Inside: Are you looking for unforgettable stories, creative plots, and imaginative illustrations? Here is a great book suggestion for every day in September.
Leaves are ready to turn colors, apples and pumpkins are pleading to be picked — yep, it’s fall! In honor of the season, this month we are reading books about apples, leaves, pumpkins, wind, and colder weather.
Fall is when we decorate our house with beautiful leaf crafts, do apple and pumpkin science experiments, and make apple butter. What are your favorite fall activities?
The word “September” comes from the Latin “septem,” meaning “seven,” because originally it was the seventh month of the year in the Roman calendar. Even when two more months were added at the beginning of the year, the name stayed the same.
In September, we celebrate The Day of Knowledge, Labor Day, banned books, pirates, Johnny Appleseed, and Roald Dahl.
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1 – Doug Unplugged, Dan Yaccarino (Day of Knowledge in Europe and Russia)
This science-fiction picture book is perfect for celebrating the Day of Knowledge. Doug’s parents want what’s best for their son. That’s why every day, they plug him into a computer, and he fills up with lots and lots of facts. How many gallons of water city fountains pump every minute, how many floors are in the tallest skyscrapers, and that pigeons… When a real pigeon lands on his window sill, Doug learns something that wasn’t in the download.
The point of the story is that there is more to life than learning through downloading. My kids were delighted to talk about the possibility of being raised by robots. They also reflected on how their lives would be different if, in order to learn something, all they did was plug themselves into a computer. The minimalist art and the skillfully disguised lesson on the benefits of hands-on learning are fantastic. This book is a must for all robot lovers.
2 – Fall is not Easy, Marty Kelley (Fall)
This is the kind of book that you finish with a smile on your face no matter how many times you’ve read it before. And perhaps you’ll even exclaim, “That’s just brilliant!” I’m not sure what’s the secret ingredient that makes it so good. The story and the drawings are simple and a bit silly, yet the overall impact is smashing.
The tree in the story believes that he is not doing autumn right, but we, as readers, see that he is doing quite all right. One message of the book is about not being overly judgmental about outcomes of our creative endeavors. Another is accepting oneself for what one is. The book fills us with a sense of endless possibilities. Often when we finish the book, my kids start coming up with crazy and funny suggestions for the tree’s artwork.
3 – Rotten Richie and the Ultimate Dare, Patricia Polacco
Patricia Polacco is a wonderful writer — wise, funny, and touching. I think her power originates in writing from her personal experience about emotional topics such as getting along with siblings.
In this story about getting along she shares the time in her childhood when she and her brother had underestimated how much training goes into each other’s hobbies. Her brother thought that ballet was just a bunch of twirling around that he could do with his eyes closed. And she thought that hockey was just a bunch of skating in circles with a stick. They are both in for a bit of a surprise when they have to (literally) step into each other’s shoes. The author’s expressive, comical, adorable drawings are perfect for the story, and we love the addition of family photographs.
4 – The Wump World, Bill Peet (National Wildlife Day)
This book was an instant hit with all of my children. I knew it would be because they love wildlife, and conservation and preservation issues are close to their hearts.
In this story, a group of Pollutians arrives on a planet called The Wump World. They quickly colonize the planet, build roads and skyscrapers, and keep building until the water and air are completely polluted. At this point, Pollutians get into their spaceships and take off in search of a better life elsewhere. Tragically, the original inhabitants of the planet, the Wumps are left to deal with what’s left. Even though there is a bit more text than is typical for a children’s book, the drawings are beautiful and engaging, making it a captivating book for all levels.
5 – Fall Leaves, Loretta Holland (Leaves)
I find that most children’s books that try to teach kids about the change of seasons are pretty didactic and quite boring. They’re written to inform, not to entertain. But not Fall Leaves. This fun book is filled with strikingly beautiful illustrations and with lots of bright colors. Even though there’s a lot of educational information (“In our universe, everything is always moving: the earth spins like a top while moving in a large circle around the sun.”), it doesn’t take away from the entertainment. Even my toddler sticks around because she is busy looking at the kids in the story and is occasionally trying to pick them up with her chubby little hands. I don’t blame her. Some things look so 3D it’s hard to believe that it is a flat piece of paper.
Definitely check out Elly MacKay’s website to see how she does her artwork. It’s quite amazing.
6 – It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk, Josh Funk (National Read a Book Day)
To celebrate “Read a Book Day” today, I want you to read something exceptionally good. It’s Not Jack and the Beanstalk is a hilarious book my kids love to pull off the shelf often and look for more fun things they missed on previous readings. As usual, Funk is a master of weaving together an exciting tale with unexpected details, twists, and turns.
In this story, there are three voices. A Narrator, who is trying to tell the story of Jack and the Beanstalk in a traditional style. Young Jack, who is an avid rock-climber and has his own ideas about how this story should go. And a peaceful Giant, by the name of Fred, who is a vegan. As you can imagine, this setup is ripe with opportunities for humor. I just love imaginative new takes on old classics, don’t you?
7 – A Job for Wittilda, Caralyn and Mark Buehner (Labor Day )
Labor Day is a national Federal holiday that celebrates men and women who get things done and allow America to prosper. It’s common to celebrate this day with beach trips, backyard parties, and parades (maybe not this year… thanks, COVID). But a good book can make any situation feel better, right?
A few picture books are great for Labor day. The Berenstain Bears on the Job takes a look at how many different jobs are out there. Busy, Busy Town demonstrates how many businesses (and workers) it takes to have a town run smoothly. And our favorite — A Job for Wittilda —takes a comical look at what it takes to get and keep a job. Wittilda is a witch with 40+ cats to feed and empty cupboards. She discovers that getting a job starts with taking a good look at her professional strengths and weaknesses.
Today is also an Independence Day in Brazil.
The Great Kapok Tree, Lynne Cherry (Brazil Independence Day)
The Amazon rainforest covers much of northwest Brazil. It’s a little known fact, but in 2018, 17% of the Amazonian forest was already destroyed and scientists estimate that the 20-25% mark is a tipping point when an irreversible process of flipping the Amazonian forest into a non-forest ecosystem will be set in motion. Scary? Our kids need to know this.
The Great Kapok Tree is a beautiful tale of the Amazon rainforest. In a non-preachy way, it paints a colorful picture of what happens when trees are cut down, leading to the loss of biodiversity. It got my kids thinking and asking, “What can we do?”
8 – Creepy Pair of Underwear! Aaron Reynolds (Humor)
Creepy Pair of Underwear! is definitely among the funniest picture books we have ever read. When this little bunny got a new pair of underwear, he got much more than he bargained for. His underwear is creepy, and it won’t go away. When he finally mails it to China, it comes back with chopsticks as souvenirs. Your kids (and you) will be surprised at the ending. The main messages of the story are conquering one’s fears and reframing expectations.
The book is brilliantly written, and Peter Brown’s genius illustrations are a treat. After reading the book, ask your kids what they would have done if they got a pair of creepy underwear that has a mind of its own. It might make for a fun discussion.
9 – Corduroy, Don Freeman (National Teddy Bear Day)
Today is National Teddy Bear Day. What’s your favorite teddy bear story? We love the story of Corduroy, a teddy bear who wanders around a giant department store at night looking for adventures. All my kids love the happy ending when Corduroy finds love, a comfy bed, and a teddy bear’s happy ever after in the hands of a kind little girl named Lisa.
Corduroy sold 20 million copies around the world, but it was repeatedly rejected by the various publishers when Freeman wrote it in the ‘60s. Isn’t it remarkable?
10 – Wolf Camp, Andrea Zuill (Dogs)
We always have a great time reading this humorous book. An adorable dog by the name of Homer, who loves nothing better than his electric blanket and snacks, decides to get a taste of the wild. In the wild camp, run by wolves, Homer tries his hand (paw) at hunting, eating raw food, and sleeping under the stars. All of these turns out to be far less enjoyable as Homer imagined they would be. As you can picture, the situation is full of opportunities for laugh-out-loud antics.
One of my favorite parts of the book is about the evolution of dogs. After a series of hilarious calculations comparing apples and bananas titled DNA proof, we read “This scene might not have actually happened.” It gives parents an excellent opportunity to talk about what makes a statement scientific and why kids shouldn’t believe everything they hear from friends or read in books.
11 – Friend on Freedom River, Gloria Whelan (September 11th)
What does freedom mean to you? Freedom of movement, freedom of expression, freedom from terrorism, all of the above? For the characters in Friend on Freedom River, freedom is something worth dying for. This story gives me goosebumps. Some parts of the narrative are just sad, as when a little girl learned how to cry silently so that her family wouldn’t be caught. And when the patrol boat sweeps by with the lantern light inches away from the main character’s boat, my heart beats so loud I feel like the patrol guards will surely hear it.
The artwork is evocative, and you will have a great discussion with your kids about the story: Could they imagine being Louis in the story? Could they risk the lives of their own mother and their father to save complete strangers? The only thing I don’t like in the book (and I sure mentioned it to my kids) is the fact that Louis engages his mother in a merry dance so that he can steal some chocolate bread from her. It seemed dishonest, distasteful, and (I’m sure) it made her feel like a fool when she found out the truth.
12 – The Rough Patch, Brian Lies (National Day of Encouragement)
Can you imagine a whole day dedicated to encouraging, supporting, and inspiring each other? That’s what September 12th, the National Day of Encouragement, attempts to accomplish. It’s our chance to remember “that everyone you meet is afraid of something, loves something and has lost something.”
The Rough Patch is a brilliant, beautiful, and touching book about Evan, who lives an ordinary life. He plays games, listens to music, and potters in the garden with his best friend until “the unthinkable happens.” This book is a great reminder that bad things happen, and when they do, all we can do is take small steps forward and remember the light at the end of the tunnel.
Reading this book with your kids is a great excuse to talk about compassion and that we always can do something for our fellow human beings. We can smile and be friendly, or stop and help. We can also lend an ear, say “thank you,” and be more patient.
13 – The Giant Hug, Sandra Horning (Grandparents Day)
What a funny story about a boy who wants to send his grandma a real hug by mail. We giggled when Owen walked up to the unsuspecting post office clerk and gave her a hug with the instruction to pass it on to the sorting clerk. The hug was then passed on to the driver, who passed it on to another driver, who passed it on to a pilot, and on and on. It seems that everyone in the story could use a good hug. It even helped two young people in love to finally find the courage to talk to each other honestly.
The real humor comes at the end when Grandma gets her hug. She then kisses the postman and says, “Send that grandson of mine a big kiss.” It’s such a simple but beautiful lesson that all people can appreciate some attention — be it a smile, a wave, eye contact, or even (when appropriate) a hug.
Today is also the birthday of Roald Dahl.
The Invisible Boy, Trudy Ludwig (Roald Dahl’s Birthday)
I can still remember the silence in the car during one road trip when we were listening to audio novels Matilda and The Witches with my kids (aged 4, 6, and 8 then). “When a Roald Dahl story gets you in its grip, there’s nothing quite like it.” That’s why we are very excited about Roald Dahl Day, celebrated every year on September 13th, the author’s birthday. My kids, as always, plan to make a few “revolving recipes” from Roald Dahl’s cookbook. You can also print a full lesson plan from the BBC website here.
One of the common themes that run through many of Dahl’s books is bravery. Bravery doesn’t always mean climbing into burning buildings and saving lives. Most acts of bravery are small but important. If Roald Dahl’s novels are too long for you to read today, check out Trudy Ludwig’s story. In The Invisible Boy, bravery involves taking the first step, showing empathy, and making an effort. Those are all acts of bravery that kids can practice every day. Bravery doesn’t always feel like bravery, but it has the power to lift people—and that’s priceless.
14 – What If Everything Had Legs, Scott Menchin
We saw this book on display at the library a few years ago when we were looking for fall books. On the cover, a bunch of colorful maple leaves with tiny legs are running off the page. It became our tradition to check out this adorable and creative story from the library every September.
On a walk home with her mom, a tired girl imagines how much easier her life would be if their house had legs and could come to her. She longs for this to happen until her mom says that then cupcakes could have legs too and run away. Thinking up all the comical things that could happen if everything had legs makes the journey home more enjoyable. I think it’s useful to teach kids how they can use their minds to get through hard or boring moments.
16 – How to Code a Sandcastle, Josh Funk (National Coding Week 2020 is Sep 14-20)
You will want this book in order to introduce your kids to the fundamentals of coding in a fun way. In this beach story, a girl is trying to build a sandcastle with the help of a robot. She gives him different commands and discovers that sometimes he takes things a bit too literally. When she tells him to bring something for decoration, he brings her a lifeguard. “IF the item you see is small and doesn’t move and doesn’t belong to anyone THEN bring the item back to the castle or ELSE find something different,” she clarifies, and things go a bit smoother after that. This book might inspire your curious kids to try coding. If that happens, check out Bits box. We’ve been using it in my house for over a year with fabulous results.
17 – We the Kids, David Catrow (Constitution Day)
“We the Kids of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” David Catrow created the most adorable way to learn and understand the preamble to the constitution. My eight-year-old read the book while I was cooking dinner. I saw her giggling the whole time, and then she brought it to me with, “That’s such a great book! You have to read it, Mom!” I’ve since read this for a story time with all of my kids multiple times. Even my toddler and my tween love it.
If you’re familiar with David Catrow’s work, you’ll recognize his signature bright, comical, cartoonish watercolor illustrations. The extravagantly big words of the Constitution might seem baffling to kids: “Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare…” And it might be hard for them to see its relevance. In a totally genius way, We the Kids allows children to see how the words apply to their lives directly. David Catrow made the document come to life. Follow up the reading by a discussion about justice, freedom, and welfare.
18 – Willa and the Wind, Janice M. Del Negro (Wind)
Do you and your kids like to read about heroes and heroines who surprise you? Then this book is for you. Willa is a spunky, red-haired girl who is not afraid to confront the fierce North Wind when it blows the last bits of cornmeal out of her dinner bowl. The story is based on an old Norwegian tale, and it has all the elements of a classic fairytale: three trials, supernatural aspects, a feisty hero/ine, a problem, a solution, and a universal lesson — fight for what you believe in. We liked the colorful language: “Don’t yell at me, you no-good, no-account thieving windbag. I am Willa Rose Mariah McVale, and I want the cornmeal you stole, so give it back.” The artwork is bright and furious.
19 – The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still, Karlin Grey (National Gymnastics Day)
Celebrate the National Gymnastics Day with a game of Twister or some other physically demanding activity. In my house, we love playing the backyard Olympics. My kids toss rings, hop through the backyard, hula hoop, and jump rope for a chance to win a medal. (We actually have four medals, so everyone ends up with a medal, but my kids get competitive anyway).
The Girl Who Couldn’t Sit Still will resonate not only with kids interested in competitive sports but with all the kids who were ever told, “Why can’t you sit still!” Nadia Comaneci, who is one of the most famous gymnasts in the world, was once a little girl who couldn’t sit still. During her career, she broke many gymnastics’ records and became the first gymnast EVER to get a perfect “10” score. Charming illustrations are full of movement and make you want to jump up and make a cartwheel. We made a Literature Unit based on this book, and Karlin Grey, the book’s author, sent me some useful links I included in the pack.
Today is also International Talk Like a Pirate Day.
Louise, The Adventures of a Chicken, Kate DiCamillo (International Talk Like a Pirate Day)
Oh, pirates! I don’t know why pirates capture kids’ imagination so much. Is it the aura of bravery and adventure? Or is it all the attributes of a pirate lifestyle: maps, gold, mystery, Jolly Roger, and impressive combat skills?
The heroine of this story, Louise, dreams of adventure. She leaves her comfortable farm and boards a ship. Traveling the majestic seas is fun unless you are captured by the marauding pirates. Don’t worry, Louise is going to be ok. There are three stories in this one book, and your kids will want to read it again the moment you finish. We enjoyed the large-format illustrations and vertical spreads.
20 – Argus, Michelle Knudsen (Dragon)
This humorous, heartfelt, and extremely enjoyable tale is about standing out. Sally’s class is raising chicks for a science project; only Sally’s chick seems to be more inclined to eat other chicks or even students than to behave like an ordinary bird. Sally would do anything to have an ordinary chick just like everyone else until the day something unexpected happens. This is a great book to help kids to understand why they shouldn’t feel bad if they don’t fit in and why we should embrace our unique circumstances. We all love this book. And the ink and watercolor illustrations are very enjoyable.
21 – Pardon Me! Daniel Miyares (International Day of Peace)
On this day, the United Nations Peace Bell is rung at UN Headquarters in New York City to inaugurate the International Day of Peace. Sometimes kids (and even us adults) have trouble being tolerant with others, especially when we feel tired, or annoyed, or simply want to be alone. As this brilliantly funny book demonstrates, letting your anger get the best of you might not be the best solution even when you are tired.
The story starts with a little bird that just found a sweet spot where it could rest. But the peace is short-lived as other creatures discover the nice spot and join the bird. Finally, something so completely unexpected happens that you will be exclaiming, “it’s brilliant,” at the same time as your kids will be flipping the book back to the beginning and shouting, “Read it again!” I hope this book will encourage you and your kids to pardon each other always.
22 – The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown, Mac Barnett (Banned Books Week: September 27 through October 3, 2020)
Yes, Mac Barnett, the legendary author of Extra Yarn and illustrator of Battle Bunny (a book my son calls “genius“), wrote a biography of Margaret Wise Brown. While peacefully reading the beloved Goodnight Moon to your kids (probably for the zillionth time), you might be blissfully unaware of the fact that Margaret Wise’s books were banned during her lifetime. Yep, someone somewhere some time ago thought that Margaret Wise Brown’s books were utterly inappropriate for your kids.
I love reading Goodnight Moon. Each of my kids went through a long streak of being obsessed with this book. And I’m sure I’ve read it millions of times by now.
I cannot envision The Important Thing about Margaret Wise Brown becoming your favorite book, but I nevertheless think it’s one you need to read with your kids. The illustrations are beautiful, and, most importantly, my two older kids had a huge “aha” moment when they realized how many things in life are just a matter of opinion and how important it is to use their judgment before accepting what anyone said.
Today is also the First Day of Fall.
Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn, Kenard Pak (First Day of Fall)
Celebrate the first day of fall with this beautiful book by the talented artist Kenard Pak. In the fall, cool winds come, branches sway in the sun, and animals are busy saving food for winter. The art is infused with the warm shades of autumn, and this book makes us want to run outside. It’s also a great inspiration for creating a fall bucket list.
24 – Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, Julia Rawlinson (Leaves)
Filled with rich illustrations and lyrical text, this story takes us through the changing seasons. At the center of the story is a tree. On the front flap, we see this tree in the spring. The title page shows the same tree in the summer. The story starts on the following page at a time when “swishing sounds of summer (are) fading to a crinkly whisper” and the green of the tree changes to “a dusty gold” of autumn. The impressionistic paintings are gorgeous. We’re in love with the shimmering, sparkling branches of the tree during the winter season. It’s a great book for discussing how even though things don’t stay the same, it’s almost always possible to find something wonderful in changes if we only look.
25 – Too Many Pumpkins, Linda White (Pumpkins)
If you are looking for a fun pumpkin book to read, look no further. Too Many Pumpkins is delightful and creative. Rebecca Estelle wants nothing to do with pumpkins. She had too many to eat as a child, and now, in old age, she still hates them. That’s until an unexpected turn of events leads to a pumpkin invasion. You will be surprised!
This book is extremely funny, philosophical (never say never), and it might inspire your kids to try a variety of pumpkin foods. There is a delicious page in the book filled with pies, loaves of bread, jams, buns, rolls, and cookies — all made from pumpkins. We were just putting together a meal plan for next week, and my kids added a lot of pumpkin things to it.
26 – Apples to Oregon, Deborah Hopkinson (Johnny Appleseed’s Birthday)
This is possibly my favorite children’s book about apples. The year is 1847, and a family of nine (mom, dad, and seven children) is moving from Iowa to Oregon. “[Daddy] couldn’t bear to leave his apple trees behind,” but no worries. He can take his apple trees along. Hundreds of them! What follows is a laugh-out-loud tale of their daring adventure.
The family braves rivers, treacherous hailstones, desert crossings, and mountain climbing, all with hundreds of apples in tow. The book is loosely based on a true story. I’m in love with the gorgeous and hilarious illustrations. After reading this book, you will never take your car for granted again.
Today is also an International Bunny Day.
The Black Rabbit, Philippa Leathers (National Bunny Day)
Today is International Rabbit Day or National Bunny day (depending on your scale of preference). Whatever you choose to call it, you have to admit bunnies are extremely cute. (I hope you got to hold one at some point in your life). Do you know that bunnies are very intelligent? You can train a bunny to use a litter box and come when you call.
Our fascination with bunnies is evident from a wide variety of stories featuring them in our home. From the Tales of Peter Rabbit and The Runaway Bunny to Kenneth and the Dragon and Bunnicula: a rabbit-tale of mystery, there is an exciting bunny tale for readers of all ages.
In The Black Rabbit, trouble comes from a little rabbit’s confusion about how shadows work. He’s (literally) scared of his own shadow until it saves his life. Apparently, wolves are scared of shadows, too. Some questions to ask while reading this story: Why do you think Rabbit can’t get rid of his shadow? What happened to Rabbit’s shadow in the woods?
30 – Hocus Pocus, it’s Fall! Anne Sibley O’Brien
This book is such a pleasure to read over and over again. The pages are thick and glossy, the artwork is absolutely delightful, and the words are filled with lively energy and excitement. “Pick a pumpkin, orange, and fat. Razzle dazzle! Look at that!” And “Wrap up tight with winter near. Hocus pocus! Fall is here!”