The best underwater picture books for your little sea monster

Emily Neilson Author Of Can I Give You a Squish?
By Emily Neilson

Who am I?

I am writing this list because I am a sea monster. I’m the sort of sea monster who loves merpeople, pirates, sharks, dolphins, octopuses, shipwrecks, and…did I miss anything? Oh yes, piranhas. Some people have pointed out that I look like a regular adult human, but really it’s just a trick of the light. I like to make stories, draw pictures, and build miniature environments for stop motion animated films. My typical day is spent gluing miniature flowers to miniature rocks, or screwing miniature chairs to miniature floors. It’s the sort of job that makes you feel like magic is around every corner. Because it is, probably.


I wrote...

Can I Give You a Squish?

By Emily Neilson,

Book cover of Can I Give You a Squish?

What is my book about?

My book takes place in the warm waters of a kelp forest, where Kai, a little mer-boy, loves to give squishes! But not everyone is a fan of Kai’s spirited embrace, which he discovers soon after squishing a pufferfish, who swells up in fright! Kai feels awful; but with the help of his underwater friends, he figures out another way to show his affection, and then everyone demonstrates their preferred ways of being greeted. Because, as Kai realizes, “Every fish likes their own kind of squish.”

What I see in each of the books on this list is everything I could possibly have hoped to put into mine--magical underwater adventures, wonderful world-building, and best of all: compelling and lovable characters.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

The Rainbow Fish

By Marcus Pfister,

Book cover of The Rainbow Fish

Why did I love this book?

I remember this story from when I was little. I would stroke the shiny scales with my fingers and admire the octopus in his cave. Little me couldn’t believe the fish would give away his scales! Didn’t he want to keep them all? The message about the happiness that comes with generosity was certainly one I needed to hear...repeatedly.

By Marcus Pfister,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Rainbow Fish as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The award-winning book about a beautiful fish who finds friendship and happiness when he learns to share is now available in a board book edition for the youngest child.


Book cover of Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas

Why did I love this book?

This book is so delightfully silly! Poor little Brian tries to convince the other piranhas that they’d probably love to try some fruit—but alas, they would rather eat feet, or knees, or…well…bum! It’s definitely a book that feeds your inner sea monster!

By Aaron Blabey,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Piranhas Don't Eat Bananas as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hey there guys. Would you like a banana?
What's wrong with you. Brian? You're a piranha.

Brian loves bananas. Trouble is, Brian's a piranha. And his friends
aren't happy about his fondness for fruit!

From the best-selling author of PIG THE PUG and THELMA THE UNICORN
comes one of the funniest and cheekiest books you'll ever read.


Flotsam

By David Wiesner,

Book cover of Flotsam

Why did I love this book?

Flotsam is another I remember from childhood. I could look at the illustrations forever. Wiesner’s wordless masterpiece guides the reader through the most imaginative journey. And the images have such staying power! I still think about them so many years later.

By David Wiesner,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Flotsam as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A bright, science-minded boy goes to the beach equipped to collect and examine flotsam--anything floating that has been washed ashore. Bottles, lost toys, small objects of every description are among his usual finds. But there's no way he could have prepared for one particular discovery: a barnacle-encrusted underwater camera, with its own secrets to share . . . and to keep. In each of his amazing picture books, David Wiesner has revealed the magical possibilities of some ordinary thing or happening--a frog on a lily pad, a trip to the Empire State Building, a well-known nursery tale. This time, a…


Pearl

By Molly Idle,

Book cover of Pearl

Why did I love this book?

This book has this soft slow kind of magic that would be wonderful for winding down right before bedtime. The images flow through the book and guide you down into the colorful glowing depths where a family of mermaids guard the secrets of the sea. The message is lovely as well. Little Pearl the mermaid discovers that even the smallest of responsibilities, when nurtured properly, can grow to be hugely impactful.

By Molly Idle,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Sometimes the tiniest light can shine the brightest! Like the other mermaids of the deep, Pearl longs to care for the endless beaches, coral reefs, and towering kelp forests of her vast ocean world. So when her mother asks her to tend to a mere grain of sand, Pearl is heartbroken. It takes all her patience and determination to discover how even the littlest mermaid can transform the world.

Caldecott Honor-winning author and artist Molly Idle has masterfully crafted a modern classic in this mesmerizing tale about the immense power of small actions.


Oona

By Kelly DiPucchio, Raissa Figueroa (illustrator),

Book cover of Oona

Why did I love this book?

It’s impossible not to fall head over heels in love with the little mermaid explorer Oona and her sea otter friend Otto. The adorable duo was created by illustrator Raissa Figueroa who has this amazing ability to make all her characters completely irresistible and her environments rich with atmospheric colors and magical details. I can’t wait to see what adventures Oona and Otto go on next!

By Kelly DiPucchio, Raissa Figueroa (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This comical and heartfelt picture book is a winning celebration of invention, creativity, and friendship. With gorgeous underwater scenes and a crowd-pleasing tale, this is one little mermaid who is here to make a splash!

New York Times bestselling author Kelly DiPucchio and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Award winner Raissa Figueroa would like to introduce Oona-the big wide sea's littlest mischief-maker.

Oona and her best friend Otto love to search for treasure...and often find trouble instead.

Messy trouble.

Tricky trouble.

Even shark-related trouble.

That's never stopped them before, though!

After all, no proper treasure hunt is without some adventure. But…


You might also like...

One Giant Leap

By Ben Gartner,

Book cover of One Giant Leap

Ben Gartner Author Of The Eye of Ra

New book alert!

Who am I?

I love to read a good action-adventure story. I’ve also written a few. And I know that no matter how high the stakes, if there’s no heart in the characters then there’s very little engagement to make it any more memorable than a temporary thrill. I love thrills, but the stories that stick with you after the excitement of the moment is over, those are the true gems. Besides the fun of reading that type of book, maybe you even learn something about yourself or the world and come out a wee bit wiser than when you went in. And isn’t that a fantastic use of our imaginative powers?!

Ben's book list on new action-packed middle grade with heart

What is my book about?

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed. Suit up, cadet, and launch into adventure with One Giant Leap!

By Ben Gartner,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One Giant Leap as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

I’m pretty sure I’m about to die in space. And I just turned twelve and a half.

Blast off with the four winners of the StellarKid Project on a trip to the International Space Station and then to the Gateway outpost orbiting the Moon! It’s a dream come true until space junk collides with the ISS, turning their epic trip into a nightmare of survival. Alone aboard the Aether starship, the kids have to work as a team to save the adults before the ISS is destroyed. Suit up, cadet, and launch into adventure with One Giant Leap!

Praise for…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in mermaids, sea monsters, and fish?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about mermaids, sea monsters, and fish.

Mermaids Explore 37 books about mermaids
Sea Monsters Explore 13 books about sea monsters
Fish Explore 52 books about fish