What Do You Want to Be?

Where do you go to work, Mommy? What do you do at work, Daddy? Picture books can help explain the adult, working world to young children and prompt them to think about the perennial question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” There are both books that are filled with photographs and straightforward facts about different occupations, and books that are stories made up of dramatic interpretations of various work situations. Try both styles and see which one your child enjoys most.

As grown-ups we know that a person can have many interests and jobs in a lifetime. Read aloud with your child to explore the possibilities. Each book is a conversation starter. You can talk about people you know with different professions and your child’s own dreams about what the future holds.

To extend a book further, visit the businesses you read about. Read a book about a police officer, then get a tour of the police station. Read about farming, then visit a farm and see the animals that live there. Ask your grocery store or local bakery if your child can have a special tour after you read about those things. Your child will learn new words and ideas and remember them better when you connect the book’s words to the real world.


  • “Officer Buckle and Gloria” by Peggy Rathmann, is a humorous story about a police officer and his companion at work, a dog named Gloria. The officer’s job is teaching children at a school about safety, but he puts the students to sleep with his talks until Gloria comes to the rescue.
  • “New York’s Bravest” by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, is a folktale about Mose Humphreys, a firefighter in New York City in the 1840s. The qualities of all firefighters are exemplified in this giant of a man, who is a brave and selfless hero.
  • “Pig Pig Gets a Job” by David McPhail will tickle the funny bone of your pre-schooler. Pig Pig has grand ideas about jobs he could do, but his mother scales down his wild plans to make them practical.
  • “Kitten Red, Yellow, Blue” by Peter Catalanotto teaches numbers, colors, and professions, as sixteen calico kittens each find their niche in life.
  • “Whose Hat is This?” by Sharon Katz Cooper, illustrated by Amy Bailey Muehlenhardt, will keep your children guessing–and learning–about all the things people do for work. Other books in the series explore jobs that use different tools and vehicles.
  • “Mommy Works, Daddy Works” by Marika Pederson and Mikele Hall, illustrated by Deidre Betteride, explores a multitude of professions. From the child’s point of view, mom or dad could be a writer, a chef, president of a company, or a farmer, “but there is always time for me!”
  • “Where’s Our Mama?” by Diane Goode is the story of two children looking for their mother with the help of an officer at a Paris train station. Although the professions of the eight women the children meet isn’t named, there is plenty of opportunity to talk about what jobs the women are doing. The text of each page is a teaser for the picture on the next page.
  • “I Want to Be…” series by Stephanie Maze is made of books filled with photos of real people going about their workdays. You can read about the day of a veterinarian, engineer, astronaut, dancer, chef and many other professionals. If the text is too long for your young child, you can talk about the pictures.

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