Looking for that quintessential bedtime story that your little one will listen to every single night before going to bed? These books have gentle, rhythmic text, sweet illustrations, and timeless themes about bedtime and sleep.
Sylvia Long’s lovely new version of the classic lullaby Hush Little Baby has an amazing nature theme. A mother rabbit soothes her little one to bed by pointing out the natural beauty around them. A great improvement on the mercenary motif in the traditional version of this popular bedtime song!
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Each beautiful page of Time for Bed shows a mother baby and her animal preparing for bed. We love the gorgeous illustrations in this soothing book.
In Baby’s Boat, an adorable little boy sails across a sleepy sea in his moonboat, fishing with star bait. A sure recipe for sweet dreams.
In Little Donkey Close Your Eyes, animal mothers urge their babies to close their eyes in this simple, calming poem by beloved author Margaret Wise Brown.
A soothing poem about falling asleep by Eric Metaxas is complemented by Nancy Tillman’s gorgeous illustrations in It’s Time to Sleep, My Love. Animals around the world prepare for bed and coax their babies to sleep.
In The Sleep Ponies, a grandmother teaches her rosy-cheeked grandchild to calm her body and mind by picturing a herd of adorable ponies carrying her off to sweet dreams.
The function of all art lies in fact in breaking through the narrow and tortuous enclosure of the finite, in which man is immersed while living here below, and in providing a window to the infinite for his hungry soul.
“The Function of Art” ~ Pope Pius XII
In our family, one way we find that glimpse into the infinite is through beautiful picture books. The artists and illustrators of the books listed here have used their talents to provide children with truly beautiful pictures which fill their hearts with a love for beauty. As they grow older, that foundation will prepare them to contemplate the beauty and majesty of their Creator.
Ruth Sanderson’s Cinderella retelling has the most gorgeous fairy tale illustrations with lots of silvers and magical glows. She also hsa other incredibly beautiful versions of classic fairy tales like Rose Red and Snow White.
The talented Trina Hyman’s retelling of Little Red Riding Hood features a sweet, very young Red Riding Hood and rich woodland scenes. Warning for littler readers: this retelling includes the wolf swallowing both Red and Grandma, and then the Woodsman cutting up the wolf to rescue them.
The oil paintings in Heckedy Peg provide a richness and depth seldom found in picture books. In this fairy tale, a mother must rescue her 7 children from an evil witch.
Rechenka’s Eggs is the story of a miracle for a lonely old woman. Patricia Polacco captures the Russian flavor of this story with intricate, colorful illustrations.
The artwork in Claire Nivola’s childhood memoir, Orani, glows with a warm Mediterranean vibe. A simple description of an American girl’s impressions of the vibrant everyday life in a traditional Italian village.
St. Conrad and the Wildfire is a brand-new children’s book by Maura McKeegan. Our family had never heard of St. Conrad of Piacenza before, but after reading this book he is one of our new favorite saints. Both adults and children can appreciate this inspiring true story about the importance of telling the truth and owning up to one’s mistakes.
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Who was St. Conrad?
St. Conrad of Piacenza was an Italian nobleman in the fourteenth century. He ordered his servants to set a fire to smoke out a stag while hunting, but the fire grew out of control and razed nearby villages and fields. At first, Conrad is ashamed to admit he caused the fire. But after an innocent man is arrested and charged with his crime, Conrad chooses to step forward and take responsibility for the fire. The process of making restitution to his victims costs Conrad nearly all his wealth. But to his surprise, Conrad feels happier as a poor but honest man than ever before in his life.
Already, you can see the beauty and power of this story. Without being at all didactic, the facts of this story illustrate so clearly the importance of telling the truth, owning up to one’s mistakes, having contrition, and making restitution. My 5 year old immediately compared this story to going to Confession.
Another part of this story we loved was Conrad’s sweet, loyal wife Euphrosyne. Euphrosyne stands by Conrad at his worst moment when he admits he has destroyed the village, saying, “I will stand by my husband, and we will make amends together, even if it means relinquishing all that we own.” What an awesome example of an inspiring married couple, moving towards sainthood hand in hand!
One of the Best Picture Books I’ve Read This Year
On top of being a simply fantastic story, this picture book is graced with beautiful, peaceful illustrations. I enjoyed the subtle medieval notes such as the illuminated first letter on some pages, which fit with St. Conrad’s fourteenth century life. St. Conrad and the Wildfire is one of my new favorites. It certainly deserved a place on any Catholic family’s bookshelf.
For more of my favorite Catholic picture books for Catholic children, check out this list!
I love, love, love gardening! I think the process of planting and watching seeds grow is renewing and nourishing for our souls. Of course I want my kids to love gardening too, so we found some lovely picture books to get them excited for planting our spring garden! Check out these beautiful picture books and get motivated to start gardening!
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How Groundhog’s Garden Grew is my top pick for children’s gardening books! Gorgeous illustrations combine with great themes about hard work and sharing to make this a winner!
Miss Rumphius wants to make the world more beautiful, so she plants lupine wherever she goes. A beautifully illustrated book that encourages you to start planting wherever you are!
We Are the Gardeners is a sweet story from Joanna Gaines and family of Fixer Upperfame. The Gaines kids learn lessons about hard work, perseverance, and gardening.
In Whose Garden Is It? the gardener, animals, plants, insects, and weather all make a case for ownership of a beautiful garden. But Mrs. McGee ponders, whose garden is it really? I love that this book gets kids thinking about first causes! My 3 year old immediately said everyone was wrong and it was God’s garden really!
A Seed Is Sleepy is a simply lovely book all about seeds. From the mighty redwood to the sunflower to the mountain laurel, illustrator Sylvia Long makes each species come alive with her talented pen.
Bumpety Bump! is a very simply written picture book from Pat Hutchins. There are few words, perfect for the littlest readers. We love this story about a little boy, his grandpa, and a little red hen working in the garden.
Don’t have the space or ability to have an outdoor garden? Flower Garden is the perfect book for you! A sweet little girl helps her father buy the supplies and plant a window box worth of flowers to brighten their city apartment.
Sunflower House is a fun story about children who plant a circle of sunflower seeds to create their own living house! A great idea to try at home if you have the space!
Paddington Bear in the Garden is a cute story about everyone’s favorite affable bear, Paddington, and his attempts to build a garden in the Brown’s yard. With the help of some new friends, he builds a beautiful garden and wins a prize.
The Rose in My Garden starts with a single rose growing. In this cumulative story, a new flower is added to the garden on each page. Great to help children learn to identify flowers!
Each month in Lily’s Garden, Lily describes the work she does in her garden. Each page is decorated with useful information about how to actually garden. Great for slightly older kids who want to understand how to start seeds and plant.
For the factual-minded, Gail Gibbons clear illustrations and explanations are the perfect match. From Seed to Plant is a great introduction to seed and plant growth.
In The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle describes one tiny seed’s process of germination, growth, and flowering. Great for helping kids understand the cycle of seed growth and production.
Looking for more great books for Catholic kids? Check out my book lists!
Looking for a book for the Easter Basket? Anthony DeStefano’s newest book has just released from Sophia Institute Press and it’s simply gorgeous! This beautiful book provides a simple introduction to a variety of Marian apparitions in a novel way. Our Lady’s Wardrobe familiarizes young children with Marian apparitions by focusing on the many beautiful costumes Mary has worn when she appeared on earth.
Can I say again the illustrations in this book are wonderful? Juliana Kolesova’s light-filled style perfectly suits this book about the Queen of Heaven. Each page glows with an other-worldly luminescence that draws the reader upwards, like a Gothic church. My little girls can’t decide on which costume they like best: Fatima, Lourdes, Knock, or Guadalupe. Check out a full preview of Our Lady’s Wardrobe on Sophia Institute Press to see these beautiful images in full.
Simple Poetry for Retention
DeStefano uses rhyming verse to tell this story. The simple verse style reflects the atmosphere of simplicity and comfort in this story about how Mary loves and visits her children on earth. The rhyming verses also help children remember the various apparitions: Carmel, Knock, Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, and more.
Mary Leads us to Jesus
DeStefano takes a thoughtful approach in this children’s introduction to Mary, being careful to begin with stating the Catholic position on Mary. He begins the book with explaining Mary’s importance in the context of God’s plan and role in leading us to Jesus.
DeStefano also wisely focuses on the Marian apparitions which have been judged “worthy of belief and public veneration” by the Holy See, the highest approval a Marian apparition can receive.
Contrasting Heaven and Earth
DeStefano usually weaves some intricate themes into his children’s books, and Our Lady’s Wardrobe is no exception. I loved the subtle contrasting he uses between heaven and earth. On earth, Mary had simple clothes and was poor. In heaven, she is queen with a gorgeous wardrobe. This contrast is a great reflection of Jesus’s teachings in the Beatitudes. Mary’s life on earth surely exemplifies the Beatitudes, and in heaven she receives the rewards promised.
A Great Marian Book for the Family Library
Catholic parents can feel confident that this lovely picture book provides an orthodox, yet uniquely memorable, introduction to Mary. It’s a perfect way to help little children build a personal connection and familiarity with our Mother in Heaven. I think two to seven year olds will most enjoy Our Lady’s Wardrobe. This book is so beautiful it also makes a great gift for a sacrament or birthday!
Advent is almost here, and I’m preparing by getting our 2019 Christmas books wrapped and organized for our book-a-day Christmas countdown! This year, one of the new books we’ll be unwrapping is Thomas William’s recently published book The First Christmas. Williams’ charming poem is accompanied by vibrant, unique illustrations by Frank Fraser. Together, poem and illustrations make this a perfect addition to any Catholic family’s Christmas collection!
Illustrations that tell a story
My children were captivated by the illustrator’s fascinating juxtaposition of different styles to emphasize the story. On the one hand, there are the exaggerated, almost cartoonlike, depictions of the bored townsfolk and wealthy men who don’t notice, or don’t care, that the Messiah is born. On the other, there are the serenely beautiful and luminous pictures of the Holy Family, angels, shepherds, kings, and little children who recognize their Savior. This contrast in artistic style really forces the reader to reflect on Jesus being born into a world which largely didn’t recognize Him.
The Theology major in me loved the Biblical references interwoven into the poem. Williams explains how the coming of the Messiah is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies in Isaiah and Hosea. There are also New Testament quotes and paraphrasing from Luke.
Little Children Leading the Way
Throughout the book, if you look closely you’ll notice that it is the children who recognize and welcome Jesus most readily. Young readers will love imagining themselves as the girl who cheerfully waved to Mary as she traveled to Bethlehem, or the shepherd boy who smiles at the angel as the older shepherds stare in fear and awe. The First Christmas really does a stellar job trying to draw young readers into the story of Jesus’ coming.
A Wonderful Explanation of the True Meaning of Christmas
Overall, this is a beautiful book that does a noteworthy job of explaining the true meaning of Christmas. With its lyrical verses, this poem is a great alternative Christmas poem to replace or complement the secular poem ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. With its focus on the true Christmas story, this picture book is really a great gift or addition to any Christmas collection.
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From ancient times onward, parents and grandparents have passed on their wisdom to the next generations through fairy tales, tall tales, fables, and cautionary tales. Each culture has its own special stories, such as the American tall tales, while other stories such as Cinderella are told by many cultures with their own variations. Here are some of my favorite picture book versions of fairy tales, fables, and tall tales both old and new, renowned and little known, from around the world.
I love the gorgeous illustrations and Medieval manuscript letters in this beautiful version of Sleeping Beauty!
In this version of The Princess and the Pea, the queen and king get a slightly larger role than usual. The side banter between the queen and her son is amusing, and the illustrations take pride of place.
This beautiful version of Rapunzel is so vividly illustrated the witch may scare you! I think it uniquely captures the mixed love and hate the witch has for Rapunzel.
We enjoy this Spanish American version of the classic Cinderella story. Little Gold Star brings a Catholic flavor to this familiar favorite with Marian intercession taking the place of the fairy godmother.
My other favorite retelling of the Cinderella story is Jan Brett’s imaginative chicken-themed version: Cinders. The accurate depictions of a brood of bantam hens are amazingly detailed and gorgeous.
But, if you want the classic, simple Cinderella story, Marcia Brown’s Cinderella is what you’re looking for!
The charming illustrations in this edition of Little Red Riding Hood contrast with this rather dark cautionary tale. True to the original Grimm fairy tale, the wolf eats Red Riding Hood and her Grandma. But in the end, the woodsman cuts them out and saves the day!
E. Nesbit’s fanciful chapter books are favorites of mine, so I am happy to include her retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk on this list. She omits some of the more grisly details of the original tale, but adds in her unique touch with explanations of details such as why Jack’s shutters don’t work.
With The Firebird, you have at once a fairy tale and a ballet (by Igor Stravinsky). This version of the fairy tale contains both a depiction of the ballet and a gorgeous fanciful illustration on each page. Caveat that the evil wizard villain in the story is quite disturbing looking and might terrify very young children.
Another Russian fairy tale of the quest genre, the The Golden Mare, the Firebird, and the Magic Ring has some of the most magnificently done illustrations. This tale is about an exciting quest and the winning of a princess, yet also raises questions about listening to your conscience versus blind obedience.
A third Russian folk tale we enjoy is The Magic Nesting Doll. On her deathbed, Katya’s grandma bequeaths her a magic nesting doll which contains animals that will help her break the spell which binds her kingdom in a dark, icy winter. This story has a touch of Narnia and a touch of Sleeping Beauty.
The Legend of the Bluebonnet is a sad but beautiful story of self-sacrifice. A little Indian girl gives up her one cherished toy to save her people from famine.
The Legend of the Indian Paintbrush is an old folk tale about finding and pursuing your own particular calling. A young Indian boy feels more drawn to painting the scenes around him then joining in usual hunting activities of his friends.
We love our American Tall Tales, especially Steven Kellog’s fun editions of Paul Bunyan, Mike Fink, and Johnny Appleseed. His detail-rich illustration style brings a wealth of amusing tidbits to these already entertaining tales.
Stone Soup is an old French folk tale about some smart soldiers who outwit a village of selfish people. A lesson in sharing.
Tikki Tikki Tembo has a fun rhythmic cadence that children love. An old Chinese folk tale, it cautions against giving children very, very, very long names.
The Ugly Duckling is a favorite fairy tale from Hans Christian Anderson. The theme of not judging someone by their outward appearance has a timeless appeal, and Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations bring this story to life in a powerful way.
The Pancake Boy is a fun Norwegian version of the tale Americans recognize more readily as “The Gingerbread Man.” In the Norwegian version, a pig devours the gullible Pancake Boy in the end!
Speaking of Gingerbread Baby, we love Jan Brett’s version of this favorite folk tale.
Honey… Honey… Lion! has all of Jan Brett’s trademark attention to detail and beautiful illustrations. In this African tale, Honey Badger learns the hard way not to be selfish and hog all the honey!
The 3 Little Dassies is an African-themed version of the classic Three Little Pigs tale. Jan Brett uses vivid colors and a variety of desert creatures to bring this story to life in a new way.
Speaking of old tales, The Classic Treasury of Aesop’s Fables is a beautiful version of the traditional fables from the ancient world. Each fable has a wonderful painting to accompany it which captures children’s eyes while a parents reads the fable.
Though a pricey investment, My Book House contains an amazing array of folk tales, fairy tales, and legends from around the world.
Have an emergent reader in the family? By definition, the text in an easy reader has to be very simple, but that’s no reason for the illustrations to be poor quality! Here are some great options of both readers from programs and fun, simple books which combine short and sweet stories with good quality illustrations. We use a combination of both types of books to provide plenty of practice for our young readers.
The All About Reading beginner readers are favorites at our house. There are several books in the series such as Run, Bug, Run!, The Runt Pig, and Cobweb the Cat. These are quality hardcover books which each include a whole collection of funny stories. Note that some older, used editions may be in black and white, so opt for a newer version if you want a color edition.
Seton Press has reprinted the Faith and Freedom Readers, a series of beautiful readers beginning with This is Our Family. These charmingly illustrated stories are sight-word style reading, which I find helpful to include along with the phonics-based books we typically use. Cheapest place to buy is from Seton directly: This is Our Family.
Speaking of sight words, remember Dick and Jane? Here is a great set of four beautiful hard-cover reprints of the classic Dick and Jane stories. These short, simple stories quickly inspire confidence in young readers.
The Little Angel Readers are part of a phonics based program available at Stone Tablet Press, but they can be used independently of the program for simple practice. They feature short, easy stories ranging from retellings of folk and fairy tales to Catholic-themed stories.
We love The Princess Twins Series with their sweet illustrations, simple stories, and marvelous messages. Each story highlights a different virtue which Princesses Emma and Abby learn to model.
We all laugh at the adventures and misadventures of Charlie the Ranch Dog in these easy readers inspired by the Ree Drummond books.
I dislike the illustrations in many of the Dr. Seuss beginner books, but others like these two by Mike McClintock are actually quite charming: Stop that Ball! and A Fly Went by .
Biscuit. Okay, yes, it is ironic that the title character’s name is not actually an easy word to read. But otherwise, these adorable books are very, very basic on the vocabulary with big font and only a sentence or two a page. We love the sweet illustrations in these stories.
Cynthia Rylant has written several great series of easy readers. Our favorites are the Mr. Putter & Tabby stories. Not only do these books offer lessons about friendship and kindness, they show children that elderly people can be funny, happy, sad, or lonely too. You will love kind-hearted Mr. Putter and his fine cat Tabby, and smile at his eccentric neighbor Mrs. Teaberry and her crazy dog Zeke.
We also find Cynthia Rylant’s Poppleton stories funny and enjoyable.
Have a facts-oriented child? Consider the DK Eyewitness Readers. They feature high-quality photos and four different levels of difficulty to choose from, and are available on a multitude of subjects. Most libraries have lots of these!
Thinking about Easter yet? Or concentrating on participating in Lent to the fullest? Here are some wonderful books to assist all ages in entering into these seasons of penitence and rejoicing.
The Story of Easter is a sweet little board book for the smallest children. It ties together spring, new life, and Jesus rising from the dead neatly, stressing that Easter is really about Jesus loving us through his death and resurrection.
The Easter Cave tells the Easter story in a simple, rhythmic style inspired by “The House that Jack Built.”
In The Easter Swallows, children see the Passion and Resurrection through the eyes of two kind little swallows.
There are many great versions of the Stations of the Cross for Children. Here is wonderful one for ages 5-10 from Word Among Us Press: Walking with Jesus to Calvary: Stations of the Cross for Children. For each station, there is a description of what happened, then a personal prayer to encourage the child to speak straight to Jesus.
Little Colts Palm Sunday is the perfect story to read on Palm Sunday. The author fancifully imagines Palm Sunday through the eyes of the colt that carried Jesus into Jerusalem.
Also perfect to begin on Palm Sunday, The Easter Story Egg is a book and nesting egg. Each day between Palm Sunday and Easter, your family opens an egg and reads the accompanying Bible verses and meditation.
Looking for the Easter story as recounted in the Gospels? Fiona French’s beautiful book Easter may be the perfect fit. She uses colorful pictures inspired by stained glass windows to bring the Passion and Resurrection to life in a luminous way.
Little Rose of Sharon is a poignant story which explores themes about true beauty and self-sacrifice. A vain little rose eventually chooses to give up all her beautiful petals to keep an egg warm, thus imitating the total self-sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
In this folktale retold, three trees dream about their future. Each tree finds its dreams achieved, but in a different way than they ever could have expected.The Tale of Three Trees is a lesson in divine providence and self-sacrifice.
Rechenka’s Eggs is a story about giving, friendship, and how eggs are a sign of the miracle of new life.
What Should Danny Do? is the first book in the new Power to Choose series by husband and wife team Ganit and Adir Levy. I love so many things about this book, starting with the fact that “Danny” is inspired by their nephew, the real Danny. Ganit and Adir have four children themselves, and their experience as seasoned parents shows clearly throughout this clever story.
What Should Danny Do? is such a neat concept: a story which engages young readers by offering them choices which change the course of the story. One book with a very basic plot about the ups and downs Danny experiences on one summer day. But kids are fascinated with this book because every few pages, they get to choose what Danny does. And each choice changes the story completely. In essence, this is a story about free will explained in such simple terms a four or five year old gets it.
Danny loves superheroes, so his dad tells him he has a special superpower: the Power to Choose. As he goes through the day, he has many opportunities to use his superpower. Will he yell about not getting his favorite plate or ask politely if he can have it tomorrow? When his brother drops his snow cone, will Danny gulp his own down or choose to share? Your children get to choose for Danny and then flip to the page number corresponding to the choice to see the result.
I appreciated how the authors portrayed Danny’s parents. They are proactive and intentional in trying to teach Danny virtue. His Dad makes him a special cape to help him remember his power to choose. At the end of a bad day, they encourage him to think back on how his choices impacted his day. His mom suggests he sets up a lemonade stand to earn his own money to buy a skateboard.
Overall, our whole family loved this creative book. Though probably not intended to be Catholic, I think the concept of teaching young children about their power to choose, or free will, is in essence a very Catholic concept. I would judge this book is best for ages 4-8, though our 2 year old actually enjoys it too.