Picture books highlight the morals and messages that adults, and the world, deem important for children to learn from an early age. These simple stories, paired with colorful illustrations, grab a child’s attention to help them internalize these values over many reads.

There are thousands of picture books on the market with such a wide array of topics that nearly anything can be explained to a child through one of these narratives. In this vast world of books, however, not all are created equal. Some key characteristics of a good picture book include being meaningful, beautiful, and memorable.

One such book is The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. First published in 1968, the story follows a little family, primarily a mother and daughter, as a tiger enters their home, eats all of their food, and drinks all of their drinks, including all the water in their tap. The family is a little frightened, and the girl is quite confused. Eventually, the father comes home from work and the family must go out to a restaurant to eat their dinner as there is nothing left at home. They buy a can of tiger food, should the animal ever return, but note that he never does. Although a seemingly light and happy story, beneath the surface it stands as a metaphor for the Gestapo ransacking homes during World War 2, something that Kerr survived as a young adult. The book is her expressing an event that changed her life, and that of so many others, through an accessible format. It does not obviously appear to be about the Nazis and could apply to many other scenarios. The beautiful illustrations accompanying the story do not emphasize fear or hate, but rather beauty and calm amid chaos. It is a story that sticks with its readers long after, as a metaphor for war and terror in the world.

Another interesting picture book is Big Plans by Bob Shea. The story follows a young boy and his sidekick, a mynah bird, as he unveils and unleashes his epic plan. He visits different places, talks to unique people, and ultimately flies to the moon all to tell the world that he has “Big plans.” The book implies that the story is a figment of the boy’s imagination, as he is actually in detention at school. His dreams allow him to explore beyond the bounds of his current life and detail an epic adventure. The collage-style illustrations in the book add another layer of complexity to the story, helping to blur the line between reality and imagination. The biggest lesson of this story is simple: never stop dreaming big. The boy also advocates for himself, although in a bit of a joking manner, which can remind readers not to allow others to crush their imagination and creativity. The story is sweet, simple, and a fun read and listen for all.

Another powerful picture book is Don’t Hug Doug: (He Doesn’t Like It) by Carrie Finison. This book uses rhyme to explore the story of Doug, a young boy who simply does not like being hugged. It places him in a variety of scenarios in which he is, or is not, willing to hug, high-five, or otherwise greet those he encounters in the world. The cute and colorful illustrations bring Doug and his world to life. The message of this book on the importance of bodily autonomy and consent is one that children hear far too little. There is so much pressure in the world to hug others, whether a grandparent or a friend, that it can be too easy to forget that each interaction comes with a choice for both parties. This book is a great way to encourage conversations on these topics. Don’t Hug Doug is being translated, with its rhyme scheme, into Spanish and French in the coming months.

No matter how old we get, we are never too old to engage in a story of any kind, especially one as deep, funny, or important as these picture books. Illustrations help remind us to use our imaginations to bring the world to life and envision someone else’s perspective and reality.