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Picture book father-son reading recommendations

Celebrate Father’s Day with a good picture book! Here are our recommendations for fathers and their sons — or daughters — to read together. What picture book would you recommend for a father-son read? (See our YA mother-daughter reading list here.)

goldilocks and the three dinosaursKatie:
One of my own fond childhood memories is listening to my dad read aloud with funny, nuanced voices for each character. Picture books and short chapter books with plenty of dialogue allow father and child alike to engage in this kind of reader’s theater. The kooky cast of Mo Willems’s Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs (Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, 2012) makes it a fantastic read-aloud — it was recently test-driven with great success by my own father for Read Across America Day. With their call-and-response format, Bob Shea’s energetic Dinosaur Vs. books published by Hyperion would also be good choices (although probably not right before bedtime!).

A Day with Dad by Bo Holmberg (illustrated by Eva Eriksson; Candlewick, 2008) celebrates a loving father-son bond while quietly acknowledging the difficulty of divorce. After saying good-bye to his mom, Tim and his dad spend the whole day together, and everywhere they go Tim proudly introduces his father around. The colored-pencil illustrations clearly show the relationships between characters and reinforce the notion that while the grownups might not love each other, they love their son very much. The satisfying story offers comfort to children (and their parents) in similar circumstances.

One Cool FriendSiân:
One Cool Friend by Toni Buzzeo (illustrated by David Small; Dial, 2012), beautifully showcases a somewhat strange but obviously loving relationship between a father and a son. And it also really focuses on the old adage, “like father, like son,” through its lovely twist ending.

I’m partial to the Leslie Patricelli board books with the gender-neutral baby published by Candlewick: Yummy Yucky (2003), Potty (2010), Tubby (2010), The Birthday Box (2009). Also very popular in my house is Higher! Higher! (2009) Even though it’s a girl and her father, my little boy doesn’t mind.

Every Friday
(Holt, 2007) by Dan Yaccarino, a beautifully simple story about a weekly breakfast ritual shared between father and son, captures the importance of one-on-one time spent between parent and child, even amidst the everyday hustle and bustle of life in a city.

I’d recommend Donald Hall’s Ox-Cart Man (illustrated by Barbara Cooney; Viking, 1979), because the father is the main character, but it’s also about a family working together from year to year.

Love suffuses every page of First Pink Light, Eloise Greenfield’s classic picture book about a little boy named Tyree who is determined to stay up all night in order to surprise his father, who’s been away for a whole month. Can he persuade his mother to skip bedtime and let him stay in his tricky hiding place under a wooden chair until dawn (“first pink light”)? Once he’s been convinced to move to the big soft armchair, all decked out with pillows and blankets, can he stay awake long enough to “hear his daddy’s car door slam, and hear his daddy’s hard shoes on the steps, and hear his daddy’s key clicking in the door”? Well, no, but it doesn’t matter: the reunion between father and son is plenty poignant anyway. Greenfield gets everything right, from the family dynamics to young Tyree’s perspective and the intensity of his feelings. The book has been illustrated twice, first by Moneta Barnett (Crowell, 1976) in soft, intimate pencil sketches, and later by Jan Spivey Gilchrist (Black Butterfly, 1991) in full color; both editions have their charms.

An oldie but a goodie: In Tomi Ungerer’s The Mellops Go Diving for Treasure (Harper, 1957; republished by Phaidon, 2011), Mr. Mellops and his four sons go on a sea voyage that yields little profit but leaves five pig tummies hungry for Mrs. Mellops’s cream cake. It’s a humorous adventure story involving, among other things, a treasure map, a merpig, and sunken ships, and it is just long enough for any father and son to cozy up and spend some quality time reading together before embarking on a treasure hunt of their own. And if you can’t get enough of the quirky Mellops father-sons team, Ungerer wrote four other Mellops books: The Mellops Go Flying, The Mellops Strike Oil, Christmas Eve at the Mellops (all republished by Phaidon, 2011), and Mellops Go Spelunking (republished by Roberts Rinehart, 1998).

Reading about frazzled fathers can be funny for kids, so I would also recommend two relatively recent father-daughter picture books (and Caldecott Honor Books) that are entertaining to read aloud together: Interrupting Chicken by David Ezra Stein (Papa is continually interrupted while trying to read bedtime stories) and Mo Willems’s Knuffle Bunny (one daddy’s frantic search for a beloved missing stuffed animal).

My Father’s Arms Are a Boat by Stein Erik Lunde (illustrated by Øyvind Torseter and Kari Dickson; Enchanted Lion, 2013) is a really sad book about grieving, but the eerily beautiful collage illustrations and hushed intimacy of the text provide an unforgettable portrait of love between a father and son.

Katie Bircher About Katie Bircher

Katie Bircher, associate editor at The Horn Book, Inc., is a former bookseller and holds an MA in children's literature from Simmons College. She served as chair of the 2018 Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committee. Follow Katie on Twitter @lyraelle.



  1. Steve Bircher says:

    Mo Willems’ books are always fun to read aloud! We also read his Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct that day, and I received a wonderful drawing of Edwina and Reginald from one of the third grade girls. Reading aloud and other forms of live storytelling are so important in an age of electronic entertainment; the kids have to learn that not everything comes out of a video screen.
    Thanks for putting your dad on the blog!
    Love, Dad

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