The best books to improve kids’ critical thinking

Who am I?

I’m a journalist and a social media prof. I talk to thousands of kids every year about what they read on the Internet. And frankly, they’re confused—as we all are—about what’s true online and what isn’t. To spot misinformation, kids have to become better critical thinkers. That’s why I wrote Can You Believe It? and it’s why I’m recommending these great books. It’s also helpful to know what credible journalism looks like. My TeachingKidsNews.com (TKN) is a kid-friendly news source that kids and teachers can trust. In addition to publishing TKN, I’ve authored six children’s books and I have a Master’s degree in Creative and Critical Writing. 


I wrote...

Can You Believe It? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts

By Joyce Grant, Kathleen Marcotte (illustrator),

Book cover of Can You Believe It? How to Spot Fake News and Find the Facts

What is my book about?

Should we believe everything we read online? Definitely not! And this fascinating book will tell you why. It explores how real journalism is made, what "fake news" is, and how to spot the difference. It’s chock-full of practical advice and thought-provoking examples. Never judgmental, and often hilarious, the book encourages readers to use skepticism and helps them hone their critical thinking skills to make good choices about what to believe and share. It also looks at how bias can creep into news reporting, why celebrity posts may not be truthful and why we should be suspicious of anything that makes us feel super smart. Engaging text is broken into manageable chunks, with loads of Kathleen Marcotte’s playful illustrations on every spread to help explain tricky concepts. 

The books I picked & why

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Bad Dog

By Mike Boldt,

Book cover of Bad Dog

Why this book?

All the way through this book, the kid narrator complains about their “terrible dog.” It doesn’t come when it’s called, it won’t go for walks, and can’t do tricks. Of course, the young reader will quickly pick up on the fact that… it’s actually a cat. So the reader figures out something the narrator doesn’t know. The reader must discount things the narrator says that simply don’t make sense. That’s critical thinking. Also, the book is hilarious.


Vampenguin

By Lucy Ruth Cummins,

Book cover of Vampenguin

Why this book?

To encourage young readers to think critically, Vampenguin is a good choice. The misdirection isn’t quite so obvious. A family of vampires is at the zoo. The smallest vampire gets switched with a penguin (hilarious drawings make this sleight-of-hand possible). The child reader can see what the family in the story doesn’t—their “baby” is actually a penguin. Even better, the baby vampire and the penguin switch themselves back and the family never finds out. Once again, the young reader has out-smarted everyone by thinking critically. Nice!


Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots

By Michael Rex,

Book cover of Facts vs. Opinions vs. Robots

Why this book?

Critical thinking begins with facts. But what’s a fact? That question often seems harder to answer these days. Author/illustrator Michael Rex uses robots to help kids understand the difference between facts and opinions. Because robots are fun! (That’s an opinion.) Some of the robots in the book have square heads. (That’s a fact.) Highly recommended.


This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias

By Tanya Lloyd Kyi, Drew Shannon (illustrator),

Book cover of This Is Your Brain on Stereotypes: How Science Is Tackling Unconscious Bias

Why this book?

This is Your Brain on Stereotypes takes a deep dive into not just our conscious prejudices but our unconscious biases as well as systemic bias and stereotypes.

It looks not only at how to recognize our biases, but also how to change them and what it will take to change society’s systemic racism. It uses research, statistics, and anecdotes and it may make us feel uncomfortable at times. That uncomfortable feeling is one of discovery—and it’s the first step toward making meaningful change through critical analysis.


Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature

By Ammi-Joan Paquette, Laurie Ann Thompson,

Book cover of Two Truths and a Lie: Forces of Nature

Why this book?

This series is critical thinking on steroids. The reader is given three fact-filled stories and has to figure out which one isn’t true. Is there really a pit in Turkmenistan that has been burning for 40 years? Are there radioactive boars in Japan? Did Edgar Allan Poe carry his dead wife’s remains around in a snuffbox? The reader has to find facts and think critically to figure them out. There are three books in the series each with 27 stories, nine of which aren’t true. I recommend younger readers have an adult handy because the book is a bit more complicated to navigate than, say, a novel. End matter provides additional information including websites to help the reader analyze each article. Oh, and the three facts? Yes, yep and heck no.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in critical thinking, robots, and dogs?

5,887 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about critical thinking, robots, and dogs.

Critical Thinking Explore 26 books about critical thinking
Robots Explore 60 books about robots
Dogs Explore 252 books about dogs

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?, Biased, and Curiosity if you like this list.