Inside: Children’s book suggestion for every day in May. Updated for 2021. Discover unforgettable stories, get lots in creative plots, and enjoy imaginative illustrations. Click each month to be taken directly to that list: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November, and December.
“The world’s favorite season is the spring. All things seem possible in May,” said an American naturalist and Pulitzer-prize winner Edwin Way Teale. Each day of the year is, of course, a beautiful opportunity to learn, grow, and begin again, but in the spring, we seem to have more enthusiasm, confidence, and clarity for it.
I recently realized that in my family, May became the month when my kids try a new sport, music instrument, or hobby. Some of those things they have tried have become their big passions. Help your children harness this sense of energy and learn to direct their drive.
The name “May” comes from the Latin Maius, the Roman goddess of spring. “In ancient Roman religion and myth, Maia embodied the concept of growth, as Her name was thought to be related to the comparative adjective maius, major, “larger, greater.”
May is a great month of the year to read books about growing a garden, growing up, and a growth mindset. Books about nature, running wild, and spring cleaning.
In May we celebrate teachers, police officers, mothers, dinosaurs (May 15th), Cinco de Mayo, Star Wars (May 4th), space (May 3rd), and the end of World War II.
Some famous people who were born in May are Florence Nightingale, Queen Victoria, Peter the Great, physicist Gabriel Fahrenheit, painter Henri Rousseau, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Books for May
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May 1 – On the Morn of Mayfest, Erica Silverman (Mayfest)
From the beginning of time, people made a big deal about the arrival of spring. They celebrated it under open skies with food, flowers, music, and dancing. In On the Morn of Mayfest, readers will find their heads spinning as they follow the progress of a young girl through the town on the morning of the Mayfest.
In this cumulative tale (aka This is the house that Jack Built), actions repeat and build up until everyone is in the street celebrating. Caldecott Award medalist Marla Frazee’s engaging illustrations capture the jamboree’s playfulness. You’ll especially enjoy this book if you like tongue-twisters and bouncy rhymes.
May 2 – The Runaway Egg, Katy Hudson (National Brothers and Sisters Day)
Chick’s brother is not even hatched yet, but he’s already causing trouble. Instead of exploring the farm, Chick has to keep the egg safe while Mama Hen is away. And things get even worse when poor Chick is dragged into a high-speed barnyard chase to return a runaway egg to the hen house before Mama comes back.
This beautifully illustrated book is not only an excellent spring read-aloud but also a creative take on sibling relationships and bonding. Perfect for the National Brothers and Sisters Day.
May 3 – How to Teach a Slug to Read, Susan Pearson (Teacher Appreciation Week)
This year (2021), Teacher Appreciation Week starts on Monday, May 3rd, and ends on Friday, May 7th. We all can remember teachers who made a lasting contribution to our lives. National Teacher’s Day is the day we say thank you to all the wonderful people who inspired us, believed in us and changed us in some important way. One of the ways you can celebrate National Teacher’s Day is with good books about teachers.
How to Teach a Slug to Read is a funny story that will help your kids appreciate how much patience and effort is put into teaching. It has humorous cartoony illustrations and clever slug parodies on popular children’s books (i.e., The Slug in the Hat). My kids adore all the Slug Nursery Rhymes. “Little Miss Muffet sat in a tuffet eating her curds and whey. Along came a slug and gave her a hug and told her to have a nice day.”
May 4 – Nuts in Space, Elys Dolan (Star Wars Day)
Star Wars Day is certainly one of our favorite holidays and the day we celebrate all things Star Wars. While my kids have many favorite Star Wars books, Nuts in Space is an indisputable winner. They regularly pull this laugh-out-loud book from the shelf and read it in full or in part. Speech bubbles, thought bubbles, funny labels, hilarious characters, snappy dialog, and inventive plot combine to create a story that is a joy to read over and over again. It’s also one book that my two boys love to read and discuss together: it’s their bonding thing.
The crew of the Forest Fleet’s finest starship is under orders to bring the Lost Nuts of Legend from the very edge of deep space. Commander Moose, Navigation officer Owl, and the rest of the animals are very hungry, but it’s nothing compared to their troubles when they meet The Death Banana crew. My kids tell me it’s a parody on Star Wars: New Hope.
May 5 – Let Me Help! Alma Flor Ada (Cinco de Mayo)
“Cinco de Mayo” is Spanish for “5th of May,” a day that commemorates the Mexican army’s victory in the Battle of Puebla, but, in fact, it has grown into a big celebration of Mexican-American culture.
In Let Me Help, Alma Flor Ada takes us into the heart of a large family as they prepare for Cinco de Mayo. Mami is making tamales in the kitchen. In the living room, Elena is making paper flowers. The girls are dressing up for folkloric dance performance, and the guys are on the front porch practicing their trumpets for their mariachi number. With all the running and rushing, it’s no wonder that Elena forgot to close the parrot’s cage. Uh-oh!
May 6 – Florence Nightingale, Demi (National Nurses Day)
Dedicated to celebrating the nursing profession, National Nurses Week starts on May 6 on National Nurses Day and runs until May 12th (the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing).
Before Florence Nightingale became famous for her nursing, she was a rich girl growing up in luxury (and, yes, she was named for a town in Italy). When she first expressed her desire to become a nurse, her parents were horrified. They just wanted her to be a proper society lady. But eventually, her resolve eroded their resistance, and they gave in.
This picture book packs a surprising amount of information. We especially enjoyed reading about her pioneering medical research and her tireless efforts to improve army hospitals. The illustrations by the award-winning author and illustrator Demi are bright and beautiful.
May 7 – How to Catch A Star, Oliver Jeffers (Space Day)
Space Day, celebrated on the first Friday in May, is dedicated to promoting math, science, technology, and engineering education, and to inspire kids to pursue careers in science. It’s a great day to learn about space exploration, the mysterious expanse of the universe, and what a wide range of jobs are necessary to do space research. From astronomers, physicists, and space scientists to aerospace engineers (who design, construct and test aircraft) and hardware engineers (who design and use equipment to measure activity in outer space or on Earth) space missions require a wide variety of skills.
In this gorgeously illustrated book, a young boy braves climbing the tallest trees, heavy lifting, and a long wait all in the hopes of catching a star. As everyone knows, catching a star is not
easy possible, but persistence is usually rewarded—even if not in an expected way. This book would be of great interest to all space lovers.
May 8 – The Butterfly, Patricia Polacco (Victory Day)
The Butterfly is a suspenseful and haunting picture book about World War II from master storyteller Patricia Polacco. The drawings are extraordinary, and the plot will pull on your heartstrings. Monique, a young French girl, discovers that her mom is hiding a Jewish family in their cellar. The Jewish girl is the same age as Monique, and friendship is quickly formed. One day the girls get careless and are seen by a neighbor. It soon becomes a race against time to save both families.
The book is based on real events and spurred a great many conversations in my house about bravery, hope, and resilience. Warning: the story is a bit longer than you would expect from a picture book, so if your kids feel especially energetic today, do some jumping jacks before sitting down to read it.
May 8 – The Little Engine that Could, Watty Piper (National Train Day)
This year (2021) National Train Day is also on May 8. It started thirteen years ago by Amtrak to promote railway travel and the history of trains and grew in popularity over the years. Like all children, my kids love books about trains, and we’ve amassed quite a collection over the years.
One of our all-time favorites is The Little Engine that Could. We all want to think that if we truly believe something, we can make it come true. This book gives us hope that with the power of positive thinking, determination, and perseverance, we can achieve anything. The story is considered an American folktale. The earlier version of this story was published in 1906, but the one we know today was first published in 1930 and was illustrated by Lois Lenski. (You can see her original illustrations here).
May 9 – Harry on the Rocks, Susan Meddaugh (Mother’s Day)
There are many amazing books about mother’s love, the special bond between a mother and child, and sentiments so moving that you simply can’t read them without tearing up (I’m thinking of Love you Forever by Robert Munsch).
Today I want to recommend a book that might seem like a peculiar choice until you read the last page. But don’t read the last page until you get to the last page or it will spoil the punch line. It’s really amazing, I promise, and I guarantee you will laugh-out-loud!
Harry on the Rocks is one of my favorite picture books of all time. A storm, a shipwreck, an uninhabited island, and a mysterious egg— it gets even better after that. All my four kids said on at least one occasion, “This is the best book ever!” And “I love this book!”
May 10 – Clean Your Room, Harvey Moon! Pat Cummings (Clean Up Your Room Day)
Parents always tell their kids to clean their rooms, but they never teach them how to clean or how to develop a workable routine for putting things back.
In this book, poor Harvey wakes up on a Saturday morning and waits for his favorite show, but “with only minutes left to go, he heard a voice of doom. ‘Today, young man,’ his mother said, ‘Is the day you clean your room!’”
His mother hands him a broom, and five hours later they discover that their idea of cleaning differs in important ways. Cummings’s humorous illustrations and cheerful rhymes make my kids laugh. Consider reading this book as a source of inspiration before tackling a particularly messy room.
May 11 – Skunk’s Spring Surprise, Leslea Newman (spring)
If you want your kids to fall in love with poetry, read them this playful and bouncy rhyming book. A skunk wakes up after a long winter’s nap:
“She blinks her eyes and shakes her head,
Then jumps right up and makes her bed.
“Hooray! My winter nap is done!
It’s time for me to have some fun.”
But where are skunk’s friends? What happened to them during the long winter?
It’s a fun book to read over and over, and, like me, you might be surprised to one day discover your kids pirouetting around a room and reciting from memory, “Turtle strikes a Skunk-like pose, then dances lightly on his toes.”
May 12 – Silly Goose’s Big Story, Keiko Kasza (humor)
Written by one of our favorite writers, this lively, warm, and humorous tale of friendships and getting along had us enthralled. Goose has a storytelling talent, and the stories he makes up for his friends lead to hours of imaginative play. The problem is that he always reserves the leading role for himself, and his friends have had enough. Before a heated disagreement can erupt into a full-blown conflict, a big hungry wolf makes his move. And now it’s a matter of time before someone’s going to get eaten. Keiko Kasza’s fresh, original style and imaginative plots always surprise us.
May 13 – Suki’s Kimono, Chieri Uegaki (Asian Heritage Month)
May is the month we celebrate the culture, history, and traditions of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States. It wasn’t easy for me to pick just one book among so many deserving candidates, so I asked my kids, and they picked Suki’s Kimono.
Suki’s two sisters wanted to wear new and “cool” clothes that all the other kids in school wear. But “[Suki] didn’t care for new. She didn’t care for cool. She wanted to wear her favorite thing. And her favorite thing was her kimono.”
What we learn by the end of the book is that authentically embracing “different” is ultimately more satisfying and rewarding than trying to blend in. It’s a great book to generate talk about having confidence in being who you truly are and respecting others who are different.
May 14 – Infinity and Me, Kate Hosford (Gabriel Fahrenheit’s Birthday)
Today’s the birthday of Gabriel Fahrenheit, the physicist who invented mercury thermometers and created the Fahrenheit scale. I don’t know any good picture books about this guy that I can recommend, so I picked a great STEAM book instead.
Infinity and Me explores the idea of thinking as a way to interact with the world. And it provokes many different conversations about science and the philosophy of life. Would you want to be eight years old forever? Would you want to eat your favorite ice-cream for eternity? How many times can you cut a noodle in half? Do you know the names of your grandparents’ parents?
The whimsical illustrations by very talented illustrator Gabi Swiatkowska make this seemingly complex book interesting for even little kids.
May 15 – Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs: As Retold by Mo Willems (Dinosaur Day)
This hilarious story relates the misadventures of three dinosaurs—Papa Dinosaur, Mama Dinosaur, and some other Dinosaur who was visiting from Norway. “Har! Har! Horjfsk! Huugrk!” It might sound to you like an evil laugh, and it very well might be, but it can also be a polite Norwegian expression.
The three hungry dinosaurs are hoping to catch a poorly supervised human child, and to that effect, they cook three bowls of chocolate pudding at various temperatures. The double-spread illustration of Papa using a thermometer and ice to bring the puddings to the right temperatures, while the other two dinosaurs set up beds and chairs in the background, is too funny for words.
This book will have you and your kids rolling on the floor laughing. Mo Willems is the best!
A Day at the Police Station, Richard Scarry (May 15th is also Police Officers Memorial Day)
Police Week (May 19 – 15, 2021) and Police Officers Memorial Day on May 15th is a great excuse to read Richard Scarry’s A Day at the Police Station. (As if we really needed an excuse to read Richard Scarry).
Bridget is in tears. Her father, Sergeant Murphy, is supposed to take her to the amusement park, but another officer is sick, and he has to work her shift. Bridget says, “I don’t like that you’re a police officer. You’re always on duty!” What’s worse Bridget’s mom has to work, too, so Bridget has to go to the police station with Dad.
Before long, she is pulled into a whirlwind of police activity. A ghost is doing something crazy in a bathroom, a lost toddler is crying in the street, someone stole Mr. Frumble’s hat (again!), and Bananas Gorilla fell in the water in his Bananamobile. Before the day is over, Bridget learns to appreciate how hard her dad works.
May 16 – Florette, Anna Walker (Gardening)
Mae likes to spend her days listening to the birds in the trees and gathering leaves and sticks. But when her family packs all their possessions in boxes and moves to the city, Mae’s heart is broken. The city apartment offers few opportunities for fun with nature, and the local park is paved with stones.
A brilliant idea comes to Mae when she follows a bird to a magical green space. Every time we read this book, my kids start planting and decorating their play space with plants. When I read in the interview that with this book the author wanted to inspire children to create their special place in the world, I couldn’t help but smile because she was definitely successful. The artwork is simply exquisite and was the winner of The best-illustrated children’s books award in 2018.
May 17 – A Bike Like Sergio’s, Maribeth Boelts, (National Bike Month)
Sometimes a bike story is not about a bike, but about the absence of a bike. Ruben wants to ride a bike to school like all the other kids, but his parents can’t afford one since they can hardly scrape up enough money for groceries. When Ruben finds a one-hundred-dollar bill, it’s as if his wildest dreams have come true. The only problem is that he knows who dropped the money and he knows giving the money back to that person is the right thing to do. It’s a great book to open a discussion about moral values and integrity.
May 18 – The Most Amazing Dinosaur, James Stevenson (International Museum Day)
There’s something titillating about a scary book set in a museum. You begin wondering if the story’s events might happen to you the next time you visit a museum. (We just finished reading Relic with my oldest son, and he’s pretty sure there’s a museum monster in every museum in the world. It’s just kept a secret 😉
In The Most Amazing Dinosaur, all Wilfred (a rat) wants is a place to rest during a snowstorm. Little does he know that he will fall into a full-blown adventure involving a night in the museum, the snobby museum director, new friends, and a dinosaur skeleton. It’s a fun story for kids 5 and up, illustrated with Stevenson’s signature pen-and-ink drawings accompanied by watercolor splashes. This book is also great to celebrate Dinosaur Day on May 15th.
May 19 – The Gardener, Sarah Stewart (Plant Something Day)
Today’s a great day to read books about gardens, planting, and seeds because it’s Plant Something Day. Do you plant a vegetable garden with your kids? It’s one of my favorite things to do!
Sarah Stewarts’ The Gardener is wonderfully written with a heady mix of sentimental and informative. It’s the Great Depression, and Lydia Grace leaves her family in the country to go live with an uncle she’s never met before. Her uncle, who never smiles, owns a bakery in a big city. Lydia Grace knows a lot about gardening but little about baking. It’s okay; she has a secret—you never really stop being a gardener. David Small’s detailed and delicate artwork is a lot of fun to look at again and again.
May 20 – The First Strawberries: a Cherokee Story, retold by Joseph Bruchac (Pick Strawberries Day)
We love North American Indian legends, especially the ones that explain how things came into existence. When an Indian woman walks out on her husband after a fight, the Sun scatters bright red strawberries at her feet to stop her from getting away. “To this day, when the Cherokee people eat strawberries, they’re reminded to always be kind to each other; to remember that friendship and respect are as sweet as the taste of ripe, red berries.” Beautiful watercolor illustrations in soft greens and browns complement the sparse text.
May 21 – The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, Michelle Markel (Henri Rousseau’s Birthday)
Whether or not your children have ever heard of the artist Henri Rousseau, they will be utterly impressed by this colorful biography. At the age of 40, he decided to be an artist. The only problem was that he’d never had any artistic training, and he was too poor to take art classes. But he didn’t let anything stop him. He worked as a toll collector and spent his whole salary on art supplies and started to teach himself to paint.
Henry Rousseau’s inspiration was nature, especially the jungle. He was too poor to ever visit the real jungle, but he studied illustrations in magazines and visited a hothouse. And he painted, painted, and painted. A pot of lentils had to last a week so that he could buy more paints. Harsh critics kept saying that his work was childish and awkward. But Henry Rousseau kept painting. Today his work lives in the most prestigious art museums around the world.
May 22 – The Case of the Missing Donut, Alison McGhee (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Birthday)
Today is the birthday of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, inventor of Sherlock Holmes and author of the first dinosaur bestseller The Lost World. When I was a kid, I inhaled Conan Doyle’s books. There is something very exciting about trying to figure out mysteries along with the main characters, isn’t there? My own kids are great fans of mysteries, too. They love the Boxcar Children series, A to Z mysteries, and Nate the Detective.
My mystery fans also love The Case of the Missing Donuts. In this funny story, a young boy living in a small town is tasked with an important mission to bring a dozen donuts home safely. But on the way home, a donut crime is committed. Much of the charm lies in the hilarious illustrations. Just wait till you see the page where “the sheriff” is trying to act normal.
May 23 – Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion, Alex Smith
Is there a new way to tell the Little Red Riding Hood tale? You bet! This Little Red is living in the savanna, and she needs to deliver face spot medicine to her auntie. The Very Hungry Lion has “a very naughty plan” to eat both Little Red and her aunt, but he is not a match for the spunky little girl.
Each page of the author’s imaginative, vibrant, and interactive illustrations invites hours of exploration. Little details, like glasses on the giraffe’s nose, the crocodiles’ tea party, or the baby elephant’s grocery basket delighted my children. Alex Smith is our fresh discovery this year, and we’re now looking forward to reading his Claude series.
May 24 – Queen Victoria’s Bathing Machine, Gloria Whelan (Queen Victoria’s Birthday)
If you expect a book about Queen Victoria for kids to be as boring and stuffy as historical books about Queen Victoria for adults (maybe I just had bad luck with my selections), you’re in for a very pleasant surprise. This book is funny, educational, and extremely entertaining. With bouncy rhyming text and detailed, absolutely charming illustrations by one of our favorite illustrators, Nancy Carpenter, this book is a pure delight.
In the mid-19th century, Victorian England exalted chastity, dignity, restraint, and long petticoats. Queen Victoria was suffering: “her petticoats itched, and her corset was tight.” She just wanted a swim in the sea, but no, NO, “it would be a disgrace to see more of a queen than her hands and her face.”
Luckily for Queen Victoria, her husband Albert “was a firm believer in the benefits of sea bathing,” so he set out to invent the bathing machine for his wife. At the end of the book, there are many resources if you wish to explore Queen Victoria and her machine in more detail.
May 25 – A Home for Mr. Emerson, Barbara Kerley (Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Birthday)
Emerson was born on May 25th over two hundred years ago. He wrote about nature, the appreciation of life, trusting oneself, and avoiding conformity. He famously said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Use his birthday as an excuse to learn more about this American thinker with your kids.
A Home for Mr. Emerson is a colorful and warm introduction to Emerson’s life. I like the addition of his most famous quotes and the suggestion page for self-discovery writing activities. My six-year-old was a bit bored, but the older kids liked it. Read this author’s biography of Mark Twain as well.
May 26 – Pluto’s Secret: An Icy World’s Tale of Discovery, Margaret Weitekamp (National Paper Airplane Day, Sally Ride’s birthday)
Today is National Paper Airplane Day and the birthday of Sally Ride, the first American woman in space. Unfortunately, I don’t know any interesting books specifically on these two topics (we are open to your suggestions), but we do know a few fun space books.
Do your kids know why Pluto is no longer called a planet? This highly entertaining and informative book will explain everything you ever wanted to know about Pluto. But that’s not all. You will also learn how astronomers work, how they come up with names for their discoveries and classify planets, and how definitions are created.
We loved the entertaining artwork and inventive presentation. This book might inspire your kids to want to learn even more about outer space.
May 27 – Rachel Carson and Her Book That Changed the World, Laurie Lawlor (Rachel Carson’s Birthday)
One day at the park (back when I still had a toddler who liked to toss his half-eaten crackers in all directions), we observed a beautiful and unusual bird sitting on a branch nearby, eyeing the tossed cracker and making melodious chirping noises. “Listen, Mom,” said my daughter, and then added, “Imagine if there were no birds.” Well, that possibility was exactly what Rachel Carson described in her book Silent Spring, a ruined environment in which “the sedge is wither’d from the lake, / And no birds sing.” This book, released in 1962, became an international bestseller, led to a nationwide ban on DDT in agriculture, and is credited with sparking the environmental movement that culminated in the creation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
This biography of Rachel Carson introduces her early childhood, college years, and career as a scientist and shows us how she came to sound the alarm on the disastrous effects of human carelessness and negligence upon our world. The book is perhaps a bit too detailed for younger kids, but bright tempera paint and ink illustrations help a lot.
May 28 – The Honeybee, Kirsten Hall (bees)
We all love this bright, beautiful, rhyming book about the life of bees, especially my 6-year-old. This book answers so many questions about bees that kids have: What do bees do in the winter? What’s going on inside the hive? Do bees “talk” to each other? How do they spend their days in the summer? Kirsten Hall has managed to create a narrative filled with a sense of excitement and wonder. You won’t be able to help smiling at tangerine orange pops of color; playful rhymes; and gorgeous ink, gouache, and pencil artwork.
May 29 – Poem-Mobiles: Crazy Car Poems, J. Patrick Lewis and Douglas Florian (Paperclip Day)
If you want to plant a love of poetry in your kids, read them Poem-Mobiles. Those crazy car poems roll off the tongue, and the illustrations are a boys’ heaven. “The paper car is very hip / And comes with a big paper clip. / So very fine and light as air, / A small breeze takes it anywhere.” A great poem for Paperclip Day today.
May 30 – Peter the Great, Diane Stanley (Peter the Great’s Birthday)
Diane Stanley did a fantastic job of painting a portrait of one of Russia’s most favorite tsars. Peter the Great was the first tsar who traveled west to learn all that he could. He worked at shipyards, studied anatomy, and apprenticed himself as a carpenter. Everywhere he went, he asked questions, “What does it do? How does it work?” Historical sources say that “he could not cross a bridge without stopping to see how it was constructed.”
Peter’s curiosity, energy, eagerness to learn everything, and open-mindedness make him an inspirational character. This book might be best for kids older than 8.
May 31 – Run Wild, David Covell (Memorial Day)
Memorial Day, on the last Monday in May, is the day we remember the men and women who died in military service. Do you know how you can best honor them? By celebrating life!
Run Wild is our new discovery last year, and it’s definitely one of the best-illustrated books we have ever come across. It’s about putting electronic devices down and spending time outside, enjoying and exploring the natural world.
The book’s palpable energy is contagious. The bounce of rhymes, the ebullience of pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations, and the enthusiasm for life leap at you from the book’s pages, quickening your heartbeat and exciting your spirits. You and your kids will be reaching for your outside shoes the moment you finish reading this book.