Three bodies wiggled in close. 

“One more, please, mommy, read one more!”

The educator in me delighted in the interest my children took in the picture books we read every night—some every night. They each had a favorite. Tired from a long day, I enjoyed these quiet moments, but I was wanting more than words and hugs. I wanted my peace and quiet.

Years passed, and I often wondered if storytime centered on stories or served as a diversion to postpone bedtime. My children, all grown, one with grown children of her own, often talk about those evenings and their favorite books. Even my son-in-law tells me stories about his favorites. 

Why else would you give a forty-something the anniversary edition of The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Or, replace lost books from their childhood like The Story of Ferdinand, Goodnight Moon, and the Wheedle on the Needle? Within the covers of these picture books live childhood memories of family, friendship, and funny language filled with imagery and laughter.

We grow up, but we don’t need to grow away from stories and the magic of picture books. As an aspiring author of children’s books, I’ve learned the hard way that everyone thinks they can write a picture book, but not everyone can write for children. 

I chuckled during a recent episode of  “So Help Me Todd,” when several characters listed “write a picture book” as part of their life plan. After the second or third proclamation, Todd asks the question rolling in my mind, “Why does everyone think they can write a picture book?”

We may not have the skills for writing, but reading picture books offers delight, a giggle, or peace to children and adults. Don’t be embarrassed to roam the children’s section of your local or online bookstores. Feel free to stroll or scroll the choices even if you don’t have children to read to now. Three gems now sitting on my desk inspire me to be a better writer and person.

Photograph of four picture books against a black background: Be You! The Old Truck, Mixed, and The Oldest Student

Favorite Pictures Books—Today

We learn of dreams deferred coming to fruition in the story of Mary Walker who was born a slave on May 6, 1848, and lived to 121. The Oldest Student: How Mary Walker Learned to Read by Rita Lorraine Hubbard and illustrated by Oge Mora will inspire you to keep learning and growing. Mary Walker never had the opportunity to learn to read, but she had the desire—a dream. The chance to learn arrived in 1963, and by 1964, Mary Walker could read. She was 116 years old.

Arree Chung’s Mixed: A Colorful Story uses color to share a message about how we are each special and how our differences don’t need to divide us. It’s a story of tolerance reminding us we can live in harmony and unity. The story begins: “In the beginning, there were three colors: yellows, reds, and blues.” The colors lived separate lives in separate parts of the city until one day, two colors fell in love. You’ll have to read the book to discover what happens next. 

My worry button doesn’t always have an off switch. Anxiety overtakes, and emotions run rampant, yet I still find ways to reign it all in with the help of Rebecca Gardyn Levington’s newest picture book, Whatever Comes Tomorrow illustrated by Mariona Cabassa. We live in endless swirls of ambiguity and an unknown future. Exquisite lyrical language reassures the reader (of all ages) that we all possess these feelings. We can, and are more resilient than we realize. 

Tomorrow may bring endless sun
or swirly, snowy skies.
Tomorrow may bring new hellos
or difficult goodbyes.

When Rebecca read her book during a video meeting, you could almost hear and feel the collective sigh and letting go. We seemed to all find the off button to our worries.

We grow up, and do all the adult-appropriate tasks. Yet, no one ever said we couldn’t keep the door open to stories in simple language told with the depth of insight by the world’s most gifted authors and illustrators.

I promise I won’t tell a soul you read and enjoyed a picture book.

And always—

Be kind. Be brave. Be you.

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Photos: © Kathryn LeRoy