Reading picture books aloud is a tradition in many homes. The other tradition? Kids who pick out the same books over and over again. Sometimes, we need a recommendation or two to mix it up. Here, we asked best-selling authors and illustrators to tell us what they like or liked to read to their young children. Read on for some lesser-known gems that will keep both the reader and audience enchanted through story time.
Annie Barrows, author of “Ivy and Bean”: Two books by Peter Spier, the magical “People” and also the lesser-known “Oh Were They Ever Happy!” because it’s about children whose parents leave and couldn’t get a sitter and the children paint the entire house!
Lisa Brown, illustrator of “Goldfish Ghost”: I recommend “A Woggle of Witches” by Adrienne Adams because it’s beautiful and strange, and it’s for children (like me) who were obsessed with the creepy and witchy. Also “Big Rabbit’s Bad Mood” by Ramona Badescu because it anthropomorphizes a bad mood, who picks his nose and wipes the boogers on the carpet.
Lisa Damour, author of “Untangled”: I have one book that I give as a gift, at every opportunity, to parents of young children: “Bubble Trouble” by Margaret Mahy. The watercolor illustrations are gorgeous to look at and the story, told in rhyme, skips and rollicks along. It’s a pure pleasure to read as it introduces young children to how the sounds and cadence of words can be used for play.
Anthony Doerr, author of “All the Light We Cannot See”: When he was 3, our son asked to read “The Stray Dog” by Marc Simont every night. I paged through that book with him probably a thousand times. It’s a comic and tender story, aglow with Simont’s watercolors, about a family on a picnic who encounters a stray dog, dreams about him for the whole week to come, and — after a dramatic chase with a dogcatcher — takes the pooch home. With one shelter dog already in our house, and another about to arrive, I think our son took comfort in the lesson that sometimes a family needs a dog as much as a dog needs a family.
Sharon Draper, author of “Stella by Starlight”: We loved “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day” by Judith Viorst. The mom in the pictures is bald and wearing a headscarf, her subtle tribute to moms who do it all even while fighting cancer.
Karen Joy Fowler, author of “We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves”: I loved “A Hole is to Dig” by Ruth Krauss. It’s terrifically witty, a sort of dictionary with entries like “hands are to hold” and “mashed potatoes are to give everybody enough” and “a principal is to take out splinters.” “The Duchess Bakes a Cake” by Virginia Kahl is rhymed and rhythmic, and I loved the refrain of “a lovely light luscious delectable cake,” which is the Duchess’s great ambition. The illustrations are also wonderful as you watch the kingdom get fat and thin again.
Katrina Goldsaito, author of “The Sound of Silence”: We read Innosanto Nagara’s “A Is For Activist ” to our 2 1/2 year old, and we especially love that it has funky rhyme schemes. My husband I get bored with traditional rhyming books, and with this one sometimes he will beatbox and I rap the words.
Jon Klassen, illustrator of “Triangle”: I loved a book called “The Big Jump” by Benjamin Elkin because it was about solving riddles; the rules of the book felt very spontaneous but taken very seriously. A more current book is “Duck, Death, and the Tulip” by Wolf Erlbruch. I love its gentle treatment of the subject, the beautiful pacing, and all the illustration choices. I wish I saw more of it in the United States.
Jillian Lauren, author of “Some Girls: My Life in a Harem”: “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson is a delightful true story about a couple of male penguins who shack up together and adopt an egg. The message of love defining family is particularly poignant right now. “The Monster Who Lost His Mean” by Tiffany Strelitz Haber is about a monster who loses his “m” and becomes an “onster,” which is a fun word to say. This sweet and clever book is a playful meditation on identity. It gives our strong-willed four-year-old permission to explore his softer side.
Innosanto Nagara, author and illustrator of “A Is For Activist”: I recommend “Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors” by Hena Khan. The author does a really good job of writing about Islam for children.
Peggy Orenstein, author of “Girls & Sex”: My family was heavily into Taro Gomi. People generally know “Everyone Poops,” but he has written so many other lovely, whimsical, strangely moving books. My daughter’s favorites (and ours) were “My Friends,” “Spring is Here” and “Bus Stops.” And “Horace and Morris but Mostly Dolores” is the best feminist book for all genders.
Kate Schatz, author of “Rad Women Worldwide”: I recommend “A House Is A House For Me” by Mary Ann Hoberman. I read it all the time as a kid and have it memorized. The illustrations are magical and so detailed that I’m still finding new things I’d never noticed.
Leila Sinclaire is a mother, writer, teacher, and educational consultant in the San Francisco Bay area. Find her on Facebook (Leila Sinclaire, Writer) or Twitter @leilasinclaire.