There’s something special about reading a bedtime story with a child. Many kids are extra sweet at bedtime, so you get quality time and bonding to the max. You’ve likely already shared your favorite classic books with your kids or grandkids. Several times, right? Goodnight, Moon. The Hungry Caterpillar. The Velveteen Rabbit. The Missing Piece. Green Eggs and Ham. They’re all so wonderful, sigh. But eventually, you need some new material. So what can you read with them now?
Have no fear. We recently went to a good bookstore for kids in search of best new picture books that might wind up being classics.
We’ll start by sharing our own criteria for what makes a good picture book. It must have a good, engaging story. The writing has to sparkle. The pictures need to feel fresh, graphic or otherwise charming. It needs to be human. And the book needs to be original in some way, not the same old sappy stuff and clichéd stories. Lastly is the “it” factor: the book should evoke some kind of emotional response. Ultimately, we need to empathize. Or laugh. Or be delighted. Or enlightened. Truth be told, our standards are very high, and most books wind up in the rejected pile.
Looking for books that have won prestigious children’s literary awards like the Caldecott or Newbery medals can be helpful, but not always. They’re usually easy to spot, with large embossed gold or silver stickers at the top. We’ve found these awards generally guarantee a certain quality of writing and illustrations, but don’t necessarily mean you’ll get a good, engaging story. It also seems like books with a sense of humor are often overlooked by the judges. So don’t limit yourself to award-winners.
After weeding through books for several hours, we’re happy to report that the genre is alive and well. Here are some newer bedtime books on the shelves right now that are worth a look. The books don’t have an age range on them, so we guesstimated.
Unlike Other Monsters
Written by Audrey Vernick, Illustrated by Colin Jack
Zander is a monster. And monsters do not like or need friends. Until a little red bird hangs out with Zander and interrupts his world view. A humorous story with fun, active illustrations. More here.
Still a Gorilla
Written by Kim Norman, Illustrated by Chad Geran
Cute story about a young gorilla who longs to be someone else. Big, flat, almost Japanese-style illustrations. For the pictures, think Curious George meets Pokemon. More here.
Hello, My Name is Octicorn
Written by Kevin Diller, Illustrated by Justin Lowe
Half unicorn, half octopus, Octicorn feels insecure because he’s different. In the book, Octicorn works through all the reasons he’d be a good friend. Turns out, they’re excellent reasons. Expressive, earnest, mostly black and white illustrations with a splash of color. Nice story for a child who’s different or to teach kids about tolerance. More here.
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Written and Illustrated by Mo Willems
Caldecott Honor Book
A mischievous pigeon tries every excuse and guilt trip in the book, all the ones that kids typically use to try to get their way. Simple, doodle-style illustrations that evoke an old-style cartoon. We think most kids will be able to see themselves in this book, a great quality for a book to have. More here.
The Day the Crayons Quit
Written by Drew Daywalt, Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
EB White Read-Aloud Award
Duncan wants to color but his crayons are tired. So they all go on strike. Each crayon writes him a hilarious protest letter based on its typical duties by color. Red is mad that he has to work so hard year-round, especially Christmas. Beige is tired of being the poor man’s brown. Full disclosure: we are in love with this book. The “delight” factor is high. Just buy it! More here.
Written by Taye Diggs, Illustrated by Shane W. Evans
Written by actor Taye Diggs, this is about Mike, a mixed race boy with an awesome head of curly hair. In a rhyme, he proudly explains who he is to the world, with love and support from his parents. Colorful and modern illustrations. Exuberant and freeing text. More here.
On the Night You Were Born
Written and Illustrated by Nancy Tillman
New York Times Bestseller
Sweetest book since Goodnight Moon. A parent poetically recounts the events of a magical night. On the night her child was born, word rang out across the land. The polar bears danced and all of nature celebrated. A book that is validating, comforting and just all-around AWESOME. More here.
Quit Calling Me a Monster
Written by Jory John, Illustrated by Bob Shea
An engaging rant by a monster about being called names, even though he rather deserves them due to bad behavior. A witty romp with a protagonist who rather reminded us of Oscar the Grouch. Endearing, active illustrations. More here.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be
Written and Illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
A lovely rhyme as a new parent speculates on all the possibilities life may hold for her child. Somehow this book perfectly walks the line between schmaltz and honest emotion. Charming illustrations. More here.
Voice of Freedom/The Fannie Lou Hamer Story
Written by Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by Ekua Holmes
Robert F. Sibert Honor Book
Caldecott Honor Book
Coretta Scott King Award/John Steptoe New Talent
This book is a serious work for children and somewhat hard to explain, because it deals with racism. The youngest of 20 children, Fannie Lou Hamer was born to sharecroppers and grew up to be a civil rights leader. Carole Boston Weatherford, a writer of many books about African American heroes, has taken the true elements of Hamer’s life and translated them into a compilation of different short stories and prose. The result is moving, sad, joyful, angry, inspiring and true. The fine art illustrations are incredibly beautiful and unique. This book would be best read a few pages at a time and discussed in detail between adult and child. More here.
If you want to look for picture books on your own, we’ll make a plea for going to a good local brick-and-mortar bookstore. It’s way, way easier to find good books in person than online, unless you already know exactly what you want. In a bookstore, you can always read the entire book, unlike online where you just get a preview. Plus bookstores are places full of knowledge and great vibes, the kind of business that’s great to have in your neighborhood.
Happy reading, and may your little one drift off to sleep easily, enriched by a great book and your loving, undivided attention.