The best upbeat, humorous picture books about doing the right thing

Leah Rose Kessler Author Of Rat Fair
By Leah Rose Kessler

Who am I?

Over my career as an elementary school teacher and a science educator I’ve seen time and time again that no matter the topic, learning happens best when people feel positive and engaged. My favorite books to share with young readers are those that capture their attention–be it with stunning illustrations, unusual information, or hilarious situations–and leave them with a strong emotional connection to the characters or story. Now, as I read oodles of picture books for writing research, I keep an extra special eye out for those that leave me smiling and also make me think. Some of my very favorites are collected for you here.


I wrote...

Rat Fair

By Leah Rose Kessler, Cleonique Hilsaca (illustrator),

Book cover of Rat Fair

What is my book about?

When a group of industrious, fun-loving rats find letters fallen from an Art Fair sign, they put the sign back together—with one small adjustment—and get to work creating a spectacular Rat Fair. Their fair is ruined when humans sweep away everything the rats have created. Undaunted, the rats switch gears and start working on their very own Rat Art Fair. As they are wrapping up their first day of the Rat Art Fair, a human child who has been following their progress from the sidelines catches them red-handed, and the rats must decide if they can trust the child.

A nearly wordless tale about creativity, kindness, and perseverance.

The books I picked & why

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Chopsticks

By Amy Krouse Rosenthal, Scott Magoon (illustrator),

Book cover of Chopsticks

Why this book?

As perhaps you can tell from my own book, Rat Fair, I’m a sucker for wordplay, and Chopsticks hits all the right notes. Its subtle playfulness with language makes it eminently re-readable, and I have nothing but respect for its fervent dedication to terrible puns. Not only is Chopsticks light-hearted, funny, and expressively illustrated (who knew a cotton ball could look so concerned?), but at the heart of this fast-paced, cutlery-based romp is the idea that you can be deeply attached to someone you love and also be able to enjoy your own life apart from them. That, in fact, you’re likely to work better as a team because of the time you both take for yourselves.


Bunnybear

By Andrea J. Loney, Carmen Saldaña (illustrator),

Book cover of Bunnybear

Why this book?

Bunnybear, oh Bunnybear… this book is one of my all-time favorites. I came for the adorable cover illustration and stayed for the sweet characters and beautifully crafted metaphor about being true to who you are and listening with love to the people around you. Like the other books on this list, this story doesn’t hit you over the head with its message, but instead, seamlessly weaves it into a lighthearted, fun narrative. Also, minor spoiler: this book has a character named Grizzlybun. How can you not love a story with a character named Grizzlybun!?


Potato Pants!

By Laurie Keller,

Book cover of Potato Pants!

Why this book?

I adore Potato Pants! It’s laugh-out-loud funny, has hilarious illustrations, entertaining asides, and is the best example I’ve ever seen of effortlessly and humorously modeling how to make amends when you’ve gotten something wrong. Having a potato as the main character is brilliant, and the way he instantly assumes the eggplant has negative intentions is extraordinarily relatable. I wish I’d had this book when I was teaching elementary school. My students and I would have had a good laugh, followed by a good conversation.


Whole Whale

By Karen Yin, Nelleke Verhoeff (illustrator),

Book cover of Whole Whale

Why this book?

The Whole Whale is a counting book, a delightful, read-aloud rhyming book, and, at its core, it’s a book about making space for everyone, even when it might seem easier to say, “Sorry, there’s no room for you.” The other 99 animals in the book don’t hesitate to make way for their biggest friend by pushing and shoving until… voilà… they arrive at a special surprise—a double fold-out page big enough to fit all 100 different animals (Seriously! 100!). Talk about a page you and your little one can pore over again and again and find something new every time!


Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together

By Andrea Tsurumi,

Book cover of Crab Cake: Turning the Tide Together

Why this book?

Crab Cake speaks to me as a biologist and as someone who cares deeply about the environment. It has a more serious tone than the other books on the list—but only as serious as a book headlined by a baking crab can be. The illustrations of the seafloor community are detailed, and true facts about sea animals are “baked” right into the text. When the undersea community in the story finds itself on the ugly end of humans’ habit of dumping trash where it’s not wanted, the titular crab uses his penchant for baking cakes to bring the community together to solve the problem.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in potatoes, whales, and rabbits?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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