20 of the Best Children’s Books for Uncertain Times

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Four children’s books is the norm for bedtime with my 4-and-a-half-year-old daughter, though that is subject to the night’s choreography. Did we make it to Aquaphor and head scarves at a decent hour? Did she bathe the night before — can we skip it tonight? While she usually chooses the night’s selection, I pride myself on being able to make a children’s book suggestion that she’ll appreciate. This is a parenting skill I’m finding especially essential during the uncertain times and stay-at-home orders of the coronavirus pandemic.

I remember being read to so vividly. Children’s books were absolutely my love language, which has made my approach to this aspect of parenthood — the nurturer, the teacher — so much sweeter. At the end of a long day, we have carved out a place and time for storytelling. These books act as punctuation: What’s the final thought, final feeling before I turn out the lights? A sentimental perspective, maybe, but I can’t help but take pride in growing her library of children’s books, feeding her curiosity. Especially now.

The following are some especially notable children’s books, for the kid in your life who won’t stop asking questions, who should probably have taken a nap today, who you are spending so much time indoors with lately.

How to Be a Pirate by Isaac Fitzgerald, illust. Brigette Barrager

This is the perfect story-time opening act, because it both encourages audience participation — specifically, yelling — and delivers a wholly unique set of affirmations that set the tone for the day to come.

Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love

Reading this story is like stepping into a dream, every time. Namely, the New York of our dreams.

Lola at the Library by Anna McQuinn, illust. Rosalind Beardshaw

A gorgeous ode to the simple pleasures of life for young Lola: time spent with Mom, a fresh batch of books to read, a scoop of cappuccino foam.

Sulwe by Lupita Nyong’o, illust. Vashti Harrison

It’s impossible not to be immediately swept away into this admittedly heart-wrenching story of a little girl who has to learn how to feel beautiful in her dark skin.

Maiden & Princess by Daniel Haack and Isabel Galupo, illust. Becca Human

All of the classic romantic fairy-tale accoutrements: a royal ball, a breathless dance, a true love’s kiss — and none of the heteropatriarchy.

Stuck by Oliver Jeffers

A hilarious lesson in irony and in excess.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

I try not to end each reading with a pointed warning along the lines of “And that’s why we don’t leave the sink running while we brush our teeth!” But it’s hard.

Meditate with Me: A Step-by-Step Mindfulness Journey by Miriam Gates, illust. Margarita Surnaite

These are trying times — not just for us, our kids are going through it too. Yes, fewer bills, but more emotions than they can name or consistently handle. This gentle guide is a necessary reset.

Tallulah the Tooth Fairy CEO by Tamara Pizzoli, illust. Federico Fabiani

An upgrade to the timeless legend so sharp and clever, you’ll definitely appreciate it more than the kid does.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn, illust. Noah Grigni

A frank, uncomplicated exploration of gender identity in language kids understand, featuring a truly dazzling cast of characters.

One Minute by Somin Ahn

Time is a tricky concept for young kids. This book offers experiences, rather than explanations, to explain all of the different ways one minute can feel.

Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

A meditative and kaleidoscopic love letter to exploration, discovery, and literature.

The Smallest Girl in the Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, illust. Christian Robinson

An impeccably crafted anthem to kindness.

D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths by Ingri D’Aulaire, Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, narr. Paul Newman, Sidney Poitier, Kathleen Turner, Matthew Broderick

Sometimes you gotta take it all the way back.

Althea Gibson: The Story of Tennis’ Fleet-of-Foot Girl by Megan Reid, illust. Laura Freeman

A no-holds-barred look at an athlete who left an indelible mark on the world of tennis.

Brontorina by James Howe, illust. Randy Cecil

Teaching body confidence, radical kindness, and acceptance, this book is also about the importance of taking class outside, whenever possible.

Olivia by Ian Falconer

It’s hard not to love this simple, tongue-in-cheek retelling of Olivia’s day, especially since she reads as Peppa Pig’s more tolerable American cousin.

Lottie Paris Lives Here by Angela Johnson, illust. Scott M. Fischer

This book is like slipping into the jazz-club wing of the children’s museum.

Pretty Minnie in Paris by Danielle Steele, illust. Kristi Valiant

Yes, who knew? This book is exactly as childishly decadent as you want it to be. I have my French minor to thank for not continually tripping over the Arc de Triomphe on page two.

It’s Not the Stork by Robie H. Harris, illust. Michael Emberley

It’s so much easier to answer those probing questions with textual backup, and this book is a great starting point for even the youngest inquisitive minds.

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20 of the Best Children’s Books for Uncertain Times