I love picture books; it’s a complete story in 24ish pages with a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s a visit to an art gallery or a museum with beautiful artwork in all kinds of media — drawings, paintings, collages, and more. It can transport you to another time and place, a different culture, or a different person’s point of view. Picture books are NOT just for young children; I insist they are for everyone, adult and child alike. My 4th grader’s teacher is reading Patricia Polacco’s picture books to the class and the kids are thoroughly enjoying them. Picture books also make bedtime stories a pleasure because one reader can satisfy a wide audience.
I recommend these particular books highly because I don’t mind reading them umpteen times and my kids actually choose them for bedtime stories. The picture books with an older age span are wonderful for rich vocabulary and many will transport you to other times and places both real and imaginary. Enjoy!
The list is in alphabetical order by author’s last name in case you are searching at the library. A great resource that many of these books came from is Great Books for Girls and Great Books for Boys, both by Kathleen Odean. Other entries came from book lists from elementary schools around the country and booklists from libraries. Most of the authors have written many other books that are also excellent so if your child likes a particular book, I suggest doing an author study.
Best Picture Books for Kids That You Probably Have Never Heard Of!
The Serpent Came to Gloucester by M. T. Anderson, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
Based on a true story set in 1817, this is the story of a sea serpent who came to Gloucester. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Bobbin Girl by Emily Arnold
A ten-year-old girl fights for better working conditions during the industrial revolution. Based on a true story. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
The Shape Game by Anthony Browne
A trip to the museum turns into a drawing adventure. Artists and doodles will love this book! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
From Here to There by Margery Cuyler, illustrated by Ida Cha Pak
A great way to get a sense of geography as a little girl travels from her house to the universe. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
The Empty Pot by Demi
Trying your hardest and telling the truth wins a little boy a kingdom. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Greatest Power by Demi
The sequel to The Empty Pot. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Hot Day on Abbott Avenue by Karen English, illustrated by Javaka Steptoe
Wonderfully illustrated with collage art, this is a story about a hot day in an inner-city. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever by Marla Frazee
James and Eamon go to Nature Day Camp sort of learn about nature but have the best week ever! [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Be Nice to Spiders by Margaret Bloy Graham
A classic that I loved as a child that is now a favorite of my kids. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Dog Magic by Carla Golembe
A story about how a little girl named Molly Gail overcomes her fear of dogs. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by James Ransome
Clara is enslaved but escapes by creating a quilt that maps the way to freedom. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Virgie Goes to School with Us Boys by Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard, illustrated by E.B. Lewis*
*E.B. Lewis has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Set in Reconstruction Tennessee, Virgie, a girl, goes to school to learn to be free. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
An African-American young boy living in an urban city spends the day exploring after a big snow. A beautifully illustrated story. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
The Mysterious Tadpole by Steven Kellogg
A little boy’s mysterious tadpole grows too big to keep in his family’s apartment so he must come up with a plan to save it. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Mr. Tanen’s Ties by Maryann Cocca-Leffler
Mr. Tanen’s zany ties delight the kids at his school, but when the school superintendent insists he wears plain ties, something unexpected happens. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Hooway for Wodney Wat by Helen Lester
A rat with a lisp becomes the unlikely class hero. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
A little Asian girl wonders why her garden is filled with ugly vegetables but, after a delicious soup, finds that her neighbors want ugly vegetables in their gardens as well. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long, illustrated by David Shannon
A hilarious story of how Jeremy Jacob becomes a pirate. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Halibut Jackson by David Lucas
Halibut Jackson overcomes his shyness and your child will have fun finding him hidden in every page. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Hog-Eye by Susan Meddaugh
A little girl pig uses her wits to outsmart a wolf. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Moses Goes to a Concert by Isaac Millman
Moses and his friends are all deaf and they take a class field trip to a symphony to meet a deaf percussionist. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
My Rows and Piles of Coins by Tololwa M. Mollel, illustrated by E. B. Lewis*
*E.B. Lewis has been accused of sexual misconduct.
Set in Tanzania, Saruni saves his money to buy something special to help out his mother. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Martchenko
A feminist take on a princess story in which the princess rescues the bum prince. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth
Chinese philosopher Chuang Tze made accessible for kids. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
This is her story about how her teacher diagnosed her learning disability and helped her to learn to read. My kids both raved about it. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathman
School safety has never been so hilarious.[picture book, ages 4 and up]
Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner
A beautifully illustrated book about a tiger looking for his smith with a zen message. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Ish by Peter Reynolds
My preschool-aged son drew a “tree-ish” painting after the teacher read this book to the class about a boy who is discouraged by his paintings but then realizes that “ish” is better than painting realistically. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson, illustrated by Katherine Hewitt
A bookmaker’s daughter during the 1400s saves the day by helping her father illustrate a book. Gorgeously illustrated. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
When I Was Young In the Mountains by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Diane Goode
A spare but beautiful story of a simple life growing up in West Virginia. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Tea with Milk by Allen Say
A Japanese-American young lady must adjust to living in Japan. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
A Symphony of Whales by Steve Schuch, illustrated by Peter Sylvada
A beautiful and haunting story about a Siberian girl who comes up with a plan to save hundreds of beluga whales trapped by ice. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith
My little son loves this book about an alien boy who has a really great excuse about why he’s late for school. The book uses words from many different languages which are fun to decode. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Preschool to the Rescue by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Will Hellenbrand
Preschool-age kids love to act out this book about a sticky icky mud puddle with their trucks. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, illustrated by Marc Brown
A loving tribute to Dr. Seuss in the style of Dr. Seuss about a library in a zoo. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
Don’t Say Ain’t by Irene Small, illustrated by Calin Bootman
Dana learns to navigate two worlds: an advanced integrated school and the friends she has at home. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
Saving Sweetness by Diane Stanley, illustrated by B. Brian Karas
A funny story about Sweetness, an orphan, helps the sheriff capture outlaw Coyote Pete. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Doctor DeSoto by William Steig
A dentist and his wife who are mice outwit a fox. [picture book, ages 3 and up]
The Gardener by Sarah Stewart, illustrated by David Small
An uplifting story about a girl who lives during the end of the Great Depression. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Mailing May by Michael O. Tunnel
A true story set in 1914 about getting a little girl to her grandmother’s house seventy-five miles away. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
A Chair for My Mother by Vera B. Williams
Finally, it’s time that mom gets to buy something for herself, but finding the perfect chair is not easy. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Yoko by Rosemary Wells
Yoko gets bullied because her lunch and snack are different from her classmates. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
Night, Night, Stars So Bright by Noreen Wenjen
The perfect toddler bedtime story. [picture book, ages 2 and up]
p.s. Related posts:
Top 10: Best Picture Books for Spring
Top 10: Best Picture Books for Summer Reading (ages 1-8)
Best Picture Books That Teach Math Concepts
Best Non-Fiction Animal Picture Books That Teach Math
Best Picture Books to Build Vocabulary (ages 2-8)
Best Multicultural Picture Books and Kid Lit Blog Hop
Nature is All Around Us! Best Nonfiction Picture Books for Kids
Top 10: Best Picture and Chapter Books That Deal with Bullies
Top 10: Best African-American Picture Books (ages 4-12)
Top 5: Best Seek and Find Picture Books
Top 10: Best Native American Picture Books
Best New Baby Picture Books for Siblings
Top 100: Truly and Honestly, Best Children’s Picture Books Ever!
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BEST #OWNVOICES CHILDREN’S BOOKS: My Favorite Diversity Books for Kids Ages 1-12 is a book that I created to highlight books written by authors who share the same marginalized identity as the characters in their books.
13 thoughts on “Best Picture Books You’ve Never Heard Of”
I was wondering if you would be open to looking at any of my books for consideration for your lists. I would be happy to send copies, if you send an address. All the books are rhyming picture books and are now all Award-Winning: The Magic Word has received the 2011 Gold Readers Favorite Award, the 2011 NABE Pinnacle Summer Winner Award, and the 2011 Global eBook Finalist Award. Santa’s Birthday Gift has received the 2011 National Indie Excellence Finalist Award and the 2011 Silver Readers Favorite Award. Peter and the Whimper-Whineys has received the 2011 Bronze Readers Favorite Award. Thank you. Sherrill S. Cannon
Thanks for this list! There are some great looking titles here and I’m excited to see a number of unfamiliar ones that I’m now eager to check out. The age range info is much appreciated.
Hi Mrs. Brown,
Your comment totally made my day! I feel like no one reads these books. I found them from Library summer reading lists and Great Books for Girls by Kathleen Odeon. We loved these books so much that I wanted to get the word out. I read 300+ picture books to my kids one summer for a big literacy push and these were our favorites. I also like picture books because I was able to read to 6 year old, 4 year old and 2 year old and no one was bored or complaining. They all loved that half hour of reading 10 picture books a night but I had to go to several libraries 3x a week to get all the ones on the list.
EXCELLENT list! I see many of our faves here. I have NEVER seen Saving Sweetness on a top picture book list and it is one of our all time best books. Have you heard of Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Anne Hoberman? Based on your list, I think that you will like it! Thanks for the post!
Hi Leslie in VA,
Saving Sweetness was on a library book list and I like that kind of new Tall Tale western type of story. I’m glad you liked it too. I think there is a sequel too?! Yes! I have heard of Seven Silly Eaters but have never been able to get my hands on it. You are making me want to try again. I think it sounds great!!
This is a great list! Thanks for all the work you put into this post. I appreciate your one- or two-line descriptions.
These were my absolute favorite picture books that I culled off lists from libraries and Great Books for Girls/ Great Books for Boys and enjoyed with my 3 kids.
So many of many favorite on this list! I will have to look up When I Was Young in the Mountains as I have never heard of that one and it sounds like a good one.
I really love Cynthia Rylant and this one is about growing up in the Appalacia. It’s a wonderful picture book.
I found a pin on a favorite books board about this list and had to check and see if “Dr. Desoto” made the cut. Such a delightful story! Thanks for the terrific list! Have you heard of “Dog Breath” by Dav Pilkey? It’s another really good one.
Hi J. Loo,
We love Dr. Desoto. I even gave a copy to my dentist — she’s also a mom friend with kids. Thanks for your great book suggestion! Will try to find a copy of Dog Breath by Dav Pilkey. My son loves his Captain Underpants and Super Diaper Baby series!
How I Became a Pirate is one of my personal favorites. I love that you’re highlighting books that people may not have heard of. One that my kids used to love is Bark, George. It probably has less than a hundred words — maybe less than 50! — but it’s hilarious and brilliant.
I love How I Became a Pirate too!! I haven’t read Bark, George but now it’s on my list to track down! Thank you for your great book recommendation!!!