The Best Picture Books about Colors
Books have always been a special way to unlock the imagination of our kids and to feed their creativity and their wonder. But it can’t be forgotten that books most certainly teach as well. They literally fire up our brains and help us grow. Kids are ravenous for new knowledge, and books feed their hunger. From the very beginning they’re absorbing every word they hear, and they’re trying to create meaning. It goes without saying that story time can be utilized to teach so many things.
For a very long time there have been books that teach children their A, B, C’s, their 1, 2, 3’s, and, of course, the one I’m going to focus on today, their colors. But why did people decide to teach kids this way? It’s very easy to make flash cards with letters, numbers, or colors written on them - so why bother putting them into a picture book and making a story out of them? What’s the point of a picture book that also teaches?
The answer, of course, is that your little kids will ask for you to read these books 50 times in a row. As an aside, you should do your best to always say yes to this request if possible. The entertainment value and the artistic value of a book make the experience memorable and engaging. The story itself fires up the imagination, and the pictures bring the colors to life and leave lasting impressions on your mind.
Another very important element of teaching with stories is that it allows you the opportunity to explore other topics at the same time. Several of the books on this list not only teach about colors - but they also explore other important topics like feelings. And they even sometimes very subtly explore different life philosophies. Now that’s what I call art!
Illustrating a picture book must always be a challenge. But I imagine that illustrating a picture book about colors is a very special challenge in-and-of itself. You’re tasked with capturing the very essence of illustrations themselves - celebrating the colors that make all art possible. It makes perfect sense that a very big focus of books about colors will be on the illustrations and the illustrators - and I find it very interesting therefore that 7 out of 10 of the books on this list were written and illustrated by the same person.
The picture books on this list are special to our family. We’ve explored many of their colorful pages with both our 6-year-old and our 3-year-old for years now. Some are new discoveries with our kids, and some are even classics from my own childhood. Make sure to let us know if you’ve already read any of our favorites with your own family, or if this list inspires you to read something new.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. Clicking on those links will lead you to view the books’ listings on Amazon.com.
Written and Illustrated by Leo Lionni
It stands to reason that if one author was to receive two mentions on a list about colors - it would be Lionni. Leo Lionni is certainly a fan favorite in our house. His illustrations are always so innovative and colorful. And perhaps the most innovative and creative of all is Little Blue and Little Yellow.
The crazy thing about this book is that if there were no words, it would be near impossible to discern any meaning out of the illustrations at all. Each page would strike you as nonsensical splotches of paint put together by a two-year-old.
In actuality Leo Lionni told this story originally to his grandchildren as he tore pieces of paper from magazines while on a train. Weaving together a story from these images is an amazing creativity exercise, and it’s incredible how the images start to make perfect sense after reading the words. It would be a really fun storytelling exercise to do with your own kids. And if you really want to have your mind blown - take a short trip down into the philosophy of this book.
9. Mix It Up
Written and Illustrated by Hervé Tullet
Our kids are big fans of interactive picture books - as you can certainly tell from this recent article. It’s really fun to get involved in the book and to use your creativity to imagine that you are affecting the illustrations.
Mix It Up was one of our very first interactive picture books, and it’s all about playing with paint. You tilt the book to one side and smash the book together and rub paint around with your fingers to make new colors. It’s not only a good lesson in the names of the colors - but it’s also a fantastic introduction to the magic of mixing colors together.
I think it’s incredibly creative and I can certainly attest to the fact that our kids love this interactive picture book.
Written and Illustrated by Julia Denos
Swatch definitely brings the imagination better than perhaps any other book on this list. It’s the kind of book that creates an entire universe and is likely to leave the kids with a brand new game of imagination to play in the back yard.
Swatch is a color tamer in a place where colors run wild, and in this book she begins to collect them all in jars. I particularly enjoy some of the names given to the colors that she’s taming- bravest green, in-between gray, rumble-tumble pink. And the illustrations are appropriately vibrant for a book about colors. It’s full of highly detailed two-page spreads - beautiful works of art fit to be hung on the wall.
Towards the end of the book when Swatch realizes the colors are happier when they are wild and she lives harmoniously with them - I can’t help myself from thinking about the wild animal kingdom and our relationship with all the animals of the world. That’s certainly a little subliminal message I don’t mind my kids getting.
Written and Illustrated by Leo Lionni
As promised, Lionni definitely deserves two spots on this list. A Color of His Own tells the story of a chameleon and his personal identity crisis. It’s clear to him that all of the other animals have their very own color, but his is always changing. He plans to stay on a leaf forever so that he can always be green, but obviously there’s a flaw in that plan. The leaf changes colors in the fall and he’s back to square one.
The good news is that he soon finds another chameleon to spend his life with. And even though they’re always changing colors, they’re always changing colors together. The combination of Lionni’s beautiful illustrations with the surprisingly deep philosophical pursuit of happiness and belonging makes this a very special book.
Written and Illustrated by Taia Morley
Our 3-year-old daughter really loves this Color Pup. So I like to come home after work and ask her, “What’s up, Color Pup?”. Sometimes I’m met with eye rolls, but that’s probably because she thinks I’m so hilarious.
The Color Pup is a little, white dog that wakes up with a little ray of yellow sunshine on his tail. His tail, however, remains yellow, and we shortly see that he’s collecting colors all over him as he explores outside. This is truly a spectacular book for teaching the colors to your little one, as they’re introduced one by one - with a beautiful two-page spread dedicated to each one.
My daughter and I both have a favorite part - when the storm comes and the dog is scared of the thunder and lightning. The fear is so well illustrated. The ups and downs really makes this book a fantastic exploration of feelings as well. The storm washes away all of the color and the dog stands moping with a colorful puddle underneath him. But then he rolls around in the puddle - and the page where he shakes all that colorful water off is a fantastic work of art.
Written by Drew Daywalt and Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This very popular book from Daywalt and Jeffers deserves all the praise it gets. I love innovation - and I love passing on imagination and creativity to our kids. How can you not appreciate a book like this that will provide a little bit of wonder to little readers?
In case you’re unfamiliar with why the crayons are thinking about quitting, they have their reasons for being upset with their owner, Duncan. Red Crayon thinks he’s overworked. Purple Crayon thinks he’s used outside the lines too much. Beige Crayon is depressed because Brown Crayon gets all the bears, ponies, and puppies. It’s a long parade of grievances, and they’re all delivered as hand-written letters from the crayons.
It’s very funny, and it’s definitely original. Best of all, it’s very likely to inspire your kids to get out their crayons immediately and start creating some art - fearful that they’re going to hurt the feelings of their colorful friends if they ignore them too much.
Written by Bill Martin Jr. and Illustrated by Eric Carle
I’m not averse at all to including the classics on our book lists. If you’re interested in finding books to teach colors to your little ones, no collection would be complete without Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?.
Repetition is of course a powerful thing in children’s literature. It’s so engaging for kids to be able to quickly memorize a book and to start reciting it along with you, far before they’re able to read. Books like Brown Bear are near and dear to our hearts - and to the hearts of many other millions of people - because our kids love them. They always grab books like this and want you to read them 50 times in a row. That’s because it’s soothing and it’s starting to click and they’re able to anticipate what comes next and they want to memorize every single detail. And without a doubt they’ll internalize the names of those colors as you read it 50 times a night.
Written and Illustrated by Sandra Boynton
One of the funniest books ever written - judging by the reaction of our children at least. Sandra Boynton books just make us so happy. And Blue Hat, Green Hat is my favorite one by far.
This poor turkey just can’t figure out how to put on clothes. The secret to its humor is the fact that your kid will feel like a genius when they realize that they know where hats are supposed to go but this silly turkey does not. As you read this one aloud, make sure to really embellish the repetition of the word “OOPS!”, and I guarantee you will have your kids grabbing their sides with pain as they howl with laughter.
There’s a very good chance that out of all of our books this might be the one that brings me the happiest memories as an old man, because it’ll be the easiest way for me to remember what our kids’ laughter sounded like when they were little.
Written and Illustrated by Anna Llenas
Colors and feeling go together incredibly well when you’re trying to explain them to children - and no book does this better than The Color Monster. I’m personally partial to the pop-up book version, because they took the beautiful, creative illustrations of the original and turned it into the most elaborate and coolest pop-up book I’ve ever owned. I kid you not, these pop-ups are incredible works of art.
The Color Monster is feeling all mixed up, so his friend helps him separate his feelings and put them into their own jars. This begins the exploration of the different feelings and the colors that are attached to them - happiness is yellow, sadness is blue, anger is red, fear is black, and so on. Not only is this book a very good-looking exploration of colors, it’s hands-down one of our favorite explorations of feelings as well - which can be quite important for kids. That and the fact that this monster is so adorable really puts The Color Monster over the top.
Written by Robb Pearlman and Illustrated by Eda Kaban
There couldn’t possibly be another #1 book on a list of picture books about colors. You can definitely use this book to teach your kids the colors. They’re introduced page by page with the vibrant, cartoon illustrations of Eda Kaban. I absolutely love her work - it warms my heart.
But Pink Is For Boys also comes packed with the unbelievably important lesson that every color belongs to everybody. This is a vital lesson that can literally change lives. Starting at the most remarkably young ages, children are bombarded with damaging messages from society regarding how they should think. Almost always, the first of these lessons to materialize is that some colors belong to boys and some colors belong to girls. From there it’s a fast and slippery slope to being told what you’re supposed to like and how you’re supposed to act and who you’re supposed to be. Internalizing these messages leads to countless episodes of bullying and harassment and estrangement in life.
Worst of all - kids learn that it’s not okay to be themselves. This is madness, and it starts very early. The negative messages kids receive from all around them in society are very strong, and the only way to fight them are with very intentional lessons like the one found in Pink Is For Boys. All of the colors are for everyone. Period. It’s kind of sad that it’s something that even needs to be said, but it most certainly does.
To read more about why we love Pink Is For Boys so much, make sure to read our full article.
What’s your family’s favorite book about colors? Have you read any of the books on our list yet? Let us know in the comments!