even pace. And I am shocked by how emotional it is. I was not prepared for how jarring this new phase of life would be for me. My children are now all school aged and my role is shifting under my feet. In an effort to somewhat steady that shifting, I have been trying to find some way of commemorating the past ten years of baby/toddler/preschool parenting, something unique, something that embodies my parenting experience during that time.

What better way for me to do that than through books?! I do not think it would be an exaggeration to say that we have read thousands of picture books in our home over the last decade. Some we have read so often the pages are destroyed, some we never finished (which is saying something for a picture book), some we have given away, some we have memorized. But no matter the reaction, the picture books have been there, in neat stacks, in rows, in “hot lava” patterns across the floor, in lopsided piles. Increasingly, though, the younger kids are asking for longer stories to be read to them. And while I will always read them picture books, I can sense the days of having twenty-seven checked out at a time waning.

Because of this, I would like to make a list of our family’s favorite picture books. This is not a list of the best picture books, though some are in there, or the most popular, though, again, there will be some overlap. These are simply the ones we enjoyed the most and I love each and every one of them for that.

The Essential First Books:

  • Yo! Yes? (Chris Raschka) – Hands down, this is the best picture book about friendship out there. This was my first picture book love and it is the first book I give to new parents.
  • Freight Train (Donald Crews) – The illustrations in this book are true art. Also, who doesn’t love trains?!
  • Red Wagon (Renata Liwska) – This fantastic book is everything a picture book should be: beautifully illustrated, funny, imaginative, and helpful.
  • Seven Blind Mice (Ed Young) – Perspective is an important thing, as these mice learn.
  • Bear’s Loose Tooth (Karma Wilson) – Of all the wonderful Bear books, this one has been my children’s favorite. Probably because over the last five years there has always been a least one loose tooth in the house.
  • Lonesome Polar Bear (Jane Cabrera) – This is a personal favorite of mine. I have memories of long, cold winter nights, reading this book again and again. All the Polar Bear wants is a friend and Cloud just is not cutting it.
  • Whistle for Willie (Ezra Keats) – This is the summer version of Keats’ Snowy Day and I absolutely love it.
  • Little Quack (Lauren Thompson) – Every parent can relate to Mama Duck’s struggle trying to get the kids out of the house, or nest, in this case. Every child can relish in the joy of overcoming fears.
  • Planting a Rainbow (Lois Ehlert) – Ehlert is a picture book icon and this was my kids’ favorite of hers.
  • The Umbrella (Jan Brett) – This book is basically The Mitten in the rain forest. I cannot count the number of times we have read this book in my house, but we all thoroughly enjoy it every time.

The Classics:

  • Snowy Day (Ezra Keats) – This book almost makes me want to play in the snow! It is picture book perfection.
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (Eric Carle) – The best thing about this book is that your two and three-year old will feel an enormous sense of accomplishment reading this book to you, by themselves, over and over and over and, yep, over again!
  • Swimmy (Leo Lionni) – Different and all alone in the world, Swimmy just wants to find his place. Lionni’s famous illustrations will keep this book on your children’s shelf for a very long time.
  • Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak) – Max needs no introduction!
  • Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Judith Viorst) – It seems like every time we read this book, my kids can relate to a new part of it. Because some days are just like that, even in Australia.
  • Bread and Jam for Frances (Russel Hoban) – I’m not going to lie, I have used this book as a subtle teaching tool for how to learn to eat other things besides peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Sadly, while they love the book, they have not picked up on the lesson.
  • Curious George (Margret and H.A. Rey) – “This is George. He was a good little monkey and always very curious.” I mean, does it get much better than that!
  • Dr. Seuss’s ABCs (Dr. Seuss) – I think each of my kids have learned the alphabet to this book, with a lot of laughs along the way!
  • Chrysanthemum (Kevin Henkes) – Because my children do not have common American names, this book has been essential in our home. They have spent many hours, like Chrysanthemum, courageously embracing their unique names.
  • Animalia (Graeme Base) – This book is brilliantly written and illustrated. It does not matter how many times you have read it, you can always find something new. It is, by far, my favorite ABC book.

The Laugh Track:

  • Don’t Let Pigeon Drive the Bus (Mo Williams) – All of the Pigeon books are hilarious, this one is particularly so.
  • The Book With No Pictures (B.J. Novak) – Belly laughs will ensue, even without pictures.
  • The Day the Crayons Quit (Drew Daywalt) – Listen to the laugh-out-loud messages the crayons have for their owner.
  • A is for Musk Ox (Erin Cabatingan) – Sometimes a musk ox just needs some alphabet attention, too.
  • Count the Monkeys (Mac Barnett) – What happens if you are reading a counting book, but all the things you are supposed to count are nowhere to be found?!
  • Stick (Steve Breen) – A young frog gets overly excited about his tongue’s fly-catching abilities. Wait for it, though, because the big laughs are on the last page.
  • Hippo-Not-A-Mus (Tony and Jan Payne) – Portly, the young hippo, decides he doesn’t want to be a hippo anymore and goes searching for the animal he should be instead.
  • 11 Experiments That Failed (Jenny Offill) – Occasionally, things do not go according to plan, experiment wise. When that happens, there can be hilarious results, at least in eleven cases I’ve read about!
  • Froggy’s Worst Playdate (Jonathan London) – My kids went through a very long Froggy phase. I think “more red in the face than green” were the first seven words they were each able to read. This one is guaranteed to bring the laughs.
  • Z is for Moose (Kelly Bingham) – Moose is feeling a little excited about his upcoming page in the alphabet book. Hijinks ensue, feelings are hurt, chaos and drama reign, all until Zebra figures out the perfect solution.

The Constant Go – To’s:

  • Down By the Cool of the Pool (Tony Mitton) – The rhyme and rhythm of this book are so catchy that kids just want to hear it again and again.
  • I’m Dirty (Kate and Jim McMullin) – Apparently, there is nothing more interesting than listening to a back hoe digger brag about its machinery and revel in the mud.
  • Ladybug Girl at the Beach (Jacky Davis) – The Ladybug Girl books were sanity saving pieces of literature for my escape from all things Fancy Nancy related.
  • Only Bread for Eze (Ifeoma Okoye) – This is the second picture book I came to love as a young girl. I have read it more times than I can imagine and I love it more each time. It is the Nigerian version of Bread and Jelly for Frances.
  • Manana, Iguana (Ann Whitford Paul) – My kids feel so cool reading this book, like they speak Spanish. It is a very fun re-telling of The Little Red Hen.
  • Smash, Crash (Jon Scieszka) – If dirty diggers are your child’s thing, then this book is even better because all these two trucks want to do is smash and crash everything in sight.
  • My Name is Not Isabella (Jennifer Fosberry) – I read this book to my girls all the time. Isabella has a very active imagination and at every turn she is pretending to be a different famous woman from history.
  • Catch That Goat (Polly Alakija) – This story takes place in a Nigerian market. A goat goes missing and one little girl must find it before her mother comes back. I cannot recommend this book enough.
  • Dial M for Mercy (Doug Peterson) – Written by one of the VeggieTales writers, Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are mess-line detectives who find themselves in the middle of a pretty big mix-up.
  • My Truck is Stuck (Kevin Lewis) – To be honest, I am not sure what it is about this book that my kids enjoyed so much. But they could hear about this stuck truck many, many, many times. I really think it is the hilarious, scene-stealing gophers that they like so much.


  • Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site (Sherri Duskey Rinker) – Don’t you need to say goodnight to every construction vehicle in town before bed? Because from the antics in my house, that seems like a standard need.
  • Goodnight, Moon (Margaret Wise Brown) – I mean, whether you understand why we are saying “Goodnight, nobody” or not, you have to own the book. It is a must.
  • Llama, Llama, Red Pajama (Ann Dewdney) – Llama just needs his mama, again and again. Your kids can relate, you can relate, everybody wins.
  • Just in Case You Ever Wonder (Max Lucado) – My dad gave me a copy of this book a few years before he died and it has become a bedtime must read (and cry) with my kids.
  • Giraffe Can’t Dance (Giles Andreae) – There is nothing bedtime-y about this book and a great deal of windy-upedness (?) about it, but my kids love to hear it at bedtime. Maybe its all the middle of the night dancing, I don’t know. Either way, it is a great book, no matter the time of day.
  • Mommy’s Best Kisses (Margaret Anastas) – The book goes through different mother animals kissing their babies in all different places and my kids absolutely loved having me follow suit. And I was all too happy to oblige!
  • I’m Not Sleepy (Jane Chapman) – This is the bedtime story every parent can understand. It is a very entertaining tale of a little owl who just cannot go to sleep, or stay in bed.
  • Hedgie Blasts Off (Jan Brett) – Again, I do not know why a space traveling hedgehog story got into our bedtime rotation, but somehow it did and now it’s here to stay.
  • Little Pink Pig (Pat Hutchins) – Mama Pig just wants her baby to come home, but a farm can be oh so distracting for a clumsy little pig.
  • The Going to Bed Book (Sandra Boyton) – I think I read this book nightly for nine straight years. It was wonderful because it could always be the last book I read and I could “read” it even after the light went out. I think this is the book that will bring back visceral memories of our bedtime story times most.

If you are still reading this, you deserve to win all fifty of these books! I can’t actually make that happen, but you deserve it. These books hold very special places on my shelves and  I am glad to have a place to go to when Nostalgic Mom comes calling.

May your family enjoy these books as much as mine did!


2 thoughts on “50 Family Favorite Picture Books

  1. Wonderful post, Christy! This is a list to save and use. Thank you! You almost make me want to be a mom again. But believe me, being a Grammy is even more fun. Courage, little sister! The best is yet to come! xox Aunt Sheryl


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