14 Clever Picture Books for Kids
(and Their Parents)
by Iva-Marie Palmer
Before my son was born — no, check that — before I ever even thought about having a child, I knew I wanted to have a reader. When I pictured my future children, it was always an image of a sweet-faced boy or girl, cuddled up alongside me, a book open before us.
But that fantasy only goes so far once the reality of storytime sets in. Kids choose favorite books to read again and again . . . and again, and in my son’s case, it was a book of trucks with no storyline whatsoever.
This was NOT what I’d imagined.
So what a relief it was to find I Want My Hat Back, a silly, clever, slightly naughty tale that I didn’t mind revisiting. Yup, quirky tales with a touch of humor are the cure for storytime ennui.
Here’s a list of some of my faves, plus top picks from other parents I know.
I Want My Hat Back
With charming illustrations and not a lot of words, Klassen tells the slightly subversive tale of a bear who’s lost his hat and proceeds to interrogate his forest friends as to its whereabouts. There’s some debate as to whether the book contains a good message or not; I just think it’s fun.
The Book with No Pictures
B. J. Novak’s bestselling picture book is a favorite for kids everywhere. And it’s just as much fun for the adult reading it. The quirky humor and interactive format will leave you both in stitches.
The Serious Goose
Late-night show host Jimmy Kimmel wrote, illustrated, and hand-lettered this rib-tickling picture book. It’s based on a game he played with his children, and the unorthodox humor will make you and your kid grin from ear to ear.
Scaredy Squirrel Goes Camping
Scaredy Squirrel isn't a fan of camping, what with all the skunks and quicksand to worry about. He'd much rather stay inside his tree and watch the great outdoors on his new television. But first, he'll need to make a harrowing journey through the nearby campground to find an electrical outlet for his TV. A most unlikely hero, little ones will love watching Scaredy Squirrel facing his fears in the silliest ways.
The Day the Crayons Quit
This one’s a must-have for kids who spend a lot of time with their Crayolas. Written as a series of resignation letters from each of Duncan’s crayons, kids will love the clever illustrations and crayon complaints, while parents will probably recognize their own little artist’s predilections. (Bonus: This is a book that actually inspires me to use funny voices.)
Last Stop on Market Street
Matt de la Peña’s heartfelt picture book has won many awards, including the Newbery Medal and a Caldecott Honor. It’s about a curious boy who peppers his grandmother with questions and her kind and thoughtful responses. Not only is this book a beautiful story with stunning artwork but also a clever way to teach a valuable life lesson about kindness.
Here We Are
Oliver Jeffers is one of the most beloved children’s book creators, and kids and parents alike adore his clever stories. This book introduces young readers to the earth and gives them a humorous and insightful guide to living in society.
Don’t Eat Bees
Chip is a smart dog who is excited to share some lessons learned from his seven years of life. This mainly includes what to eat and what not to eat. While homework, Grandpa's teeth, and the couch are all great dinner options, one thing Chip knows for sure is that you definitely should NOT eat bees! This hilarious read-aloud is as fun for grown-ups as it is for their little listeners.
Walter the Farting Dog
There comes a time in every child’s life (especially every boy child’s life) when nothing is funnier than a fart joke. This book is one big fart joke. And while it may not be my thing, more than a handful of adults nominated this as one they really enjoy reading with their kids. So if you find farts funny, you’ll likely enjoy this one, too.
Snowmen at Night
The rhyming text and expressive illustrations in this delightful picture book give readers a sneak peek into how snowmen spend their time when the rest of the world is asleep. These adorable snowmen have been charming readers of all ages for two decades.
Dragons Love Tacos
Tasty snacks and fire-breathing creatures make this picture book a favorite for kids and their parents. Follow along as dragons gobble up taco after taco — until the salsa gets the best of them. If you’ve never read this clever, funny picture book, you’re in for a crunchy, fiery treat.
Over, Bear! Under, Where?
Over and Under are best friends who decide to spend the day in the park. They go on the swings, where Over goes over Under, and on the seesaw, where Under is under Over. But when they spot a bear, they think their day out is ruined until they learn that maybe the bear isn’t so unbearable after all! This hilarious book is filled with entertaining wordplay that your readers will love to figure out.
The Incredible Book Eating Boy
Henry eats books, and he gets smarter. And sometimes, it’s a problem. Any book-loving adult is going to eat this story up alongside their child.
Go on an epic journey with a young girl in this brilliant, wordless picture book. With the help of her magical red marker, the girl creates an unforgettable adventure full of friendship and peril before finding her way home again. Kids and parents who loved Harold and the Purple Crayon will want to read this one on repeat.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2015 and updated in 2022.