It's virtually impossible to be totally screen-free these days, although parents can take steps to keep screen use under control. I've yet to meet a parent who says, "I wish Junior spent more time playing Fortnite than he spends outdoors!" Ha! One way to share the joys of putting down the iPad is by reading picture books about unplugged play and the joys it holds in store for your whole family!
Whether it's for a limited time like screen-free week, or as part of an overall reduction in starting and little blue-lit screens, work these picture books that depict joyful alternatives to screen-time into your read aloud time!
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Picture Books about Screen-Free Fun
Rocket Says Look Up!
by Nathan Bryon
I adored this picture book about a girl named Rocket who aspires to be the universe's greatest astronaut. Rocket is especially enthusiastic about the upcoming Phoenix meteor shower. She invites the community and prepares for the event, sharing astronomical information with the reader. When the big day comes, her brother is charged with looking after her, but he spends most of his time during the story looking down at his phone. Will he ever look up from the enticing device?
When Grandma Gives You a Lemon Tree
by Jamie L.B. Deenihan
The young protagonist of this tale is looking forward to her birthday. She has requested a new electronic gadget! But her grandma gives her a... lemon tree? What is up with that? There's nothing to do but take care of the tree, which ends up giving her and her community more value than a flash-in-the-pan gadget ever would. A charming story with a good message about perseverance and putting your all into what you have. Plus, the illustrations are fantastic!
by David Covell
Two children leave their electronics behind to run wild in the great outdoors. They experience all the greats: grass, sand, mud and more. Nice, large pages with exuberant line drawings full of color and life. The text conveys a sense of movement and joy, the colors ever changing. Utterly delightful.
Aunt Chip and the Great Triple Creek Dam Affair
by Patricia Polacco
This is a new-to-me book from prolific writer, Polacco. Although since it was published way back in 1996, the screen in question is the TV. The people in Triple Creek can't get enough of it, morning, noon and night they are mesmerized. But Aunt Chip doesn't own a TV. She advocates for (gasp!) reading! And since she has discovered that the people in Triple Creek have forgotten how to read, she sets out to make things right. Polacco is known for serious-minded books, but this tale has more humor than most of her other works.
by Dan Yaccarino
My kids and I enjoyed this new book so much! Doug is a robot and his robot parents lovingly plug him in every day so he can download all sorts of interesting information. Then one day, Doug spots a pigeon on the windowsill and goes unplugged into the outside world, where he learns not all relevant information comes from an outlet.
by Mathew Cordell
Lydia's family members are all glued to their personal screens. When Lydia's screen goes dark she is lured outside by an open doorway. What she discovers out there is so marvelous she convinces her family to drop their electronic devices and join her.
by Peter McCarty
Chloe from Henry in Love has her own book! When a large television takes over family fun time, Chloe must convince her parents and 10 brothers and sisters what every toddler knows: the packaging (bubble wrap and cardboard box) is much more fun that the gift (the tv)!
by John Rocco
I have a soft spot for Rocco's book set in Brooklyn and inspired by the Great Blackout of 2003 since I was in the middle of that event. When an entire city goes dark a family finds joy on the rooftops and streets of their community. And when the lights come back on? Well, sometimes it's good to turn them right back off.
by Hervé Tullet
If you have a sneaking suspicion that your kids will balk at the idea of giving up the iPad introduce them to a book I like to call a "screen-free app. Each page of this interactive book requires kids perform a task that sets in motion a series of seemingly magical events. Press Here is also my #1 gift recommendation for kids ages 1-3.
by Michael Black
Turn the tables on kids whose favorite phrase is the dreaded "I'm booooorreeeed…." A young protagonist with the blaahs tries to convince a potato (here I had the pleasure of explaining the term "couch potato" to my son) that, in fact, kids are far from boring. The potato, however, remains unconvinced and the fun twist at the end will get your kids giggling.
Tek, the Modern Cave Boy
by Patrick McDonnell
This is a fun choice for kids because the book is designed to look and feel like a tablet. Tek the cave boy sure does love his screens! But it means he is missing out on all the wonderful ways the world is evolving. His friends and family are determined to get him to unplug. As Tek starts to engage with life outside of the screen, the look and feel of the book becomes less like an tablet!
The Boring Book
by Shinsuke Yoshitake
The protagonist in this Japanese import opines on the nature of boredom, but this book is anything but boring. As you read aloud this story, your kids will question what makes something boring, how does one react to boredom, and is there a way to keep from being bored? Engaging illustrations take readers on a thoughtful journey.
More books to love:
- Picture books about perspective and observation
- Picture books to instill a love of nature
- 64 Best picture books for preschoolers