The most recommended books about play and playing

Who picked these books? Meet our 13 experts.

13 authors created a book list connected to play and playing, and here are their favorite play and playing books.
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What type of play and playing book?


The Design of Childhood

By Alexandra Lange,

Book cover of The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids

Daniel P. Aldrich Author Of Black Wave: How Networks and Governance Shaped Japan's 3/11 Disasters

From Daniel's 3 favorite reads in 2023.

Who am I?

Author Curious Professor

Daniel's 3 favorite reads in 2023

Why did Daniel love this book?

We live in suburbs, high-density downtown cities, exurbs, rural areas – but most of us don’t really think about the way that things around us have been designed.

Especially for those of us with children, whole schools of thought have been created, designed a variety of chairs, tools, blocks, and play spaces, and then been replaced by other ways of doing the same materials. This book tackles jungle gyms, school classrooms, EPCOT, and a variety of other places that are all too familiar to us, but in new and creative ways.

It is easy to read with lots of images – highly recommended.

By Alexandra Lange,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"Nothing short of spectacular . . . A secret guidebook to a landscape in which we all dwell, but so often fail to see." --Tom Vanderbilt, bestselling author of Traffic

From building blocks to city blocks, an eye-opening exploration of how children's playthings and physical surroundings affect their development.

Parents obsess over their children's playdates, kindergarten curriculum, and every bump and bruise, but the toys, classrooms, playgrounds, and neighborhoods little ones engage with are just as important. These objects and spaces encode decades, even centuries of changing ideas about what makes for good child-rearing--and what does not. Do you choose…

Eat Pete

By Michael Rex,

Book cover of Eat Pete

Keiko Kasza Author Of My Lucky Day

From the list on with humor and twist endings.

Who am I?

Keiko Kasza is an award-winning author/illustrator of picture books. Though she uses animals as her book characters, the subjects are always related to issues that young children face. Humor and a surprise ending are the signatures of her work.   

Keiko's book list on with humor and twist endings

Why did Keiko love this book?

A monster goes to Pete’s house with the intention to eat him. Pete asks the monster to play with various games and toys. The monster reluctantly does so, but each time the text goes, “He didn’t want to play...because he wanted to...EAT PETE!” Then something shocking happens – he eats Pete! Let me assure you, though, the ending is very sweet.  

By Michael Rex,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From the creator of Goodnight Goon, a laugh-out-loud friendship story that perfectly captures the high and low moments of a typical playdate!

Pete couldn't be more thrilled when a monster shows up in his bedroom. Now Pete has someone to play with! And the hungry monster couldn't be more thrilled to be there, either. Now he can . . . EAT PETE!

But Pete has other ideas. And they are all good fun and quite distracting--things like playing cars and pirates. Well, we all know the course of playing together nicely never did run smoothly. So how much longer will…

A Year of Playing Catch

By Ethan D. Bryan,

Book cover of A Year of Playing Catch: What a Simple Daily Experiment Taught Me about Life

Susie Finkbeiner Author Of The All-American

From the list on making you fall in love with baseball.

Who am I?

I’m intrigued by baseball. The passion and drama of the games and the way the sport is nearly always linked to a meaningful relationship with someone dear. That curiosity has only been fueled by the books I’ve read over the years and inspired me to write a baseball story of my own. The All-American is my ninth novel and I couldn’t feel more privileged to have been able to write it.

Susie's book list on making you fall in love with baseball

Why did Susie love this book?

I love backyard games of catch, so when I heard the concept of this book I was sold!

Ethan D. Bryan, an avid baseball player and fan, set a goal to play a game of catch a day for an entire year. He met up with people across the United States for games, learning about their lives and witnessing the ways that tossing a ball around can transform a community.

I loved the heartwarming stories throughout the book and was deeply inspired to connect with people in unique ways. I’ve got to get outside and warm up my throwing arm. Ethan’s invited me to play a game of catch sometime. I want to be ready!

By Ethan D. Bryan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Year of Playing Catch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Journey with prolific author and avid baseball fan Ethan Bryan on an exciting quest to play catch every day for a year, and discover the lessons he learned about the sacredness of play, finding connections, and being fully present to the human experience. A Casey Award finalist!

Ethan Bryan played and wrote about baseball for years. Then his daughters challenged him to set out on a yearlong experiment: to play catch with someone every day. This experience led him across 10 states and 12,000 miles on a quest both quixotic and inspiring.

Taking you from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to…


By Julia Denos,

Book cover of Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color

Josh Funk Author Of Dear Unicorn

From the list on pictures to inspire the creative artistic spirit.

Who am I?

As an author, one of my goals is to encourage kids to fall in love with reading–but I’m not an illustrator. I wish I practiced art more as a kid. If I had, maybe I’d be illustrating my own books. If only these five books existed forty years ago, perhaps I wouldn’t have given up on art. So, in addition to falling in love with reading, I’d love to inspire those same kids to keep exploring their artistic sides. I’ve seen how these books invigorate the artistic spirit of creatives and I hope they do the same for you.

Josh's book list on pictures to inspire the creative artistic spirit

Why did Josh love this book?

While I’m a fan of all of Denos’ work (her art belongs in galleries–and has been), Swatch has always stuck with me (and my family) as there’s something so simple and raw about trying to ‘tame colors,’ which is what Swatch, the artist, tries to do.

Like so much in life, some colors are easy to tame, and others aren’t, which is why I think this resonates so well with everyone who’s read it. And with those, like me, who’ve read it again. And again. And again.

By Julia Denos,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A vibrant picture book featuring an irrepressible new character-perfect for fans of The Dot and Beautiful Oops!-from acclaimed illustrator Julia Denos. In a place where color ran wild, there lived a girl who was wilder still. Her name was Swatch, and color was her passion. From brave green to in-between gray to rumble-tumble pink ...Swatch wanted to collect them all. But colors don't always like to be tamed...This is an exuberant celebration of all the beauty and color that make up our lives.

Chirri & Chirra, the Rainy Day

By Kaya Doi, David Boyd (translator),

Book cover of Chirri & Chirra, the Rainy Day

Hyewon Yum Author Of Puddle

From the list on rainy days.

Who am I?

I hate rainy days, I check the weather forecast diligently to make sure I don’t have to go out on a rainy day. However I became a mother of two boys and with little kids, I had to go out rain or shine. My kids don’t get bothered by the rain, they rather love it, so I learned to enjoy the rainy days just like the grumpy old man from RainI And we enjoyed rainy day activities like drawing, reading about rainy day stories while cuddling on the sofa. These books remind me of those happy rainy days and they will certainly brighten up your rainy days.

Hyewon's book list on rainy days

Why did Hyewon love this book?

These two girls’ everyday adventure series! I adore these twin books since I am a twin myself! Color penciled illustration is always beautiful but I like how Kaya draws the rain here. You can see a drizzle, a shower, a downpour, and even an upside-down rain here. Surely the rain hater like myself can become a rain person.

By Kaya Doi, David Boyd (translator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Chirri & Chirra, the Rainy Day as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

One cloudy day, Chirri & Chirra decide to go out on their bicycles. Dring-dring, dring dring! It's already starting to rain. As is each of their adventures, this one is completely magical and full of wonder. It is also set in a world where, as if by magic (though perhaps it's the force of the creative imagination?), they always find what they need. Pedaling along, they discover a shop. What luck! The sign says it's only open on rainy days. How perfect. Chirri & Chirra order tea. Each is served tea with a bowl of sweet ice rocks. It's a…

Circle Round

By Anne Sibley O'Brien, Hanna Cha (illustrator),

Book cover of Circle Round

Nancy Loewen Author Of The Everybody Club

From the list on that create a sense of belonging.

Who am I?

I’ve published many books for children, but this one is truly special. The Everybody Club is a collaboration with my dear friend Linda Hayen in memory of her daughter, Carissa. As a child, Carissa started a real-life Everybody Club. The first members were toys, dolls, the family cat, and her brothers, one of whom had severe disabilities. Carissa died in a car accident at the age of 16, and this book is Linda’s way of sharing her daughter’s generous spirit with the world. A note for adults at the end of the book shares this backstory.

Nancy's book list on that create a sense of belonging

Why did Nancy love this book?

What can a circle be? It can be a ball, a bike tire, a bubble, a cookie, a balloon… A circle can also be people joined together in the spirit of love and acceptance. Circle Round has few words, but the illustrations pull readers into a world full of activity and fun. It’s a counting book that is both playful and profound. 

At the end of the book, I felt I was part of the circle myself.

By Anne Sibley O'Brien, Hanna Cha (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A circle of children ask others to join in their play and soon find out that inclusion is irresistible!

From the author of I'm New Here and Someone New comes an inspiring new story of inclusion. One child in a park waves over a second child. Two children then wave over a third. Counting from one to ten, a growing circle of children see new faces outside the group and invite them over. Children of different abilities, ages, genders, and races demonstrate how easy it can be to expand your group, extend yourself, and welcome new friends.

Book cover of What Is a Playhouse? England at Play, 1520-1620

David McInnis Author Of Shakespeare and Lost Plays

From the list on to understand the history of Shakespeare's theatre.

Who am I?

I’m a Shakespeare scholar with a particular interest in theatre history and the repertories of the London commercial playing companies of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries. I’m particularly fascinated by the hundreds of plays written during this period that have not survived, whether as the result of fire, vandalism, censorship, or more mundane causes like a lack of interest in or opportunity for publication. The surviving plays from the period are the distinct minority; yet the plays lost to us were known to Shakespeare and his contemporaries, who often wrote in response to what else was being performed across London.

David's book list on to understand the history of Shakespeare's theatre

Why did David love this book?

Some of the most exciting discoveries in theatre history in recent years have been archaeological, not archival: the excavation of the Curtain theatre’s foundations in Shoreditch, for example, and the revelation that it was rectangular and much larger than previously thought. Davies’ new book capitalises on a series of such findings and complements them with his own rigorous archival work, putting pressure on the very concept of a ‘playhouse’ and what it can beor rather, what it meant to Shakespeare’s audiences.

By Callan Davies,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked What Is a Playhouse? England at Play, 1520-1620 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book offers an accessible introduction to England's sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century playing industry and a fresh account of the architecture, multiple uses, communities, crowds, and proprietors of playhouses.

It builds on recent scholarship and new documentary and archaeological discoveries to answer the questions: what did playhouses do, what did they look like, and how did they function? The book will accordingly introduce readers to a rich and exciting spectrum of "play" and playhouses, not only in London but also around England. The detailed but wide-ranging case studies examined here go beyond staged drama to explore early modern sport, gambling,…

Free to Learn

By Peter Gray,

Book cover of Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life

Sara Zaske Author Of Achtung Baby: An American Mom on the German Art of Raising Self-Reliant Children

From the list on raising self-reliant children.

Who am I?

I am a writer who lived in Germany for more than six years with my family. That experience opened my eyes to a different way of parenting in a country that had learned hard lessons about too much authoritarian control. It also taught me that much of what we believe is “true” about raising kids is actually cultural—and therefore, can be changed. In addition to my book about raising kids in Germany, Achtung Baby, I’ve written extensively on raising self-reliant kids, including articles in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and among others.

Sara's book list on raising self-reliant children

Why did Sara love this book?

An evolutionary psychologist, Gray argues that human children, like all mammals, learn best through play. He advocates for a learning process that is kid- and play-driven. Using an innovative school as a model, Gray makes a compelling case for revolutionizing education by putting it in the hands of the kids themselves. Even if you can’t send your child to one of these schools, this book will give you many ideas on how to let your kids take charge of their own academic interests and pursuits which will ultimately help them grow up to take better charge of their own lives and happiness.

By Peter Gray,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

In Free to Learn , developmental psychologist Peter Gray argues that in order to foster children who will thrive in today's constantly changing world, we must entrust them to steer their own learning and development. Drawing on evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history, he demonstrates that free play is the primary means by which children learn to control their lives, solve problems, get along with peers, and become emotionally resilient. A brave, counterintuitive proposal for freeing our children from the shackles of the curiosity-killing institution we call school, Free to Learn suggests that it's time to stop asking what's wrong…

Playful Parenting

By Lawrence J. Cohen,

Book cover of Playful Parenting: An Exciting New Approach to Raising Children That Will Help You Nurture Close Connections, Solve Behavior Problems, and Encourage Confidence

Darcia Narváez Author Of Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture, and Wisdom

From the list on neuroscientific parenting.

Who am I?

I am passionate about raising each human being for lifelong wellbeing and a full set of intelligences. High-income nations don’t do this so much anymore. I conduct empirical studies with children, parents, and other adults to examine how early experience affects capacities for getting along in life and with others. My book has won awards for its holistic view, integrating neuroscience, anthropology, and developmental science. This work led me to start the Evolved Nest website with lots of resources for parents and for all who care about human wellbeing. Humanity is facing many challenges and we need everyone’s gifts to be well grown to help us solve the problems we face.

Darcia's book list on neuroscientific parenting

Why did Darcia love this book?

This book is full of fun ideas for learning to play with your children at different ages, letting them lead the play. Play is a fundamental way to grow the brain at any age. So the approach is beneficial for parents as well as kids. Imagine playing as a way to solve behavior problems!

By Lawrence J. Cohen,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Have you ever stepped back to watch what really goes on when your children play? As psychologist Lawrence J. Cohen points out, play is children’s way of exploring the world, communicating deep feelings, getting close to those they care about, working through stressful situations, and simply blowing off steam. That’s why “playful parenting” is so important and so successful in building strong, close bonds between parents and children. Through play we join our kids in their world–and help them to

• Express and understand complex emotions
• Break through shyness, anger, and fear
• Empower themselves and respect diversity

I Don't Like Rain!

By Sarah Dillard,

Book cover of I Don't Like Rain!

Susan Marie Chapman Author Of Grumpy the Iguana

From the list on for parents to read to their children.

Who am I?

My name is Susan Marie Chapman and I am an award-winning Children’s Book Author. I have written over fourteen children’s books. I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and nature and my seven sisters and brothers. Wow!! My goal is to get as many books into the hands of children that I possibly can. You see, reading books, especially picture books, is a way for a child to see the world through the pictures and words of a book. It creates imagination and excitement and fun and questions which lead to answers which makes you smarter. So read, read, read, until you run out of books, which will never happen.

Susan's book list on for parents to read to their children

Why did Susan love this book?

I love this book. It brings back so many memories of growing up in the country for me. The illustrations in this book are very expressive and literally speak for themselves, no words necessary.

The day starts out pretty nice for a young bunny who is trying to get a game of kickball started.

He calls out to his neighboring animal friends to come out of their homes and play. They all step outside. There is the hedgehog, the skunk, the fox, the raccoon, and many more. All of a sudden, clouds roll in and everyone goes home except the bunny. He loves rain. This is a big book full of fun. I really enjoyed this book. For me, it's all about the illustrations. I do not like the rain. Getting caught in a rainstorm without an umbrella is no fun. But, this book reminded me of a time in…

By Sarah Dillard,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked I Don't Like Rain! as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A little rabbit discovers the delight in a dreary rainy day in this splashing sequel to the witty and whimsical picture book, I Wish it Would Snow.

One sunny day, Rabbit and his pals are playing outside and they couldn't be happier. But, oh, no!-the sky starts clouding up and before they know it, it's raining, it's pouring, and everyone has to run home. How boring! What will they do for the rest of the day?

It doesn't take long for Rabbit to realize that fun can be had in the rain. With raincoats, boots, and umbrellas, let the splashing…

Ruby's Sword

By Jacqueline Veissid, Paola Zakimi (illustrator),

Book cover of Ruby's Sword

Rachel Greening Author Of If My Oak Tree Could Speak

From the list on turning natural world into imaginative wonderland.

Who am I?

I live in my imagination. I never really grew out of seeing imaginary friends and fantastical elements in the world. Every budding flower or dancing sun shadow is a call to create. This is why I find children’s literature so thrilling and why my own writing often resides within the realm of make-believe. I love kids lit because it allows a grown-up like me to be a kid again – even if it’s just for a few pages.

Rachel's book list on turning natural world into imaginative wonderland

Why did Rachel love this book?

Ruby’s Sword explores the type of imaginative play that can be had with natural world elements. Letting your kids explore nature in a tangible way does wonders for their learning and ingenuity. A simple stick turns into a sword, turning a little girl into a gallant knight. Our children do not need colourful plastic toys to have fun. All they need is a little fresh air and something as simple as a stick. Once my family moved out to the country, I saw my children transform before my eyes. Rocks have become treasures and bugs their newest friends. With the first signs of spring, socks are flung aside as their naked toes seek sand and grass. Let your kids fall in love with nature and it will be a love affair that lasts a lifetime. 

By Jacqueline Veissid, Paola Zakimi (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Ruby's Sword as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ruby is always racing after her big brothers. But no matter how hard she tries, she can never catch up. Then one day, she discovers some sticks in the grass. Not just any sticks-swords! And suddenly the world is her kingdom. Readers will cheer on Ruby's perseverance and creativity as they delight in the antics of the adorable animals that join her along the way. Anyone who has ever imagined themselves the star of their own swashbuckling adventure will find this sweet book irresistible.

Can I Play Too?

By Mo Willems,

Book cover of Can I Play Too?

Andrew Wald Author Of A Surprising Friendship

From the list on friendship and diversity.

Who am I?

I am a psychotherapist working with individuals and couples since 1974 and have had over 57,000 sessions. How people relate to one another has been a fascination of mine since I was a youngster growing up in a suburb of Chicago. I believe that we are “wired” for relationships of all kinds and it takes a conscious effort to see the best in each other for them to thrive. Differences can be the spice of a relationship, not the division of them. My book, my practice, and my life focuses on those concepts. In 2012, I co-authored a popular book on relationships, Togetherness: Creating and Deepening Sustainable Love.

Andrew's book list on friendship and diversity

Why did Andrew love this book?

This simple, sweet, picture book, like others in the Elephant and Piggy series, deals with different animals who are trying to solve a problem together. I liked the book because it portrays how differences don’t matter when you care about another. To show how differences can be overcome and not be reasons to divide is wonderful, especially when the concept is shown to the very young reader.

By Mo Willems,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Can I Play Too? as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Perfect for children just learning to read, this highly original book is told entirely in speech bubbles with a repetitive use of familiar phrases. From the award-winning author of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Gerald is careful. Piggie is not.
Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald can.
Gerald worries so that Piggie does not have to.
Gerald and Piggie are best friends.

In Can I Play Too? Gerald and Piggie meet a new friend, Snake, who wants to join in a game of catch. But don't you need arms to catch...? Mo Willems creates another hilarious escapade starring the…

Paul and Antoinette

By Kerascoët (illustrator),

Book cover of Paul and Antoinette

Maria Gulemetova Author Of Beyond the Fence

From the list on beyond good and bad, right and wrong.

Who am I?

Unburdened with prejudice or beliefs, children are open to the world. I find great joy in books that reflect the child’s fresh perception and playful spirit. Such books have no intention to teach a moral lesson. They rejoice in freedom. In the non-stereotypical, not yet molded to conform reality of the child. Books beyond good or bad may shine with the light of freshness, the unfiltered seeing. In times of great political divisions, non-didactic books can be a window to the glorious amoral way of perceiving.

Maria's book list on beyond good and bad, right and wrong

Why did Maria love this book?

Two siblings with very different personalities. The fun of following these two characters grows with every scene. A very skillful, beautiful depiction of the richness of life and creative collaboration. A funny and endearing book.

By Kerascoët (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

We have seen a few great odd couples in picture books already, but filled with possibility as the world is, there's always room for one more pair, especially if they are as charming and unforgettable as these pigs, born from the brushes and prolific imagination of Kerascoet. Kerascoet lives and works in Paris in the worlds of cartooning and illustration. Best known for illustrating the book Miss Don't Touch Me written by Hubert, as well as a couple of the Lewis Trondheim Dungeon books, their most recent book Beautiful Darkness broke out on the US scene in 2014, winning them…