My Go-To Picture Books for Reading as a Family

by Elyssa Friedland

Every night my family gathers around the dinner table and, starting with my eldest, the requests to watch TV or use the iPad during the meal begin. I always say no, but they still persist in asking. I don’t blame them for wanting to be entertained during dinner, which comes at the end of a long day in school when everyone is wiped and looking to unwind. Instead of giving in to the screen, my first choice is to read to them while they eat. But it’s harder than it sounds. How do you find a book that will satisfy a 10-year-old boy, an 8-year-old girl, and a 4-year-old boy all at once?

It turns out, books that appeal to a large audience of children, with wide-spanning ages and interests, do exist. You just have to know where to look. Here are five books that work for my family and why:

  • The Day The Crayons Quit

    by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers

    Available from:

    Young and old, sports-crazed and tutu-obsessed, all kids love crayons. Especially crayons that can talk and complain to their owner, a young boy named Duncan, about the ways they are being mistreated. Red is exhausted from working overtime coloring fire trucks, Santas, and Valentine’s Day hearts. Yellow and orange are fighting over who is the real color of the sun (my kids love to chime in on this debate) and blue is getting so short that he can hardly see over the crayon box. This book has amazing illustrations that my little one loves and is smart and quirky in a way my bigger kids can appreciate.

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  • Friendshape

    by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenfeld

    I’m a sucker for anything written by the dearly departed Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Her books have amazing positive messages that all children can benefit from hearing and her wordplay is beyond clever. In Friendshape, a circle, triangle, rectangle, and square explain the benefits of having friends, even if they quarrel from time to time and Rectangle becomes a “wrecked angle.” Friends have different strengths (Triangle has a good point; Square makes a nice present box) and can lean on each other — look for the fun illustrations that show just how the shapes get cozy. This book puts a smile on everyone’s face and each time we read it, we pick up on another pun.

  • X-WHY-Z: Kids Ask. We Answer.

    by Time for Kids Magazine

    All kids are inherently curious. If you’ve taken any car trip with your child that is longer than ten minutes, you know their favorite word is “why.” Why are there red lights? Why isn’t the car moving faster? Why do we need to stop for gas? Why did we get this car? You get the point. So if you really want to capture their attention, read a book to them that answers their burning questions. X-WHY-Z explains simple phenomenon that little and big kids (and adults!) think about: Why do we hiccup? Why do we blink? Why does snow fall? Why does the moon shine at night? The book answers with just enough detail to satisfy curious minds while also piquing interest in further exploration.

  • Press Here

    by Hervé Tullet

    As I mentioned above, my kids are really addicted to electronics. I suspect yours are too and that you’re not happy about it. Enter the book Press Here, which cleverly translates the feeling of pushing buttons on a controller or tapping a screen into a book. Readers are asked to press a dot and when they flip the page, the dot is bigger. If they shake the book and mix the blue and yellow dots together, a green dot will appear. It’s a great riff on iPad culture and a welcome reminder to all kids that books can be just as fun as screens, if not more.

  • Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!

    by Mo Willems

    Available from:

    I couldn’t do a roundup of favorite children’s books without including something by Mo Willems. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus brings on the giggles at our dinner table without fail. No matter your age or your hobby, how could you not fall in love with a pigeon utterly determined to have the chance to drive a bus? It’s silly while also teaching lessons of persistence and believing in yourself. Willems’s illustrations are simple yet incredibly expressive and if your child falls in love with the pigeon, there’s a whole series to follow.

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