The best children’s books about stealing - when, why, and whether to do it

Who am I?

I’ve found kids to be interested in difficult topics - like stealing, racism, inequality, environmental catastrophe to name a few! But I don’t want to lecture or frighten them about their future. I believe picture books can tell a story about things going awry but coming right again through a good idea, or act of kindness or a magic wand or the intervention of fate. When the story unfolds in the comfort and security of a carer’s lap or a safe classroom and there are accompanying pictures of absorbing detail that communicate the artist’s emotion and humor I think you provide universal foundation blocks for a good life.


I wrote...

Out of the Egg

By Tina Matthews,

Book cover of Out of the Egg

What is my book about?

Put simply Out of the Egg is about a Red Hen and her chick and their interaction with the other farmyard animals. It’s also a morality tale for our times with an environmental theme. The Red Hen is an eco-warrior with no tolerance for shirkers, whereas her chick/daughter believes in kindness, tolerance, and social justice. In a nutshell (or an eggshell) it’s about how to discourage others from stealing our planet’s future from the children of today. And of course the answer is that we need hard work, education, social inclusion, and climate justice.

Out of the Egg is in bilingual editions—Samoan/English Te Reo Maori/English—published by One Tree House in Aotearoa, NZ. It’s a very relevant story for Pacific nations on the front line of climate disaster.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of This Is Not My Hat

Tina Matthews Why did I love this book?

I often read this book with kids in libraries and classrooms. They love it and I do too because the pictures are simple, repetitive and often show the opposite of what the words have said. That’s what makes it so funny. The eyes of the characters tell so much of this story and the abundance of black sets a slightly menacing mood, which is a great contrast to the confident naïveté of the little fish. There’s a confession on the first page about stealing and we really hope the little fish will get away with it. It’s a wonderful, ambiguous ending and there’s so much to talk to kids about in this book. 

By Jon Klassen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked This Is Not My Hat as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A sneaky fish learns a lesson in crime and punishment in the bestselling, multiple award-winning sequel to I Want My Hat Back.

Winner of the Caldecott Medal and Kate Greenaway Medal 2014

From the creator of the bestselling I Want My Hat Back and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole comes the story of a tiny fish who proudly wears a blue hat. It fits him perfectly. Problem is, trouble could be following close behind... So it's a good thing that the enormous fish he took it from won't wake up. And even if he does, it's not as though…


Book cover of The Three Robbers

Tina Matthews Why did I love this book?

One of the wonderful things about Tomi Ungerer’s books is that the characters and stories are so unexpected. The pictures in The Three Robbers are powerful and beautiful, with lots of black at the beginning when the robbers are being monstrously bad and stealing from their hapless victims. But by the end of the story the blue, green, yellow, red, and white have taken over the pictures and the robbers’ hearts have been melted by a little orphan girl. It is a joyful story of robbers being reformed and doing good with all their ill-gotten gains. The colours themselves help so much in communicating the emotions of the story.

By Tomi Ungerer,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Three Robbers as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written and illustrated by one of the world's most acclaimed and award-winning children's authors, The Three Robbers is a timeless tale of mystery and suspense for 4-8 year olds, in which three ferocious thieves are defeated by the guileless logic of an innocent girl.


Book cover of Caps for Sale

Tina Matthews Why did I love this book?

I’ve loved this book since I was a child and have read it to many children since then who love it too. It starts as it ends, with a peddler selling caps which he carries on his head and I appreciate that circularity in the story. There’s a problem to do with monkeys and stealing that is solved not through reason or logic but through raw emotion, which gives the story a great twist and really makes readers laugh. I’ve always found the rustic pictures with rural scenes in subtle colours so pleasing to explore. They are simple but there’s such a lot going on in them.

By Esphyr Slobodkina,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Caps for Sale as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 4, 5, 6, and 7.

What is this book about?

Caps for Sale is a timeless classic beloved by millions...one of the most popular picture books ever published! Children will delight in following the peddler's efforts to outwit the monkeys and will ask to read it again and again. Caps for Sale is an excellent easy-to-read book that includes repetition, patterns, and colors, perfect for early readers. This tale of a peddler and a band of mischievous monkeys is filled with warmth, humor, and simplicity and also teaches children about problem and resolution.


Book cover of Calico the Wonder Horse

Tina Matthews Why did I love this book?

Like all my previous choices this book is written and illustrated by the same person which I think allows a very subtle dance between words and pictures in the storytelling. 

Calico the Wonder Horse is a simple black and white comic strip, one or two frames per page, with changing background page colours. There are dramatic panoramas of canyons and mountains hideouts juxtaposed with close-ups of Calico, then Stewy Stinker, and his gang of Bad Men. Its graphic perspectives and cartoon ‘action’ marks make it exciting for kids. The Bad Men are soon brought undone by the heroine horse but it’s so heartening that they eventually redeem themselves in an unexpected way—which kids love too.

By Virginia Lee Burton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Calico the Wonder Horse as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Way out west in Cactus county lived a horse named Calico. She wasn't very pretty, but she was smart and could run like greased lightning. When villain Stewy Stinker threatens to hold up Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, will Calico the Wonder Horse be able to save the day? This gift edition celebrates the 75th Anniversary of this classic tale by Caldecott medalist Virginia Lee Burton, the author of Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. With an updated cover, it's the perfect holiday present for children of all ages. AGES: 4-7 AUTHOR: Virginia Lee Burton (1909-1968) was the talented author…


Book cover of Burglar Bill

Tina Matthews Why did I love this book?

This is another great story about stealing—and in this book it’s about what the burglar accidentally acquires. It’s very funny and unexpected when Bill the burglar picks up a baby without realizing and becomes preoccupied with its needs. Luckily another lovely burglar turns up and helps out. I’ve never read this book to kids as I found it after mine had grown up but we all enjoyed Ahlberg’s work for many years. I love the detail in the pictures, which show chaotic houses and unexpected items. There are lots of words too which is not so usual in picture books now, but I think kids really enjoy being lulled by a reading voice while they dream about the pictures.

By Janet Ahlberg, Allan Ahlberg,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Burglar Bill as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Burglar Bill is an entertaining picture book by the iconic British husband and wife picture book team Janet and Allan Ahlberg, creators of Peepo!

Who's that creeping down the street? Who's that climbing up the wall? Who's that coming through the window? Who's that? ... It's Burglar Bill.

Burglar Bill lives all by himself in a tall house full of stolen property. Every night (after eating his stolen fish and chips) he goes out to work... stealing things.

But one day, Burglar Bill steals something very unexpected indeed!

The Janet and Allan Ahlberg classic is the perfect bedtime story for…


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Book cover of Currently Away: How Two Disenchanted People Traveled the Great Loop for Nine Months and Returned to the Start, Energized and Optimistic

Bruce Tate

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