It’s a new year! Imagine all of the possibilities the next 365 days will bring with phenomenal picture books that will help your child’s imagination set soar!
My almost six year-old thinks he’s Lebron James. In his mind, he plays for the Lakers, keeps his pals from the Heat and the Cavs on speed dial, and has a jump shot that takes down the moon. When he broke his arm last year, 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 it is play - pretend play, imaginative play, playing “make-believe” - that helps our children make sense of their worlds. Kids learn not just by doing, but by imagining. When they use their imaginations, our kids are gaining valuable developmental skills. 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, or, even better, when they make up their own languages while pretending to be animals or fairies. They even learn to problem solve when they determine how build a castle or how to perfect a jump shot high enough to knock down a star.
So what do you do when your little one keeps insisting he’s Lebron James or Daniel Tiger or, even cooler, 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. They are learning tremendously without even realizing it, and I have no doubt that you’ll be wildly entertained by their antics.
Looking for ways to encourage that imaginative play? Here are some of Happily Ever Elephants' favorite books to help their imaginations run wild.
Du Iz Tak?, by Carson Ellis: Read this once with your kids, and I promise they will be rolling on the floor laughing 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.
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. For our full review of The Whisper, click here!
A House that Once Was, by Julie Fogliano and illustrated by Lane Smith: This book is exquisite. When two children come across a house that once was but is no longer a home, imaginations take flight as the two wonder who lived in the house, walked through the halls, and slept in its bedrooms. And why did they leave? A stunning blend of art and prose that together make music, this is one I return to frequently for the mystery within its pages and the way it so perfectly allows children to let their creativity take flight.
This is Sadie, by Sara O’Leary and illustrated by Julie Morstad: This 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 story takes the reader through a mundane day that becomes both adventurous and awe-inspiring 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. For our full review of This is Sadie, click here!
Please Bring Balloons, by Lindsey Ward: After a mysterious note instructs her to bring balloons to the animals on the carousel, Emma obliges. It is then that a wondrous adventure ensues, when the polar bear she rides steps right off the carousel and into the night sky. This 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? For our full review of Please Bring Balloons, click here!
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 fills up with the fantastic 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 Poppy get these creatures to go away? This one is amazing for letting your kids imaginations run totally, totally wild!
The Night Box, by Louise Greig and illustrated by Ashling Lindsay: When a child opens the Night Box, day slips into evening as darkness unfurls and stars light up the sky. He is the holder of the key that opens this wondrous box, the one that breathes out night and breathes in the day. What a wonderfully imaginative and unexpected story about one child who holds the key (literally) to our world’s most natural cycle.
Beyond the Pond, by Joseph Keufler: A little boy in an ordinary town, living in an ordinary house, decides to explore the depth of the pond outside 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 contain a bit of the extraordinary after all.
What If…, by Samantha Berger and illustrated by Mike Curato: Here is a child who will do whatever it takes to express herself, no matter what challenges she must conquer to do so. She can draw, of course. But she will also sculpt, build, collage, sing or dance her dreams into being. This enchanting story is an ode to the imagination, and a testament that creative minds will always find a way to innovate and bring their visions to fruition.
Everything You Need for a Treehouse, by Carter Higgins and illustrated by Emily Hughes: In this achingly beautiful and wondrous story, readers are given "instructions" on what they need to build a treehouse, beginning with time, a look up, and a hefty imagination. The book breathes life into each and every requirement for the house. Together, the story and illustrations spark magic and awe. For our full review of Everything You Need for a Treehouse, click here!
Chalk, by Bill Thompson: In this gorgeous wordless book, three kids find an unusual 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 remarkable power and mystery. This book is an absolute dream, with vivid illustrations that 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?
Beautiful Oops, by Barney Saltzberg: This book is an absolute gem that shows children (and adults!) that with a bit of 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.
Door, by Jihyeon Lee: What happens when, during your daily, mundane activities you come across a key - and then a solitary closed door? You go through it, of course. And you enter a world where people and animals and other unique creatures live together in harmony and beauty despite their significant differences. Because this book is wordless, children’s imaginations set soar as they eagerly select their own words to tell this wondrous story.
The Book of Mistakes, by Corinna Luyken: This is a quiet masterpiece illuminating the inherent beauty underlying every misstep we make. So many kids are perfectionists, beginning a project again and again because they can't get it just right. So how can we, the adults help to nurture their creativity and limit their insecurity? Use this book to show little ones that magnificence can be found in mistakes, even our biggest ones. For our full review of The Book of Mistakes, click here!
Wallpaper, by Thao Lam: This is the story of a young girl who moves with her family to a new home. Outside her window, the child sees kids in a treehouse, but she is too scared to say hello. With nothing else to do, she picks at a torn piece of wallpaper in her room, and a fantastical journey suddenly ensues. What happens when she discovers a monster on her journey? She's scared, of course, until she realizes the monster simply needs a friend. And he may be just the creature to give her a hefty dose of courage to survive her new circumstances. For our full review of Wallpaper, click here!
I am Famous, by Tara Leubbe and Becky Cattie and illustrated by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff: 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.
Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, by Josh Funk and illustrated by Brendan Kearney: A pancake and a piece of 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 drop of syrup 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. For our full review of Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast, click here!
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, an ordinary box can become so much more. Your kids will turn boxes into cars, castles and candy shops before too long!
Imagine by Raul Colon: In this stunning wordless book, one young boy discovers art for the first time. Though he frequently passes by Manhattan’s museums, on one particular day he decides to walk in to the Museum of Modern Art. The boy studies painting after wondrous painting, until he stops at one and the famous work suddenly comes to life, its characters jumping off the canvases and into the real world, to join the boy on an adventure. The boy’s afternoon is thus filled with exploration and wonder as he and his new friends discover all of the excitement New York City has to offer. For our full review of Imagine, click here!
Time for Bed, Miyuki, by Roxane Marie Galliez and illustrated by Seng Soun Ratanavanh: Sweet Miyuki just doesn’t want to go to sleep, despite her grandfather’s pleas. Why? There are too many things to do, like water the vegetables, gather the snails and prepare for the arrival of the Dragonfly Queen. With gentleness and patience, her grandfather indulges Miyuki’s antics until finally, she is ready for bed and sleep overtakes her. Children will delight in the gorgeous illustrations and Miyuki’s marvelous imagination! For our full review of Time for Bed, Miyuki, click here!
Also an Octopus, by Maggie Tokuda-hall and illustrated by Benji Davies: 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.
Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color, 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. For our full review of Swatch, click here!
Which of these books are your favorites to ignite your child’s imagination? Let us know on our facebook page, and make sure to follow us there!
Did you like this post? We have a feeling you will love some of our others too. Make sure to check these out! Happily Ever Elephants Favorite Picture Books of 2018, Favorite Books About Friendship, and Favorite Books About Courage.