Reading aloud to children of all ages is important for their successful literacy development. Read alouds can be used effectively to introduce topics across the curriculum in any grade level or to simply inspire a love of books and reading. When looking for good read alouds to share with children either at school or home consider some of the books reviewed in this column.
Bears Don’t Cry! Emma Chichester Clark. (2023). Kane Miller.
George, the extraordinary talking bear living with Clementine and her mother who taught him to read in Bears Don’t Read (2016), is finished with the book he has been reading while they’ve been out. He decides to go to the library on his own to return the book and check out another. As the big, friendly bear walks down the street and tries to talk with people, they are terrified. Through a series of calamities, George finds himself flying into a fountain, getting all wet and soaking his book. When Clementine comes out of the crowd of people laughing at him, she consoles the tearful bear and teaches the onlookers a lesson about friendship and kindness. Even bears cry! British author-illustrator Emily Chichester Clark’s colorful, richly detailed illustrations featuring the charming the bear complement the lively text as they portray the emotions and actions of George, Clementine, and a diverse group of townspeople in this wildly imaginative picture book adventure. (PreK-Gr 2)
Big. Vashti Harrison. (2023). Little, Brown.
This beautifully crafted picture book begins with a contented Black baby girl who has a “big laugh and a big heart and very big dreams.” As time goes by, however, the use of the word “big” takes on a negative connotation for the girl. By second grade, it brings jeering remarks and unthoughtful judgments, as well as humiliation on the playground, in the classroom, and at her dance studio. Author-illustrator Vashti Harrison takes readers on the girl’s journey of advocating for herself as she gives back the hurtful words to those who used them on her and surrounds herself with positive words reflecting self-acceptance and self-love. “I like the way I am.” Through spare text and expressive pink-hued digital artwork with chalk pastels, Harrison tells a compelling story that demonstrates the power of words for affirmation as well as condemnation and the importance of self-esteem. (PreK-Gr 2)
Finally Seen. Kelly Yang. (2023). Simon & Schuster.
Ten-year-old Lina Gao has lived in Bejing with her grandmother. Lao Lao, for the last five years since her parents and little sister moved to Los Angeles. Lina cannot wait to join her parents and sister in their picture-perfect life in California she has imagined. When she is finally reunited with her family, Lina discovers that their life in the U.S. does not match what has been communicated. Instead of a house, the family lives in a tiny apartment and owes back rent. Now Lina must reconcile the new life she thought she was starting with reality as she deals with the hurt of having been “left behind” in China and wonders where she stands in her family. Additionally, Lina feels inadequate as her sister demonstrates her command of English and knowledge of American culture while she struggles in school. Then Lina begins classes with Mrs. Ortiz, an English language Lerner Instructor, becomes friends with Finn, a boy in her class who understands a little Chinese, and makes an important connection to a relatable book they are reading. Through these experiences at school and working with her mom and sister to earn enough money to pay the back rent by selling bath bombs at home, Lina begins to find her voice. (Gr 3-5)
Maurice. Jessixa Bagley. (2023). Chronicle.
Times have changed, and Maurice, a once famous canine musician, is now making a living sharing his love for music with people by playing the accordion on the streets of Paris. “Their love for his songs clattered and clinked into his jar with appreciation.” Maurice uses his earnings to feed the many beloved birds he houses in his apartment, but as times change and the crowds around the city ignore his music, he is no longer able to care for his feathered friends. What Maurice knows he must do—set the birds free—is dramatically revealed with the opening of a double gatefold. Without his muses he has no desire to make music, and his sadness spills into other aspects of his life. Once spring arrives, however, he sees scenes of love in the park that recall precious memories and feels inspired to make music once again. When he starts to play his accordion, his bird friends rejoin him, and together they enchant the crowd that gathers with their song filled with love. There is more to be discovered in the colorful, detailed illustrations rendered in watercolor and digital collage with each rereading of Jessixa Bagley’s charming story about the power of friendship, love, and music. (PreK-Gr 2)
Nubby. Dan Richards. Illus. by Shanda McCloskey. (2023). Alfred A. Knopf.
Nubby, a well-loved blue stuffed bunny, is tired of being dragged, dropped, chewed, and torn. When he is left in the backyard, Nubby sees an opportunity for a fresh start with possibilities for popularity, fame, and riches in “the great wild world” (actually the cul-de-sac). His new adventures find him being dropped by the family dog amid some rabbits who ignore him, meeting a young girl who wants to make him a star in her magic show, and getting dirty searching for treasure on the playground with the dog. Nubby soon misses his boy and longs to return to his old life, realizing that he had taken for granted how wonderful it was to be hugged, cuddled, and cherished. Dan Richards tells the story from Nubby’s perspective in a way that helps young children understand how the toy bunny must feel. Shanda McCloskey adds to Nubby’s engaging story with her humorous, expressive illustrations created using pencil, watercolors, and digital artwork. (PreK-Gr 2)
Oh No, the Aunts Are Here. Adam Rex. Illus. by Lian Cho. (2023). Chronicle.
“The aunts are here, they’re here, they’re here.” With the frenzied entrance into her quiet home by four effusive aunts, a young girl is quickly overwhelmed. The hugging upon their arrival is quickly followed by fixing her hair, commenting on how big she has gotten, giving her gifts, and peppering her with questions. And when the aunts are ready to go sightseeing, beginning with the Quilt Museum, they want her to join them, of course. That night the aunts take over her bedroom, and she must sleep on the couch. They even invade her dreams. In the morning, the chaos continues as the aunts seem to be all over the house, but when she finds an unwelcomed and scary surprise at the breakfast table, she is thankful that her aunts are there to keep her safe! Adam Rex’s rhythmic text with repeated lines presented in different sizes and fonts and Lian Cho’s vibrant, mixed-media cartoon illustrations combine to create a great read-aloud story about a comical family reunion with a giggle-inducing ending. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow. Elaine Dimopoulos. Illus. by Doug Salati. (2023). Charlesbridge.
Butternut is a rabbit who lives with her nine siblings, mom, and Grandmother Sage in a burrow in Milkweed Meadow. Her family uses storytelling to teach the truths that guide their lives, and Butternut is a gifted storyteller. She has many fears and faithfully abides by her family’s strict rules to stay close to home and keep away from humans and other species. Then she meets Piper, a persistent little robin determined to involve Butternut in scary activities that will have her breaking rules. Before long, Butternut and Piper are best friends sneaking out on adventures during the night that lead to meeting and helping other species of animals, including an injured deer named Winsome. Butternut begins to question her family’s resolve to stick to their own kind as she wrestles with the truth she finds in her new experiences. Doug Salati’s black-and-white illustrations enhance this animal fantasy by a giving a glimpse into Milkweed Meadow and its creatures. (Gr 3-5)
Simon Sort of Says. Erin Bow. (2023). Disney Hyperion.
Simon O’Keeffe’s claim to fame is not something anyone would want to attain. At the age of ten, he was the only survivor in his classroom from a school shooting. Now it is two years later, and his family has moved to Grin and Bear It, Nebraska, a town with no internet. What the town does have are scientists in search of signs of life from space. Together his family navigates Simon’s return to school for the first time since the tragedy in the new town where no one knows their past. Simon befriends an autistic girl named Agate who wants to help the scientists find what they are looking for and involves Simon in her plan. For Simon, putting the plan into motion is a means to write a new story by which he will be known. Erin Bow uses humor to effectively convey the story of a child who has experienced trauma and must learn to move on with his life. (Gr 3-5)
This Book Is My Best Friend. Robin Robinson. (2023). Simon & Schuster.
Two young readers, Sunny and Aarush, claim the same book as their best friend when they get to it at the same time in the library. Sunny loves the book because it has a robot in it; Aarush likes that the story is about a mouse. They find solace in the same book for different reasons, one as a companion when feeling lonely and the other as a haven for being alone. Since there is only one copy of the book, the two boys move throughout the library trying to convince one another to check out other books that have characters that match their interests. Ultimately, they realize their favorite part of the book is the same and wonder if sharing could be the answer to their problem. Robin Robinson’s digitally rendered illustrations in muted tones of orange, brown, and teal provide a glimpse into the comfort provided by the book for Sunny and Aarush while also showing the busy environment of the library full of many books that can be best friends. (PreK-Gr 2)
Winston Chu vs. the Whimsies. Stacey Lee. (2023). Rick Riordan Presents.
In Stacey Lee’s reimagining of a traditional Chinese folktale, Winston Chu is a 12-year-old boy whose mother is striving to keep everything together after his father’s death from a friendly fire accident in Iraq. He also has a grouchy older sister and a cheerful toddler sister. On the three-year anniversary of his father’s death, or Dad-iversary as he refers to it, Winston is skateboarding in Chinatown with a pie he has baked at the local cooking academy in honor of the day when he is knocked off his board and the pie flies from his hands onto two suspicious guys peering into the window of Mr. Pang’s Whimsies shop. As a thank you for protecting the shop from thieves, Mr. Pang invites Winston to choose any item he wants from his shop full of fantastic whimsies. The only stipulation is that he take the first thing he touches. Through a series of unlucky events, Winston ends up taking home a spirit-inhabited broom and dustpan he inadvertently touches. Thus begins Winston’s magical adventures with his friends Mav, Cassa, and Bajal in this humorous, action-packed story full of mystery and twists that make it a lively read aloud. (Gr 3 Up)
Nicole Maxwell is an associate professor specializing in literacy instruction in the Elementary and Special Education Program at the University of North Georgia.
The books reviewed in this column are ideal for babies and toddlers to enjoy with a parent or caregiver, or in preschool setting. With the use of simple texts and eye-catching illustrations, the authors and illustrators of these board books and picture books introduce young readers to engaging characters and experiences and offer gentle messages about being curious, taking pleasure in the simple wonders and beauty of the natural world, and loving and appreciating those around us.
Becoming a Butterfly (Little Kids First Board Book). Ruth A. Musgrave. (2023). National Geographic Kids.
Attention-grabbing cover art that features an adult swallowtail butterfly and a small caterpillar’s “I can’t wait to grow up!” pronouncement in a thought bubble introduces young children to this board book about one of nature’s most popular insects, the butterfly, and its fascinating life cycle: egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis), and adult butterfly. Double-page spreads feature photographs of butterflies, identified by their common names, and a simple text of short sentences in a large font with key words in color. Ruth A. Musgrave’s inconclusion of thought bubbles such as a butterfly’s “Yum!” while drinking sweet nectar or “Ta-da!” after emerging from its chrysalis adds humor. Use of onomatopoeic words like “Munch. Munch.” and “Slurp!” provide opportunities for expressive reading aloud. As in the other books in the Little Kids First Board Book series, the final spread provides several interactive learning activities.
Here Comes Spring! Susan Kantor. Illus. by Katya Longhi. (2023). Little Simon.
“Here comes spring, // all fresh and green.” Susan Kantor’s rhyming text and Katya Longhi’s colorful illustrations invite young children to join a playful group of animal friends as they say goodbye to the cold of winter and welcome the new life spring brings. Readers will relate to the woodland animals who, dressed like people, engage in familiar spring activities such as looking for ladybugs, picking dandelions and blowing their seeds into a gentle breeze, and making flower necklaces. Then, “like merry robins, // we sing a song to spring.” Here Comes Spring! is a companion to Kantor and Longhi’s other board books that celebrate the seasons of the year: Here Comes Fall! (2021), Hooray for Snowy Days! (2021), and Hooray for Sunny Days! (2022).
I’m a Little Bunny (I’m a Little). Hannah Eliot. Illus. by Liz Brizzi. (2023). Little Simon.
Following the format of the “I’m a Little Teapot” nursery rhyme song, Hannah Eliot’s text, complemented by Liz Brizzi’s lively cartoon artwork, introduces three little bunnies, one at a time, who are excited by the arrival of spring. For example, “I’m a little bunny— / look at me! / I bounce and I hop / so happily. // When I feel the warm breeze, / I will say: // ‘SPRING IS HERE! / YIPEE! HOORAY!’” From frolicking in breezy fields and admiring blooming flowers, to discovering delicious treats of clover and making friends with animals who have just migrated back or awakened from hibernation, the three little bunnies enjoy the return of spring. This joyful board book ends with their exuberant declaration, “Everyone’s awake now, / so we will call: / ‘HAPPY SPRING TO ONE AND ALL!’”
Let’s Go Puddling! Emma Perry. Illus. by Claire Alexander. (2023). Candlewick.
Claire Alexander sets the scene for this picture book on the front endpaper, revealing a city apartment building on a rainy day. “Clouds gather, / skies darken, / rain falls, / puddles appear. / “‘Let’s go!’” Emma Perry’s simple, lyrical text combines with Alexander’s watercolor-inspired digital illustrations to tell a joyous story about three young friends who relish in puddling together at their building’s playground on a rainy day while their parents shelter nearby under an umbrella. They “stimp, stamp, stomp!” and “splish, splash, splosh!” through puddles—teeny ones, muddy ones, enormous ones, and deep ones—and delight as a shaking wet dog and a bicyclist riding by get them wetter and wetter. At last, when socks are soggy and toes are cold, the friends head back inside to dry off and enjoy a nice big “SNUGGLE” with their parents on the couch in one family’s apartment. Children may catch a glimpse of a rainbow in the window just before this heartwarming story ends with its final illustration of a rainbow above the building on the back endpaper.
Little Chicks. Taro Gomi. (2023). Chronicle.
Originally published in Japan, this board book by author-illustrator Taro Gomi couples his signature style of colorful, minimalistic illustrations and simple sentences to tell a sweet story about three little chicks who leave the chicken coop and spend the day exploring the world around them. “Three little chicks run. // They run together.” The chicks excitedly run and run and run, stopping occasionally to rest or to hide from a predator flying above. The chicks’ adventurous day even includes taking a bus ride before running some more. Then at last, they run home to their parents, who are waiting with loving, open wings. This story offers young children a simple, yet powerful, reminder about the warmth and reassurance of loved ones.
Llama Pajamas (Early Bird Stories). Jenny Jinks. Illus. by Addy Rivera Sonda. (2023) Lerner.
A llama named Larry is fed up with being too hot. Terry, another llama, suggests going for a swim or sitting in the shade beneath a tree, but nothing seems to help. Hearing this, Edna, an older llama, offers to help, and Larry’s wool is gone with a “SNIP! SNIP! SNIP!” He likes his short hair and is finally cool. But now, Larry is too cold at night. Edna steps in again and knits him a pair of pajamas with a “CLICK! CLACK! CLICK! CLACK!” Soon, the other llamas want short hair and pajamas, too. Once more, Edna steps in—and the story ends with a llama pajama slumber party for all! Like other books in this series for emerging readers, Llama Pajamas includes a short quiz to check for understanding.
Maisy’s Ambulance (Go with Maisy Board Books). Lucy Cousins. (2023). Candlewick.
When an emergency calls, Maisy the mouse and Charley the crocodile have an important job to do. Their siren (“Nee-nah, nee-nah!”) alerts other cars to make way for their ambulance and allows them to arrive quickly at the scene of an accident. Poor Eddie the elephant has fallen while roller skating, leaving him with a very sore trunk. Using their first aid kits, Charley puts an ice pack on Eddie’s bruised trunk, and Maisy wraps it with a bandage. Eddie now feels better and is appreciative for the help he receives from the Maisy and Charley rescue team. This sturdy board book shaped like an ambulance with Lucy Cousins’ simple text and signature childlike illustrations featuring Maisy and her animal friends painted in gouache in bright colors and outlined with heavy black lines gives young readers a child-friendly glimpse into the important work of special first responders.
Mommy Time. Monique James-Duncan. Illus. by Ebony Glenn. (2023). Candlewick. In her debut picture book, Monique James-Duncan celebrates the specialness of the “mommy time” shared by a stay-at-home mother and her two children, a toddler boy and a school-age girl. Using short, rhythmic phrases, the author’s words mirror the youthfulness of the toddler telling the story while also expressing the hustle and bustle of the mother’s balancing of playtime with errands and caring tasks. “She hurries with the cleanup time. / Me? Help? It’s so exhausting time! / Sweeping time, laundry time. / Put down to nap. // Give a snack. / It’s stinky diaper changing time.” Ebony Glenn’s digital illustrations in soft pastels and earthy tones add a layer of warmth to this story as she captures the mother’s nurturing demeaner and the love that is felt by all the members of this Black family.
Nat the Cat Takes a Bath (Nat the Cat #2). Jarrett Lerner. (2023). Simon Spotlight.
The never seen narrator (whose words appear in large, black print) declares, “Nat the Cat is going to take a bath,” and Jarrett Lerner’s cartoonlike illustrations showing stench coming off the cat and flies buzzing around make it clear that he needs one. Nat, however, does not want to take a bath. When the narrator asks whether he is scared of the bath, Nat comes up with excuse after excuse—wanting bubbles, needing toys, and not having a towel—to avoid getting in the tub. As Nat finally admits to being afraid, his friend, Pat, a rat who loves taking baths, comes along and dives in, leaving Nat wet and contemplating his next move. Toddlers who love tub time will be delighted with the ending of this story that shows Nat and Pat sitting together and smiling in the tub. Consider Nat the Cat Takes a Nap (2023), the first book in the series, for another shared reading experience.
Peekaboo Rex! (Boynton on Board). Sandra Boynton. (2023). Boynton Bookworks.
“PEEKABOO! I SEE YOU! // Do you see ME behind a tree?” A big T. rex is playing hide-and-seek with a much smaller dinosaur friend. With each of his not-well-chosen hiding spots—behind a tree or potted plant, under a blanket, in a crowd (in “Where’s Waldo” fashion), or even up high in the sky in an airplane—he is always easily discovered by the little dino with a “Peekaboo!” The circle cut-out on the front cover of the board book invites young children to frame their faces for their very own game of peekaboo with Rex!
Skye Deiter is a third-grade classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and a mom of two curious and adventurous toddlers who love books!
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).