I want to raise readers. I really, really do. I also want to raise good humans. That’s my primary concern. Lucky for me, reading aloud to my boys every night helps me accomplish both.

Colorful and clever, goofy or game-faced, the stories they love most are quite simply the ones that make them feel all the good feels: Joy, Empathy, Suspense, Silliness, Love.

For me, the stories are all about the connections we make… with each other and with the world. Connecting with my boys after a long day of living life. And reconnecting with life after a long day of living it with my boys.

Here are the books that consistently give us all the feels and help us reconnect:

#1 The Book with No Pictures, by BJ Novak

I’ve written about this one before, but it is a perennial fave around our here — for good reason. It. Is. maGRUMPH-a-doo!

This book does, indeed, have ZERO pictures, just like the title promises. Its cover is black and white — and so is the majority of the text for the majority of the book. Novak plays with font size and and a whole lot of negative space — and eventually color.

Ground rules are laid from the beginning for adults reading the book… We’re told we must read, “Everything the words say… NO MATTER WHAT.” And that’s when the brightly colored jabberwocky begins unwinding — slowly but steadily — climbing toward a crescendo of brightly colored nonsense words caterwauling across the page in gleeful abandon. Kids (and their parents) laugh till the tears roll down. Talk about bringing the joy.

#2 Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon, by Patty Lovell

This one is great for instilling empathy and life lessons. Lovell’s book helps kiddos navigate the newness and nervousness of being “the outsider” — something each of us experiences at some point.

Molly Lou Melon is a bucktoothed half-pint with a voice “like a bullfrog being squeezed by a boa constrictor.

When she moves away from her hometown and her beloved granny, she has to face new challenges. Molly Lou Melon uses her unique skill set (penny-stacking on her horizontal front teeth, for starters) to overcome obstacles. The book is splashed full of lime, lemon, and turquoise illustrations by David Catrow, and reading it can only bolster the best and brightest and boldest feelings in us all.

#3 Ginny Goblin is Not Allowed to Open This Box, by David Goodner

Goodner’s story builds off every youngster’s perennial passion for monsters — albeit kindergarten-friendly ones with pea soup complexions and coveralls.

Ginny Goblin is cute and lovable and more than just a little curious. Oh, and she hates to wait. So of course, she’s handed a ginormous present and told not to open it until dinnertime. The narrator then moves the box from one out-of-reach hiding place to the next, taunting her with… . towers and serpents and moats and mountains. Vexed but not defeated, Ginny gets creative with… ninja suits and grappling hooks and ramps and catapulting goats.

Illustrated in Louis Thomas’ warm, muted earth-tones and water-color wisps, Ginny’s quest to reach the box is a rollicking good time, full of ever-escalating suspense — and some dinnertime hygiene thrown in for good measure.

#4 Dragons Love Tacos, by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmiere

If you asked the boys to name their absolute favorite, this book would probably be it. It’s clever and cute and written entirely in 2nd person, so it talks straight to them. My boys are now experts at hosting taco parties for a houseful of dragons.

They know they need costumes or accordions or maybe charades… and they’ll definitely need tacos because… title. They also know just what NOT to do so the dragons won’t get “the tummy troubles.” Because “when dragons get the tummy troubles — oh, boy.”

This book’s got it all — dragons and tacos and lists of ingredients — plus lots and lots of silliness for all.

#5 Words and Your Heart, by Kate Jane Neal

The book is paradoxically simple and profound. There’s a tiny, bobble-headed tot and her cat illustrating each major point — the descriptive power of words, the encouraging power of words, the destructive power of words, the healing power of words…. well, you get the picture.

Neal’s illustrations remind me of sweet sketches from my grandmother’s era, while the message itself is timeless. Take care with your words because what goes “into your ears can actually affect your heart (that little bit inside of you that makes you, you”).

If I were to pick a favorite book to read to my boys, this one would be mine. As an English teacher, and most importantly as a mother, there is no message closer to my heart than the care and keeping of the heart through the words we choose.

“Let’s try it together and see the difference it makes… Today, somebody’s world can be a better place because of you.”

Talk about raising good humans…