How to Pick a Great Picture Book

I am so thrilled to have one of Chicagoland’s greatest gems, Nili Yellin aka The Storybook Mom, write a “book talk” piece for us today about how to pick a great picture book.  If you missed my post about her amazing talents, be sure to check it out.  Take it away, Nili!

Cover then Discover

Don’t judge a book by its cover but the cover should attract you with an interesting design and title. The cover should make you want to pick up the book to know more.

Questions to ask:

Do the words and pictures go together–do they play together well?  

Do you want to turn to the next page?

Do the words have a strong rhythm, do the pictures capture your imagination?

Example:   Leonardo the Terrible Monster by Mo Willems


Voice and Choice

Questions to ask:

Does the author have a strong voice/point of view?

Do the words create a real environment and do the pictures create a world of depth and levels?

Does the story create a chance for questions, discovery and interaction for you and the child as you read it?  

ExampleOne by Kathryn Otoshi


Teach, Don’t Preach

Questions to ask:

Does the story teach something through action and experience?

For example, it shouldn’t hit you over the head but instead has lessons incorporated organically in the events that take place.

ExampleLittle Pea by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and also her book, Cookies


Create and Relate

Questions to ask:

Does the book offer tools to help child navigate their world?

Does it provide safety, comfort, help them deal with their fears?

As Pam Allyn, president of Lit World says, does it “fortify them with words”?  

ExampleGo Away, Big Green Monster by Ed Emberley


Dreams, Not Screams

For the grownups: Is this a story you could read over and over and over and stay interested and enthusiastic about–the best test for a picture book is when you are done you hear “AGAIN, AGAIN, AGAIN……”

Example: Bark, George by Jules Feiffer


The Storybook Mom's Favorite Picture Books -

Pete’s A Pizza–William Steig

Little Pea-Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Cookies–Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Leonardo the Terrible Monster–Mo Willems

One–Kathryn Otoshi

Go Away Big Green Monster–Ed Emberley

Bark, George–Jules Feiffer

Gingerbread Boy  by Richard Egielski

Paperbag Princess-by Robert Munsch

The Gift of Nothing–by Patrick McDonnell

my list could go on and on…..but these are always at the top of the list…


Nili Yelin created  her “sit down, stand up style of storytelling” combining her passion for picture books, comedy, mommyhood and little ones. As The Storybook Mom. Nili performs weekly around the Chicago area. Nili has performed at The Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium,  University Club of Chicago and libraries, schools and festivals. Nili hosts the Chicago Tribune Printer’s Row Lit Fest Kids Stage every June. Come on by this June 6th and 7th and say hi!


  1. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says

    I have always picked a story book for my kids based on the titles. If they lose interest, I just stop reading and move on to the next.

    • amandasimkin says

      It’s also important to give them books that you love to read as well. No one likes a crabby reader!

  2. Chasity Boatman says

    An interesting design is always important for the cover of a book. I always enjoy books with bright colors when picking out books for my son.

  3. Reginia Cordell says

    Penning a child’s fiction or storybook is on my agenda for this year. I’ve had a bit of trouble ensuring the language was suitable for the age group that I’m targeting. Thank you for the tip about organically including the lesson rather than driving to hard with the message.

  4. Rebecca Swenor says

    These are great tips on how to pick a great picture book indeed. All of these are important to look for when picking a book for your children. I love the question on if it is a book you would read over and over again. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Rosey says

    I like the criteria to teach not preach. I am going to miss picture book days, my son is starting to love the chapter books now.

  6. HilLesha says

    I have always had a love for reading, and so has my son. However, my 2 year old daughter hates it. She doesn’t want anyone to read to her. I hope that changes someday soon!

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