What makes you smile?
That's the question that your kids will contemplate while reading these picture books about the human emotion of happiness.
Here's a list of books sure to put a smile on your face. This latest addition to my series of picture books about emotions will bring you joy. Children's books about happiness may not get as much attention as books about more difficult emotions like anger, fear, and anxiety but they are just as necessary for a good home library.
I selected a variety of children's books about joy. There are board books for babies and toddlers, books for preschoolers, stories that will help older kids contemplate what inner happiness means, quirky tales that will make you laugh and several that will encourage everyone to break into song. (Note: book titles and covers are affiliate links.)
The Happy Owls by Celestino Piatti. This might be my favorite book on the list, and when you read it you will get a clear sense of the types of books that make me laugh out loud. Because laugh out loud at the ending is what I did. The book was first published in 1964 but I read it for the first time only recently.The story begins with a gaggle of unhappy barnyard animals who don't know what to do with themselves except bicker with each other. The owls, however, lead a happy and content existence. When the others ask the owls to reveal their secret, they are astounded! But that's all I can say without giving it away. Sorry. Piatti's illustrations are absolutely marvelous. The owls' red eyes convey a wonderful humor and truth!
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? by Carol McCloud. Most likely you have heard about this book. A friend and I recently discussed how the book, while being rather (okay, a lot) cheesy, kids can easily relate to the main metaphor. It teaches kids that happiness is not just about themselves, but is intimately connected to the well-being of others. It's a pretty decent book actually, even though I wouldn't put it on a list of "books with subtle messages."
The Three Questions [Based on a story by Leo Tolstoy] by Jon J. Muth. I like to recommend this book as much as possible and it is a good stepping stone for a discussion with your kids about what constitutes inner happiness. They will ask, What is the best time to do things? Who is the most important one? What is the right thing to do? and reflect on the importance of doing good deeds and paying attention to the immediate moment.
My Heart Fills with Happiness by Monique Gray Smith is a super sweet and wonderful board book perfect for your baby or toddler. It's also one of the few board books featuring an Indigenous protagonist. The text celebrates finding happiness in the everyday events and joyful, colorful illustrations.
The Jar of Happiness by Alisa Burrows. Meg fills a jar with all sorts of ingredients that she thinks comprise the perfect recipe for happiness. Things like chocolate, and ice cream. She totes her jar along everywhere she goes to ensure a happy mood. She even uses the jar to help her cheer up others. One day she loses the jar! But those that she once helped cheer up show her that she doesn't need a jar to make her own happiness. This is a sweet book with a great message that is presented in a way that preschoolers and young elementary kids can relate to.
If You're Happy and You Know It by Jane Cabrera. You will notice on this lists that there are several children's books about happiness that take their inspiration from popular songs. There are a few versions of "If You're Happy and You Know It." This just happen to be the version that I read. Cabrera expands upon the traditional son lyrics so children will make the sounds of various animals as they sing along.
Anna Hibiscus' Song by Atinuke is a wonderful picture book featuring one of my favorite protagonists. Anna Hibiscus also stars in her own chapter book series, which we have read and loved. Anna Hibiscus lives in modern Africa and she is feeling so much happiness she doesn't know what to do with it all! She turns to her family members for advice, and in the end Anna discovers her own personal way to express her joy -- through song.
Perfect Square by Michael Hall. A perfect square is perfectly happy. But what happens when it begins to transform into other shapes? Will it still be happy and content? This book has become a classic text about shapes, but why not use if to start a conversation about what we base our feelings of happiness on?
Happy by Emma Dodd is a delightful bedtime book for the 0-3 set. Gentle rhyming text that establishes the clear bond between love and happiness.
100 Things That Make Me Happy by Amy Schwartz. This is a fun book with rhyming text featuring all sorts of things that make kids smile. Bright, colorful illustrations featuring diverse children engaging in fun, free-range activities. While reading this book with your kids, be sure to talk about all the things that make them happy, too.
Augustus and His Smile by Catherine Rayner. Augustus the tiger goes looking for a smile. He sets out on a journey which takes him all around the world. Along the way he encounters beauty and wonderful sights, and at last, when he gazes into a pool of water, he finds his smile. Reflecting (pun!) on his experience he realizes that in order to be happy all he needs is to do is remember all the beautiful things in the world.
Taking a Bath and Other Things that Make Me Happy by Scott Menchin. When a girl can't seem to muster up her own happiness, she begins a quest to find out what makes others happy. She asks around, getting answers from her dog, a rabbit, an elderly man, and other quirky characters. The book has a charming, whimsical sense of humor as well as a lovely message about how the simple things can give us joy.
Happy! by Pharrell Williams is an illustrated version of the song I bet you are singing right now. My son sung the the text out loud with a big smile, and that's a pretty good recommendation.
Every Little Thing by Bob Marley and Cedella Marley. Another song-based book! Dynamic illustrations bring a popular song to life in picture book form with the reassuring refrain, "Everything's gonna be alright."
Double Happiness. This is a lovely, thoughtful story by poet Nancy Tupper Ling. Verse "chapters" tell a story that conveys the important connection between family history and the future. Two children, Gracie and Jack, are gearing up for a big move. They will have to leave beloved family behind but their Nai Nai (grandmother) gives them each a special happiness box to fill with important items. Gorgeous, gorgeous illustration complete the book.
Other picture book lists about feelings:
- Picture books about anger, frustration and feeling cranky
- Picture books about fear and courage
- Picture books that teach empathy
- Picture books about perseverance
And if you like to laugh, read our favorite funny picture books.
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