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Read With Your Kids to Open Their Minds...and Yours

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Daddying's 2nd Annual Books To Read With Your Kids

Holiday Gift Guide & Book Giveaway!

By Scott Beller

Daddying Editor

Introducing my daughters to new ideas, activities, and life experiences has always been one of my most important jobs as a dad.

Basically, as a parent, I see it as my responsibility to help my kids understand the world around them – beautiful, exciting, messy, and dangerous as it may be. As they get older and become more independent, I want them to be able to make good decisions and navigate their lives safely and with open minds. And just as important, I want them to empathize with how other people experience that same world and, if needed and appropriate, to offer a helping hand.

Like everything else about being a parent, that last part – the putting yourself in other peoples' shoes part – isn't always easy.

Luckily, we parents have some excellent tools at our disposal for exposing our kids to different cultures and ideas and making it a little bit easier for our kids to be open to and ponder new points of view: travel and books. And when for whatever reason we aren’t able to provide the former, books and reading are the next best things to being there.

Since my girls were in preschool, we’ve been lucky to have the means to take them on trips around the U.S. and, more recently, outside of it. But before they were old enough to broaden their perspectives this way, to understand much of what the world and its diverse inhabitants might throw at them, the books we read to them daily were easily-accessible passports to anywhere else they could (and couldn't) imagine.

Sure, books exist to entertain and even distract our little ones. But they also serve to inform, inspire, socialize, challenge what kids think they already know, stoke curiosity, and ignite their imaginations.

And, great news: reading aloud with our kids has as much positive impact on us as parents as it does on them. Not to mention that having our little ones read to us provides us with almost as much joy as the confidence it provides our young readers.

Another benefit to reading together is that, regardless of their age, it offers parent and child precious opportunities in a non-threatening environment to weigh and discuss events, behaviors, and themes in those books. It lets kids share feelings and ask questions. It gives us a chance to validate those feelings and give answers...or admit we don’t have them. And maybe that spurs us to seek out credible sources, to read more, and figure out the answers together.

One of my favorite pieces of parenting advice is that kids should be taught how to think rather than what to think.

Sure, books exist to entertain and even distract our little ones. But they also serve to inform, inspire, socialize, challenge what kids think they already know, stoke curiosity, and ignite their imaginations.

The more kids read, the more they find out. The more they find out, the more they want to read. I believe parents and grandparents (and, yes, teachers and librarians) are and should be a vital part of that cycle. We should be helping facilitate it rather than commandeering it or completely shutting it down, which only damages our kids' freedom and ability to think, grow, and express themselves. From our kids' earliest years, we as parents instill the reading habit by reading with them and providing easy access to a variety of books. As they get older and their tastes and awareness expand, I believe we should be giving our kids even more freedom to choose the material they want to read, not less. And then we should be ready sounding boards for them when they get excited, challenged, or maybe confused by those new books and ideas they’ve discovered.

During these times of reading, sharing, and discovery, kids and parents alike are nourished.

There was no better feeling than having my toddlers on my lap, my arms around them holding a book they asked me to read, seeing and listening to them react to my voice helping bring the pictures and words to life for them. And helping work out the things they didn't yet understand. Now they’re in middle and high school and reading on their own. These days, we mostly discuss what's happening in the episode of Squid Game we're watching or the latest viral TikTok video. While that's fine and we're still able to talk and laugh and explore new ideas, I miss the unique warmth and closeness of those story times gone by.

I’ve read that there’s still great benefit to reading aloud with your older kids. And while I’d love to do it and have suggested it to my girls a few times, they aren't so enthusiastic. Not yet! Maybe one day I'll finally talk them into picking out a book together, each reading our own copy, and then discussing it like a family book club. I'm sure we'd all learn something valuable.

Of course, I could just have them read to me. Anyway, it’s worth a shot.

Maybe we'll get a jump on our New Year's reading resolution by picking out one or more of the middle-school or YA books on this year’s Daddying Books Holiday Gift Guide below. Because they’re such sentimental favorites of ours, you’ll find some of the same titles on this year’s list as appeared on our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide. But fear not, because we made sure to stuff this year’s list with plenty more dad-approved book recommendations for kids, pre-K through high school, and beyond. Some of these are so compelling and thought-provoking, you might want to rush out and buy your copies before some rogue school board tries to ban them.

Happy holiday shopping, everyone – keep reading and daddy on!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many of the award-winning books on our list below have been or are currently being targeted by anti-civil rights and other groups in an attempt to have them banned from school libraries and classrooms in communities across the United States. The reasons for these thoughtful and thought-provoking books being targeted only give us more incentive to heartily recommend them and similar books. The targeted books are denoted with an asterisk.


Daddying Books to Read With YOUR Kids

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Books for Younger Kids (Pre-K and Under 8):

  1. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Daffodil Grey and the Colorful Parade and The Extraordinary Day of Daffodil Grey by Anna Gilchrist

  2. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Samuel's Story by DADvisor Hakim Bellamy and Melvin Mayes (with DJ Flo Fader)

  3. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Go Wild! Sea Turtles (National Geographic) by Jill Esbaum

  4. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals & Shells (National Geographic First Big Books) by Moira Donohue

  5. More Bears! by Kenn Nesbitt and Troy Cummings

  6. Line and Scribble by Debora Vogrig and Pia Valentinis

  7. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale series, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series, Elephant & Piggie series, and My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

  8. Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho

  9. The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

  10. And Tango Makes Three* by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

  11. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

  12. Poem In My Pocket by Chris Tougas and Josée Bisaillon

  13. If You Give A Moose A Muffin (among others in the series) by Laura Numeroff and Felica Bond

  14. Guess Who Zoo and Guess Who Farm by Howard Eisenberg

  15. Wishes by Muon Thi Van and Victo Ngai

  16. Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang

  17. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

  18. We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorelland Frane Lessac

  19. Leo the Late Bloomer (and others) by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego

  20. A World of Pausabilities by Frank Sileo and Jennifer Zivoin

  21. I Am A Bird by Hope Lim and Hyewon Yum

  22. Dragons Love Tacos, Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel, and Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

  23. Aaron Slater, Illustrator (The Questioneers series) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

  24. Shy Spaghetti & Excited Eggs by Marc Nemiroff and Jane Annunziata

  25. Jonathan James & the Whatif Monster by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt

  26. Frederick (and others) by Leo Lionni

  27. Caps for Sale and More Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina and Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer

  28. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

  29. Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long

  30. Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley

  31. The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

  32. We All Play by Julie Flett

  33. It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni

  34. I Am Frida Kahlo, I Am Neil Armstrong, I Am Anne Frank, I Am Jim Henson, and many more from the “Ordinary People Change the World” series by Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos

  35. What Happened To You? by James Catchpole and Karen George

  36. I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley

  37. Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

  38. Once I Was Very, Very Scared and Holdin Pott by Chandra Ghosh Ippen and Erich Peter Ippen Jr.

  39. Zonia's Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

  40. Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut and Vicki Wehrman

  41. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson

  42. Nicky & Vera by Peter Sís

  43. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins

  44. Home Again by Dorinda Silver Williams and Brenda Grilliam

  45. I Can Do Hard Things: Mindful Affirmations for Kids by Gabi Garcia and Charity Russell

  46. The Night Walk by Marie Dorleans

  47. Nano by Jess Wade and Melissa Castrillon

  48. Arno and His Horse by Jane Godwin and Felicita Sala

For Older Elementary Kids (Ages 8-11):

  1. GIVEAWAY BOOK: The Ultimate Book of African Animals (National Geographic) by Emmy Award-Winning Filmmakers Beverly and Dereck Joubert

  2. GIVEAWAY BOOKS: National Geographic's 101 Life Hacks: Genius Ways to Simplify Your World by Aubre Andrus and Brain Candy 3 by Michelle Harris and Julie Beer

  3. The Beatryce Prophecy and Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

  4. Willowdeen, Crenshaw and The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate

  5. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

  6. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

  7. When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

  8. The Whoosh of Gadoosh by Pat Skene

  9. The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco

  10. Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey

  11. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy

  12. Stories For Boys Who Dare To Be Different by Ben Brooks

  13. The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones

  14. The Land of Stories series by Chris Colfer

  15. All the Wrong Questions mystery series by Lemony Snicket

  16. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

  17. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

  18. Zin Mignon and the Secret of the Pickled Pigs Feet by Michael Daswick

  19. Out of My Mind and Out of My Heart by Sharon M. Draper

For Middle School+:

  1. GIVEAWAY BOOK: If God Invented Baseball by E. Ethelbert Miller

  2. Carry On: Reflections for a New Generation by John Lewis

  3. Anne Frank's Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman and David Polonsky

  4. Melissa (previously published as George) by Alex Gino

  5. The Inheritance Games and The Hawthorne Legacy by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

  6. Drained by Marc Daniel Acriche

  7. Tiny Infinities by J.H.Diehl

  8. Dune by Frank Herbert

  9. What If? by Randall Munroe

  10. The Magic Fish* (Graphic Novel) by Trung Le Nguyen

  11. Gastro Obscura: A Food Adventurer's Guide by Cecily Wong and Dylan Thuras

  12. Bluebird and The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron

  13. Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre by Carole Boston Weatherford

  14. Beasts of Prey by Ayana Gray

  15. Daughter of the Deep by Rick Riordan

  16. The Monsters of Rookhaven by Pádraig Kenny

  17. The Pants Project* by Cat Clarke

  18. How I Magically Messed Up My Life in Four Freakin' Days: The Tale of Bryant Adams by Megan O'Russell

  19. Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

  20. Night* by Elie Wiesel

For High Schoolers+

  1. GIVEAWAY BOOK: The Fifth Inning by E. Ethelbert Miller

  2. GIVEAWAY BOOK: The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

  3. Fahrenheit 451* and Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury

  4. Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

  5. The Hate U Give* by Angie Thomas

  6. 1984 and Animal Farm* by George Orwell

  7. Between Perfect and Real by Ray Stoeve

  8. Love Is A Revolution by Renée Watson

  9. All of Us Villains by Amanda Foody and Christine Lynn Herman

  10. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

  11. Not Here to Be Liked by Michelle Quach

  12. Beloved* and The Bluest Eye* by Toni Morrison

  13. How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe by Raquel Vasquez Gilliland

  14. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian* by Sherman Alexie

  15. His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham

  16. To Kill A Mockingbird* by Harper Lee

  17. Black Birds in the Sky: The Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by Brandy Colbert

  18. Beasts and Beauty: Dangerous Tales by Soman Chainani

  19. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings* by Maya Angelou

  20. Iron Widow by Xiran Jay Zhao

  21. The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

  22. Thirteen Reasons Why* by Jay Asher

  23. The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict and Victoria Christopher Murray

  24. The Confessions of Nat Turner* by William Styron

  25. The Beekeeper of Aleppo: A Novel by Christy Lefteri

  26. Skeleton Crew: Stories by Stephen King

  27. Klara and the Sun: A novel by Kazuo Ishiguro

  28. In the Wild Light and Rayne & Delilah's Midnite Matinee by Jeff Zentner

  29. Out of Darkness* by Ashley Hope Pérez

  30. One of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

  31. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

  32. Fences* by August Wilson

  33. Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness by Peter Godfrey-Smith

  34. Cloud Cuckoo Land: A Novel by Anthony Doerr

  35. The Handmaid's Tale* by Margaret Atwood

WE'RE GIVING AWAY GREAT Read-Aloud BOOKS from our Holiday Gift Guide!

ENTER BELOW and SHARE our Rafflecopter Giveaway!

Giveaway runs through Friday, December 31, 2021 @ 11:59 pm ET

She always loved when Daddy was her pre-school "Mystery Reader"

Scott Beller is the proud, imperfect dad of two mighty girls, Morgan and Lauren, imperfect husband of rock-star mom, Elisabeth, avid reader and occasional finisher of books, and also Editor of the Daddying blog and DCG's Director of Communications. He's a seasoned writer and PR agency veteran with more than 25 years of experience helping organizations of all sizes reach audiences and tell their stories. Prior to launching his own creative communications consultancy in 2003, he led PR teams with some of the world’s most respected agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and The Weber Group. As a consultant, he’s helped launch two other parenting advocacy nonprofits with DCG founder Allan Shedlin. His first book, Beggars or Angels, was a ghostwritten memoir for the nonprofit Devotion to Children's founder Rosemary Tran Lauer. He was formerly known as "Imperfect Dad" and Head Writer for the Raising Nerd blog, which supported parents in inspiring the next generation of scientists, engineers, and creative problem solvers. He earned his BA in Communications from VA Tech.