I started writing this list of books for kids in quarantine with the idea that I’d just share my favorites. Still, soon it became apparent that so many of my favorites had lessons that would help young children deal with the new reality of being without playdates, without the structure of school, and without seeing family the way they may want to. Books are influential, and they are especially powerful when you are in a crisis and need to talk about big emotions calmly. Usually, the best way to do that is a spectator, not when you are feeling big feelings. Books allow parents to dive into these topics and meet their children where they are at without too much information to overwhelm. These aren’t books about pandemics or quarantine. They are books that tap into some of those feelings, some of the fallout, and worries that young children may be experiencing while in quarantine. Read through the reviews to learn about each one and see if one of these books for kids in quarantine fits your family’s needs right now.
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I’ll Wait Mr. Panda by Steve Antony is a precious little book that even the youngest children will love. My students and I read it and talked about how hard it is to wait and be patient. Mr. Panda huge but quiet, and gentle, and wearing what some people would call a feminine apron doing what some people would call a girly activity, baking. He doesn’t challenge the reality of what boys can be just the stereotype, which is a beautiful thing to see in a book. I have included it here for two reasons, one how many of us are baking much more now that we are always home? As well as to talk about patience, something we all need in abundance during a pandemic where we are quarantined in our homes.
Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty, is a wonderful tale of a little girl who is a born scientist. Ada is curious and a little chaotic too! She asks questions and seeks answers and can’t stop even when she is sent to the thinking chair. I love spirited and determined Ada. As annoyed as her parents are with some of her behavior, they ultimately accept and love her and her super curious mind. I have included this in my must-have books to read your child during quarantine because I want to encourage our children to be scientists right now, to look at the world, and to ask questions and try to answer them. Big questions and small alike. Curiosity will save us, and encouraging it is a must.
Crown: an Ode To The Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes is a book every house needs. We tag along to the barbershop, but instead of a lesson in hair cutting, we get a lesson in affirmation, self-love, and confidence! This book is filled with the pride young boys feel after getting a haircut and seeing their new look and renewed pride in who they are staring back at them in the mirror. Now you may think that this is not at all the book you want to read when some kiddos are stuck without the ability to get a haircut and definitely without the ability to go to the barbershop. I think it’s an opportunity to talk about what we miss, to dive into those emotions, and build resilience. Yes, we miss this, but why are we doing it? To keep people safe. We can empower our children by recognizing what they miss. This book is hard to describe in a review because the artwork by Gordon C. James brings the affirming texts to life. It’s impossible not to be moved by the way this book absolutely celebrates Black boys.
Polar Bear Island by Lindsay Bonilla is a fantastic book. Sent to me by the publisher, this book is a kid-friendly look at immigration, innovation, and what it means to be inclusive. I absolutely love this book because it doesn’t shame Kirby the polar bear for being against change, it accepts that change is hard but also beautiful. This is an essential lesson for our children right now, that change is not always something we can control, and even when we hate it to begin with, sometimes it can be great.
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting, has been given the title of the book that makes me cry more than any other book ever. The story is about a family having a yard sale because they are moving from their house to a small apartment after a job loss. I know that job-loss is, unfortunately, something so many Americans are facing right now. What gets my tears flowing is how well the author captures how this affects young kids. The little girl must say goodbye to so much and has no control over the situation. The illustrations by Lauren Castillo help readers make a strong emotional connection to this common but not commonly told story.
A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell is a sweet book about children spending the day searching for edible plants with their grandmother, Yayah, and other elders. As they explore and learn about the plants they find, they are also learning more about their Nlaka’pamux language. Many words are dispersed throughout the text. There is a guide at the back of the book for proper pronunciation. The story is all about learning how to be respectful of the land. Paying attention to what they are gathering and what they don’t want to pick. I love how this book focuses on the transmission of knowledge of Nlaka’pamux as well as the plants from grandmother to children. Something stolen from generations of Indigenous people in Canada and the United States through residential schools and the 60s scoop. The illustrations by Julie Flett could all be framed, they are masterpieces. The text is quite long, but it will give you a chance to talk about missing grandparents, not being able to do some favorite things like spending all day outside with family and work through some of those emotions too.
Penguinaut by Marcie Colleen was sent to me by the publisher, and I am so glad it was. It’s such a sweet story about thinking outside of the box, about having dreams bigger than anyone lets you have, and persistence! Having the patience and persistence needed to get through quarantine seems impossible for some adults right now, reading something as fun and inspirational like this is exactly what we all need! Also, how goofy is a penguin in space? If you want to teach your students that anything is possible, to read this book to them.
Pete The Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean is a classroom favorite. My students love counting down with me as Pete loses his buttons one at a time. This book steps into teaching about resilience as Pete loses his buttons and doesn’t freak out at all! This is one of the biggest things about encouraging resilience in young preschoolers; we don’t have to completely lose it when something doesn’t go as planned. It is a hard lesson, that many of us are struggling right now as our plans for 2020 are completely upended. Pete is a fun way to encourage kids to be resilient. The text is packed with repetition, and students will be singing along with Pete in no time.
The Day I Lost My Superpowers by Michael Escoffier is a sweet look at a child’s imagination and how she sees the world and her place in it. I love how the superpowers include things like “going back in time” at nap time and flying… off the slide. The best part though is when all the superpowers disappear. All kids have rough days, and this book recognizes that and tells them it’s OK not to have superpowers every day. Young children need to feel empowered right now when so much is upside down, and using their imagination to feel powerful is perfect!
Whoever You Are by Mem Fox. Every time I read this, I get goosebumps. The book is simple and talks about the differences between little children all over the world, but focuses on what they all have in common. Children of various cultures are shown, smiling, laughing, crying, and the reader can see that even if the clothes or houses or food is different, the insides are the same. I always choke up reading this book because it is so beautiful and a great reminder for all of us that while we so often focus on what we see as different most of what we have is in common. When we are in the middle of something traumatic like a pandemic, it can be hard to think about how many others are experiencing this same reality. It can also be very empowering. This book is a wonderful foundation for children to learn about the inherent sameness of humans before being introduced to society’s desire to ignore that.
Red: A Crayon’s Story by Micheal Hall is one of my very favorite picture books. It makes me cry because it tackles huge emotions with simple words and illustrations. They take my breath away. All crayons come with a label, but is that label always, right? Red came from the factory with a red printed on his red label, but even when he tried, and trust me, he tried, all he could do was color blue. It’s not until he is asked by purple to draw him a blue ocean that he finally finds a place where he belongs. While this book doesn’t specifically speak about being transgender, if your child has any understanding of it, they will make the connection; I know mine both did. Also, the book is a straightforward introduction to the idea of what being transgender means. This may seem like a strange choice for this list, but I’ve included it because nothing is as it seems right now, what we expect is not what is happening, and this book helps children see that it’s OK to have things be different than we expect.
Sheila Rae, The Brave by Kevin Henkes In this story, Sheila is a brave little mouse who even taunts her little sister Louise calling her names when she isn’t as brave as her. However, soon the tables are turned. When Shelia gets lost, it is her sister who shows the bravery. I think a lot of younger siblings can relate to this story. I know I can. Having an older sister who very much like Shelia is the natural leader among the two of us. It’s nice to see the little sister saving the day for once. Readers can see how brave both the girls were and that it’s OK to let someone help you when you need it. Teaching children that emotions change but that it doesn’t mean they have changed is important, especially when we are all cooped up together with all kinds of emotions right under the surface.
Brontorina by James Howe is one of my most favorite books about standing up for others because it’s in a setting so many readers can relate to. Sure our kids aren’t dinosaurs, but some feel that different from their friends for all sorts of reasons. They stand out and don’t want to. They just want to be a part of the group, or in this case, ballet class. The story is about a dinosaur who wants to be a ballerina, and while a studio initially allows her to dance, it’s clear that she is just too big. The story doesn’t end there. With some help from friends who stand up for her, they find a way to include everyone. Right now, focusing on what a child CAN do is vital, and they can help everyone by staying home. Sometimes helping is getting a ballet studio that fits a dinosaur, and sometimes it’s staying home for a few more weeks.
Wilma Unlimited: How Wilma Rudolph Became the World’s Fastest Woman by Kathryn Krull Do you know who Wilma Rudolph was? She was an Olympian, who became the first American woman ever to win three gold medals at one Olympic Games. But her story is even more amazing than that. She also suffered from Polio as a child and was told she’d never run. Her determination stands out and inspires. I have mentioned many times how my grandmother was an Olympic medalist, so this story hits a personal chord for me. I am awed and amazed by how far women have come from their first Olympic games in 1928. I have included this book because so many young children have missed out on sports this spring, and I wanted to give them something they could read about someone who was forced to miss out because of sickness but still achieved amazing things.
Julian Is A Mermaid by Jessica Love is a world I want to live in where women and children and even chihuahuas can be mermaids if they want to. In this book, a little boy who LOVES mermaids is on the metro with his Abuela and sees women dressed as mermaids, and his imagination runs wild. When he gets home, he transforms himself, and when his Abuela interrupts, she thinks he may be in trouble, heck we all think he may be in trouble, but the end is far from it. While this book doesn’t overtly address the LGBTQ community, the experience of showing a loved one who you are and worrying that they may reject that speaks to the topic as does the fact that Julian is going against gender stereotypes as he dresses like a mermaid. This book is easily one of the best books I have read, and I read a lot of picture books. GO, buy it now! Not sure how this addresses quarantine? When children are stuck inside one of the most powerful things they have is their imagination, this book encourages children to tap into that and to rope their loved ones into the fun too!
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev deserves a post all of its own; it’s that good and that important. This book is about a little boy and his elephant who are banned from the local pet club because well, elephants are not allowed. They don’t share a reason why elephants are not allowed, just that they aren’t. This lets parents and teachers reiterate the fact that sometimes people are excluded for no reason. It’s not about them. It’s about the people excluding them. In the book, after being banned, they find others who have been made to feel unwelcome, different, and lesser and start their own pet club. This is one way to act when you are excluded; it’s a perfect example of activism at a child’s level. Trying to explain to a young child why you are not going to school, to the park, or over to Grandma’s house is tough. One way that works is to explain that you are doing it to help keep everyone safe, that a bad sickness if going around, and one way we can stop is to stay home. That explanation matches this book. We aren’t staying home because we feel sick but rather to be inclusive and help everyone stay well.
Every Little Thing by Bob Marley and Cadella Marley is a fantastic little book, and the tune is something we need to sing on repeat until we can establish a new normal. It is packed with illustrations that show a carefree little boy not worrying about things and enjoying his day. The text will be familiar to anyone who knows that Bob Marley tune and yes, it is hard, if not impossible, to read it without singing some reggae ( in my case very off tune). I also appreciate that it’s available in board book because it’s perfect for toddlers as well. This is a simple, joyful book!
Lola Loves Stories by Anna McQuinn is one of my daughter’s absolute favorite books ever. She named her first baby doll after the title character, that is how much she loves her. In this book, Lola goes to the library with her dad and all week long, reads and acts out the stories she found on Saturday. I love that the author has Lola going with her dad alone. So often in books, you don’t see this, it’s either Mom alone or the whole family. I also love how books are portrayed as a launchpad for pretend play. The reason I’ve included this on the list is that with limited opportunities to go out for entertainment and playdates because of the Coronavirus outbreak, encouraging your child to use books the way Lola does is a must.
Lola Plants A Garden by Anna McQuinn My preschoolers loved this book. Lola decides she wants to plant a garden. The hardest part is waiting for the plants to start to grow! The simple and gentle story is perfect for preschoolers, and it opened up a great discussion about waiting with mine. Great spring story to support you planting a small window garden or a big victory garden during the quarantine.
Moon Rabbit by Natalie Russell is a calm, beautiful book about two rabbits who find each other and become great friends even though they are from different places. White Rabbit is a city rabbit and loves her urban home but is called away by the longing for company. She finds it in a park with Brown Rabbit, who is wonderful and plays beautiful music. There is just one glitch White Rabbit misses the city. White Rabbit leaves the park and goes home, but he comes for a visit in the end. But if ever I projected my own experience onto a book, it was this, wow. It really is a sweet tale about friends who can be friends despite physical distance. Missing friends, routines, and loved ones is tough on kids right now books like this help parents discuss these challenges in a safe space.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak is one of those books that makes me cry just when I think of it. If you aren’t familiar with this book, it’s not sad. Max acts up and his parents send him to his room. While in his room his imagination runs wild. It transports him to a world with no rules, no parents, and no consequences for bad behavior. Ultimately though, Max’s heart pulls him back home where he is loved most of all, even when he’s wild. I think this is an amazing love story about parents and children and unconditional love. I think this is a perfect book because emotions are high in homes all over the world, and we all need to know we are with people who love us most of all.
If I Built A House by Chris Van Dusen is all about imagination, and that is something we need to tap into with our children while we are at home, it will help make everything more playful. I love how this book inspires children to create house plans for themselves and imagine their own dream house. The details in the illustrations captivated me, and the little inventions included in the house got us all wondering what we would invent for our house—a great book to spark the maker mentality in all readers.
Just in Case by Judith Viorst is a funny and spot-on look at the anxious child who must prepare for everything” just in case.” A perfect book when worries may be at an all-time high. As a worrier myself who must start at the worst possible scenario and then slowly come back to reality I get this book. It’s fun for kids who aren’t worriers and makes the anxious preparer feel like they aren’t alone. The book also shows kids that they aren’t powerless to their worries.
Grandmas’s Tiny House; A Counting Story by JaNay Brown Wood is the most adorable story turned into a rhyming counting book. The story is about Grandma’s little house where friends and a growing family all come, with food in hand, to be together. So many of us are missing being able to do this right now, and reading about it with our children can help them work through the feelings of loss they feel. It also gives parents an opportunity to reassure our children that they will see family again, and that family traditions are not over, just on pause. Will the house hold everyone? The text is JUST the right length for preschool circle time. Plus, the rhyming makes it a fun read for one or many listening kids. The illustrations by Pricilla Burris make me one part hungry, and the other part all happy inside as the love this Grandma has for her family jumps off every page.
Goldy Luck and The Three Pandas by Natasha Yim is a retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears that takes place during Chinese New Year. Goldy Luck is asked to take some food over to her neighbors, but when they aren’t home, curiosity gets the better of her, and she gets into all kinds of trouble. I think respecting other people’s boundaries is especially important to learn as we are in closer quarters than normal with the COVID-19 self-isolation measures. It’s easy to let these lessons go because we are exhausted and anxious, but what a great way to talk about them, by reading a story. What I specifically love about this version of the fairy tale is that Goldy goes home to think about what she did and how to make it right. I love that there is that addition to the more traditional telling of the story.
Puddle by Hyewon Yum is one of my favorite spring books for preschoolers. It’s all about using your imagination to deal with disappointment. A child is bummed out because they can’t go outside to play in bad weather. Their mom suggests drawing instead, and the adventure begins! My preschoolers love this book. I think it’s especially poignant right now because children can relate to not being able to do what they want when they want to during the quarantine.
Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha is my favorite garbage truck book, and yes, I have read a lot. Mr. Gilly is a hard-working garbage man with one task, to clean up Trashy town. The text is so melodic I find myself singing while reading. “Dump it in, smash it down, drive around the trashy town.” Right now, so many workers are forced to work even though we need to stay home, I think a book like this is perfect for helping to explain why. People like Mr. Gilly are needed to help take care of the town, and we need to stay home to help take care of each other too.