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Growing Reader


10 Picture Books That Introduce Big Ideas to Little Kids

by Keith Rice

Photo credit: RichVintage, Vetta Collection/Getty Images

Kids are quite possibly the most naturally curious creatures on the planet — there’s an entire world of things they’ve never encountered waiting to greet them. Consequently, our little ones are full of questions that are sometimes comic, sometimes profound, and always endearing. As parents, we strive to foster that curiosity and sense of wonder in our children and, fortunately, there are plenty of stories that can help in that endeavor. Here are a few of our favorite picture books that introduce big ideas and philosophical questions to young readers.

  • Peace is an Offering

    by Annette Lebox, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

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    This comforting long-form poem by poet and environmental activist Annette Lebox is an engaging way to help our little ones understand the power of community, diversity, and the strength of peace. Told in rhyming verse, Peace is an Offering follows a group of neighborhood children as they discover joy in everyday things — a shared muffin, light filtering through leaves, an invitation to a birthday party — and find that peace and caring is all around them.
    (Ages 3 - 5)

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  • The Story of Ferdinand

    by Munro Leaf, illustrated by Robert Lawson

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    The Story of Ferdinand is truly a classic. First published in 1936, it is the tale of a Spanish bull who simply wants to sit in peace and admire the flowers. The picture book’s thought-provoking theme of non-violence has been inspiring readers for decades. Its message is so resonant, in fact, that Mahatma Gandhi cited The Story of Ferdinand as one of his favorite books.
    (Ages 3 - 5)

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  • Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth

    by Oliver Jeffers

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    Already a New York Times bestseller, this picture book from children’s book superstar Oliver Jeffers is a stunningly illustrated introduction to life on Earth. Here We Are explores the planet we call home and its place in the wider cosmos, then zooms in on the (relatively small) unique humans who inhabit it. It simultaneously puts the vastness of space and diversity in perspective and provides readers comfort in knowing that our world is beautiful — and full of wonderful people, creatures, and places.
    (Ages 3 – 7)

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  • Frog and Toad Storybook Treasury

    by Arnold Lobel

    Arnold Lobel picture books feature entertaining adventures that introduce children to fascinating philosophical questions. Of all his creations, the lovable duo of Frog and Toad are my favorite. This collection contains four classic stories that raise questions on subjects including the origin of dreams, the nature of cause and effect, and the strength of willpower.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • We're All Wonders

    by R. J. Palacio

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    Spinning off of R. J. Palacio’s bestseller Wonder, this engaging picture book is the perfect way to introduce our littlest readers to the inspirational story of Auggie Pullman and the Choose Kind Movement. Featuring an original adventure for Auggie and Daisy, written and illustrated by Palacio, We're All Wonders will help young readers understand that there’s something special in all of us and “if you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind.”
    (Ages 4 - 8)

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  • The Three Questions

    by Jon J. Muth

    Inspired — or perhaps more accurately, adapted — from the Leo Tolstoy’s short story by the same name, The Three Questions takes the form of a parable and rumination on three of life’s most basic and important questions: When is the best time to do something? Who are the right people to listen to? What is the most important thing to do? It is a well-drawn examination of morality presented as timeless fable.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • What Do You With an Idea?

    by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

    Kobi Yamada’s bestseller is a delightful exploration of imagination and ideation itself. It’s a mindful and thought-provoking rumination on precisely what ideas are, how we deal with and nurture them, and the ways they impact our lives. Ideas can change the world around us — and this book is a wonderful introduction to that concept.
    (Ages 5 - 8)

  • What Is Death?

    by Etan Boritzer, illustrated by Nancy Forrest

    There is perhaps no more difficult subject to broach with children than mortality and death. Not only is it a particularly complex topic for a child to grasp, it is also one that comes up most often in moments of emotional vulnerability. What Is Death?, one installment of Etan Boritzer’s What Is? series, addresses the topic in a mindful and honest way that gently introduces this difficult topic to children.
    (Ages 6 - 9)

  • The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

    by Mark Twain and Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Erin Stead

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    This previously unfinished Twain tale is brought to life by author Philip C. Stead and illustrator Erin Stead. Told with Twain’s classic wit and storytelling flair, the story follows Johnny, a lonely boy who can speak to animals, and his pet chicken, as they set out on an adventure to rescue a stolen prince. It is a whimsical, gorgeously illustrated book that will help your middle grade reader gain a better understanding of empathy, generosity, and kindness in the face of cruelty.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

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  • Vlad the Astrophysicist: An Illustrated Book for Children, Adults, and Other Old Souls

    by Peter Mulvey, illustrated by Peter Nevins

    This one is another of my personal favorites and it’s sitting on my little one’s nursery bookshelf as I write. It tells the story of a conversation between Peter, a folk singer, and Vlad, an astrophysicist. As far as big, philosophical topics go, astrophysics and the question “Are we alone in the universe?” certainly make the cut. Here, Peter Mulvey frames the conversation as a letter to his infant niece. It’s an enchanting, view-altering tale for “children, adults, and other old souls.”
    (Ages 8 - 12)

What books would you add to this list? Share with us in the comments.