Some people dream about their children (or future children) playing with their one special stuffed animal from their own childhood or wearing a hand-knit sweater that miraculously survived storage for a number of decades. Others dream about the day they will read beloved picture books they saved from their childhood to their own small children. I am in the latter camp.
While I am a lover of books in general, I am also a lover of beautiful books. Pretty books make me happy, to put it simply, and there is a strong case to be made for having and using pretty things. Even more than elegant classic book spines stacked on a bookshelf, however, I find joy and serenity through thoughtful and lovely children’s books.
The more vibrant and unique the illustrations, the better (although a clever story certainly helps). Such beauty lifts my mood and fills me with gratitude—and I’m already noticing that it has a similar effect on my two-year-old daughter. Not only is she better able to pay attention and follow the story when I’m reading her a book filled with beautiful pictures, but such books genuinely appear to bring her joy and inspire a cheerful mood.
Whether you are a parent (or parent-to-be) looking to build your child’s home library, or a friend or relative searching for a beautiful book to grace the bookshelf of your favorite little person, here are a few books—both classics and newer titles—that would make a lovely addition to any small child’s home.
We Are the Gardeners, written by Joanna Gaines and kids, illustrated by Julianna Swaney
I have to admit: I bought this book for my daughter solely based on the gorgeous pictures. Anything Chip and Jo touch seems to blossom into something beautiful, and this book is no exception. Joanna and her children share the adventure of starting their own garden—from one small potted fern inside to a bustling family garden outside. Along the way, their family grows as well, making it a very sweet family story.
Julianna Swaney truly captured the Gaines family and the innate beauty of a blossoming garden with her charming pictures. My toddler is completely captivated by them—as am I—and they have me dreaming of lovely springtime flowers, ripe summer tomatoes, and starting a new family project. It would make the perfect gift for any small child (or adult, if we’re being honest!).
The Jolly Pocket Postman, written and illustrated by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
This favorite book from my childhood is one of the most ingenuous and interactive children’s books ever created. I say created, rather than written, because there is so much more to it than its cleverly rhyming story about a postman delivering mail to well-known storybook characters. It is filled with the cutest little pictures, but most importantly, it’s filled with pockets (or “envelopes”) containing the most charming little letters, cards, postcards, and tiny booklets you can take out and read individually.
I was one of those children who used to dash to check the mail as soon as I spotted the mailman’s arrival (I still do). There is simply something magical about opening a beautiful little piece of mail, and thanks to this innovative book, children can open real letters every day as they read along about the jolly pocket postman’s adventures.
The Wonderful Things You Will Be, written and illustrated by Emily Winfield Martin
Emily Winfield Martin’s picture book, The Wonderful Things You Will Be, would make the perfect baby shower or first birthday gift, as the words are gentle enough for young ears and the pictures are captivating for all ages. The rich colors and sweet faces seem both nostalgic and novel, and I love how the overarching theme of the book teaches children that they can grow up to do great, kind, and brave things. My toddler still asks me to read this one almost daily.
Bonus book: Martin’s board book, Dream Animals, is also gracefully written, and the illustrations are truly breathtaking. (You can even buy the artwork from her books, and I am seriously contemplating covering my daughter’s room in her prints.)
Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak
There is a reason this children’s picture book is such an endearing classic. The memorable illustrations are as magical and mischievous as the story itself—an imaginative tale of a young boy named Max who was full of mischief, mischief that sometimes even got him in trouble. When his bedroom becomes a forest one night and Max sails to the place where the “wild things” are, he learns a thing or two about being a wild thing himself. I’ve always loved the creative, playful illustrations of the roaring, gnashing wild things, and I’ve yet to meet a child who is not captivated by them as well.
Although he does not show his mother due respect at the beginning of the story, it is clear by the end of the story that Max not only has learned his lesson, but that his mother still loves him anyway—and will always love him unconditionally. I’ve found that this story often opens up good and fruitful dialogue with a young child, as they are usually left with plenty of questions about the silly monsters and the boy with the crazy costume. Where the Wild Things Are is a fun and truly beautiful read.
Anne Arrives, written by Kallie George, illustrated by Abigail Halpin
Anne of Green Gables lovers, this one’s for you. This newer-release book is the first in a series of early-reader chapter books introducing children to the wonderful, spirited Anne! (The second one, Anne’s Kindred Spirits, is also available now.) It is the same, beloved story about a couple named Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert who think they are adopting a boy, but instead get the witty, endlessly chatty, and enchanting “Anne with an e.” It doesn’t take Anne long to realize that she is right where she is supposed to be as she finds her home in Green Gables.
Young readers will fall instantly in love with Anne in this adorable book, especially with the help of the bright and charming illustrations that grace every single page. This book is recommended for children ages 6–8 (or grades 1–3), but I can testify that the pictures alone already keep my toddler entranced with the story.
Lola Dutch, written and illustrated by Kenneth and Sarah Jane Wright
This book is one of the most darling picture books that I’ve discovered in the past year. It tells the story of the creative and energetic Lola Dutch, who shares her grandiose ideas with her animal pals—nothing is ever over-the-top for her. She inspires children to think outside the box and not to be scared to get a little creative (and wild!) sometimes. I love the clever story of creative play, as well as the overall takeaway that, in the end, the only thing we really need is love (which she finds in her best friend, Bear).
My daughter loves the silly story and the gorgeous watercolor illustrations, and this is one of those rare, beautiful books that I don’t mind reading to her again and again. I think it would make the best gift for any young child. There is also a growing series of Lola Dutch books now. I also love that the cover of the book converts into a paper dollhouse, and the back flap includes paper dolls of Lola Dutch and Bear to play with—such a fun, ingenious idea!
1 is One, written and illustrated by Tasha Tudor
My love for Tasha Tudor and her gorgeous illustrations runs deep. (And I’m not the first Verily writer to sing her praises!) Her books are simple and timeless. I love her nostalgic picture book about holidays, A Time to Keep, as well as A is for Annabelle, a first alphabet book for young children (specifically, young girls who love their dolls). But for a wonderful first board book for toddlers (both girls and boys), 1 is One is simply beautiful.
The pictures are classic, delicate, and colorful. It would make a lovely gift for a small child just learning their numbers, as it teaches toddlers numbers 1–20 through engaging pictures of animals and scenes in nature. While you can’t go wrong with any children’s picture book by Tasha Tudor, 1 is One takes the cake as a great gift for a first (or second, or third) birthday due to its simplistic beauty.
Ordinary, Extraordinary Jane Austen, written by Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Qin Leng
My Jane Austen-loving heart skipped a beat when I recently discovered this flowery, pink, watercolor gem of a children’s book. It tells the story of the very “ordinary” girl who ended up writing some of the most extraordinary books of all time. Written for young girls, it shares the inspiring and relatable tale of a little girl who loved playing games with her siblings, dancing, creating plays in their family’s old barn-turned drama theater, and most of all, reading. Her love affair with reading led to a love of writing, which she started to do when she was 12.
I love the overall theme of this book to follow one’s dreams at a young age, as Jane chased her own dream of becoming a writer and eventually became a published author. This book is simply precious—there is no better word for it. It would make a beautiful gift for any Austen lover or future Austen-lover, especially with the bonus pages in the back that share a real timeline of Jane Austen’s life and snippets (with quotes and a quick plot summary) of all of her published books.
Life is too short for lackluster children’s picture books. Children’s books have the ability to evoke positive thoughts, serenity, and real joy through their distinctive beauty—the cover, words, and illustrations all wrapped up together prettily. These are just a few picture books that have brought me joy both when I was a child reading them to myself, and now, reading them to my own young daughter. Seeing her little face light up at the illustrations, watching her pick out the prettiest books she can find at our library, and hearing her tiny voice beg for me to read her more brings me unimaginable joy—joy that I plan to experience repeatedly as we continue to discover beautiful children’s books together.