The 25 Best Children’s Books Ever Written
We asked teachers, librarians, and parents and examined bestseller lists to come up with the most beloved books that should be on every child’s shelves.
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Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: Corduroy by Don Freeman
It’s hard to read this sweet tale of a teddy bear missing a button who just wants to be taken home without getting a little choked up. After exploring the department store at night hoping to find his lost button, Corduroy discovers that he can—and should—be loved just as he is. An instant classic when it was published in 1968, Corduroy finds itself on just about every list of the best children’s books. Check out more children’s books that help explain how everyone is different.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Ranking at number one on lists of best children’s books compiled by Scholastic, School Library Journal, and Time magazine, 1963’s Where the Wild Things Are is all about imagination. As in Harold and the Purple Crayon (not surprisingly, that book’s author was Sendak’s mentor), young Max creates a whole world for himself after he’s punished by being sent to his room. Eventually, though, he realizes the importance of his home and family. Its exploration of complex emotions, recognition of childhood struggles, and their resolution make this seemingly simple book rich with meaning. Some children may find the monsters scary, but they’re really more jovial than frightening. This story is one of the children’s books that influenced famous lives.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
Inspired by his son, his son’s toys, and the woods around his English country home, A. A. Milne crafted one of the finest works of children’s literature all the way back in 1926, and his characters continue to delight today. What makes them so everlasting? Touched with gentle British humor, the stories celebrate the innocence of childhood with a deep understanding of how children think and respond to situations, just as Pooh Bear and his friends do. An immediate success when it was published, Winnie-the-Pooh hasn’t been out of print since and ranks on Publishers Weekly‘s list of all-time bestselling children’s books.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
In this charming story first published in 1939, the title heroine explores Paris with her classmates, then needs her appendix out! She’s the smallest in her class, but she’s also the bravest, and handles what could be a scary situation with fearlessness and confidence. The calming rhymes lend a sense of soothing to the tale as well. Ranking among the New York Public Library’s 100 Great Children’s Books, the original story sparked numerous sequels featuring the plucky Madeline. Read more awesome books to read with fierce female characters.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Originally published in 1902 to instant success, Beatrix Potter’s classic children’s book with lovely illustrations make this little rabbit a mainstay of children’s literature over a hundred years later. In the first of many tales, mischievous Peter runs into danger when he disobeys his mother and ventures into the neighbor’s garden. A story about consequences, the playful tale is never scary and ranks at number two on Publishers Weekly‘s list of all-time bestselling children’s books. It’s amazing that it’s one of the iconic books that almost didn’t get published.
Best children’s books for Grades one to three: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Everyone’s had one of those days when everything seems to go wrong, and Alexander is no exception. Kids relate to his humorous difficulties, and the book lets young readers acknowledge their own frustrations even as they work to overcome them. The 1972 modern classic is on the New York Public Library‘s list of the best children’s books, is an American Library Association Notable Children’s Book, and earned a spot on Publishers Weekly‘s all-time bestsellers list. Read about the children’s books that can get you through life’s toughest moments.
Best children’s books for Grades one to three: Ramona series by Beverly Cleary
Like Alexander, Ramona is a hugely relatable character who doesn’t always behave exactly as she should but learns lessons along the way. Written between 1955 and 1999, the series focuses on Ramona’s daily trials and tribulations as well as her relationship with her family, including her older sister, Beezus. But she handles the scrapes she gets into with wit and spunk, and the stories’ realism makes this series a must for elementary-school-age readers. Two books in the series received prestigious Newbery Honors for children’s literature, and another garnered the National Book Award.
Best children’s books for grades one to three: Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
This collection by children’s author and illustrator Shel Silverstein offers young readers a humorous and insightful introduction to poetry. An American Library Association Notable Children’s Book and number 12 on Publishers Weekly‘s list of children’s bestsellers, Silverstein’s poems test the limits of the imagination. Other favorite, although sometimes controversial, Silverstein books include The Giving Tree and A Light in the Attic (the first children’s book to reach the New York Times bestseller list, in 1981). Some of his books also find themselves on our list of books we bet you never knew were banned.
Best children’s books for grades one to three: Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Number one on the National Education Association‘s list of the best children’s books, this 1952 classic tells a tale of friendship featuring a spider named Charlotte, a pig named Wilbur, and a girl named Fern. But the cycle of life in this pastoral farm setting doesn’t just make for a sweet story—death does occur, although in a peaceful way. Caregivers should be aware of questions that may arise as children make the transition to reading literature with deeper themes, like this one. Find out the special joy of reading children’s books through grown-up eyes.
Best children’s books for grades four to six: Matilda by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is at once loved and loathed: Some say his works portray children behaving badly with too many blatantly mean adults and macabre plot elements. Yet his stories continue to appeal to kids at their level, presenting how unfair and unpredictable the world can seem to youngsters. In Matilda, the only Dahl book on the New York Public Library‘s list of the best children’s books, a smart and precocious girl uses her intelligence to outwit the cruel grown-ups in her life, and forms a loving relationship with her teacher Miss Honey. Dahl fans can also check out Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach. Here are more of the most controversial books of all time.