Inside: Children’s book suggestion for every day in April – unforgettable stories, creative plots, and imaginative illustrations. Updated for 2021.
The name “April” comes from the Latin aperire “to open” because in April everything begins to “open.” Trees sprout buds, buds open into flowers, birds open their beaks to drink in the rain, and windows open to let in the fresh air.
In Chicago, April is the time of year when we crawl out from our winter hibernation feeling shell-shocked from long captivity and dazed by all the sunshine and fresh air. I often go to bed feeling half-drunk from the combination of longer days, increased sunlight, and more physical exertion (hiking, preparing the garden for planting, and hours in the playground). Do you experience spring drowsiness while your body is adjusting to the new season?
Fortunately, from the first day on the calendar (April Fools Day) to the last (International Jazz Day), this month has many things to celebrate and keep us busy.
In April we celebrate:
- Easter, Children’s Book Day, Winston Churchill, and dolphins (did you know that dolphins, like humans, develop diabetes?)
- Some famous birthdays: Leonardo da Vince, Jane Goodall, Ole Kirk Christiansen (inventor of LEGO), and Thomas Jefferson.
- Poetry (it’s National Poetry Month), Scotland (Scottish Heritage Month), and humor (it’s National Humor Month, and we saved our funniest books for this list).
- Nests, seeds, gardening, rain, bunnies, and baby birds.
Our favorite April holiday is Earth Day. From the time my kids were little, we started a family tradition of going outside and picking up trash on this day. Now that our kids are older, we do it a few more times during the summer, too. I got each of my kids’ cheap grilling tongs from a dollar store so they wouldn’t have to touch the cigarette butts with their bare hands, and it’s been a smashing success. We end the day with Garbage Cake.
What are you most excited about celebrating in April?
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Books for April
April 1 – Mud Flat April Fool, James Stevenson (April Fools’ Day)
This delightful sequel to the bestselling Mud Flat series will have your kids grinning and laughing. Not only are Mud Flat’s furry inhabitants overly enthusiastic about playing jokes on each other on April Fools’ Day, but they are also quite creative, so you and your kids will find new ideas to try this year. A dollar bill on a string, fake party invitations, and water-squirting flowers—just to give you a few examples. (I bought a water-squirting ring to surprise my family this year, but, shh, don’t tell my kids).
We are huge fans of James Stevenson’s witty and funny writing. And his pen-and-ink drawings add a dose of humor.
April 2 – Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books, Michelle Markel (Children’s Book Day)
If I made a list of my favorite children’s books, this one would definitely be included. (Updated 2021: I made the list! Check it out: 100 greatest children’s books beyond the classics). It combines the best elements of a thrilling read—marvelous narration, amazing illustrations by our favorite illustrator Nancy Carpenter, and unique font. Did you know that before 1726, children only had religious texts and preachy fables to read? When children first learned to read, they were forced to peruse manuals about how to behave.
John Newberry, who became known as the father of children’s books, changed all that. A farmboy with a love of books, he apprenticed to a printer at an early age, and as soon as he could, he became a publisher himself. He worked incredibly hard, overcame lots of hurdles, and, most importantly, came to a fortunate resolution that “reading should be a treat for children.”
You can read all the details of his reasoning and the way he went about it in the book. If you are like me and love books, you will immensely enjoy it and so will your children. The book is a treat, especially today on Children’s Book Day.
April 3 – Rickie and Henri: a True Story, Jane Goodall (Jane Goodall’s Birthday)
Today is the 87th birthday of Jane Goodall, the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees and a tireless advocate of animal welfare. We talked about her inspiring life and bravery when we reviewed Me… Jane by Patrick McDonnell for our Girls Can Do Anything reading list.
But did you know that Jane Goodall is also a children’s book author? She wrote more than one. In Rickie and Henri, we learn the true story of Rickie, a poor little chimp who was taken away from his mother by African poachers. They intended to sell the monkey at the market, but, lucky for Rickie, he was rescued. Even luckier, he finds a friend, a shaggy dog by the name of Henri. If you ever wondered about Jane Goodall’s animal sanctuaries and wanted to learn more about them, this book will help you.
A word of caution, if you have sensitive children, look through the book before reading it together. Even though the watercolor illustrations blunt the edges, some parts can still be too heartbreaking (like Rickie’s separation from his mother). And generally, even though it’s recommended for ages 5-7, I think 8 and up would be a much better fit.
April 4 – The Dumb Bunnies’ Easter, Sue Denim (Easter)
“It was December 24th, and the Dumb Bunnies were getting ready for Easter.” Thus starts this hilarious tale about a family of bunnies who are very confused about holidays in particular and life in general. Your kids will be utterly delighted to point out the bunnies’ outlandish errors of reasoning and eager to set the bunnies straight.
My kids’ favorite page is where the bunnies rush to celebrate their “dumb holiday tradition” of watching a little football on the TV. On this page, you’ll see a family of bunnies intently watching a small football toy placed on top of an old-fashioned TV set. The whole story is delightfully wacky and ludicrously outlandish.
April 5 – Dandelions, Eve Bunting (Dandelion Day)
Did you grow up yawning over the pages of history books full of dry facts and colorless narration? Lucky for our kids, that’s a thing of the past. Nowadays, history can be learned through amazingly enjoyable books written so well that learning history becomes a treat.
In Dandelions, Eve Bunting expertly tells the story of a pioneer family. A pregnant mom, a dad, and three children drive a wagon filled with all their earthly possessions from Illinois to Nebraska. In Illinois, they had lived with relatives in a comfortable house filled with pretty china and wallpaper. Now they’re in the middle of a hot dusty plain where trees are few and far between, the muddy drinking water is difficult to reach, and the nearest neighbor is three hours away.
My kids were fascinated by the details of pioneer life: their hardships, their isolation, and their inner strengths. Dandelions in this story are a symbol of hope, and the image of the bright dandelions decorating the mud cave (this family’s home) on the last page brought tears to our eyes. I love the way Eve Bunting crafted this story, and the illustrations are gripping.
In our modern days of filtered water, washing machines, and all kinds of toys, our kids need to hear a story where children play with rocks, get a treat once a year, and work alongside adults like equals.
April 6 – The Robot and The Bluebird, David Lucas
National Robotic Week is April 3-11 this year (2021), and it’s an invitation to dive into the world of robotics, artificial intelligence, and Autobots. And of course, it’s a great excuse to read some books about robots (do we really need an excuse to read books about robots? 🙂
I picked The Robot and the Bluebird because it appeals to all my children (though for different reasons). The Robot and the Bluebird starts with an intriguing sentence, “There once was a Robot with a broken heart.” You can’t help it: the opening line grabs your attention and opens the door to a whole new world: A world of robots, dark nights, empty days, and one robot’s search for meaning. Even though the ending of the story is somewhat sad (the robot “dies”), the book is filled with messages of friendship, second chances, hope, and love.
This is a great book to explore deep and difficult issues like death, fear of losing control, and the meaning of sacrifice. You can also look at each bright and warmly lit illustration together and ask kids to guess how each character might feel. Older kids might enjoy philosophical ponderings. Will robots ever have emotions? How would we feel about robots that can feel?
April 7 – What Do You Do With a Problem? Kobi Yamada (birthday of Ole Kirk Christiansen, inventor of LEGO)
Today is the birthday of Ole Kirk Christiansen, LEGO’s inventor. If your kids are anything like mine, you probably have a great many LEGO bricks in your home. And if you’re looking for some LEGO books to inspire creative play and open their minds to new ideas, we recommend our Sensational and Smart LEGO STEAM Activities for Kids. It features one hundred projects for parents to do with their kids to learn science, math, and engineering.
As moms of young LEGO enthusiasts know, once in a while kids get frustrated that their LEGO projects don’t turn out the way they hoped. What kids need to know is that they get better with every project even when it doesn’t come out looking exactly as what they had in mind. This attitude is what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset or a belief that you can learn and grow from the effort. There are many things parents can do to encourage a growth mindset including reading books.
Kobi Yamada has a few great books on growth mindset. The main message of What Do You Do With a Problem? is that problems are challenges that push us to be better and more inventive. This book lets kids in on a secret: inside every problem, there is an opportunity to learn something new.
April 8 – The Mysterious Tadpole, Steven Kellogg (Scottish Heritage Month)
Do you know what economist Adam Smith; Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes; and Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone, have in common? They were all Scots. And so is J. K. Rowling, author of Harry Potter and Hollywood star Sean Connery. In case you didn’t know, April is Scottish Heritage Month. It’s a great excuse to learn more about the history and people of Scotland.
In The Mysterious Tadpole, a Scottish uncle gives young Louis a tadpole for his birthday. After many hilarious adventures, we learn that the tadpole is actually a Loch Ness monster, a mythical creature from Scottish folklore.
April 9 – War Dogs: Churchill & Rufus, Kathryn Selbert (Winston Churchill Day)
Winston Churchill was a great leader, orator, and writer (he won the Nobel Prize for Literature) and someone your kids need to know about. On April 9th, Winston Churchill became an honorary citizen of the United States, and this day is now known as Winston Churchill Day.
If your kids love dogs, they are likely to enjoy this book. It doesn’t have much of a plot, just a collection of places where Winston Churchill could be found during World War II—an underground bunker, a war room, and bombed London streets. But what enlivens each page is the addition of his miniature poodle, even in the House of Commons. I love the addition of Churchill quotes, and think it’s a fun way to learn a bit of English history.
April 10 – I Am Small, Qin Leng (National Siblings Day)
Today is National Siblings Day. As the mom of four kids, I’m a great collector of books that foster sibling relationships. And I’m glad to say, there are many amazing books about siblings, but today I want to share our latest favorite, I’m Small by the talented Qin Leng.
If you have more than one child, you know that the plight of younger siblings can sometimes be summed up by “anything I can do, you can do better.” Older kids are stronger, taller, faster, and get more privileges. They also have a better view of dessert displays at the local bakery. However, as this book beautifully illustrates, “it’s possible that there are some advantages to being small” after all.
There is something about Qin Leng’s pen, ink, and watercolor drawings that is absolutely captivating. As soon as we read her first book, we just had to get ALL her other books.
April 11 – Robins! How They Grow Up, Eileen Christelow (birds)
In Robins! Eileen Christelow gives us an epic story of a robin’s life from a robin’s point of view. There’s a bit of drama, plenty of romance, and two tragic deaths (a squirrel and a hawk are the culprits). The narrators are two teen robins whose parents built a nest on a hoe in a shed. Who knew that the life of a robin is so full of peril? My kids have asked to re-read this story multiple times. The author was inspired to write this book when a robin built a nest on her hoe in her shed.
April 12 – Are You Ready to Play Outside? Mo Willems (weather)
Here’s a great book to remind us that playing outside can be fun in any weather. When Elephant and Piggie get all pumped up about playing outside, it starts to rain like it never rained before. Piggie is not happy until he decides to “try” to have fun anyway. The two friends skip in puddles, splash, and begin having all sorts of wet fun just as it stops raining. Can they make the most of this new development? It’s Mo Willems, so you know the book will be hilarious, and your kids will love it.
April 13 – Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library, Barb Rosenstock (Thomas Jefferson’s Birthday)
Do your kids know much about Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States? If the answer is “no,” then run to the library for a copy of Thomas Jefferson Builds a Library. It’s the best biography of Thomas Jefferson ever written for kids.
In this remarkably illustrated book, Thomas Jefferson emerges as an endlessly fascinating person: an enthusiastic reader and tireless collector of books, an eager polyglot, a talented politician, a minuet dancer, a fiddle player, a horse rider, and so much more. He famously said, “I cannot live without books.” (I can say the same about myself). Love, death, and fire add a few dramatic touches to the narration, and fact boxes and memorable quotes enhance the reading experience.
When I first looked at the amount of text per page, I worried that it would be too boring for kids. But the book is written in such an engaging manner that my six, eight, and ten-year-old kids all enjoyed it very much.
April 14 – Eight Dolphins of Katrina: A True Tale of Survival, Janet Wyman Coleman (National Dolphin Day)
Today is National Dolphin Day, and our favorite dolphin tale of all times is Eight Dolphins of Katrina by Janet Wyman Coleman.
When scientists of Marine Life Oceanarium learned about hurricane Katrina’s approach, they moved as many dolphins as they could inland. The dolphins were transported and placed in hotel pools! But the scientists ran out of time, and eight dolphins had to be left behind, including Jackie, an old, good-humored dolphin that everyone adores.
When they returned after the hurricane and saw the destruction and a collapsed building, they had little hope that the remaining dolphins had survived. Could the retreating surge pull dolphins into the safety of the open water? It could, but even if it did, these dolphins had lived in captivity far too long to know how to survive in the wild. They didn’t even know how to catch fish!
Scientists decided to search for survivors anyway. This gripping true story of the hunt for eight dolphins will have you sitting on the edge of your seat, crying tears of joy (we did), and marveling at the astonishing bond between people and animals, and the power of hope.
April 15 – Leonardo and the Flying Boy, Laurence Anholt (Leonardo da Vinci’s Birthday)
I’ve always been fascinated by Leonardo da Vinci’s mind and inventions and had read quite a few books about him before I had kids. So I had my eye out for a good book to introduce this colorful person to my children without overwhelming them, and this is the first book I’ve found that is suitable for the very young.
What I like about this book is that it concentrates on just one episode in Leonardo da Vinci’s life. It describes a historically documented fact about his apprentice’s unauthorized testing of one of da Vinci’s inventions (the flying machine).
Leonardo da Vinci comes alive through vivid details and memorable illustrations by the author. The illustrations capture the historical essence of the story and spark interest in further investigation of the renaissance in general and da Vinci in particular.
April 15 – Polar: The Titanic Bear, Margaretta Corning Speeden (Titanic Day)
We bought this picture book at the Titanic museum in Branson, Missouri a few years ago, and it’s been read over and over again. This story – accompanied by original historical photographs, pictures of Titanic souvenirs, and period-style watercolor illustrations – was written by one of the survivors of the Titanic tragedy. She wrote the story for her young son, who was on the trip with her. Unfortunately, her son died tragically in an automobile accident soon after their return from the Titanic, and the story remained forgotten in an old trunk for many decades.
I will be honest, don’t purchase this book if you are hoping for an exciting narrative and easy read. Read it if you like books inspired by true events and want to introduce your kids to real-life struggles. When the Titanic sailed from Europe on April 11, 1912, it was an unsinkable ship; four days later, it collided with an iceberg and sank, resulting in the death of over 1,500 people.
For parents who worry about introducing their kids to the tragedy at an early age, I say: your child is going to be confronted with hardships whether you try to prevent them or not. What you can do is acknowledge that life can be scary and encourage them with the words of Hellen Keller: “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”
April 16 – “Stand Back,” Said the Elephant, “I’m Going to Sneeze!”, Patricia Thomas (Save the Elephants Day)
Today is Save the Elephants Day, initiated to raise awareness about the elephants’ plight. Do you know that at present more elephants are being killed than are being born, and in the last decade, the elephant population decreased by over 60%? Today is a good day to learn some facts about elephants and read books that feature them.
The Elephant and Piggie series is always great, but since April is also Poetry Month, let me recommend a hilarious, rhyming story about an elephant that is about to sneeze. In this story, a buffalo, monkeys, a parrot, bees, a bear, and other animals are worried that the elephant’s sneeze will cause them harm:
“You make such a breeze when you sneeze.
The last time you blew us right out of the trees.
The branches began to bend and to sway
And some of us landed so far away
We didn’t get back until the next day.”
Little did they know that it’s not a sneeze but the elephant’s joy at not sneezing that will cause all the trouble.
April 17 – A Child’s Garden of Verses, Robert Louis Stevenson (National Poetry Month)
April is national poetry month! If you like the idea of reading more poetry with your children but don’t know where to start then pick A Child’s Introduction to Poetry by Michael Driscoll. This book is expertly crafted, well-illustrated, and it contains some of the most enjoyable poetry of all time. It even comes with a CD. I can’t tell you much about the CD, though, because we bought a used copy that came without one, which hasn’t decreased our enjoyment of the book.
My most favorite book of poetry to read with my kids is A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. I never tire of reading it with my children and by now we all have memorized many of the poems by heart.
April 18 – Are you Scared, Darth Vader? Adam Rex (humor)
In this brilliant and hilarious book, Adam Rex, the bestselling author of Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, gives young readers the power to blast away the iconic villain by … closing the book. The assortment of scary ghosts, bats, and vampires do not scare Darth Vader. A noisy crowd of energetic and overly enthusiastic children does not scare Darth Vader. Do you know what scares Darth Vader? A child who is reading the book! Because the child has the power to turn the last page and … bye-bye, Vader!
This book’s artwork is absolutely adorable. The black background with yellow font and creative print is pleasing to the eye. The illustrations are an imaginative combination of 3-D models, photography, drawing, painting, and digital work. This energetic and entertaining book has all my Star Wars enthusiasts in stitches.
April 19 – The Chinese Mirror, Mirra Ginsburg (legends from far away lands)
When I was a kid, I loved legends from far away lands because they were so different from what I knew. What about you?
In The Chinese Mirror, a Korean peasant traveled to China and brought back a fascinating little trinket. When he looked into this thing, he saw a man laughing with pleasure. His wife saw him do it and looked in it, too. “Oh, oh,” she cried and ran to her mother-in-law, complaining that her son had brought home a pretty new wife from China. But when her mother-in-law took a look, she only saw a wrinkled old crone.
You’ve already guessed that the thing was a mirror. The point of this funny story is that we are all self-centered, and it takes a bit of work to see someone else’s side. The watercolor illustrations by Caldecott medalist Margot Zemach animate the story. You might be interested to know that they were inspired by 18th-century Korean painters.
April 20 – The Rain Train, Elena De Roo
This is one of my kids’ favorite books. We’ve been reading it for years, and it still tops our all-time favorite books’ list.
“When the rain fingers drum out a dance on the pane,
When the windows are foggy enough for my name,
A pitter-pat-pat, a pitter-pat-pat,
Are you tapping out the pattern with your fingers yet? This book is so much fun to read aloud, and it combines two of my kids’ favorite things—storms and trains. When the rainstorm comes to kids in this story, they board a train that takes them “over the bridge – Whooshety-wish, Racing the moon – Swishety-swish.” All the kids on the train go to sleep to the pitter-pat of rain as the train races ahead.
The rhyme and rhythm of the story are extremely enjoyable, and the use of onomatopoeia is brilliant. Not only that, but the illustrations are great, too. You won’t grow tired of rereading this book.
April 21 – The Turnaround Wind, Arnold Lobel (wind)
We know many good books about wind. The most memorable of them is the last book of Caldecott Medalist Arnold Lobel. In this book, such a fierce wind blows through the countryside that it manages to “turn the whole world around and around and upside down.” What follows next is a collection of double pictures that can be viewed right side up and upside down.
Prepare to spend a very long time on each illustration discerning the optical illusions. For example, you can see a man wearing a turban one way, but when you flip it over, it’s a smiling woman. On another page, a little girl is changed into a dog wagging his tongue. Sometimes it takes a bit of patience to allow the mind to let go of what we think we should see and actually see what Arnold Lobel wants us to see.
April 22 – Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth, Oliver Jeffers (Earth Day)
Oliver Jeffers is one of our favorite authors/illustrators. You might know him as the author of The Incredible Book Eating Book and the illustrator of the hugely popular The Day the Crayons Quit. Here We Are is a book he wrote for his newborn son as a user’s guide to life on earth. It’s a sweet demonstration of just how amazing our planet is and that no matter what, we are never alone.
April 23 – Meet the Dullards, Sara Pennypacker (humor)
This might be the funniest children’s book I’ve ever read. The first time I read it, I was laughing so hard, I was gasping for air. However, after recommending this book to many friends, I learned that not everyone agrees.
For this mom and dad, watching paint dry is fun, and noticing a snail crawling through the driveway produces too much excitement. But kids always find a way to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, and before you know it, their three children join the circus.
On the surface, this book is about a dull family that avoids excitement of any kind. But on a deeper level, it’s a parody of the banality of life, the triviality of most daily choices, and the dullness of most people’s existence.
My kids all love this book, but for a totally different reason. Their focus is on the kids’ quest for a circus adventure and the hilarity of the illustrations. You should see the look of horror on parents’ faces when they find their kids … reading books.
April 24 – The Bear Who Wasn’t There, LeUyen Pham and The Bear Who Wasn’t There, Oren Lavie
These two quirky books by two different authors have more than a title in common; they are both funny.
Pham’s book is playful and interactive. “Wait! Look! There is the Bear! He is hiding behind the next page! Turn the page, quick!” I find that all those exclamations require a bit of extra energy on my part, but it’s worth it. It’s a big hit with my two youngest kids. My youngest especially is happy to read it ten times in a row.
With Lavie’s book, we were hooked by the end of the first page. It starts, “Once Upon a Time there was an Itch.” We soon learned that “everybody knows that bears scratch when they itch, but not many people know that itches scratch when they’re bears.” As you probably already have noticed, it’s highly unusual, but you will also find that it’s delightfully philosophical. It’s very popular with my two oldest kids.
April 25 – One Cool Friend, Toni Buzzeo (World Penguin Day)
A very polite little boy, a comically absentminded father (or is he really?), and an adorable penguin who through misunderstanding comes to live in their home: there’s nothing predictable about this Caldecott Honor Book.
Ink and watercolor illustrations are evocative and enhance the hilarity of miscommunication. In the end, the confusion is cleared up with unexpected and adorably twisted results. We promised to share our funniest books this month, and this is one of our all-time favorite funny books.
April 26 – Violet the Pilot, Steve Breen (World Pilot’s Day)
Today is World Pilot’s Day, and our favorite pilot is Violet. She lives in a boat-shaped house next to a junkyard her family owns. From an early age, she loves tinkering with junk more than anything else in the world. An air show competition inspires her to make her best invention yet, The Flying Hornet. But an unexpected turn of events prevents her from ever reaching the competition.
A lot of children’s books cover tinkering and invention, but not many have such a satisfying ending. This book will have your kids jumping up and down in excitement, grinning from ear to ear.
April 27 – Shh! We Have a Plan, Chris Haughton (humor)
This exuberant and strikingly illustrated book appealed to all my children. It centers on the four heroes’ quest to catch a firebird. They have a plan. But things don’t always go according to plan, do they?
My kids laughed over the silliness, studied the shades of blue (who knew there were so many), and found a lot of topics for discussion. Should the bird be caught? Is it a good idea to go with the crowd? How do we learn from our mistakes?
April 28 – This is a Serious Book, Jodie Parachini (humor)
Nothing ridiculous is allowed in this book. But the animals keep breaking the rules by making faces, jumping up and down, and even … farting. They also misbehave in the museum and LIBRARY. Before she accomplishes her goal of making everyone behave, the author gives up, and the book ends with an exuberant celebration and a CAKE.
Small children know just how boring it is to behave and be quiet, so this story resonates with them. Most parents won’t find this book funny, but children do as is evident from their desire to read it again and again.
April 29 – The Runaway Bunny, Margaret Wise Brown (bunnies)
Finally, some love for bunnies. You didn’t think we would finish April without some bunny books, did you? The Runaway Bunny, written 80 years ago, tells a tale of a bunny who was in a playful mood one day, “So he said to his mother, “I am running away.” “If you run away,” said his mother, “I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.”
No matter what means of escape little bunny comes up with, his mommy finds a way to bring him safely home. This sweet children’s book about a mother’s love and family bonds has been a bedtime staple in our house for over a decade.
April 30 – How Jelly Morton Invented Jazz, Jonah Winter (Jazz Day)
Today is International Jazz Day, and if you’re going to read about jazz with kids, pick a copy of How Jelly Morton Invented Jazz.
If you think your kids won’t be interested in a jazz book, they might be in this one. It has a dynamic narration, spectacular oil illustrations, and very interesting rhymes.
I thought I heard Mister Jelly Roll too
Sayin’ “I invented jazz in 1902.
It was me who invented jazz – ’cause it sure wasn’t you.”
I thought I heard him too…”
We still don’t know if Jelly Morton invented jazz or not, but one thing is clear: we enjoy this book.