Inside: 31 exciting children’s books to read in January. We prefer unforgettable stories, creative plots, and imaginative illustrations, and I bet you do too!
UPDATED FOR 2023.
January is the first month of the year, and its name comes from the Latin word for “door.” Think of January as the time to open doors to new possibilities and new beginnings.
Talk with your kids about why it’s a good time of the year to make new year’s resolutions, take up a new hobby (it’s National Hobby Month), and pick up some healthy habits (January is also a National Healthy Weight Awareness Month).
In the Northern Hemisphere, where I live, January is also a great time to read about snow, ice, snowflakes, snowmen, and other winter activities. Likewise, it’s a great time to take a hot bubble bath (January 8th is Bubble Bath Day), eat some hot soup for dinner (January is National Soup Month), and make some room on your family calendar for creative projects (it’s International Creativity Month).
In what follows, I’ve provided a brief synopsis of each book to help you determine if it would be a good fit for your children. However, I learned that my kids often surprise me by falling in love with unlikely candidates and rejecting obvious (to my mind) stars.
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The Best Children’s Books to Read in January
January 1: Over and Over, Charlotte Zolotow
The first day of the year, or New Year’s Day, is one of the oldest holidays celebrated by many cultures since ancient times. On this day, I like to read Zolotow’s timeless classic about the passage of a year through the eyes of a little girl. You probably have already noticed that the concept of a calendar year is too abstract for kids. They mark the passage of the year through various holidays and associated activities. I have to credit this book with my first realization of the importance of traditions and making a big deal about each holiday. When kids are all grown up, they might not remember many details about our daily doings, but I’m pretty sure they’ll never forget our celebrations.
January 2: Wolf in the Snow, Matthew Cordell
Looking for a great snow book? Or a book about kindness, family, and love? This 2018 Caldecott Award-winning book is a favorite with all of my children. A snowstorm is happening out in the countryside, and a little girl in a red jacket is lost in the snow. Someone else is lost in the snow—a wolf pup. There are quite a few nail-biting moments, like when the girl comes across a wolf pack, or when she almost freezes in a storm. And at the moment when a little girl, a wolf pup, and a mother wolf all get together on a double spread, we can’t help holding our breath. This exceptional story is told entirely through pen and ink with watercolor illustrations without any words. We each studied the pages of this book hundreds of times, and we can’t get enough of it.
January 3: The Snowbear, Sean Taylor
This magical winter tale is a perfect read for this time of the year. It feels just right to read aloud on a cold day, especially when you are cuddling under the blankets with your kids or sipping a cup of hot cocoa. In this story, two kids build a snowbear that comes alive just in time to save them from a hungry wolf. Did it really happen? Your kids will be insisting that it did. We love the charming snowy landscapes, the magic, and the mysterious ending. If you liked Astrid Lindgren’s Christmas at the Noisy Village when you were a kid, you will definitely like this book.
January 4: Spaghetti and Meatballs for All! Marilyn Burns (National Spaghetti Day)
Do you eat spaghetti? I occasionally eat a bowl of the gluten-free kind, but I’m not a huge fan. My kids, on the other hand, can eat spaghetti every day (especially with meatballs). When I told them that January 4th is National Spaghetti Day, they said we had to celebrate with spaghetti (of course). And I went ahead and put a few picture books about spaghetti on hold at the library. We liked Spaghetti and Meatballs the best because it’s a funny story about a family eating together. Mr. and Mrs. Comfort are hosting a family reunion, spaghetti and meatballs are ready to be served, but there seems to be a little problem with the seating arrangement. The book does a great job of putting abstract mathematical concepts of area and perimeter into a real-life context.
January 5: The Blue Songbird, Vern Kousky (National Bird Day)
This beautiful and lyrical book about searching for your own song poses some heavy questions: Who are you? What do you stand for? What do you have to say that is worth saying? But it doesn’t do it in a preachy way. It’s a heart-warming story of a young bird that leaves the nest to find a song only she can sing and returns home full of surprising discoveries. The bird’s journey is given astonishing visual representation through watercolor illustrations. It’s one of the best children’s books to read today on National Bird day.
January 6: There’s a Giraffe in My Soup, Ross Burach (National Soup Month)
January is a National Soup Month. There are so many fun books about soup I was hard-pressed to pick just one, so I asked my kids for help. They picked There’s a Giraffe in My Soup. One of my children said, “I picked it because it teaches children not to panic in unusual situations.” And another one pointed to a page where it says, “My soup is trying to eat me,” and said, “The grownups never believe children when they say that. So this book teaches grownups a lesson: they’d better start believing before the soup really eats their children.”
So there you have it: develop a true appreciation of your child’s imagination while you can and enjoy the puns and witty banter of this entertaining story. Don’t forget to celebrate all month long with lots of soup. The boy in this story is trying to eat tomato soup. Our favorite soup is squash apple soup.
January 7: The Tale of Baboushka: A Traditional Christmas Story, Elena Pasquali (Orthodox Christmas)
It’s January 7th, and your kids might be interested to learn that 24 million Russian children haven’t received their Christmas presents yet. What? It’s because the Russian Christmas is on January 7th. This folkish story is a great way to introduce kids to legends from faraway lands.
January 8: King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, Audrey Wood (National Bubble Bath Day)
This is the funniest book about bath time you will ever read. The King of all the land is refusing to leave his bathtub, despite the best effort of his Queen, a Duke, and a Knight. The joyful rhyming text is great to read aloud. I’d read this book about a hundred times to my kids when I learned about a different edition that comes with a CD. The musical CD with six beautiful songs makes the story even more amazing. And did I mention the Caldecott medal illustrations that you will spend hours studying? King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub is perfect to celebrate National Bubble Bath Day, which is today.
January 9: What Do You Do with an Idea? Kobi Yamada
“Is this another one of those boring books you think we should read because it’s ‘educational,’” my kids groaned when I mentioned that I had a new growth mindset book to read. After reading it, they were pleasantly surprised! This inspiring story about a boy who learned that when you give your idea time and attention, it can change the world is nothing but entertaining. And if the kids also learn some powerful lessons about self-confidence, fear of criticism, and the judgmental voice in their heads, all the better. We love how illustrations brilliantly move from blah colorlessness as the boy is trying to reject his idea to enchanting explosions of color as the boy embraces his idea and lets it spread its wings.
January 10: Plantzilla, Jerdine Nolen (Houseplant Day)
Today is Houseplant Appreciation Day, and there is no better book in the world to read on this day than Plantzilla. When a third-grade science teacher started a plant appreciation program, he said to his students that “caring for plants in this program gives more benefits than you could ever imagine.” Does it ever! From the moment Plantzilla became Mortimer’s houseplant, suspicious things started happening all over the house. Mortimer even thinks that Plantzilla can move on its own. Creepy? Nah, pure fun! Read this book. It’s so FUNNY!
January 11: Pinkerton, Behave! Steven Kellogg
Every day is a great day to read a funny book, but it’s especially great when the temperatures are low, and everyone is cooped up inside. Steven Kellogg is a superb humorist, and he is sure to entertain your child (and you) with this title. Pinkerton is an adorable Great Dane with extremely poor manners. He doesn’t come when he is called, and he even destroys Mom’s slippers. When the family takes him to obedience school, he teaches other dogs how to disobey. But when a nasty burglar breaks into the house, Pinkerton saves the day. You will have to read the book to find out how. I guarantee that your kids will be laughing hysterically and begging you to read it again and again.
January 12: The Snowflake Sisters, J. Patrick Lewis
If you read only one poetry book this month, make it this one. The plot, the rhyming verse, the wordplay, and the intriguing illustrations all combine to create a wonderful winter read. All my kids want to reread this story over and over, and I’m glad because reading The Snowflake Sisters is pure joy. “Oh, Let us snow then, you and I, // While we have wet winds to fly, // While the children come and go—// Tongues inviting us to snow.” (Does it remind you of T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’s lines, “Let us go then, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky.”?)
January 13: Because a Little Bug Went Ka-Choo! Rosetta Stone (International Skeptics Day)
Today is International Skeptics Day, the holiday I love very much. It’s so important to teach kids to think critically about the things they hear, read, or take for granted. I know some adults who believe things just because they read about them on the internet or heard about them on TV. The word “skeptic” comes from the Greek “to inquire” or “look around.” People who challenge commonly held assumptions become inventors and millionaires. Steve Jobs was one, and so was Galileo.
In this fun, rhyming book, written by Dr. Seuss under a pen name, we hear a pretty inventive story that the author claims really happened: “And that’s how it happened. Believe me. It’s true.” Ask kids to look for supporting evidence for the author’s claim that it was true. Discuss the difference between accepting things at face value and employing a healthy dose of doubt.
January 14: Listen Buddy by Helen Lester
I’m not completely sure what exactly creates the attraction in this book, but all my kids went through a stage when reading it a few times each day was a must. The story is about one distracted bunny. His head is always up in the clouds, which makes him very bad at listening. When his dad asks him for a pen, Buddy brings him a hen, and when his mom asks for a slice of bread, he brings her a slice of… bed (yep, he used a saw. My kids love this part). But then something happens that teaches Buddy a lesson and improves his listening skills once and for all. What a fun way to deliver a powerful message that listening is an active choice.
January 15: The Magic Hat, Mem Fox (National Hat Day)
Celebrate National Hat Day by wearing your funniest hat and reading this delightful rhyming book. The magic hat appeared in town out of nowhere and started turning people into animals. A mother carrying a child turned into a kangaroo with a baby in a pouch, and a sleepy old man on a bench turned into a dancing bear. Where is it going to stop? We love to sing the repeated verse altogether, “Oh, the magic hat, the magic hat! It moved like this, it moved like that!” I also sing this part, shifting the hat to the left and the right of my baby’s head before putting her hat on. She hates wearing hats, but not when I sing this verse.
January 16: Dear Dragon, Josh Funk (Dragon Day)
Today is Dragon Appreciation Day, one of our favorite holidays. We have so many favorite dragon books that we even made a whole list of them (Dragon Books for Kids). Dear Dragon is a funny book about friendships. When George is assigned a pen pal by the name of Blaise, he is not happy because he doesn’t like writing. But he’s growing increasingly excited about it as he learns more things about Blaise. Blaise loves attacking castles (toy ones, obviously), and Blaise’s father won the local fire-breathing contest twice (way too cool). The anticipation builds up until the day of the pen pal picnic when George gets to meet Blaise, who turns out to be a … DRAGON!
Looking for a dragon science activity to go with this book? We made a dragon fire that is actually green!
January 16: When Martin Luther King Jr. Wore Roller Skates, Mark Weakland (Martin Luther King’s Day)
Celebrate Martin Luther King’s birthday with a good biography. This is the best biography of Martin Luther King written for kids and the only one my kids didn’t proclaim “borrrr-iiing.” I can’t say enough good things about Mark Weakland’s biography series for kids. He has a great talent for uncovering little-known facts that children can relate to and delivering them in a way that kids find entertaining. He makes historical biographies fun. Our current favorites are When Walt Disney Rode a Pig and When Neil Armstrong Built a Wind Tunnel. In this title, we learn what Martin Luther King’s childhood was like, about his roller skates, and what shaped his views of the world.
January 17: The Oatmeal Boy, Jeanette Foster + Seven Silly Eaters, Mary Ann Hoberman (National Oatmeal Month)
Did you know that oats are the most popular breakfast food in the world? And that we buy more oats in January than at any other time of the year? For that reason, January has been proclaimed National Oatmeal Month. I couldn’t choose between two great books about eating oats. A book about a boy who didn’t eat oats (The Oatmeal Boy) and a book about a boy who loved oats a bit too much (Seven Silly Eaters). Both books are funny family read-aloud, well-written and illustrated, and open doors to a discussion about health and nutrition.
January 18: Winnie the Pooh, A. A. Milne (Alan Alexander Milne’s Birthday)
Today is the birthday of Alan Alexander Milne, creator of Winnie the Pooh. This most famous bear in the world made his first appearance in 1925 in a short story about Milne’s son’s favorite teddy bear that he named Winnie after a bear in London’s zoo (the original Winnie was a girl). The success of the short story prompted the publication of the Winnie the Pooh book a year later. Interestingly enough, Winnie Pooh’s stories were intended for an adult audience, and Milne never read them to his son Christopher.
My favorite quote from the book is, “You’re braver than you believe and stronger and smarter than you think.” And a favorite quote to think about is, “People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.” If you don’t have time to read the full version, Disney came up with 5-minute Winnie-the-Pooh stories that might work better with your busy schedule.
January 19: Popcorn, James Stevenson (Popcorn Day)
James Stevenson is one of my favorite children’s authors. Did you read his Fried Feathers for Thanksgiving or Emma? They are laugh-out-loud funny and so inventive! In Popcorn, we meet a very unusual collection of poems for kids. Poems? Yawn… I noticed at read-aloud that reading poetry makes some kids bored and restless, and I heard adults say, “My kids don’t like poetry.” But were those kids taught how to appreciate and enjoy poetry?
My strategy is to start by saying that the job of a poet is to paint vivid pictures in our minds with the least amount of words. I say, “Tell me if this poet did a good job. I will read you one short poem, and you tell me what images came to your mind. What did you see with your mind’s eyes?”
One poem in this collection starts with “It’s late in December. A cold wind is blowing.” It’s impossible not to shiver reading these words. Poems often make us feel something: “Chelsea is gone… Her green collar lies in her empty dish.” Yep, it’s about the death of a pet. Other poems make us realize the truth of something that we haven’t noticed before: “A good thing about bakery is if you don’t see what you want, you’ll want what you see.” (By the way, today is Popcorn Day!).
January 20: Three Cheers for Tacky, Helen Lester (Penguin Awareness Day)
Our favorite penguin in the world is Tacky (“of course”). Tacky is a penguin that can’t do anything like normal penguins even when he tries. It’s okay; his mishaps result in comical effects and hilarious consequences. And everyone loves him for that. There are a few more books in this series, some funnier than others.
January 21: The Rag Coat, Lauren Mills
Do you feel like reprimanding your kids harshly when they ask for YET another toy or if they act entitled to have things go their way? I find that reading a book about children who experience hardships naturally opens the door for a productive discussion about appreciating what we have and not expecting to have every wish granted at once. This heartwarming tale is about an eight-year-old girl who dreams about going to school. Her family is so poor that they can’t afford to buy her a winter coat, and the Appalachian winter is cold. The neighbors come up with a creative solution to her predicament, but it seems to have created a new problem for the little girl. This book is amazingly well-written and illustrated. Warning for the parents of sensitive children: the father dies.
January 22: Bringing in the New Year, Grace Lin (Chinese New Year)
January 22nd is Chinese New Year, celebrated by 20% of the world’s population. There are quite a few books about the Chinese New Year for kids. I picked one by Grace Lin because she writes comforting stories about families and love. Also, her illustrations are bright and beautiful. She has written several excellent books for kids, and we fell in love with her writing from the first book, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. In Bringing in the New Year, a little girl and her family are sweeping the house, cooking, and decorating to bring in the New Year. (Have you seen A Big Moon cake for Little Star, the newest book by Grace Lin?)
Related: Ring In The Chinese New Year with Dragon Art & Puzzle
January 23: How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, Marjorie Priceman (National Pie Day)
There is only one way to celebrate National Pie Day! By eating pie, of course. Oh, wait, there is another way: by reading a terrific book about pies. There are many delightful books on this subject, but Marjorie Priceman’s How To Make An Apple Pie is an indisputable classic. What if you couldn’t buy ingredients for your pie at the store? You would need to travel the world and gather the right ingredients yourself. The charming illustrations are full of details that offer new discoveries with each re-reading. There is a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor. If you have a map, you can learn geography by finding all the countries mentioned in the story. There is a bit of science, too (i.e., how salt is retrieved from seawater and how sugar is made from sugar canes).
January 24: Going Places, Peter and Paul Reynolds (International Creativity Month)
January is International Creativity Month, and I can’t think of a better book about creativity and thinking outside the box than Going Places, written by the talented Reynolds brothers. The book’s main idea is to stop looking for a precise set of instructions, forget what everyone else is building, shake off the culture of conformity, and let your imagination take you wherever it will.
This is one of my favorite books on creativity for kids! It delivers an excellent lesson wrapped up in an entertaining format; it’s truly well-written and illustrated. The book is a big hit with all my children. Every time we re-read it, they hold their breath as if they really don’t know who will win the race. (After reading this book, go to a furniture store and ask them for a giant box. Give it to your kids to build their own “go-kart.” They will have a blast!)
By the way, today is also National Peanut Butter Day. I know you will enjoy our Peanut Butter Science!
January 25: Stop, Go, Yes, No! Mike Twohy (Opposite Day)
There are lots of books about opposites for kids, but none are as loved by all my children as this one. Geisel Honor Winner Mike Twohy has developed an amazing story (that I never tire of re-reading) in just 28 words! There is only one word per page, but it’s enough to create a funny and clever story about an enthusiastic dog who wants to cuddle and a sleepy cat who doesn’t. Cartoon illustrations are genius and extend the story.
January 26: Diary of a Wombat, Jackie Wombat (Australia Day)
Whether you are looking for a great book to celebrate Australia Day or you want to inspire your kids to start a dairy, this book is for you. In this hilarious book, we get a glimpse into the life of an Australian wombat and her interactions with humans. Who knew wombats could be so mischievous and so funny? The book concludes on an optimistic note that “humans are easily trained and make quite good pets.” All my kids say that it’s one of the funniest children’s books we have ever read.
January 27: Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake, Michael B. Kaplan (Chocolate Cake Day)
Celebrate Chocolate Cake Day today with our favorite book about chocolate cake. All of my kids adore this funny book about a bunny who loves a chocolate cake (perhaps) a bit too much. The watercolor illustrations are vibrant, the plot is thick, and it’s a great pleasure for kids to feel wiser than Betty Bunny. We love reading books that feature a cake so much that we made a list of our favorites, 20 Children’s Books about Cake.
January 28: Good Night Owl, Greg Pizzoli
An award-winning author and illustrator, Greg Pizzoli, has done it again. He created a hilarious book with a fun story and entertaining illustrations. In Good Night Owl, an owl takes his house apart to find the mysterious source of squeaking that disturbs his rest. According to my son, this story is about overreaction. My daughter said that the moral of the story is that sometimes you just have to let things go and not finish what you started because “it’s smarter that way.”
January 29: One Snowy Night, Nick Butterworth
You’re probably familiar with this classic winter scenario: it’s cold outside, and the animals are coming one by one to share the warmth of a small shelter. There are a great many books on this subject. This one, however, has an unexpected solution to the problem of small space. It might not be as famous as Jen Brett’s The Mitten (a book with the same plot), but it’s ultimately much more satisfying to my kids because, in this version, everyone finds a cozy bed for the night. This book is part of the series about Percy, the park keeper, which sold nine million books.
January 30: Rosie Revere, Engineer, Andrea Beaty (National Hobby Month)
Did you know that January is National Hobby Month? It’s been scientifically proven that hobbies make us healthier and happier. So why not pick up a new hobby this year?
Sit down with your kids and make a list of the new hobbies they might like to try. May we suggest tinkering? In Rosie Revere, Engineer, a best-selling Chicago author, tells a rhyming tale of a second-grader who likes to invent things with the items out of a recycling bin.
It’s a great lesson that you don’t need fancy equipment and a science lab to do great things. All you really need to start is a curious mind and some junk. In a playful way, this book teaches accepting limitations and celebrating mistakes. I’m also in love with the fun mixed-media illustrations by the celebrated British illustrator (and author) David Roberts.
January 31: The Ish, Peter H. Reynolds (Inspire Your Heart With Art Day)
I’m delighted to close this list with a suggestion for Inspire Your Heart with Art Day. Today offers a good excuse to visit an art gallery or ballet performance, do some messy art at the kitchen table, and, of course, read a good book about creativity. It’s so important to teach our kids strategies to deal with criticism, perfectionism and getting unstuck.
In The Ish, a young boy’s creative flames die out after his older brother laughs at his painting. The book has many powerful lessons for young artists, among them the notion that sometimes striving to get things right might end up killing the joy of doing it. It’s an enjoyable book with a great plot and cute pen-and-ink illustrations.