This post was written by media specialist Lauren Bercuson Davis, as part of my “Reading Wednesdays” series in which Lauren and I take turns sharing our favorite kid lit recommendations.
My five year-old son thinks he’s Lebron James. He plays for the Cavs, has the whole team on speed dial, has a jump shot that takes down the moon, and introduces himself as King James to all who will listen. When he broke his arm last week, half of the boys in his pre-K class sent cards telling “Labron Jams” to get well soon. Some may call it an identity crisis, but I like to think of it as a vivid and vibrant imagination.
Too often, we underestimate the power of play. Yet, playing “make-believe” actually that helps our children make sense of the world. Kids learn not just by doing, but by imagining. They learn empathy by taking on new personas and stepping into another’s shoes. They explore scary situations while nestled in safe spaces. They experiment with language when they act as parents or teachers, and they make up their own languages when they pretend to be animals or fairies. When our children stretch their imaginations, they gain valuable developmental skills.
So what do you do when your little one keeps insisting he’s Lebron James or Daniel Tiger or a cyclops unicorn with long blond locks just like Rapunzel? Encourage it! Encourage your kids to think, to dream, and to unleash their creativity in any and all ways possible.
16 of my favorite books to help your child’s imagination run wild:
1) Du Iz Tak?
By Carson Ellis
Read Du Iz Tak? once with your kids, and they will be in hysterics as they listen to the made up “bug language.” Read it a second time, and magic happens when your little ones realize the words actually make sense. This book is genius, both for the hilarity it inspires and the critical thinking it involves. Even better? I almost guarantee your kids and students will be wholly engaged in creating their own unique languages long after the book is put down.
2) The Whisper
By Pamela Zagarenski
When a little girl goes home from school after borrowing a book from her teacher, she discovers that all of the words have disappeared from the pages, leaving only the illustrations for her to look at. She is frustrated at first, until she hears a whisper telling her that she can imagine the words and the stories all on her own. What follows is a child who initially grapples with the idea of putting her own words to the illustrations, but then slowly finds her voice and unlocks the doors of her imagination. The Whisper is absolutely exquisite.
By Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Julie Morstad
This Is Sadie is one of my absolute favorite picture books, celebrating story and creativity with a beautiful narrative and gorgeous illustrations. Through casual yet precise text, This is Sadie takes the reader through a mundane day that becomes both adventurous and magical through nothing more than Sadie’s power of imagination. With each turn of the page, we see how books transform Sadie’s ordinary experiences into extraordinary adventures.
By Lindsay Ward
After a mysterious note instructs her to bring balloons to the animals on the carousel, Emma obliges. It is then that a magical adventure ensues, when the polar bear she rides steps right off the carousel and into the night sky. Please Bring Balloons is one of those books we come back to again and again, for the sheer awe it provokes, not just in my boys, but in me as well. It is a perfectly magical escape, and it gets those little minds working. If polar bears can ride right off a carousel and into the black of night, what else could happen?
5) Poppy Pickle
By Emma Yarlett
Poppy Pickle has quite the imagination, and upon being sent upstairs to clean her room, her imagination comes alive. Her room becomes filled with the wondrous images she conjures up, and life seems pretty incredible… until, that is, it starts getting crazy. What happens when a mammoth steps right through the door and a crocodile thinks Poppy would make an excellent snack? However will she get these creatures to go away? This one is amazing for letting your kids imaginations run totally, totally wild!
By Joseph Keufler
Beyond the Pond is about a little boy in an ordinary town, living in an ordinary house, who decides to explore the depth of the pond outside with his dog and ends up on an extraordinary adventure. What lies below? Ernest and his dog dive in, and deep down in the water they find a fantastical world complete with dinosaurs and unicorns where bravery reigns supreme. When the boy and his dog finally surface and comes up for air, their seemingly ordinary surroundings may be a bit more extraordinary after all.
By Bill Thomson
In this gorgeous wordless book, three kids find a magical bag of chalk on a rainy afternoon. They start drawing on the pavement, and within moments, their drawings come to life, entrancing the children with their magic, might and mystery. Chalk is an absolute dream, with illustrations that vividly bring this imaginative story to life. The kids can stop the rain and create a sky full of butterflies, but how on earth will they tame a devilish dinosaur?
By Barney Saltzberg
Beautiful Oops! is an absolute gem, showing children (and even adults, too!) that with a bit of imagination and creativity, our mistakes can be turned into discoveries. Maybe tears in paper, ink spills and drawing mishaps exist simply to make magic happen. This book, with its pop-ups and flaps and holes and tears, certainly makes it seem so.
9) I Am Famous
By Tara Leubbe and Becky Cattie
If you have a child who lives for the stage, this book is for you. This one cracks me up, because Kiely doesn’t just think she is famous, she knows she’s famous. The paparazzi (her adoring parents) take pics of her wherever she goes, and she even has a personal chef and chauffeur (gotta love mom!). I Am Famous is perfect for kids who dream they are stars of their own shows.
By Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney
Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast are the best of friends, until that fateful day they discover there is only one drop of syrup left in the fridge. Behind the closed doors of the refrigerator, all food comes to life, and the competition to get to that last sticky drop of sweetness is not just fierce, but incredibly fun as well. Talk about a rollicking rhyming romp! This may just be the most imaginative food fight ever, and if your little ones are anything like mine, they will totally delight in the escapades that ensue once the refrigerator doors close and the food inside takes over.
By Junot Diaz and illustrated by Leo Espinosa
Every child in Lola’s school was from some place else. So when the students are asked to draw pictures of the countries from which they immigrated, Lola is stumped. She left her island when she was just a baby and has no memories of her homeland. She thus takes it upon herself to interview family and friends, and with the help of their memories and her own big imagination, Lola’s island comes alive. Islandborn is such a beauty for helping little ones imagine places they have never been, people they have never met, or special moments that profoundly impacted their family history.
12) Not a Box
By Antoinette Portis
A box is just a box. Or is it? Of course not! Not a Box is the perfect book to help toddlers get their imaginations soaring, as it brilliantly teaches little ones that with just a bit of imagination, a box can become so much more. Your kids will turn boxes into cars, castles and candy shops before too long!
13) Still Stuck
By Shinsuke Yoshitake
It is not easy to get dressed and undressed every day, especially when your head keeps getting stuck in your shirt. But, oh, the things you can imagine when your head gets stuck and your shirt is suspended in thin air and your arms are raised in a goofy position. Still Stuck one makes my boys erupt in laughter, and the stuck t-shirt monsters seem to linger around our house for days.
14) Also an Octopus
By Maggie Tokuda-Hall and illustrated by Benji Davie
Do you know what the best stories start with? If you guessed a whole lot of nothing, you’re absolutely right. Storytelling has to involve a character who wants something, and this instructive, fantastically creative picture book will have your kids laughing and imagining goofy characters and wild situations in no time at all. Also an Octopus is, hands down, one of our very favorites for budding authors.
By Drew Daywalt and illustrated by Adam Rex
I adore the way in which this book takes a familiar childhood game and imagines a whole back story for each of the characters and the action which brings them all together. The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors is fun, silly, and opens up a world in which your children can create their own stories based on their favorite games, toys and household objects.
By Julia Denos
This is a spellbinding story about Swatch, a wild little girl with even wilder black hair, who is a color tamer. She jars up colors and collects them on her shelves, and she longs to harness all of the colors in the world. But Swatch eventually discovers that some colors refuse to be tamed, causing a drastic change in her master plan. The result? Something special and luminous, resulting in an imaginative story and illustrations your kids will pore over again and again.
What are your favorite children’s books for kids with big imaginations? Tell us in the comments below!