Now that we parents are all stuck at home with our kids (all day. every day. send help), we’re having a whole lot more storytimes than usual. Quarantine silver lining, perhaps? After all, if you can’t enjoy humanity at large — or playgrounds or libraries or museums or, gulp, brunch (RIP brunch) — you might as well at least try to enjoy all that fam time in close quarters with the help of some truly great kid-friendly reads. And we’re not alone in our strange but sometimes satisfying quest for the next great kid read, because all our favorite celeb parents are right there with us.
Although they’re having generally much fancier experiences in social isolation than we are, they still have to do the basics when it comes to parenting indoors: feed ’em, read ’em, sleep ’em, repeat. So what are celebrity parents, from Chrissy Teigen to Sarah Michelle Gellar, reading their kids these days? We sat down with all of them and asked for their exclusive book picks. Read on to find out their favorites — and if you still need ideas after that, check out our roundups of inclusive children’s books for any family and books starring girls of color. Because teaching kids about diversity is possibly even more important when they can’t leave the house and see it for themselves.
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“We read a lot of Thai books,” Teigen told SheKnows in an exclusive interview of what she loves reading to Miles and Luna, her kids with John Legend, lately. “It’s like Aesop. What is it? Aesop? Aesop’s fables? Yes, so the Thai ones. We’ll read about five or six of them a night, because they’re so short and they just end so abruptly. And the Thai ones are so funny, because it’ll always be about an ox… but it’ll just end. It’ll be like, and then the ox died, and then that’s it.” We’re LOLing already.
‘Thai Children’s Favorite Stories’
Follow in Teigen’s footsteps and give your kids a taste of Thai culture from the comfort of your couch. Just warn them that, you know, the ox might die. Sorry.
Nashville star, notable activist, and SHE Media BlogHer Creator’s Summit keynote speaker Connie Britton told SheKnows in an exclusive interview last year that her #1 favorite read to share with her son Yoby is a true classic: Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf. But she’s not opposed to integrating more modern books into the library, either:
“I love Ferdinand; it’s always been my all-time favorite, but Yoby actually brought this really great book home from the library recently called The Bad Seed [by Jory John],” Britton told us. “We finished it and I was like, honey, I love that book. It’s actually pretty deep, about this guy who thinks of himself as a bad seed, but he basically has major childhood trauma, and after that he feels bad all the time. It’s actually a beautifully written book. My kid is at this cute age where he says ‘he was a bad seed — a BAAAAAD seed!’ Very dramatically. He gets super into saying it.”
The time-tested and much beloved tale of a bull who just didn’t want to fight, Ferdinand will teach kids that it’s always worth giving peace a chance. That, and that sitting and smelling the flowers is just plain wonderful.
‘The Bad Seed’
Kids will love this beautifully illustrated tale that reveals a lesson we all could learn: Things aren’t always what they seem, and sometimes’ someone’s “bad” behavior has deep roots. A story that inspires questioning, critical thinking, and acceptance, it’s a win for all ages.
Shay Mitchell gave birth to her first child, daughter Atlas Noa, in 2019 — but she’s already turning her into a little bookworm by reading her stories aloud.
“Good friends of ours actually made a book with her name,” Mitchell told SheKnows in an exclusive interview earlier this month. “It was personalized, which is really cool… [the illustrations also look like] kind of what maybe she could possibly look like when she’s bigger…it’s pretty cute. And I just love the fact that it’s so personalized and it has her name on it… And then, of course, all the Dr. Seuss books. I’m so excited to get to relive my childhood through her and all the Disney movies and stuff, because I haven’t seen a lot of those.”
‘The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name’
This personalized book takes kids on a wild journey to collect letters from different creatures in hopes of — you guessed it — finally spelling out their own name. You can also personalize the look of the kid so little readers are sure to see themselves reflected in the story.
Dr. Seuss’s Beginner Book Collection
If you, like Mitchell, are psyched to read your kid every Seuss book under the sun, you can start strong with this collection. It includes such hits as The Cat in the Hat, Hop on Pop, Fox in Socks, Green Eggs and Ham, and One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. You’ll have to look elsewhere for the ever-necessary lesson on climate change that is The Lorax, though.
“I think my all-time favorite is The Runaway Bunny because it just proves the unwavering love that a parent has for their child,” Hilary Duff told SheKnows in an exclusive interview this year. “Even when [the kid is] like ‘I’m going to run away from you, I’m going to be mean to you. I’m going to hurt your feelings, I’m going to do this, i’m gonna that’ and you’re like ‘I’m going to love you through that,’ you know, which is like exactly what parenthood is. So I feel like that’s my all-time favorite.”
But she’s not immune to some (secretly sweet) humorous reads, either: “There’s a book called I Love You, Stinky Face,” Duff continued. “And it’s about a kid who wants to sleep with her mom at night. And [the kid is] like, ‘What if a monster’s coming to get me?’ and the mom is like, ‘Then I will blast it with the monster spray.’ And he’s like, ‘But what if they carry me away in their ship?’ And she’s like, ‘Then I’ll build a bigger ship, come after you and come and get you.’ It just shows how clever and smart moms can be to spin a narrative without having to be harsh to their kids. And it’s a really sweet book.”
And last but certainly not least, a book about busting gender stereotypes: “There’s one more that I’m loving right now,” Duff added, “and it’s called Julian is a Mermaid, and it’s about a little boy who’s greatest dream is to be a mermaid. I feel like it’s a really important book right now.”
BRB, ordering that one for my son immediately.
‘The Runaway Bunny’
Duffy’s all-time favorite is a classic tale of mother’s (somewhat obsessive, but you know, let’s roll with it) love for her child. And the lovely pictures by Clement Hurd are just as iconic as the story.
‘Julian is a Mermaid’
It’s hard to choose one favorite thing about this beauty by Jessica Love: the expressive illustrations, the pint-sized powerhouse character of Julian, or the message than any kid — of any gender — can be obsessed with mermaids (or dolls, or trucks, or firefighters, or what have you). Oh, and it’s inspired by the Coney Island Mermaid Parade, which just makes it even more awesome.
‘I Love You, Stinky Face’
Like The Runaway Bunny, this story explains that a mother’s love remains constant — except this time it’s in the face of scary apes and green aliens. You know, the usual bedtime story fodder kids love to shriek about happily.
Funny how celebs seems to have such a good eye for mixing the kids-book classics with the more modern innovators. When Molly Sims kicked off our Momsessed series last year, she told SheKnows that all three of her kids (sons Brooks Alan, 7, and Grey Douglas, 2; and daughter Scarlett May, 4) “love The Giving Tree. Scar and Brooks always have me read Owl Babies to them, and Scarlett loves I Had A Favorite Dress.” Lessons on selflessness, managing anxiety, accepting change and letting go? Sounds pretty spot-on for right now.
‘The Giving Tree’
Yes, this story is hella sad. And yes, this tree really, really needs to work on its boundaries. But there’s no denying that the tale by Shel Silverstein is a classic — one that teaches kids that giving to others really does have an impact.
These owl babies miss their mommy, dammit! This sweet story walks kids through the owls’ process — complete with fear, questioning and worry — as they awake to find their mother gone. But (spoiler alert) she’s back soon, to much rejoicing. Phew.
‘I Had a Favorite Dress’
This book is a fantastic conversation-starter about the process of growing up — and the fact that things are just things. And hey, you can even use it as motivation to Kondo your kids’ clothes while you’re at it.
Sarah Michelle Gellar
Oh boy is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s 7-year-old son Rocky James embarking on an exciting journey and we’re jealous: “We’re just starting Harry Potter with my son,” Gellar told SheKnows in an exclusive interview. “He’s seen the movies because of his older sister — of course my daughter had to read all the books before seeing the movies, but he’s the second child, oh well.”
And what is her daughter, 10-year-old Charlotte Grace, reading these days? “El Deafo by Cece Bell,” Gellar told us. “It’s a graphic novel about a character that has hearing loss. It’s a really sweet book.”
‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’
If we could take a time machine back to getting immersed in this magical world for the first time, you bet we would. We’ll just have to stick to new episodes of Outlander for our adult escapism for now — but kids can get lost in Harry Potter for hours, and quarantine is the perfect time to do so.
This adorable graphic novel chronicles author Cece Bell’s own childhood experiences with hearing loss — and a particularly clunky hearing aid. It’s a great read for all kids, regardless of hearing level, who will love the protagonist’s journey to become “El Deafo, Listener for All.”
Apparently Jenny Mollen doesn’t even need childrens’ books; she’s a storyteller in her own right — at least according ot her husband Jason Biggs.
“The thing about [Mollen and Biggs’ 7-year-old son] Sid is, he doesn’t just like reading stories; he likes creating them. And Jenny, since she’s a writer, sometimes she’ll lie down with him and just make up a story off the cuff,” Biggs told SheKnows in an exclusive interview this year. “And Sid will chime in, sort of like Mad Libs — I’ll hear him in the other room admonishing her, ‘No! The character should do this, not that!’” Color us impressed, Mollen.
But when they do feel the need to bring out the ol’ books? “We’re reading James and the Giant Peach right now,” Biggs continued. “We read about a chapter a night. It’s so good, but also Roald Dahl can get a little…dark? But he loves it.”
‘James and the Giant Peach’
I’m bummed to report my own 4-year-old was instantly turned off by this spectacular story simply because the parents are killed at the very beginning. Womp. So maybe wait on the preschool-aged kids and take a tip from Biggs and Mollen, whose son Sid is proof that 7 years old is primetime for the glorious darkness of Dahl. There’s magic, metaphorphosing fruits, and more fun to be had in this wildly fun read.
As part of our Momsessed series a few months ago, ever-stylish Zoe told SheKnows about a few of her parenting essentials — including books. “For Sky [son Skyler Morrison, age 8] a The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is his obsession — and for Kaius [age 6], anything Eric Carle or Dr. Seuss.” You can’t argue with the classics.
‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’
This bestselling graphic novel tackles the terrors of growing up with humor and wisdom. It’ll appeal to a wide age range — and parents who’ve been there, too.
Eric Carle Board Book Box Set
Go beyond that classic caterpillar with this beautiful boxed set of lesser-known Eric Carle favorites: 10 Little Rubber Ducks, Do You Want to Be My Friend?, Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?, From Head to Toe, The Mixed-Up Chameleon, and The Secret Birthday Message. Carle’s gorgeous collages will brighten any day indoors.
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