20 Must-Read Children’s Books for Back to School

My children- a daughter who is 3 ½ and a son who’s almost a year- love books. Inspired by the amazing children’s books in our house–and loads of suggestions by fellow colleagues–here’s our list of the top 20 (ok, really 21) children’s books for the littlest in your house–run out and buy right now (or better yet, order through Amazon Prime).

Rechargeables: Eat Move Sleep. This one is so good that I sent a Facebook message out about to my friends. This book had my daughter talking about making sure she got enough sleep (!!!), ate her veggies and exercised. And it served as a reminder to me to do the same.

Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site. Kids love learning about their favorite big machines.

The Little Boy (or Girl) Who Lost His (or Her) Name. Highly personalized book- makes a great gift (albeit word from our own Megan Mead is that it’s kind of spendy). Google Ventures is interested in this technology. How can this publishing book publish basically entirely new and different books so fast? Technology! You will get a different book if it’s for “Vanessa” or “Vivienne.”

Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters. What a great way to learn your ABC’s.

Incredible You! 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through. With all the talk about the importance of social and emotional learning, this book is awesome! And it has Q & A to have conversations with your kids about their feelings.

This is a Ball. This looks so cool and innovative. This is the next one on my list for my one year old’s birthday (and looks great for older kids too).

The Day Crayons Quit. Crayons have feelings. A must to teach those important social and emotional skills.

Little Magic Books. You need to check out this website to understand the cool factor here. This is combination print book with smart phone app and kids (and parents) will love this.

Your Baby’s First Word will be Dada. Jimmy Fallon. Enough said.

No Matter What. The power of unconditional love.

Little Blue Truck Leads the Way. Do kids love books that make noises? Um, yes. In fact so much so, that my child will only take things to “Show and Tell” at her pre-school that make noise. (This has led her to bring a cell phone knock off my sister sent from Japan because it rings). This book qualifies.

Higher, Higher. Great illustrations.

Everywhere Babies. Babies love looking at other…babies! This has lots of faces.

Press Here & Mix It Up. Incites imagination in kids and adults.

Stuck. When the little boy gets a kite stuck in the tree, a series of silly events takes place. This one is fun.

Giraffes Can’t Dance. This book rhymes, has great illustrations and teaches kids (and reminds adults) that anything is possible.

Curious Garden. For the environmentally conscious parent and child.

Ladybug Girl. These aren’t exactly new (published beginning in 2008) but they are awesome. We do voices for each of the different characters, and we have the app.

Uni the Unicorn. This is about a unicorn who isn’t sure little girls are real. This one tugs at the heartstrings a bit. Watch the magic light up in your kids’ eyes when you read this one together.

DUPLO Read & Build Books. Build and read. YES!

Made by Raffi. This one is all about accepting all kids where they are at and celebrating individual gifts. Great message for kids (and adults).

I also recently read this article in the New York Times about the importance of reading together with young children. Some surprising news from the article:

  • “The journal Pediatrics published a study that used functional magnetic resonance imaging to study brain activity in 3-to 5-year-old children as they listened to age-appropriate stories. The researchers found differences in brain activation according to how much the children had been read to at home.”
  • “Reading to — and with — young children may amplify the language they hear more than just talking. In August, Psychological Science reported on researchers who studied the language content of picture books.”
  • Dr. John S. Hutton, a clinical research fellow at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said, “When kids are hearing stories, they’re imagining in their mind’s eye when they hear the story. For example, ‘The frog jumped over the log.’ I’ve seen a frog before, I’ve seen a log before, what does that look like?'”


What new children’s books would you add to the list? Let us know in the comments below and if you want to blog about how you inspire learning through books, please send us an email to [email protected] with the title “Smart Parents.” We want to hear from you!

This blog is part of our Smart Parents blog series and book, Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning in partnership with The Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more information, please see our Smart Parents: Parenting for Powerful Learning page and other blogs in the series:


Bonnie Lathram

Bonnie Lathram is a student advocate and former teacher.

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