Here are a few of our favorite picture books for 2nd and 3rd graders (although kids of all ages will love these).
Affiliate links are included. Summaries are from Amazon.com
Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley
Buckley and his Mama live in a cozy cabin by the ocean. He loves to carve boats out of the driftwood he finds on the beach nearby.
short boats and
each one more beautiful than the last, and sends them out to sea. If they don’t come back, he knows they’ve found their way to his papa, whom he misses very much.
Water Is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul
Drip. Sip. Pour me a cup. Water is water unless…it heats up.
Whirl. Swirl. Watch it curl by. Steam is steam unless…it cools high.
This spare, poetic picture book follows a group of kids as they move through all the different phases of the water cycle. From rain to fog to snow to mist, talented author Miranda Paul and the always remarkable Jason Chin (Redwoods, Coral Reefs, Island, Gravity) combine to create a beautiful and informative journey in this innovative nonfiction picture book that will leave you thirsty for more.
Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova by Laurel Snyder
One night, young Anna’s mother takes her to the ballet, and everything is changed. So begins the journey of a girl who will one day grow up to be the most famous prima ballerina of all time, inspiring legions of dancers after her: the brave, the generous, the transcendently gifted Anna Pavlova. Swan: The Life and Dance of Anna Pavlova is a heartbreakingly beautiful picture book biography perfect for aspiring ballerinas of all ages.
Little Tree by Loren Long
In the middle of a little forest, there lives a Little Tree who loves his life and the splendid leaves that keep him cool in the heat of long summer days. Life is perfect just the way it is.
Autumn arrives, and with it the cool winds that ruffle Little Tree’s leaves. One by one the other trees drop their leaves, facing the cold of winter head on. But not Little Tree—he hugs his leaves as tightly as he can. Year after year Little Tree remains unchanged, despite words of encouragement from a squirrel, a fawn, and a fox, his leaves having long since turned brown and withered. As Little Tree sits in the shadow of the other trees, now grown sturdy and tall as though to touch the sun, he remembers when they were all the same size. And he knows he has an important decision to make.
Marvelous Cornelius: Hurricane Katrina and the Spirit of New Orleans by Phil Bildner
In New Orleans, there lived a man who saw the streets as his calling, and he swept them clean. He danced up one avenue and down another and everyone danced along. The old ladies whistled and whirled. The old men hooted and hollered. The barbers, bead twirlers, and beignet bakers bounded behind that one-man parade. But then came the rising Mississippi—and a storm greater than anyone had seen before.
Leo: A Ghost Story by Mac Barnett
You would like being friends with Leo. He likes to draw, he makes delicious snacks, and most people can’t even see him. Because Leo is also a ghost. When a new family moves into his home and Leo’s efforts to welcome them are misunderstood, Leo decides it is time to leave and see the world. That is how he meets Jane, a kid with a tremendous imagination and an open position for a worthy knight. That is how Leo and Jane become friends. And that is when their adventures begin.
Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle
Girls cannot be drummers. Long ago on an island filled with music, no one questioned that rule—until the drum dream girl. In her city of drumbeats, she dreamed of pounding tall congas and tapping small bongós. She had to keep quiet. She had to practice in secret. But when at last her dream-bright music was heard, everyone sang and danced and decided that both girls and boys should be free to drum and dream.
Inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.
The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton
Princess Pinecone knows exactly what she wants for her birthday this year. A BIG horse. A STRONG horse. A horse fit for a WARRIOR PRINCESS! But when the day arrives, she doesn’t quite get the horse of her dreams…
Home by Carson Ellis
Home might be a house in the country, an apartment in the city, or even a shoe. Home may be on the road or the sea, in the realm of myth, or in the artist’s own studio. A meditation on the concept of home and a visual treat that invites many return visits, this loving look at the places where people live marks the picture-book debut of Carson Ellis, acclaimed illustrator of the Wildwood series and artist for the indie band the Decemberists.
Yard Sale by Eve Bunting
When a family has to leave their house and move to a small apartment, it’s hard to let go of things—but having one another is what counts.
Almost everything Callie’s family owns is spread out in their front yard—their furniture, their potted flowers, even Callie’s bike. They can’t stay in this house, so they’re moving to an apartment in the city. The new place is “small but nice,” Mom says, and most of their things won’t fit, so today they are having a yard sale. But it’s kind of hard to watch people buy your stuff, even if you understand why it has to happen. With sensitivity and grace, Eve Bunting and Lauren Castillo portray an event at once familiar and difficult, making clear that a home isn’t about what you have, but whom you hold close.
Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh by Sally M. Walker
Who could care for a bear?
When Harry Colebourn saw a baby bear for sale at the train station, he knew he could care for it. Harry was a veterinarian. But he was also a soldier in training for World War I.
Harry named the bear Winnie, short for Winnipeg, his company’s home town, and he brought her along to the training camp in England. Winnie followed Harry everywhere and slept under his cot every night. Before long, she became the regiment’s much-loved mascot.
But who could care for the bear when Harry had to go to the battleground in France? Harry found just the right place for Winnie while he was away―the London Zoo. There a little boy named Christopher Robin came along and played with Winnie―he could care for this bear too!
Over and Under the Snow by Kate Messner
Over the snow, the world is hushed and white. But under the snow lies a secret world of squirrels and snow hares, bears and bullfrogs, and many other animals making their winter home under the snow. This beloved nonfiction picture book exploring the subnivean zone reveals the tunnels and caves formed beneath the snow but over the ground, where many kinds of animals live through the winter, safe and warm, awake and busy, but hidden beneath the snow.
Balloons over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade by Melissa Sweet
Everyone’s a New Yorker on Thanksgiving Day, when young and old rise early to see what giant new balloons will fill the skies for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Who first invented these “upside-down puppets”? Meet Tony Sarg, puppeteer extraordinaire! In brilliant collage illustrations, Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet tells the story of the puppeteer Tony Sarg, capturing his genius, his dedication, his zest for play, and his long-lasting gift to America—the inspired helium balloons that would become the trademark of Macy’s Parade.
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins
In this fascinating picture book, four families, in four different cities, over four centuries, make the same delicious dessert: blackberry fool. This richly detailed book ingeniously shows how food, technology, and even families have changed throughout American history.
In 1710, a girl and her mother in Lyme, England, prepare a blackberry fool, picking wild blackberries and beating cream from their cow with a bundle of twigs. The same dessert is prepared by an enslaved girl and her mother in 1810 in Charleston, South Carolina; by a mother and daughter in 1910 in Boston; and finally by a boy and his father in present-day San Diego.
Kids and parents alike will delight in discovering the differences in daily life over the course of four centuries.
Red by Jan de Kinder
In this poignant story, a girl finds it funny when her classmate starts blushing on the school playground. Her friends laugh along with her, but one student takes the teasing too far. Torn between her sympathy for her classmate and her fear of the bully, the girl must make a difficult choice.
This heartfelt book will inspire readers to find the courage to take a stance against bullying and show compassion towards others.
Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steve Jenkins
Half the earth’s surface is covered by water more than a mile deep, but most of this watery world is a mystery to us. In fact, more people have stood on the surface of the moon than have visited the deepest spot in the ocean. Come along as we travel down, down, down, from the surface to the bottom of the sea. Along the way you can see jellyfish that flash like a neon sign, creatures with teeth so big, they can’t close their mouths, and even a squid as long as a bus, which battles to the death with a sperm whale, the largest predator on earth. It’ll be a journey you won’t soon forget!
The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig
Meet Brian, the invisible boy. Nobody ever seems to notice him or think to include him in their group, game, or birthday party . . . until, that is, a new kid comes to class.
When Justin, the new boy, arrives, Brian is the first to make him feel welcome. And when Brian and Justin team up to work on a class project together, Brian finds a way to shine.
From esteemed author and speaker Trudy Ludwig and acclaimed illustrator Patrice Barton, this gentle story shows how small acts of kindness can help children feel included and allow them to flourish. Any parent, teacher, or counselor looking for material that sensitively addresses the needs of quieter children will find The Invisible Boy a valuable and important resource.
Manfish: A Story of Jacques Cousteau by Jennifer Berne
Once upon a time in France, a baby was born under the summer sun. His parents named him Jacques. As he grew, Jacques fell in love with the sea. He dreamed of breathing beneath the waves and swimming as gracefully as a fish. In fact, he longed to become a manfish. Jacques Cousteau grew up to become a champion of the seas and one of the best-known oceanographers in the world.
Where Did My Clothes Come From? by Chris Butterworth
Fun retro illustrations entice kids to follow the thread and learn where their clothes had their start—and how they were put together.
Did you know that the cotton for your jeans was picked from a bush? How did the colorful wool in your sweater get from a sheep’s back to a ball of yarn? Where did your soccer uniform, your rain boots, and your fleece jacket come from? And what does recycling plastic bottles have to do with anything? Visit farms, forests, and factories all over the world to find out how everything you wear has a story behind it.
Gordon Parks: How the Photographer Captured Black and White America by Carole Boston Weatherford
His white teacher tells her all-black class, You’ll all wind up porters and waiters. What did she know? Gordon Parks is most famous for being the first black director in Hollywood. But before he made movies and wrote books, he was a poor African American looking for work. When he bought a camera, his life changed forever. He taught himself how to take pictures and before long, people noticed. His success as a fashion photographer landed him a job working for the government. In Washington DC, Gordon went looking for a subject, but what he found was segregation. He and others were treated differently because of the color of their skin. Gordon wanted to take a stand against the racism he observed. With his camera in hand, he found a way.
Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson
For every child who has ever looked up at the stars and asked, “What are they?” comes the story of a curious boy who never stopped wondering: Carl Sagan.
When Carl Sagan was a young boy he went to the 1939 World’s Fair and his life was changed forever. From that day on he never stopped marveling at the universe and seeking to understand it better. Star Stuff follows Carl from his days star gazing from the bedroom window of his Brooklyn apartment, through his love of speculative science fiction novels, to his work as an internationally renowned scientist who worked on the Voyager missions exploring the farthest reaches of space. This book introduces the beloved man who brought the mystery of the cosmos into homes across America to a new generation of dreamers and star gazers.
Monster Needs Your Vote by Paul Czajak
Election season is here and Monster is ready to vote! But why cast your ballot when you can run for president instead? With speeches, debates, and a soapbox or two, Monster’s newest tale is a campaign encouraging kids to take a stand and fight for what they believe in.
The Day the Crayons Came Home by Drew Daywalt
I’m not sure what it is about this kid Duncan, but his crayons sure are a colorful bunch of characters! Having soothed the hurt feelings of one group who threatened to quit, Duncan now faces a whole new group of crayons asking to be rescued. From Maroon Crayon, who was lost beneath the sofa cushions and then broken in two after Dad sat on him; to poor Turquoise, whose head is now stuck to one of Duncan’s stinky socks after they both ended up in the dryer together; to Pea Green, who knows darn well that no kid likes peas and who ran away—each and every crayon has a woeful tale to tell and a plea to be brought home to the crayon box.
New Shoes by Susan Meyer
When her brother’s hand-me-down shoes don’t fit, it is time for Ella Mae to get new ones. She is ecstatic, but when she and her mother arrive at Mr. Johnson’s shoe store, her happiness quickly turns to dejection. Ella Mae is unable to try on the shoes because of her skin color. Determined to fight back, Ella Mae and her friend Charlotte work tirelessly to collect and restore old shoes, wiping, washing, and polishing them to perfection. The girls then have their very own shoe sale, giving the other African American members of their community a place to buy shoes where they can be treated fairly and “try on all the shoes they want.”
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul
Plastic bags are cheap and easy to use. But what happens when a bag breaks or is no longer needed? In Njau, Gambia, people simply dropped the bags and went on their way. One plastic bag became two. Then ten. Then a hundred.
The Promise by Nicola Davies
On a mean street in a mean, broken city, a young girl tries to snatch an old woman’s bag. But the frail old woman, holding on with the strength of heroes, says the thief can’t have it without giving something in return: the promise. It is the beginning of a journey that will change the thieving girl’s life — and a chance to change the world, for good. Here is the story of a magical discovery that will touch the heart and imagination of every reader, young and old.
Mr. Ferris and His Wheel by Kathryn Gibbs Davis
Capturing an engineer’s creative vision and mind for detail, this fully illustrated picture book biography sheds light on how the American inventor George Ferris defied gravity and seemingly impossible odds to invent the world’s most iconic amusement park attraction, the Ferris wheel.
A fun, fact-filled text by Kathryn Gibbs Davis combines with Gilbert Ford’s dazzling full-color illustrations to transport readers to the 1893 World’s Fair, where George Ferris and his big, wonderful wheel lifted passengers to the skies for the first time.
Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George
This is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species, lived to be one hundred years old, and became known as the rarest creature in the world. His story gives us a glimpse of the amazing creatures inhabiting the ever-fascinating Galápagos Islands.
Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 by Michelle Markel
From acclaimed author Michelle Markel and Caldecott Honor artist Melissa Sweet comes this true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history. This picture book biography includes a bibliography and an author’s note on the garment industry. It follows the plight of immigrants in America in the early 1900s, tackling topics like activism and the U.S. garment industry, with handstitching and fabric incorporated throughout the art.
When Clara arrived in America, she couldn’t speak English. She didn’t know that young women had to go to work, that they traded an education for long hours of labor, that she was expected to grow up fast.
But that didn’t stop Clara. She went to night school, spent hours studying English, and helped support her family by sewing in a shirtwaist factory.
Clara never quit, and she never accepted that girls should be treated poorly and paid little. Fed up with the mistreatment of her fellow laborers, Clara led the largest walkout of women workers the country had seen.
From her short time in America, Clara learned that everyone deserved a fair chance. That you had to stand together and fight for what you wanted. And, most importantly, that you could do anything you put your mind to.
Firebird by Misty Copeland
In her debut picture book, Misty Copeland tells the story of a young girl–an every girl–whose confidence is fragile and who is questioning her own ability to reach the heights that Misty has reached. Misty encourages this young girl’s faith in herself and shows her exactly how, through hard work and dedication, she too can become Firebird.
The Tree Lady: The True Story of How One Tree-Loving Woman Changed a City Forever by H. Joseph Hopkins
Unearth the true story of green-thumbed pioneer and activist Kate Sessions, who helped San Diego grow from a dry desert town into a lush, leafy city known for its gorgeous parks and gardens.
Katherine Olivia Sessions never thought she’d live in a place without trees. After all, Kate grew up among the towering pines and redwoods of Northern California. But after becoming the first woman to graduate from the University of California with a degree in science, she took a job as a teacher far south in the dry desert town of San Diego. Where there were almost no trees.
Kate decided that San Diego needed trees more than anything else. So this trailblazing young woman singlehandedly started a massive movement that transformed the town into the green, garden-filled oasis it is today. Now, more than 100 years after Kate first arrived in San Diego, her gorgeous gardens and parks can be found all over the city.
Part fascinating biography, part inspirational story, this moving picture book about following your dreams, using your talents, and staying strong in the face of adversity is sure to resonate with readers young and old.
Grandfather Gandhi by Arun Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace.
How could he—a Gandhi—be so easy to anger?
One thick, hot day, Arun Gandhi travels with his family to Grandfather Gandhi’s village.
Silence fills the air—but peace feels far away for young Arun. When an older boy pushes him on the soccer field, his anger fills him in a way that surely a true Gandhi could never imagine. Can Arun ever live up to the Mahatma? Will he ever make his grandfather proud?
What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada
This is the story of one brilliant idea and the child who helps to bring it into the world. As the child’s confidence grows, so does the idea itself. And then, one day, something amazing happens.
This is a story for anyone, at any age, who s ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It s a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn t going anywhere. In fact, it’s just getting started.
Miss Moore Thought Otherwise: How Anne Carroll Moore Created Libraries for Children by Jan Pinborough
Once upon a time, American children couldn’t borrow library books. Reading wasn’t all that important for children, many thought. Luckily Miss Anne Carroll Moore thought otherwise! This is the true story of how Miss Moore created the first children’s room at the New York Public Library, a bright, warm room filled with artwork, window seats, and most important of all, borrowing privileges to the world’s best children’s books in many different languages.