How to Choose High-Quality Picture Books for Children and Why It Matters, Part Two

How to Choose High-Quality Picture Books for Children and Why It Matters, Part Two

Where We Left Off

In part one of this series, I discussed some important feautures to look for when choosing high-quality picture books during certain periods of an infant, toddler and preschooler's development. Today, I'd like to continue with Interactive Books, Repetition Reading, the Great Leap in Imagination for Preschoolers, and how books can encourage and help with difficult emotions, empathy, connections to nature and more. We will round out today's post with the development of the sense of humor in preschoolers and how high-quality picture books can even encourage this along, as well.

Interactive Books are Engaging for Children

Who doesn’t remember those lift-a-flap books? Children adore them. When my children were young I hesitated buying them because they’d rip so easily. Today, thankfully, they are a bit more sturdy. These types of books are called interactive books and are part of a category called concept books. Included in this category are books about opposites, similarities, the alphabet, shapes or numbers, but the interactive books generally require a bit more effort. They include die-cut books, see-through books, peek-through-hole books, layer books, finger puppet books and lever and slide books. Don’t forget action oriented books too. Toddlers love to participate in noises and actions as part of the story.

Illustration of an elephant chasing butterflies

In fact, learning about animal names and their noises is an important step in their language development and one you should whole-heartedly encourage by joining in! As children grow older, interactive books can help children form predictions, make connections, practice sequencing, play with cause and effect, experience textures, play with sounds.... One of the fun parts I enjoyed around this age with my children was connecting the books to real life anytime we could--hatching caterpillar eggs, watching their life cycle, then releasing the butterflies into the garden after reading an interactive book on butterflies is just one easy example.

Some High-Quality Interactive Picture Books

First The Egg is a beautifully illustrated, award winning interactive book full of die cuts that present change from seed to flower, tadpole to frog and caterpillar to butterfly and is a fun, engaging book for toddlers.

First the Egg Book Cover Blue with white egg in nest

First the Egg written by Laura Vaccaro Seeger, Roaring Brook Press, 2007, ages 2-6 years

Here are two beautiful, newer interactive books by Aaron Becker. He uses translucent colors, die cuts, layering, inserts and more as part of the interaction. The translucent pieces layer on top of other colors from pages underneath, forming different colors with each turn of the page. And when held up to the light, some of the pages are just magical. Even though one of these is a board book format, they are both more appropriate for preschoolers 4 years and up.

You Are Light by Aaron Becker, Candlewick Studio, 2019, ages 4-8 years

My Favorite Color by Aaron Becker, Candlewick Studio, 2020, ages 4-8 years

Peek-A-Boo! was actually written for infants and toddlers up to two years, but has maintained a wider-aged audience over time. It was first published in 1981 and created by Janet and Allan Ahlberg in the United Kingdom as the book Peepo. Once it made its way to America, it was renamed Peek-A-Boo for American audiences. 

Toddlers love this book, and it’s lasted so long as a favorite by parents too because of the historical nostalgia and the charmingly pretty artwork. My preschooler loved learning about the older wood burning stoves and irons heated in the fireplace and just examining all the objects in the artwork of this cluttered, yet very normal home full of laundry, toys, family and pets. What makes this book interactive, though, for little ones is that it “follows a baby through the day in a style full of wit, charm and ingenuity.

A series of holes peeping through to the next page leads the child on to the next stage in the day, giving a hint of what is to come.”* Toddlers can’t help but look through the hole to the next page and make their predictions of what’s to happen! This book also integrates rhyme and conversational text with the brilliant artwork for even more benefits.


Peek-A-Boo by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, *Viking Books for Young Readers, 1997 (1981), ages 0-3 years.

This Lift-the-Flap book, What’s Hiding in There? by Daniela Drescher, is illustrated in Drescher’s characteristic, vibrantly beautiful painting style. You’ll be surprised, and your preschooler delighted, when you see what’s hiding behind these flaps! This lovely book is a difficult book to get in the United States, and when it is in stock, it sells out quickly. We keep a close eye on this favorite at Alder and Alouette. Once it's back in stock, though, it's guaranteed to sell out, so if you see this book anywhere, grab it while you can!


What’s Hiding in There? A Lift-the-Flap Book by Daniela Drescher, Floris Books, 2007, ages 3-6 years (reprint and reissue due sometime in 2022)

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is a ‘seek and find’ game nearly every preschooler knows, but with a twist. As you read the story aloud to them, it gives a clue about a nursery rhyme or fairytale character who is hidden within the charming illustrations. Children get to seek out Tom Thumb, Old Mother Hubbard, the Three Bears, Cinderella, Mary and her little lambs, Jack and Jill and more. The text is fun and the artwork is lovely.

My five-year-old granddaughter was quick to point out something she thought was hilarious in this book: once the Three Bears were introduced, they kept showing up in inappropriate places. She thought it was even more funny, however, that Baby Bear “just can’t stop falling over,” which was quite true. And, yes, a wee bit funny. With her preschool humor, she had the biggest laugh over this slapstick humor, while I, on the other hand, was enthralled with her genuine amusement and infectious laughter. 

Each Peach Pear Plum
Each Peach Pear Plumwritten and illustrated by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Viking Books for Young Readers, 2004 (1979), ages 3-5 years


What to Do With a Box by Jane Yolen

What To Do With A Box, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Chris Sheban, Creative Editions Publishing, 2018, Ages 3-6 years
What to Do With a Box is a fun book for children as it gives them inspiration for their own box and using their imagination. Not only is it beautifully illustrated, it gets children excited and they can’t wait to jump up and make their own creations. So, while not technically an interactive book as you read, it does engage them in activity afterwards (make sure you have a box ready to go!) 

You Want to Read it Again? Okay, I Love That One Too.  

You also want books that are readable over and over, so look for books with stories that follow a more exciting format, which every middle schooler knows: an introduction, rising action, a climax, falling action and a resolution. Yep. Even picture books need this to have a chance at being memorable. 

You'll know if this is the case. Just read the book.
Is there suspense? What will happen to the animals now that a bear is here? Will he scare them away, or ask to get warm too? Will he fit? Will the little animals let him in?
Maybe there’s a relatable dilemma or conflict to sort out, like being afraid of “monsters in the dark” at bedtime and why Mr. Sandman can help.
Or there’s a question to answer, such as what will the family find outside on their night hike, is it scary in the dark and why are they hiking at night to begin with!
Perhaps there is even a mystery to explore, such as how did this chalk become magical and where does it lead the girl? What will happen to her, and can she rescue those that need her in time?

Artwork from the book Any Room for Me? (or The Wood Cutter’s Mitten in the United Kingdom), Floris Books, 2020 (1990), ages 3-6 years
Goodnight Sandman written and illustrated by Daniela Drescher, Floris Books, 2018, ages 3-6 years

The Night Walk by Marie Dorleans, Floris Books, 2021, ages 3-7 years

Return by Aaron Becker, Candlewick Press, 2016, 4-8 years

Imagination: The Great Leap in Childhood From 3 to 5 Years

You also want books with characters who inspire your child’s imagination. The development of imagination and pretend play is especially important for a child between the ages of three to five years, but it requires encouragement with modeling and fantastical storytelling. The establishment of imagination at this age will be the transition into creativity when they are older. The more developed an imagination your child has between the ages of three to five, the more creative they tend to be when they are older. And as adults know, creativity (or lack of) definitely makes or breaks problem-solving dilemmas. Include fairies, gnomes, unicorns, mermaids, dragons, knights, and other fantastical creatures or events as much as you possibly can for your three to five year old, especially in their books and storytelling!

Books to Encourage Imagination and Pretend Play

The Flowers’ Festival written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow, Floris Books, 2010, (1914), ages 4-6 years

The Antlered Ship written by Dashka Slater and illustrated by Terry and Eric Fan, Beach Lane Books, 2017, 4-8 years

The Land of Long Ago   

The Land of Long Ago written and illustrated by Elsa Beskow, Floris Books, 2010 (1923), ages 3-6 years
The Fairy Song      

The Fairy Song, written by Janis MacKay and illustrated by Ruchi Mhasane, Kelpies, 2021, ages 3-6 years
The Sand Elephant by Rinna Hermann and Sanne Dufft, Floris Books, 2020,  ages 3-6 years


Berry Magic, written by Terri Sloat and illustrated by Betty Huffmon, Alaska Northwest Books, 2015, ages 4-8 years
Margarets unicorn

Margaret’s Unicorn by Briony May Smith, Schwartz & Wade Books, 2020, ages 4 to 8 years 

Instilling Appropriate Behavior, Emotions, Values and Attitudes

Children at this age are still learning through imitation of what they see and hear in their daily lives. Preschool children may not necessarily follow you with a broom “helping” you sweep like they did as a toddler, but they are soaking in everything you do and say. The more positive behaviors, ways of dealing with emotions, and values that you model for them daily, including in the books you read to them, the more likely they will learn and present the same behaviors when faced with a similar situation.
Include books for a variety of emotions and dilemmas. My Nana's Garden is a beautiful, gentle, posiitive book about losing a grandparent, something all families eventually go through.
Story Boat is about an immigrant family forced to flee their home and if your child is lucky enough to never have to experience this, it's still a gentle lesson in empathy that is sure to spark some conversation. Empathy is another behavior that needs modeling and books are one way we can do this for our children. 
My Nana’s Garden
My Nana’s Garden written by Dawn Casey and illustrated by Jessica Courtney-Tickle, Templar Books, 2021, ages 4-7 years
Story Boat written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Rashin Kheiriyeh, Tundra Books, 2020, ages 3-7 years

Choose books that represent a wide variety of cultures to teach them how beautifully diverse our world’s communities are, and choose books about great discoveries and about standing up for the right things, even when it’s hard to do so. 

Inspirational People, Cultures, Great Discoveries & Real World Issues

We Are Water Protectors written by Carole Lindstrom and illustrated by Michaela Goade, Roaring Brook Press, 2020, ages 4-8 years

The Proudest Blue by Ibtihaj Muhammad with SK Ali and illustrated by Hatem Aly, Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2019, ages 4-8 years 

The Secret Garden of George Washington Carver written by Gene Barretta and illustrated by Frank Morrison, Katherine Tegen Books, 2020, ages 4-8 years

the boy who grew a forest

The Boy Who Grew A Forest, The True Story of Jadav Payeng, written by Sophia Gholz illustrated by Kayla Harren, Sleeping Bear Press, 2019, ages 4-8 years

Don't Forget the Natural World

We love animal books and seasons books in childhood! Choose books about nature and the organisms that we should all be concerned about in addition to farm animals and adorable autumn squirrels and fall foliage. As well as including nature stories that include fantastic, magical creatures for the imagination, include nature stories about real events. Counting Birds is one such event that grew from one person's perseverance. Honeybee teaches us the importance of bees to our own survival and Migration introduces a diversity of migrating animals across the planet and what happens when their path is blocked by humans and not blocked by humans.  These books not only encourage empathy, but also show human-nature connections, science-in-action, diversity of life, expanded world view, and cause and effect. They also have beautiful artwork and age-appropriate everyday language.

Counting Birds: The Idea That Helped Saved Our Feathered Friends, written by Heidi Stemple and illustrated by Clover Robin, Seagrass Press, 2018, ages 3-7 years


Honeybee, written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by Eric Rothman, Neal Porter Books, 2020, ages 5-10 years

Migration: Incredible Animal Journeys, written by Mike Unwin and illustrated by Jenni Desmond, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019, ages 6-10 years

 Don't Forget Their Funny Side

While toddlers delight in books like Peek-A-Boo, preschoolers, on the other hand, have a unique sense of humor. Don't forget to add a little silliness to your picture book collection for this special age. Then prepare to enjoy their laughs and watch their amazement and intense observations of the amusing illustrations. You'll be glad you did and have some great memories, along with all the other fabulous moments you shared with your child. Books are great. They do have a way of making things better.

Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis, Candlewick Press, 2016, Ages 4-8 years

The Fog written by Kyo Maclean and illustrated by Kenard Pak, Tundra Books, 2017, ages 4-8 years

animals brag about their bottoms

Animals Brag About Their Bottoms by Maki Saito, Greystone Kids, 2020, ages 3-6 years

The Dog Walk by Sven Nordqvist, Floris Books, 2021, ages 3-7 years

Picture books can be found for all ages and there are a lot of high-quality ones out there, but there are also a lot of not so great ones. One way the picture book trend has continued into upper elementary and middle school is the graphic novel style. But that's a ways down the road. What about that storytelling component I mentioned a few times in passing? Aren't we storytelling when we read to our children? Why do chapter books for young children begin to use less and less illustrations? I thought high-quality art was a thing with great books? I hope you can join me for part three when I discuss the next important part we can play in our child's brain development with stories and chapter books. If you’d like to be notified when that page posts, sign up for our newsletter on the homepage




Written by Laura Lowe

Laura is a professional educator with degrees in Environmental Science, as well as Education, with decades of experience working with children and the environment. She’s also an avid crafter, bibliophile, novice hobby farmer, mom to three daughters and six grandchildren under the age of seven. She enjoys every second she can spending time with her husband, children and grandchildren.

More about Laura and Alder and Alouette, here.

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