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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The very best children’s books
The worlds that are encountered when a child opens a book for the first time are delightful, informative, and downright magical. Read on to find the very best children’s book for every kid you know. Along with this list, don’t forget about popular bedtime stories that are also a big hit among all ages.
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Best children’s books for baby/toddler: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
In a soothing, repetitive tone, a young rabbit says goodnight to all the things in the room. Instead of plot, Goodnight Moon looks at the world from the eyes of a very young child, calming children with the ritual of naming each object around them. Lulling babies to sleep since 1947, this classic still ranks on bestseller lists, with some estimates of all-time copies sold worldwide topping 48 million. Find out more of the best books to help your child fall asleep.
Best children’s books for baby/toddler: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
In this classic children’s book, a caterpillar eats his way through a week’s worth of food before making his glorious transformation into a butterfly. With colorful artwork of tissue paper and paint, plus fun holes to stick tiny fingers through, this children’s classic touches on everything from counting to the days of the week to the life cycle of living things. Continually selected as one of the best children’s books ever written, it has sold 41 million copies worldwide since it was published in 1969. Check out more of Carle’s stunning artwork in Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Find out some simple ways you can instill a love of reading in your child.
Best children’s books for baby/toddler: The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Enter the winter wonderland of a city setting with this 1962 classic, which earned Ezra Jack Keats the Caldecott Medal for his illustrations. The book was groundbreaking in its depiction of multicultural urban life; young readers also revel in the universal adventure of exploring new-fallen snow. Other notable books by Keats include Whistle for Willie and Peter’s Chair.
Best children’s books for baby/toddler: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
This story book for kids introduces children to letters as they all try to climb up a coconut tree—then fall down! The New York Public Library calls it a “rollicking introduction to the ABC’s” in its list of 100 Great Children’s Books. The rhythmic repetition is fun for kids, as are the bright and simple illustrations by Lois Ehlert. Fun fact: Author Bill Martin Jr. also wrote the text to the Eric Carle–illustrated Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Check out the best books for grandparents to read to their grandchildren.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
We could fill this whole list with just story books for kids from Dr. Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham is a particular favorite, though, because it deals with that ever-present kid problem: not wanting to try new foods. After being urged and refusing, the unnamed main character discovers that he actually likes the title dish. Plus, its simple language makes it the perfect book for beginning readers. The story ranks at number four on the Publishers Weekly list of the all-time bestselling children’s books and is still on yearly bestseller lists. Another Seuss classic, Oh, the Places You’ll Go, is also a current top seller. Find out why Seuss ranks among the best books for children (and adults) to read.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff
If you perform the title action, the mouse will ask for milk, for a straw, and so on until he’s back to asking for a cookie again. This if-then “circular story” teaches youngsters sequencing and cause and effect. The first book in the If You Give series, published in 1985, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide. Check out the popular children’s books that encourage kids to be nice.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Imagine if you could create a whole world just with one crayon. That’s what happens to Harold, and his story has been sparking children’s imaginations since 1955. Harold is also a great problem-solver: For example, he draws a boat to climb into after he unintentionally draws an ocean. This simple but lovely story frequently ranks on lists of the best children’s books, including those from the National Education Association and School Library Journal. Here are some great free audio books for kids (and where to find them).
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
Everyone knows the self-motivating refrain, “I think I can, I think I can … ” Through this tale of a little engine that pulls a train over a mountain, children learn about positivity, hard work, helping others, self-confidence, and perseverance. Although the story’s origins are vague, it was first printed as we know it today way back in 1930, and has since sold millions of copies—but its timeless lessons are what make it a true classic. Follow these early reading habits that make young kids love books.
Best children’s books for Pre-K/kindergarten: Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
This lighthearted story (cheekily subtitled A Cautionary Tale) explores what happens when a favorite toy goes missing—a situation many kids can relate to. Its interesting mix of city photography and drawing earned it a 2005 Caldecott Honor. Author Mo Willems is also the author of other recent children’s favorites, including Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus and the Elephant and Piggie series.
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.
Best children’s books for grades four to six: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Back on current bestseller lists, likely thanks to Disney’s recent movie adaptation, this groundbreaking 1962 novel features a heroine in a genre-bending science fiction–fantasy story about a girl tasked with traveling through space and time to save her scientist father—and the world. A forerunner of modern young-adult sci-fi and fantasy, including The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, and winner of the 1963 Newbery Medal, this story continues to thrill today. Check out more books you need to read before the movie version comes out.
Best children’s books for grades four to six: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Speaking of the boy wizard, the Harry Potter series is the bestselling children’s series since, well, pretty much ever. But it’s not just hype: The quality of these popular children’s books lives up to their popularity in the richly drawn wizarding world, the complexity of the characters, and the weighty challenges Harry is faced with. Young readers are best off sticking to the first couple of books in the series, incorporating caregiver discussion of any difficult elements, like the death of Harry’s parents; later books can be read as kids approach the teen years. Find out the surprising books every teen should read before graduating from high school.
Best children’s books for grades four to six: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Another classic British fantasy, the 1865 story of Alice and her trip down the rabbit hole to an alternate world is equal parts mind-boggling and imagination-sparking. Although its exact meaning continues to puzzle scholars, Alice’s experiences question the nature of reality—and for kids, navigating the adult world can actually seem just as baffling. By the way, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland‘s first edition is one of those rare books whose owners are sitting on a gold mine.
Best children’s books for grades four to six: Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
In this Newbery Honor book, Opal takes in a stray dog she names Winn-Dixie, who helps her make friends in a new town and come to terms with her absent mother. Both heartwarming and realistic, it’s listed on the New York Public Library‘s list of the best children’s books. Author Kate DiCamillo has written other acclaimed books, including The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Newbery Medal–winning The Tale of Despereaux, and Flora & Ulysses, which won yet another Newbery Medal (DiCamillo is only one of a handful of authors to win two). Because of Winn-Dixie is also one of the best-ever audiobooks for your next family road trip.
Best children’s books for grades four to six: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
Introduce young readers to this magical world with the first published book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. The four Pevensie children are sent to a house in the country to escape the Blitz in London, England, during World War II, but they soon find a wardrobe that leads them into a parallel universe of mythical beings and talking animals—which is also under threat. Kids may need post-reading discussion to work through difficult themes such as betrayal, forgiveness, death, and rebirth. A critical and commercial success, it’s one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.
Best children’s books for grades four to six: Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
One of the greatest female heroines of all time, independent, intelligent, and imaginative, Anne can’t help winning over the hearts of her adoptive parents in turn-of-the-century Prince Edward Island, Canada. Although she frequently gets into hilarious mishaps, she always means well! Her self-confidence, rich inner life, kind nature, and academic aspirations make her as great a role model for today’s children as she was a century ago. Young readers may need a little help to get through some of the many flowery descriptions of the Canadian countryside, but it’s worth it, as the 50 million copies sold worldwide attest to. Looking for more to read? Get your kids into the Halloween spirit with these 15 spooky, silly children’s books.
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