Something magical can happen when you read a book out loud to a group of kids. It’s a shared experience. You might laugh together or get teary-eyed together. The story can be inspiring. The story can make you remember something or can describe an experience you have had better than you could describe it.
When I was an elementary school librarian, there were many books that I read every year. They were my favorites. They were my students’ favorites. They were books that my students connected with no matter how many times we read them. I looked forward to sharing these with students year after year. Since I am not teaching right now, here are 15 picture books I miss reading to students:
The Really, Really, Really Big Dinosaur – This is a fantastic story of a small dinosaur getting pushed around by a larger dinosaur for a jar of jelly beans. The small dinosaur isn’t too worried about the bully because he has a “friend” who is much bigger than the bully. The best part of the story is set up in the illustrations. It’s fun to see which students catch on from the pictures alone. Then others will go back later and see what they missed. Such a fun story!
Read to Tiger – While the boy is trying to read his book, Tiger does all sorts of things that disturb him – chomping gum, pretending to be a bear, playing with a loud train set, etc. Every time the boy gets upset, the Tiger apologizes. The kids got to the point where they would try to match my “Tiger voice” and do the lines with me. I discovered this book at the school when I took the library job. There are actually two books about this Tiger, but this is my favorite.
Arnie the Doughnut – This is probably one of the silliest books I read to my students consistently. It’s long for a read aloud, but good for many laughs, as Laurie Keller’s books often are. In the story, a donut is surprised to find out that the man who bought him plans to EAT him! Arnie does not want to be eaten, but the man paid for him, fair and square. Can they figure out a way for both of them to win? Keller’s books are even better for lap reading than read-alouds because of the side conversations characters have in the illustrations.
Library Lion – This book is so outstanding, it will captivate a room of kindergarteners even though there isn’t a lot of “action” in the story. In it, a lion comes to the library for story time. The head librarian says he can stay as long has he follows the rules like staying quiet in the library. One of the other librarians is certain that there is no place for a lion in the library. One day, the lion breaks the rules for a good reason, but he knows he will have to leave anyway. But no one is happy when the library lion is gone. This is delightful. If you haven’t read this one, check it out!
Duck and Goose – A young duck and goose find an “egg” and squabble over the proper way to care for the egg and the occupant inside. We read this book to our son when he was little – along with the sequel, Duck, Duck, Goose. The fussing between the two characters is great fun to read aloud. And the ending is a hoot! Duck and Goose have a full line of picture books, board books, stuffed animals and such now.
The Totally Secret Secret – Ballet Cat doesn’t want to do anything her friend Sparkles wants to do. She only wants to do Ballet! What happens when she discovers that Sparkles… doesn’t like ballet?! I can’t get enough of this book. Even though I have no picture book readers in my house, and I am not teaching, I still bought myself a copy of this book! It cracks me up every single time I read it! To me, this is an example of the perfect kids book because it entertains on a kid level and on an adult level for the person reading the book (over and over). I think the third book in the series, What’s Your Favorite Favorite works on these two levels, too.
Silly Doggy! – A girl finds a “silly doggy” in her back yard. The doggy doesn’t want to do any of the doggy things the girl thinks he should, perhaps because it is a bear. No one in the story seems to recognize Doggy for what he really is until the zoo comes to collect him at the end. My students always found it hilarious that this girl thought this huge bear was a dog. This is a sweet and silly story. The very funny ending was later turned into a new picture book – Naughty Kitty.
The Cat, the Dog, Little Red, the Exploding Eggs, The Wolf and Grandma – I asked my family for this Little Red Riding Hood-ish book for Christmas this year because I adored it when I was reading it to students. It is sarcastic and funny and points out some of the inconsistencies in fairy tales like Little Red Riding Hood. I am a huge fan of any sort of “fractured fair tale” and this one of my all time favorites!
This Orq. (He Cave Boy.) – I saw this book on display at a conference and I kept walking past the booth over and over and over again because I was completely captivated by the illustration on the cover. At the end of the conference, I stood in line for over 30 minutes to be sure I could take this book home to my students! The book is told in choppy “cave man” talk which is fun to read. At its core this is a pet story, well told with very few words and a lot of heart.
Mustache Baby Meets His Match – Sequel to the awesome Mustache Baby, this book is my favorite of the two. The mustache premise is a brilliant metaphor for the “dark side” that can come out with toddlers when they test boundaries or don’t get their way. I especially liked this book when I was teaching at a Christian school because the story helped us talk about how we can be tempted to fall into sin and our “bad guy mustaches” appear. If you are a fan of smart, clever picture books that adults AND kids can enjoy, these two should be high on your list of books to read.
The Three Ninja Pigs – My favorite part of the school year when I was teaching (after Book Fair) was the end of the year when I would do a fractured fairy tale unit with my students. The stories are great fun, and we could practice our comparing and contrasting skills when we looked at the original and our fractured versions together. One of the highlights for the age group that did The Three Pigs was when we would read this book. The language is precise and perfect. And when one pig promises the wolf, “I’ll kick your big butt,” my students would roar with laughter! This is outstanding!
I Will Surprise My Friend! – When I introduced my kindergarten students to Piggie and Gerald, I couldn’t keep the books on the shelves for the rest of the year. I often had spare copies tucked in the library office so I could replace the library copy when it finally crumbled from extreme use. If I could only pick one Elephant and Piggie book to read, this would be the one. Piggie and Gerald decide to scare/surprise each other by the big rock. But it doesn’t go as planned and the results are hilarious! In my opinion, this is the best of the best.
This Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown – I’m not sure my students loved this one as much as I did, but I adore this book. Emily Brown is a bright, creative and imaginative girl who plays all sorts of cool things with her bunny, Stanley. A princess sees Stanley and decides she wants him! She sends all of her servants to convince Emily to give him to her, but Emily kindly but firmly says no each time. Until the Princess steals Stanley. It’s fun to read with different voices for the servants and a long-suffering voice for Emily Brown.
It’s the Bear! – There are three Bear books by Jez Alborough. In the first, Where’s My Teddy?, a boy named Freddie tries to find his bear but finds a huge teddy bear that belongs to a wild bear instead. In the third book, the boy and the bear become friends. This is the middle story, and it’s my favorite. Freddie and his mom are going on a picnic and he’s afraid of the bear in the woods. His mom doesn’t believe there is a bear. In fact, she leaves Freddie alone while she runs back to get a pie she forgot. Of course, what bear can resist a yummy picnic? We read these books to our son when he was little and when he outgrew them, I took them to the library and used them year after year when I introduced Jez Alborough books to my kindergarten students.
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs – Another favorite from my fairy tale unit is this twisted tale by Mo Willems (author of the Piggie and Gerald books as well as the Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books)! In this version, Goldilocks stumbles into a house of dinosaurs instead of bears. And those dinosaurs seem to be up to some mischief! My students loved slowly looking at every picture for hints of what the dinosaurs were up to. My older students picked up more of the subtle humor and sarcasm of this story than the younger ones did.
There are so many fantastic books out there for teachers to read to students and for parents to read to children. If you are looking for a great read aloud, look for these favorites of mine!