Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead book cover

The famous oceanographer Jacques Cousteau once said, “No aquarium, no tank in a marine land, however spacious it may be, can begin to duplicate the conditions of the sea.” How right he was! The different types of beaches: sandy beaches, pebble beaches, beaches with boardwalks, and isolated beaches. The chance to explore tide pools or build sandcastles. The sound of seagulls crying above the waves, or the pitter-patter of sandpiper feet rushing between waves and wet sand.

Unfortunately, many of us don’t have easy or frequent access to the beach. But we can evoke the majesty of this experience for our children with thoughtfully chosen picture books. Now, there’s no shortage of books about the beach and the ocean, of course, but not all books are created equal. That’s why I’ve rounded up my absolute favorite, high-quality beach picture books for you and your family to enjoy. They explore the sensations we can experience at the beach and encourage curiosity, bravery, and respect for the shore and its visitors (human, plant, and animal).

Read them to get excited about an upcoming beach visit or to take a vacation in your imaginations while snuggled up with your child. No matter how you use them, these kids’ beach books offer oceans of fun.

A Beach Tail

by Karen Lynn Williams,  illustrated by Floyd Cooper

Have you ever had a day when you simply got lost in your thoughts? Well, that’s what happens to the character Gregory in this engaging story. But Gregory gets lost in more than just his thoughts. While exploring the beach and drawing a lion in the sand, he soon finds himself far away from his father, on a part of the beach he doesn’t recognize at all. Luckily, the tail of his lion will lead him straight back to where he belongs. It’s a sweet book that inspires curiosity and the simple joys of spending a day exploring the shore. Kids will love this tale of a tail.


Duck and Goose Go to the Beach

written and illustrated by Tad Hills 

All the Duck and Goose books are adorable, and this edition is no exception. Enjoy this adventure story about two pals who overcome the fear of going someplace new and dive headfirst into all the excitement the beach has to offer—shells, sandcastles, waves, and meeting new friends! Duck and Goose learn that traveling somewhere new might be scary, but it’s worth overcoming your anxieties to have so much fun and, in the end, you can always go back to your own happy home.


Seagull and Sea Dragon

written and illustrated by Sydni Gregg

Seagull is curious. While flying high above the ocean, Seagull wonders about what life is like beneath the waves, what the feathers on those animals below are like, and those floating lanterns underwater. Meanwhile, Sea Dragon is also curious. From the depths of the water, Sea Dragon wonders about the giant colorful bubbles floating in the air, what kinds of fins the animals in the sky have, and what life is like overhead. This wonderful story introduces children to animals that live in the ocean, and it’s also a beautiful metaphor for how lived experiences inform our points of view—and how talking to others with different lives brings us all closer together. Plus, the large text and simple sentences are great for early readers.


Saving American Beach

The biography of African American environmentalist MaVynee Betsch

by Heidi Tyline King,  illustrated by Ekua Holmes

This is a passionate and somewhat magical biography of a real-life black opera singer and environmental activist named MaVynee Betsch. When MaVynee was a girl in Florida, the beaches were segregated. Angered by this injustice, her great-grandfather bought a section of Florida beach and opened it to everyone. He named it American Beach, and it became a popular destination for black Americans to spend summer days. MayVynee grew up and left Florida to become an opera singer. When she returned years later, American Beach had been abandoned and forgotten, so she worked to restore it to its natural beauty. She took on developers and politicians to have the beach protected, so people would know its history. And she won. This book offers a gorgeously illustrated look at a lesser-known but vitally significant tale from American history.


Hello Ocean

by Pam Muñoz Ryan, illustrated by Mark Astrella 

Acclaimed author Pam Muñoz Ryan has written an ode to seaside vacations in Hello Ocean, the story of a girl visiting her “old best friend”—the ocean—with her family. It’s a beautiful poem that recalls the experiences of the beach via every one of the senses. From the color of seaweed to the roar of the waves, from the feeling of wind on your skin to the smell of suntan lotion and the taste of salt water, you’ll be enveloped in the rich sensations of a summer day at the seashore. Even if it’s from the comfort of your own living room.


A Mermaid Girl

by Sana Rafi, illustrated by Olivia Aserr

In this book, we meet a little girl who loves the water so much that she’s like a mermaid girl. She’s excited to spend a day at the pool with her mother and friends, wearing a brand-new “burkini” swimsuit that matches her mother’s. She thinks they both look like glittery gold mermaids in their bright-yellow suits—until they arrive at the pool and she realizes her swimsuit doesn’t look like anyone else’s. She feels confused and like an outsider, but her mother reminds her of all the beautiful and wonderful mermaid women in their family who wear burkinis too. Filled with the love of her mama and plenty of courage, she dives into the water and spends the day swimming with friends. After all, isn’t that what mermaids are supposed to do?


This Beach is Loud!

written and illustrated by Samantha Cotterill

As much fun as going to the beach can be, it can also be a lot—a lot of noise, a lot of people, and a lot of wet and gritty sensations. In this book, we meet a little boy on the autism spectrum who finds the beach to be too much sensory stimulation. His father (who remains calm and steadfast throughout the book) gives him techniques to help self-regulate until they can get to a quiet area of the beach. It’s a much-needed story of what life can be like for neurodiverse children and ways families can create experiences suited to these children’s needs. It’s empathetic, joyful, and sweet. And who doesn’t enjoy a day like that?


Penguin on Vacation

written and illustrated by Salina Yoon

Penguin on Vacation is my favorite book from Salina Yoon’s Penguin series. In it, Penguin gets tired of all the ice and snow in Antarctica, so he decides to take a trip to the beach. But it turns out that at the beach you can’t skate, ski, or sled. What’s a Penguin to do? Just when Penguin is giving up on the idea of a fun vacation, he meets Crab, who shows him how to really enjoy the seaside. Then, when Penguin’s vacation is done, Crab decides to take a trip of his own and visit Penguin. It’s an adorable story that features sea, sand, and snow for lots of seasonal learning and fun.


Where Three Oceans Meet

by Rajani LaRocca, illustrated by Archana Sreenivasan

In this story that goes well beyond the typical beach book, a girl named Sejal and her mother have traveled to India to visit Sejal’s grandmother. The three discuss what they want to do, who they want to see, and how they want to travel, and Sejal would like to see what’s at the end of the earth. Then we follow along on a family vacation that connects generations across continents and oceans, until we reach the tip of India and the end of the earth—the place where three oceans meet, and three generations of women do as well. It’s a story for anyone who lives far from family or struggles to connect across cultural divides, in which love for one another brings everyone together, with a little help from the beach.


Tía Isa Wants a Car

by Meg Medina, illustrated by Claudio Muñoz 

Tía Isa wants a car so she can drive to the beach. And she wants one big enough to fit her whole family, those who live in America with her and those still in the old country. She wants it to recall the beaches of home. But cars are expensive, and saving takes a long time. Tía Isa’s niece falls in love with the idea of a car, too, and the opportunity to visit the beach, far from the neighborhood she never gets to leave. So the girl begins to find odd jobs, saving to help make Tía Isa’s dreams come true. In this book about a goal that symbolizes the American Dream, we see a family working together to manifest amazing things. Culturally relevant and wonderfully optimistic, this is a beach story that will have you believing in dreams again.