Delightful Reads: Our Favorite Books to Foster Deep Conversations With Your Child

Mother and Child reading a book

We all know reading is an important life skill. Whether in school, at home, or just moving through the world, text is everywhere! But did you know that reading, especially fiction, actually makes people more empathetic and more socially intelligent?

That’s right! Scientific research points to reading as having a strong effect on kids’ ability to understand other people’s perspectives, and this makes sense – after all, when you read a story, you’re imagining that you’re in another world, “hearing” characters’ innermost thoughts, and following their adventures as though they’re your own. Who hasn’t felt the wind rushing past their faces as they flew to Neverland behind Peter Pan, or felt their hearts racing as they ran to keep up with Maniac Magee?

Just as importantly, reading with your child is a way to connect with them (we’re big fans of cuddling up in our #LittleReaderChair and #ReaderChair for extra-coziness!) and a way to start the conversation about big topics. Knowing how to talk to kids about difficult but crucial issues like race, equality, empathy, and self-esteem isn’t exactly something that comes in the parenting manual! (Is there a parenting manual? Asking for a friend…)

Looking for just the right words to begin? Here are some sentence starters we’ve found helpful. Of course, you know your child’s age and development best, so adapt these to make them work for your family! 

  • What do you notice about this _____ (character, situation, etc.)?
  • Have you ever felt like _____?
  • Many adults wonder that too!
  • When I was a kid, sometimes I thought/felt/did _______.
  • Do you already know anything about _______?
  • Sometimes, it’s difficult to ______...
  • We can work on hard things, like ______...
  •  Let’s learn more about ______ together, so we can understand it!

 There are so many amazing books for every age from toddlers to older children. These are some of our favorites to foster deep conversations, no matter what age your child is!

The Day The Crayons Quit
The Day The Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt: On the surface, this is a laugh-out-loud book about Duncan, whose crayons rebel against him one day. But once you dig a little deeper, this book is full of great themes to unpack – wanting to change or try something different, solving a problem by thinking outside the box, not putting limitations on someone based on how they look, and so many more. 
We're All Wonders
We’re All Wonders by R.J. Palacio: For anyone who loved Palacio’s young adult novel Wonder(and for anyone not old enough to read it yet), this lovely story about Auggie and his dog Daisy sends a clear message of choosing kindness and acceptance over judgment and exclusion. This is also a great book for beginning to explore the topics of disability and inclusion.
The Invisible String
The Invisible String by Patrice Karst: This beautiful story offers an approach to overcoming loss or separation. Recommended by social workers and psychologists, The Invisible String explores the ways in which we are all connected. A mother reassures her children that we are bound by “an Invisible String made of love. Even though you can't see it with your eyes, you can feel it deep in your heart, and know that you are always connected to the ones you love.
What Should Darla Do?
What Should Danny Do?/What Should Darla Do? by Adir and Ganit Levy: The Power to Choose series is such a good pick for preschool and early elementary-aged children! Rather than prescribing what children should and shouldn’t do in different settings, the Danny and Darla books let the reader make the choices – and see the results of each choice – in a choose-your-own-adventure-style storyline.
I Love You Stinky Face
I Love You, Stinky Face by Lisa McCourt: This silly, sweet book is a love letter from parent to child, reassuring them that they are loved unconditionally. A little boy asks his mother those endless “what if” questions we all know so well, and she responds with the ways that she’d love him regardless: “But Mama, but Mama, what if I were a super smelly skunk, and I smelled so bad my name was Stinky Face?” “Then I would give you a bath and sprinkle you with sweet-smelling powder. And if you still smelled bad, I wouldn’t mind, and I would whisper in your ear, ‘I love you, Stinky Face.'
The Color Monsters
The Color Monster by Anna Llenas: Author, illustrator, and art therapist Llenas explores the world of emotion through color. The concrete imagery in this book make it a good match for even the youngest readers, as does the emotional vocabulary it contains. This one is a great conversation starter for the idea of mixed emotions, that one can have more than one feeling at once.
I Am Enough
I Am Enough by Grace Byers: Activist/actress Grace Byers (Empire, Marvel’s The Gifted) was  bullied throughout her childhood. She turned those experiences around, writing this NY Times bestselling book to empower children to practice mutual respect and self-love. The simple, poetic style of the text will appeal to younger children; the themes are relevant to older ages as well.
Be Kind
Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller: A sweet book for younger ages, this story touches on the idea that thoughtfulness is part of kindness – helping a classmate who’s spilled grape juice on herself, for instance – and that it’s not always easy to make the kindest choice. It also shows the ripple effect of small acts of kindness building to larger ones.
Saturday by Oge Mora: This one is both a great story and a work of art, with paper collage illustrations by Caldecott Award-winning author/illustrator Mora. A girl and her mother try to have the Saturday they planned together, when one thing after another goes wrong. As the mother gets more and more frustrated, her daughter reminds her of something we could all slow down and remember: while there’s no such thing as perfection, having a Saturday to spend with someone you love is pretty close.

What are some of your favorite books to read with littles? Comment with your picks to read with any age from toddler to tween!

Written by: Melissa Holman-Kursky • Photo by: Andrea Piacquadio

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