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There are lots of parts of parenting that do not come naturally to me—for example, I do not love a craft moment or an art project—but reading books to my kids? Absolute heaven. That said, I have to be honest. There are a million crappy kids’ books out there, a fact it pains me to write. And here’s the thing: If your kid likes a book even in the slightest, you will be asked to read it approximately nine million times. And that, my friends, is why it’s so important to only bring books into the house that are not annoying as hell to read. Because honestly, your sanity is at stake.
Enter this list! My husband and I read to our kids all the time, and I can assure you that we have stress-tested this roundup of books in a very time-intensive way. It’s loosely in order by age appropriateness, but I have to say we read all of them to our 2-year-old and 4-year-old on a regular basis. Our kids love them as much as we do, which is pretty much all you can ask for, in my opinion.
Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton
We are big fans of all of Boynton’s books, but this one is a true gem. It also helped our kids learn how to articulate colors and clothing items.
I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt
A really fun (and short!) bedtime book, full of silly creatures, with a loving callback to the parent-kid relationship. Reminds me a little bit of The Runaway Bunny, but with more humor.
Click Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin
I don’t know why we spend so much time talking about farms and farm animals with our kids, but that’s neither here nor there. This book is charming to read outloud, and the imagery is adorable too. Plus, your kids will learn how to negotiate—always a good thing with the under-4 crowd.
Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox
A little book packed with personality and lots to discover on the pages.
Daniel Tiger’s 3-Minute Bedtime Stories by Daniel Tiger
My daughter, in particular, is deeply enthralled by all things Daniel Tiger. We have a bunch of the individual paperback books—spoiler alert: they get thrashed—which is why I prefer this larger softback option. It has a bunch of those classic Daniel stories all in one, and each is long enough to feel meaningful but still pretty short, so our bedtime routine doesn’t last forever.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty
Our kids have the whole New York Times best-selling series and watch the new Netflix show based on the book, and honestly, it’s brilliant. The books, in particular, are perfect. Cool illustrations, beautiful rhyming stories, funny plotlines… They’re ideal. Ada remains the top story in our house, but Rosie Revere, Engineer and Iggy Peck, Architect are close behind. (There are two other books in the series, too!)
See Inside How Things Work by Conrad Mason
Our son has been intrigued by this book for ages, and as he gets older and understands it more, he still adores it. If you have a kid like mine who is always asking you how your hair dryer works (no idea) or how a drill works (say what?), this book is for you. Each page has a number of discoverable tiny flaps that contain even more info inside, which is honestly pretty charming.
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick D. Barnes
This book has won a slew of prestigious awards for both the writing and the illustrations, and it’s easy to see why. The Caldecott award committee called it a “love-letter to the contemporary barbershop,” as it celebrates the transformative power of a good haircut.
Every Cake Has a Story by Christina Tosi
Full disclosure: I had the great pleasure of interviewing Tosi for my podcast, Second Life, and am a big fan. The CEO/founder of Milk Bar wrote a charming book about baking, and my daughter cannot get enough of it. I love that the protagonist, Sammi, has a diverse crew of friends; my daughter likes the strawberries flying on a whisk. Win-win.
Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea by Meena Harris
My kids love any story that involves kids standing up to adults, kids making things happen, and slides, so this book has been a real hit around the house. Inspired by a true story about the author’s mother (lawyer and policy expert) and aunt (the vice president), Harris wrote a really sweet story about the power of community and how working together can result in wonderful change.
Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes by Eva Chen
I have adored Eva since the day we met—we were assistants at Elle; she showed me how to do expenses—in no small part because she loves books and reading as much as I do. While now she has a whole secondary career as a children’s book author, her very first book holds a special place in my heart. If you love fashion or style in the slightest, this book is essential.
Okay, so these are our family’s go-to books, but I’m always interested in adding to our collection. If you would be so kind as to comment and share your favorite kids’ books, I would be forever in debt to you all!
You were reading a lot for a while and posting about it constantly. Is that still happening? Got anything good to recommend?
WHY YES I DO! I know I already wrote about my 10 must-buy books of 2021, but I have a couple of additions to that list. Deeply in awe of His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie, which is brilliant and set in Ghana. (One review called it “Crazy Rich Asians for West Africa,” which is not totally spot-on but a little correct.) The world is so sharply drawn I felt like I was there. Couldn’t put it down. Buy it.
I also loved The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, which feels like a mashup of the movie Get Out and The Stepford Wives but set in the modern-day book-publishing world.
I read Liane Moriarty’s latest, pples Never Fall, which took me two tries to get into it, but once I did, I was quite intrigued. It’s no Big Little Lies, but what is? If you like sprawling stories about families and their drama, feuds, and grudges, and perhaps a murder or two along the way, this is for you.
My colleague MacKenzie Green called We Were Never Here by Andrea Bartz “a Lifetime movie in book form,” which you can interpret however you wish. It’s another pick from Reese Witherspoon’s book club, and I weirdly enjoyed it even though it has some gory moments.
And finally, I adored and sobbed my eyes out reading Nobody Will Tell You This But Me by Bess Kalb, who is an Emmy-nominated TV writer (for her work on Jimmy Kimmel; she’s now the head writer/EP on a new show called Yearly Departed that’s coming out in like five seconds. I don’t know her, so not sure why I’m giving you so much detail here.). It’s probably worth pointing out that NWTYTBM is mostly comedic, but the kicker made me weep.