Prince & Knight and Thinking About the Impact of Picture Books

I’m obsessed with Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack and illustrated by Stevie Lewis. I read it when it came out in 2018 and loved it, but started thinking about it again recently when I was searching for non-traditional princess books. It checks so many boxes for me, from beautiful illustrations to a perfect read aloud rhyme scheme. But most of all, it shows gay characters as something other than someone’s parent.

Don’t get me wrong. I love books that show the diversity of families. But here, the heroes are gay. How many kids will be able to see themselves as potential heroes for the first time when they read this book? And how many other kids will see their gay family member or classmate or friend differently?

There are a lot of benefits to reading picture books to children – language development, nurturing a love of reading and books, quality time with adult caregivers, and more – but one of the most powerful is the way they shape how kids see themselves and those around them.

We know that children’s books can act like both mirrors and windows on the world. Mirrors in that they can reflect on children’s own lives, and windows in that they can give children a chance to learn about someone else’s life. We also know that this type of self-reflection and opportunity to read or hear about different lives is essential for young people.” (Source)

I strive to include representative books when I suggest books here and in my personal life, but I am not the expert in literature and media diversity. Two of my favorite resources for more conscious book choices are:

The Conscious Kid: A research, education, and policy organization who focus on stopping racism in children. They have great book lists and resources. Their social media accounts are really insightful and helpful. I highly recommend subscribing to their Patreon to support their work and get book lists and more.

We Need Diverse Books: This non-profit is dedicated to getting diverse books in classrooms, libraries, and homes by advocating for diversity in publishing. They have really fantastic and eye-opening resources.

Follow this link to find more LGBTQ+ book suggestions from me.

First Day of School Books

Four months ago I made the first steps toward leaving my full-time job to stay home with my kids (and work part-time). After five years of splitting myself between parenting and working full-time, we started planning for what our lives would look like with me at home.

I envisioned play dates, road trips, museum fun, and more. The plan was for Millie to head off to Kindergarten all day, for Lena to attend preschool in the morning two days a week, and for me to claim that time alone for working, writing, and reading. Like everyone else’s plans, those plans all changed in March.

We’re adjusting. Millie will be attending school remotely full-time and Lena will wait a year to begin preschool. We have been unbelievably lucky and have been able to worry about making modest adjustments, rather than dealing with the kinds of pain others in our community have endured and are still enduring. With the kids, we have worked to balance a sense of normalcy with being open and honest about what is happening in the world outside of our backyard. It isn’t easy.

I’m a big believer in being very honest with kids. I try to address issues when they naturally arise. If my kid overhears a conversation and asks a question, I answer honestly and age-appropriately. (Sometimes I mess up the age-appropriately part. I’ve had to put out some fires…) If I want to specifically address a subject, we read a book about it.

So how do I plan on talking to my kids about school being different? We will read about what school is like, and then talk about how it will change this year.

So that’s how we got here. Below are some books that I would normally suggest for parents sending their kids to school. This year I’m still suggesting them, but I’ve also included some good resources for talking to kids about how things have changed. Good luck in however your life has changed this year!

Tip: I know that this list is coming to you a little close to the beginning of the school year, so if you are wanting to read some of these books with your kids right now and can’t get to your library or order them online, many of these books are available on YouTube.

The Pigeon Has to Go to School by Mo Willems

Is your kid hesitant to go to school? Frustrated that they have to go back? Scared? Or does your kid just love the Pigeon? This book is the fun you expect from Mo Willems and it is a perfect book for starting a conversation about what school will look like. The Pigeon is afraid of the unknown, and that may be the case your little one, too.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold and Illustrated by Suzanne Kaufman

We love this book! We’ve talked a lot about Black Lives Matter, difference, and community this year in our house, and this book is a great way to give a visual to that discussion. I don’t know if its the sunny, inviting illustrations or the well-paced rhyme scheme or both, but it just feels like a special book. I’m especially taken with the refrain of “All are Welcome Here”, because it feels like something you can easily repeat to your kids about your own home or community.

Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt and Illustrated by Shane Prigmore

If your kids are anything like mine, making up imaginary games is the best way to get them to do what you want. We make clean up into a recovery mission, naptime into a challenge, and errands into scavenger hunts. Planet Kindergarten uses a similar concept. It would be fun to recreate this book and talk through all of the things that you and your child will do to get ready for school — it may be similar (with adding in a mask for supplies!) or it may be a home mission.

Lena’s Shoes are Nervous by Keith Calabrese and Illustrated by Juana Medina

I’m going to be honest, I bought this book before reading it, because the protagonist is named Lena (like my youngest). But it quickly became one of our favorite books. This book is a perfect way to talk to your kids about what makes them nervous, and talk through ways to cope with and overcome nerves. Lena’s dad models really positive parenting, allowing Lena to take the lead and address her problems on her terms.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

This has been a stressful four months, and we all deserve to laugh. Kids are no exception. We Don’t Eat Our Classmates is guaranteed will deliver. Penelope Rex makes one little mistake (eating her classmates) and it causes all of her fears about school to feel real. This sweet little book shows Penelope’s pathway from outcast to friend. Bonus: this book is a great way to talk to your littles about impulse control.

The King of Kindergarten by Derrick Barnes and Illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton

While many of the books written about school address the anxieties kids face, The King of Kindergarten goes the opposite route. It is a positive, upbeat book featuring a kid who was prepared to be excited, not fearful about school. It is a good reminder about modeling — how our language as parents can really change the way a child sees their world. We love reading this book together and talking about what we are excited about this upcoming school year.

Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube

Mae is NOT GOING TO SCHOOL! She is scared and her fears increase as she gets closer to school. But after meeting some new friends, she realizes that she’s not the only one who has first day jitters. I love that the teacher is also nervous about her first day, because I think that is definitely true this year for most teachers. There are a lot of unknowns, and things will be different for everyone.

On The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Illustrated by Rafael López

Jacqueline Woodson has a gift. I’ve never read something she’s written and not cried. And The Day You Begin is no exception. This beautiful book is a great way to talk about what makes us different than those around us, and how to accept those differences in ourselves and our friends.

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Wemberly worries about everything — especially going to school. But once she is there, she has too much fun to be worried. As a worrier, it was a little comforting when I realized that worrying and anxiety are not unique to me. Introducing Wemberly and all of her worries would be a great way to kickstart a conversation about how normal it is to worry, while introducing some coping mechanisms.

Big Boys Cry by Jonty Howley

How can you not love this book? What an empowering message: telling boys that they are welcome to display their emotions. It is a great book to pick up for back to school, but I think that it reaches farther than that. Undoing toxic cultural elements starts with raising kids that they have inherent value, and they should be comfortable expressing themselves in ways that feel right to them. I also appreciate that it shows that parents are also afraid to send their kids to school, and that talking about it is normal.

Looking for more recommendations? Check out my recommendation list here. (Anything you buy through Bookshop helps support the Librarian Paused bookstore dream. Thanks!)

Covid-19 and School Resources for Parents and Kids

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology Resources for Helping Kids and Parents Cope Amidst COVID-19

This guide includes how to talk with kids about Covid-19, the death of a family member, activities, and resources for parents with disabilities.

PBS’s How to Talk to Kids about Coronavirus

This is a great simple resource that includes videos and games from Daniel Tiger, Super Why!, Sesame Street, and Curious George. My kids listen to Daniel Tiger a lot better than they listen to me, so this is an ideal resource for my family.

The CDC’s Talking with children about Coronavirus Disease 2019

I appreciate that the CDC includes tips about not just what to say, but how to say it when you talk about Covid-19 with your kids. I think it is easy to forget to keep your emotions in check. The CDC also includes a back to school checklist, for children who will be returning to the classroom.

Zero to Three’s Tips for Families: Coronavirus

While it is hard enough to talk to preschool and elementary aged kids, talking to toddlers about why they have to wear a mask, why they can’t see grandma and grandpa, or why mom or dad is working from home has to be a huge challenge! Zero to Three offers some tips and resources for parents of younger children. I really appreciate their parent self-care section, too.

But Why: A Podcast for Curious Kids – Coronavirus For Kids, And The Science Of Soap

My friend, Kim (Newly Woodwards), recommended this podcast, and it has quickly been a favorite for car rides (not that we have many of those anymore) and during our quiet time. Millie learned so much from this episode and it gave us a chance to talk about Coronavirus together in real time.

National Association of School Psychologists – Helping Children Cope With Changes Resulting From COVID-19

This helpful guide gives parents some very concrete tips on how to help kids deal with the changes to their lives now that it feels like everything is disrupted. I love the explanations about how to explain things in an age-appropriate manner, and feel like the reminders about modeling behavior are very helpful.

Moline Public Library’s Back to School Books Your Kids Will Love

My city’s public library has wonderful, dedicated children’s department staff! As I was writing this post, they published their own list of back to school books that I recommend checking out. They even include some chapter books for older kids!

New Classic Bedtime Stories

You can find this book list here.

When my oldest (Millie) was a toddler, we read Tickle My Ears by Jorg Muhle so often that there was a page that was permanently sticky from her goodnight kisses. Just like a toddler, it was a perfect combo of sweet and disgusting.

When she got a bit older, we got to read Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann Every. Single. Night. Millie has always been such an inconsistent sleeper that we gave into every whim she had at night. Oh, you want 42 stuffed animals in your bed? HERE THEY ARE! You need us to read Good Night Gorilla again? WHATEVER YOU SAY! You need another drink of water? HERE IS A WHOLE WATER BOTTLE TO KEEP IN YOUR BED AS LONG AS YOU DON’T GET OUT OF BED AGAIN!

Eventually we were able to move on and start reading a variety of picture books at night (but we still haven’t moved on from the inconsistent sleep.) And by that time her sister (Lena) was old enough to have opinions about books and we started over again with Tickle My Ears and added in Dinosaur’s Binkit by Sandra Boynton.

But we’re finally in a place with both kids that we read a happy combination of classics and new favorites during our bedtime routine. A handful of our new(ish) favorites for preschool and early elementary kids are below.

Everyone’s Awake written by Colin Meloy and Illustrated by Shawn Harris
Yes, that Colin Meloy! Somehow The Decemberist’s frontman wrote a picture book with references to a coup d’etat, a tattooing cat, Prince, and a ghost grandpa without feeling overly pretentious or losing its sense of fun. Harris’s illustrations are trippy and charming, and include a series of clever literary Easter eggs (I recommend examining the grandmother’s bookshelf.)

Big Mooncake for Little Star and A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin

Grace Lin’s pair of modern myth bedtime stories are brilliant. The simple, inventive stories are paired with sweet illustrations in Lin’s distinct style. These tales about the moon’s phases and snowy winter are perfect ways to share a little whimsy and fun with your kids before they drift off to sleep. I’m particularly smitten with Big Mooncake for Little Star‘s end papers. They’re filled with references to the night sky.

The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan and Illustrated by Tom Knight

Ok, so you need to either check this book out or buy it right away if you haven’t read it. It is hilarious. Bunmi Laditan is the author of The Honest Toddler and Toddlers are A**holes, so she clearly has a sense of humor about parenting. But she also hits on a lot of the actual issues kids face when going to bed (being afraid of the dark, missing a parent, wetting the bed) in a way that makes them easy to talk about. I am very much in favor of judging books by their cover, and I just knew I’d love this book when I saw the cover illustrated by Tom Knight. It did not disappoint.

You Nest Here with Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple and Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

This is my family’s favorite bedtime book. Hands down. Dan and I love reading it aloud (and both hurry to grab it when our kids pick it out to read at bedtime.) The rhyme scheme flows smoothly and it is sentimental without being saccharine. It teaches you about the nesting habits of birds (did you know that Cowbirds leave their eggs to be cared for in another bird’s nest to care for them? I didn’t!) and features some really sweet and timeless illustrations. But more than anything, when I read this book to my kids I get to reemphasize how much I love them and that I’ll always be there for them. Even when we’re having a difficult bedtime, it slows things down and gives us a reason to cuddle.

You Are Stardust by Elin Kelsey and Illustrated by Soyeon Kim

Have I mentioned that Millie is not a great sleeper? We have spent years perfecting the bedtime routine. Some nights work out better than others, but a big factor in getting the kids to bed painlessly is creating a sense of calm. You Are Stardust is the perfect book for getting the kids to unwind and listen to their own bodies. I am obsessed with Soyeon Kim’s gorgeous diorama art and how perfectly it meshes with Elin Kelsey’s poetic descriptions of the connections between us and the natural world.

If Your Monster Won’t Go to Bed by Denise Vega and Illustrated by Zachariah Ohora

Ok, so sometimes your kids just need a good giggle before bed. Sometimes they need to imagine putting monster toys in your bed and blending bugs for a monster’s bedtime smoothie. Part of the bedtime routine is bonding, and nothing helps bonding better than a good laugh. Zachariah Ohora’s fun, modern illustrations paired with Denise Vega’s side-splitting instructions for putting a monster to bed was an instant favorite in our house.

Bedtime Math by Laura Overdeck and Illustrated by Jim Paillot

Both of my kids love the Bedtime Math series. We’ve read every story in each of the three books and have started over again. Luckily, these books grow with your kids and help sharpen their abilities. Each 2-page spread is dedicated to a different short, fact-filled story and then three or four math word problems — problems for “Wee Ones”, “Little Kids”, “Big Kids”, and sometimes a bonus question. The kids love reading the quirky stories, and I love that they’re so excited about math.

What are some of your family’s favorite bedtime books?