Thinking skills – children’s books to encourage creative and critical thinking
Books to encourage thinking skills – this list of books contains texts that have been specifically selected to promote both critical and creative thinking skills through reading.
The fiction and nonfiction titles below will encourage children to independently engage in critical and creative thinking. For example, thinking critically, analysing and evaluating characters and storylines, observing, inferring and predicting what might happen next and reflecting using reasoning to support their interpretation and evaluation.
Children can also look at plots, characters and situations to stop and think, consider cause and effect, and propose their own original solutions to narrative problems. There are also titles to help children engage in creative thinking processes, think outside the box, think differently, use fresh perspectives, consider different points of view, and use teamwork and communication to present imaginative ideas.
This list includes titles by authors including Oliver Jeffers, Alice James, Alex Frith, Petr Horáček, Hannah Peck, John Condon, Leo Timmers and The School of Life.
Children’s books to encourage creative and critical thinking skills – our recommended titles
What Will I Discover? By Tanya Lloyd Ky, illustrated by Rachel Qiuqi
‘Why does every humpback whale sing a different sound’ and ‘How many dinosaurs roamed the Earth’ are just two of the big questions posed in this beautifully illustrated large-format picture book. With awe and wonder oozing from every page, ‘What Will I Discover’ is a joy to read and share with preschool and EYFS-aged children.
Big Cat by Jess Racklyeft
Seven-year-old Catherine is neat and precise and when she discovers a very wild cat, they find adventure in the most unlikely of places. With clever multi-perspective illustrations and short bursts of text that will encourage children to think differently and ask questions, Big Cat is highly recommended for reading and discussing with EYFS and lower KS1 children.
The Best Bear Tracker by John Condon and Julia Christians
A confident young girl is determined to follow the ‘Bear Tracker Rules’ and become the best bear tracker in the world. Children will love spotting the curious family of bears that follow her, undetected, throughout her quest in this hilarious picture book story for EYFS and KS1. If you are teaching instructional and procedural writing in Year 2 or lower KS2, ‘The Best Bear Tracker’ would make a great text to use for modelling and developing logical ideas and to encourage critical thinking skills.
The General by Michael Foreman
When an important army general falls from his horse, he looks up, dazed, and appreciates the beauty of his surroundings. This sets into motion a plan to change the world and strive for peace. Written at the height of the Cold War, ‘The General’ is still a highly relevant picture book to read and discuss in KS2 PSHE classes. The distinctive illustrations will inspire children’s artwork in KS2 – particularly the mosaic-style depiction of the army camp from above.
Meanwhile Back On Earth by Oliver Jeffers
When two children can’t stop arguing, their dad decides to take them on a journey through time and space. Looking back at the planet Earth helps to teach his children what matters, what makes us human and what brings people together in harmony. Exquisitely illustrated, this hardback picture book is a wonderful achievement, both visually and in terms of the powerful and universal message. The sparse text is both thought-provoking and inspiring and will challenge the reader’s views on the value of life and mankind’s place in the universe. Highly recommended for reading and discussing with classes in KS1.
A Perfect Wonderful Day with Friends by Philip Waechter
When Racoon realises that he has no eggs for his cake, he visits Fox. Fox needs to fix the roof, so they enlist the help of Bear, beginning a heartwarming quest of camaraderie, helpfulness and cake. A sparkling picture book about friendship, community and positivity and what makes an enjoyable day. A useful resource for EYFS and KS1 teachers to use when modelling story journeys.
The Perfect Present by Petr Horáček
Best friends Tom and Mot give each other a wonderfully imaginative birthday present. Tom gifts a beautiful feather. Might it be from a magical bird? Mot gives a marble. Or perhaps it is a tiny planet? The Perfect Present is a highly creative and charming story with glorious and colourful illustrations. It’s ideal for eliciting creative thinking skills in class discussions. For EYFS and KS1 teachers looking for large display ideas, the multicoloured feather in particular will provide a wealth of inspiration.
A Little Bit of Hush by Paul Stewart
Disturbed by the chattering starlings, squawking crows and banging woodpeckers, the poor baby squirrels can’t get any sleep! With charming collage-style illustrations, ‘A Little Bit of Hush’ explores how we react to noise, and helps to explain mindfulness and consideration for the feelings of others with pupils in EYFS. It’s also a great story to help promote peace and quiet at bedtime with younger children.
Elephant Island by Leo Timmers
When a seafaring elephant with a captain’s hat finds himself marooned on a rock, he works together with a mouse to build an island. After some time, more and more animals help out, and the island becomes more and more spectacular. It even develops a Ferris wheel! With themes of ambition, growth, perseverance, and confidence in the face of peril; as well as captivating illustrations; this book is perfect to read and share with EYFS classes or discuss and think about creatively in PSHE lessons with older children. It’s a unique book that children will want to read, imagine, and think about again and again.
To Catch a Cloud by Elena de Roo and Hannah Peck
When a young boy spots a cloud he challenges it to catch him – and so begins a chase over land and sea in many kinds of weather. Told in the first person through rhyming verse and spectacular vibrant illustrations, this is a fantastic source of inspiration for creative writing, poetry modelling and display ideas in KS1 classes. In particular, the artwork, depicting interesting and unexpected perspectives, really makes the wind and weather come alive.
The Very Hard Book by Idan Ben-Barak
This innovative paperback invites children to think. Exploring metacognition and critical thinking in a way that primary-aged children will understand, this book encourages children to consider logic, perception, paradoxes and more, through big bold, illustrations, clever typography and engaging short bursts of text. The perfect book for thinking children, it’s very hard not to like everything about this book.
Big Questions about the Universe by Alice James and Alex Frith
When experts at London’s Royal Observatory collected the most interesting ‘big questions’ children had asked, topics included the solar system, how stars were formed, how people can live and travel in space and how much we know about our existence and the universe. This book helps to answer these questions, and more, in a brightly illustrated hardback that’s jam-packed with short bursts of facts, details and ideas to spark the imagination. Refreshingly ambitious, and not dumbed down in any way, Big Questions about the Universe is highly recommended for KS2 libraries, and also extension reading to encourage the development of thinking skills in greater-depth students.
Mathematics for Beginners by Sarah Hull and Tom Mumbray
If a child questions why we learn maths, then reading this book will provide them with many fascinating and relevant answers. Each chapter covers an exciting concept that will appeal to both children who are interested in Maths and those who enjoy being challenged. Including clear and concise introductions to mathematical modelling, probability, game theory and the concept of proof, this is a great read for ‘greater-depth’ students in years 5&6, and a useful resource for lower KS3 libraries.
Ten Ways to Build a Brilliant Brain by Nicola Morgan
This comprehensive guide to building a brilliant brain includes advice on healthy eating, developing a growth mindset and positive outlook exercising, being inquisitive, reading books, making friends, improving resilience and resting and sleeping well. The high-quality text isn’t dumbed down and is presented in short bursts of clarity with helpful graphics and illustrations. An inspiring and practical read, this book will appeal to children aged 10-13 who are experiencing change, school transition, or who want to learn how to improve their confidence. Highly recommended.
Big Ideas from History by The School Of Life
Thorough, in-depth, enticingly illustrated and thought-provoking, ‘Big Ideas from History’ covers a diverse selection of civilisations and cultures. It doesn’t simply explain the where, who and when; it focuses on the how and why; and prompts children to think critically. It spans prehistory, ancient realms, the middle ages, the early modern period, industrialisation, the world of today and predictions for the future. A substantial book in every sense – this 320-page hardback weighs in at over two-thirds of a kilogram – this is the perfect ‘big’ book present for a curious upper primary or lower secondary-aged child. There is a free extract here.
Books to encourage children to use thinking skills – bulk orders and class sets
To buy a pack of all or some of the books in this list, or to order class sets of book(s) in this list, please click the button below to order via uk.bookshop.org, an organisation that supports local bookshops.
Disclosure: If you buy books using the button above, we may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops.
Critical and creative thinking skills resources
- There’s a great set of free resources designed to help schools develop a culture of critical and creative thinking in science, produced by Stem Learning.
- Educations Scotland’s National Improvement Hub has made available a framework for students to ‘design their own thinking, including extensive case studies, downloadable discussion prompts, and practical activities.
- The Geographical Association has collated an exhaustive series of case studies with real-world examples of how primary schools have used thinking skills to deepen geographical enquiry.
- CEA has curated a comprehensive set of free curricular and cross-curricular resources for primary schools with crib sheets covering interpreting information, how to problem solve, how to make decisions, how to think creatively, how to work in a team and how to manage yourself. These resources are potentially very useful for evidencing the development and integration of thinking skills for Ofsted deep dives in school inspections.
- The Department for Education in Southern Australia has published a useful aide-memoire that explains what critical and creative thinking is, and how it applies to children’s learning, in a brief and helpful format for parents and stakeholders.
If you liked this list of children’s books to encourage creative and critical thinking skills, you might also enjoy our collection of books for bored children, narrative nonfiction texts and our children’s literature podcast.