profile picture of Kathleen Harris
Kathleen Harris

The 80 Best Children’s Books Of All Time

These classic kids books and new favorites will be enjoyed for years to come.

Before I had kids, I thought a home library of about 30 children’s books would get any family through the first five years. I noticed, though, that my sister-in-law had hundreds of kids’ books for my nieces and nephews, but I thought she had just gone to some extreme. Now I know better. Reading to children, starting when they’re babies on through to grade school, is the most excellent way to bond, share language and experience, and entertain without turning on a screen. And long after they’re put away, the memorable quotes from these children’s books live on. I read to my kids at bedtime and here and there throughout the day. And while kids can go back to the same children’s books over and over (and over again), sometimes us grown-ups crave a variety of kids’ books for our own sanity.

Fortunately the world of children’s books is a rich place. Your own beloved list of favorite children’s books is a great starting point. Then there are the recent crop of children’s picture books and popular children’s books so excellent, you won’t want to skip them. As you build your own library and ritual with your little one, reading children’s books together will one day be a cherished part of their childhood memory. Here, a selection of children’s books you’ll enjoy sharing as a family for years to come.

Top 10 Children’s Picture Books

These popular children’s books can be enjoyed right from birth, with many especially good as bedtime books.

Good Night, Moon
Among the many bedtime children’s books out there, the sing-song cadence of Margaret Wise Brown’s masterpiece makes this board book a pleasure to read aloud. There’s no plot other than a bunny going to bed, but the colorful images, description of the room and the ritual of saying goodnight to everything from the caregiver to the comb and brush is a soothing way to end the night.
Recommended age: Birth and up
Buy It: $7, Toysrus.com

The Going To Bed Book
Expect repetition, rhyme and a good time by all in Sandra Boynton’s children’s books, including this one about a Noah’s arc-like group of silly animals that live on a boat together. They bathe, brush their teeth, and then, in a goofy turn of events, run up to the top deck to do some exercise before turning in and rocking to sleep.
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $4, Barnesandnoble.com

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle’s title character eats. A lot. Die-cut pages underscore how much food the caterpillar goes through day by day: one apple on Monday; three plums on Wednesday; and by Saturday, cake, salami, cheese and more! Eating a green leaf on Sunday makes him feel better. Then guess what happens? Spoiler alert: he takes a rest and emerges as a butterfly.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $7, Target.com

Giraffes Can’t Dance
Few children’s books underscore the message of being true to yourself like Giles Andreae’s tale about Gerald the giraffe. He tries to attend a dance with other animals, but he can’t move like the baboons and warthogs and get bullied by the lions. Gerald heads home, looks at the beautiful moon over the savannah and is inspired to do his own special dance to the tune of a cricket.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $13, Barnesandnoble.com

Big Red Barn A master of settling little ones down for sleep, Margaret Wise Brown’s other classic children’s book is set on a farm as the sun goes down and every critter (from the baby pig to the horses) all get ready to turn in.
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $7, Amazon.com

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop
What does jazz sound like? It sounds like the phrases in this classic Chris Raschka book introducing kids to instruments and to quintessential American artist Charlie Parker. Read it fast or slow, each line has a musical quality you don’t find in most children’s books.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $7, Amazon.com

Time for Bed
It’s true, a lot of children’s books have bedtime as a theme! Mem Fox’s gentle tale of animals taking a rest has rhyme and repetition that read like a lullaby and realistic illustrations of familiar animals, including cats and cows.
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $6, Amazon.com

Counting Kisses: A Kiss and Read Book
Karen Katz depicts a whole family, from grandma to sister, soothing a roly-poly baby with a countdown of kisses, from ten on each little toe down to one last kiss on baby’s sleepy head.
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $6, Amazon.com

Good Night, Gorilla
With few words, it’s up to you to describe how this gorilla jumps out of bed and follows the zookeeper around, unlocking cages behind his back so he can bring his buddies home for a sleepover. Of the many children’s books featuring zoo animals, this one comes to life in how you narrate it.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $5, Walmart.com

Dear Zoo
If you wrote to the zoo and asked for a pet, what would you get? Well, let’s just say elephants and monkeys are not the best at home. But a puppy? That’s perfect! Interactive children’s books, like this one from Rod Campbell featuring flaps to lift as you move through the tale will delight your little one.
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $6, Amazon.com

Top 10 Children’s Poetry Books

Bring a few children’s poetry books into your reading rotation liven things up. And kid’s books featuring rhymes and verses captivate young readers.

Where the Sidewalk Ends
Shel Silverstein’s classic poetry is laugh-out-loud funny for kids and parents, and also full of truths about human nature that reveal themselves through verse. His line drawings are a hoot too!
Recommended age: 6 and up
Buy It: $15, Walmart.com

The Real Mother Goose
You think you know this children’s poetry—until you try to recite a few from memory and can’t get past the first two lines. Use this collection, with lush illustrations by Blanche Fisher Wright, to refresh your memory and introduce your kids to characters like Wee Willie Winkie and rhymes like Pat-a-Cake.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $8, Amazon.com

Poetry for Young People: Robert Frost
No one is too young to listen to children’s poetry by Robert Frost. A collection of 25 of his most easy-to-understand poems, organized by seasons, is complimented by watercolors that show scenes from Frost’s native northeast.
Recommended age: 8 and up
Buy It: $6, Amazon.com

Is Your Mama a Llama?
Deborah Guarino’s collection of poems about animals is presented as a little llama visiting other creatures and asking after each one’s mom. The delightful rhymes lead a child to name each critter based not just on the description and pictures, but the fun, predictable end of each last stanza.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $7, Barnesandnoble.com

Poems to Learn by Heart
This could be called “a poem for everything.” Through more than 100 poems, kids learn that you can write verses about friends, sports, feelings, food—anything. Caroline Kennedy (yes, that Caroline Kennedy) curated the anthology with an ear to what’s fun for kids to memorize.
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $11, Amazon.com

A Children’s Garden of Verses
Written in 1885(!), Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic children’s poetry is still a pleasure to read. For instance, “My Shadow” begins “I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me…” and recounts how his shadow sometimes stretches tall, and other times disappears altogether.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $18, Harpercollins.com

A Child’s Book of Poems
This collection of famous poetry by the likes of Emily Dickinson includes multicultural illustrations by Gyo Fujikawa. Selections include “The Owl and the Pussycat” by Edward Lear and “Be Like the Bird” by Victor Hugo.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $9, Amazon.com

The New Kid on the Block *
Jack Prelutsky has more than 100 poems in this book, full of invented words, vivid descriptions, and ridiculous scenarios (having your nose located between your toes) that keep kids excited for each new page.
Recommended age: 6 and up
Buy It: $5, Amazon.com

The Dragons Are Singing Tonight
This Jack Prelutsky work is what you might call an epic poem about dragons, stitched together with tales of many individual mythical creatures. Some dragons are funny and some are fierce, and the book dares you to believe in them all.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $7, Amazon.com

Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young
Poet Jack Prelutsky also curated this anthology of more than 200 poems about childhood from various authors. Many capture the energy of toddlers and preschoolers, like “Watch how high I’m jumping, watch how far I hop, watch how long I’m skipping, watch how fast I stop!”
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $7, Walmart.com

Top 10 Multicultural Children’s Books

Multicultural children’s books might cover an aspect of your family’s experience or simply introduce your child to cultures she’s not yet encountered. These kids’ books provide a window into other worlds and remind us of our shared humanity.

Dim Sum for Everyone!
Food is a favorite way to get to know a culture in children’s books. In Grace Lin’s book we visit a Chinese dim sum palace and learn the dishes and the character’s names. The end lesson is one that parents worldwide wish their children would learn: Everyone eats a little bit of everything.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $8, Walmart.com

The Sandwich Swap *
The school lunchroom is where kids might notice the difference between what their family eats and what other families have for meals, and it can sometimes breed teasing. In this book, written by Queen Rania of Jordan, two friends try each other’s sandwiches—one is hummus, one is peanut butter—as a way to make peace and know each other a little better.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $13, Barnesandnoble.com

Viva Frida
A few perfectly chosen phrases from Yuyi Morales, presented in both Spanish and English, briefly but beautifully describe the inspiring life of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. The illustrations, created with stop-motion puppets, paintings and digital magic, are like no other.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $10, Amazon.com

We All Sing With the Same Voice
This multicultural book started as a song on Sesame Street. The title pretty much says it all, but turning the pages and looking at the rainbow of faces—illustrations of kids living here, there, everywhere—drives home the message.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $7, Harpercollins.com

The Story About Ping
Marjorie Flack’s main character is a duck whose adventures on the Yangtze River begins after he’s separated from his flock. Written in 1933, this tale illustrates a different way of life for curious little minds.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $8, Walmart.com

The Name Jar
When you’re a student with a “weird” name, you might wish you could change it. In Yangsook Choi’s book, a Korean girl named Unhei learns to love and keep her given name after trying several American names in this wonderfully relatable tale about celebrating differences. Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $8, Amazon.com

Tikki Tikki Tembo
The repetition of Tikki’s long name in Arlene Mosel’s re-telling of this Chinese folktale about a firstborn son and the colorful theory behind why Chinese names are now kept short makes for a fun story to read aloud.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $9, Barnesandnoble.com

The Story of Ferdinand Not many children’s books can boast a peace-loving Spanish bull as its main character, and that’s the beauty of Munro Leaf’s 1936 classic storybook. Less inclined to join bullfights and more inclined to smell the flowers, the bull highlights the “you do you” message that’s perfect for today’s readers.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $3, Amazon.com

Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears
This West African folktale, retold by Verna Aardema, is full of grumpy, insecure and alarmist animals. The mosquito is ultimately held responsible for a baby owl’s death and is still whining to this day, which provides a memorable lesson on what finger-pointing gets you.
Recommended age: 5 and up
Buy It: $7, Scholastic.com

Strega Nona *
Children’s books that serve as a reminder to respect our elders’ wisdom and their wishes? Tomie de Paola’s humorous tale about a “grandma witch” named Strega Nona delivers home that message after Big Anthony messes with her magic pasta pot.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $8, Amazon.com

Top 10 Children’s Chapter Books

You can read these popular children’s chapter books to your child years before he can tackle them himself. And definitely keep these kids’ books around; he’ll love rediscovering his own favoriten children’s books when he’s ready.

The Boxcar Children
Not having parents is an appealing setup for kids—no wonder Gertrude Chandler Warner’s wholesome book about four orphaned siblings making their way in the world has a dedicated fan following and spawned a thriving series of children’s books. (She wrote the first 19 kids’ books, and other authors have written more than 100 children’s books featuring the same characters.)
Recommended age: 7 and up
Buy It: $4, Walmart.com

How to Train Your Dragon
There are twelve children’s books by author Cressida Cowell following main character Hiccup’s heroics and his wanderings with fiction’s most lovable dragon, Toothless. The tales combine two things young kids may love: Viking-era fantasies and dreams of flying on a dragon’s back. Recommended age: 8 and up
Buy It: $6, Amazon.com

Toys Go Out
In Emily Jenkin’s trilogy of children’s books, stuffed animals and, even more improbably, a ball come alive when the family isn’t around. You can guess that all will be fine in the end and still be on the edge of your seat as they get themselves in trouble. It’s followed by two sequels, Toy Dance Party and Toys Come Home.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $7, Target.com

Frog and Toad All Year
Arnold Lobel’s kids’ books, featuring the gentle adventures of odd couple Frog and Toad are super relatable: They go sledding, they want ice cream but it melts and, mostly, they have more fun together than apart.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $3, Amazon.com

Magic Tree House series
Siblings Jack and Annie can go anywhere back in time to see all the famous things taught in history books: dinosaurs roaming, Pompeii’s volcano erupting, Mozart composing and so on. There are also kids’ books that delve into more fantastical realms, where the kids meet Merlin and visit Camelot, for instance. Author Mary Pope Osborne has written more than fifty children’s books, each entertaining and sneakily educational.
Recommended age: 6 and up
Buy It: $5, Barnesandnoble.com

Little Women
Louisa May Alcott’s classic appeals to children who like reading about olden days, those who like a sister tale and kids who are fascinated by characters enduring hard times. In fact, reading about characters with grit may be the greatest teaching lesson the March family imparts to young readers.
Recommended age: 12 and up
Buy It: $11, Barnesandnoble.com

The Jungle Book
The story of a boy raised by animals in the jungle and is now hunted by a tiger is pretty intense, but there are other less heavy tales in Rudyard Kipling’s 1894 classic. Some of the language can be a little dense by today’s standards, but the lessons about society remain relevant and worth teaching.
Recommended age: 8 and up
Buy It: $5, Amazon.com

The Wind in the Willows
Get lost in the woods with a band of kind animals—Mole, Toad, Rat, Badger—in this beloved classic from Kenneth Grahame. They get into trouble and work things out, learning basic lessons of what’s a bad idea versus a good one along the way.
Recommended age: 6 and up
Buy It: $5, Barnesandnoble.com

Black Beauty For kids who are champions of animals, whether they’re particularly in love with horses or not, Anna Sewell’s story will leave them feeling vindicated. The original, written in 1877, is often hard to find and also a little too dense for children, so most kids today go for an abbreviated version. Recommended age: 8 and up Buy It: $3, Amazon.com

A Bear Called Paddington
Do you remember that this bear comes from Deepest Peru? Diving into Michael Bond’s story as an adult brings surprises, especially if all you really remember is Paddington’s raincoat. But if your child loves this tale (and who wouldn’t love the idea of adopting a bear into the family?), there are another 10 children’s books in the series.
Recommended age: 8 and up
Buy It: $10, Walmart.com

Top 10 Classic Children’s Books

While there are so many classic children’s books to choose from, we narrowed it down to these 10 kids’ books that still stand the test of time.

Where the Wild Things Are
Everyone should grow up seeing how Max sails away to a dreamscape that ends in a wild rumpus. Don’t see the movie, just stick to Maurice Sendak’s classic ode to childhood imagination.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $7, Amazon.com

Little Fur Family
Out of Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s books, this is her sweetest, featuring a bear whose furry belly readers can rub as it spends the day in the wild wood, then comes home to be tucked in.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $17, Amazon.com

Danny and the Dinosaur
What kid hasn’t imagined having a dinosaur as a pet? Of course, size would be an issue, as it is for Danny when a friendly dinosaur leaves the museum and comes home with him. Syd Hoff’s book ends with the friends parting, grateful for a great day together.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $17, Harpercollins.com

Guess How Much I Love You
Little Nutbrown Hare and his daddy compare how much they love each other, striving to outdo each other with words and gestures. The phrase “I love you right up to the moon—and back”—that comes from this Sam McBratney classic.
Recommended age: 0 and up
Buy It: $7, Target.com

The Cat in the Hat
Told through a series of simple rhymes, Dr. Seuss’s tale about a cat that wreaks havoc on the lives and home of two siblings is still a riot.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $8, Amazon.com

Make Way for Ducklings
A mama and papa duck choose the perfect spot to have their ducklings. It turns out to be an island in the middle of Boston Commons.Their little parade through the city is one of fiction’s most memorable scenes, now commemorated by a statue in Boston.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $8, Barnesandnoble.com

Harold and the Purple Crayon
This imaginative classic by cartoonist Crockett Johnson sees Harold climb right into his drawings. He needs a boat? He makes the outline of one and hops aboard. Puns throughout lead to the ending: “And then Harold made his bed. He got in it and drew up the covers.”
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $7, Scholastic.com

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Short rhymes on every page move Bill Martin’s classic along as each animal keeps passing attention to the next—the brown bear sees a red bird, the red bird sees a yellow duck and so on.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $6, Toysrus.com

The Little Engine That Could
Generations have done well to learn about persistence and hard work through author Watty Piper’s title character, who chugs along all the way till the end on pure self-belief.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $6, Amazon.com

The Fire Cat
Pickles is bad! He chases little cats and makes himself a nuisance, eventually getting stuck up in a tree. But like all memorable kids’ books, Esther Averill’s ends in redemption, as Pickles is adopted by the fire department and learns to channel his energy (and use his oversized paws).
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $4, Barnesandnoble.com

Top 10 Children’s Audio Books

Pop these children’s audio books on at home or in the car to entertain your kids without having to turn on a screen. Listening to the narration of these favorite children’s books may even inspire your own storytelling delivery.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Go straight to the book-and-CD set if you buy this fun alphabet book. It helps you get the cadence of Bill Martin Jr’s rhymes, and can even make for a fun dance party.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $8, Amazon.com

The Best of Fancy Nancy
You can download some of Nancy’s stories via Audible, or buy this CD that gives you six of Jane O’Connor’s tales about a girl longing for the fabulous life.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $10, Amazon.com

Frog and Toad audio collection *
You get all of Frog and Toad’s wonderful stories of friendship in this unabridged CD. An added treat: It’s performed by the author, Arnold Lobel.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $14, Walmart.com

The Cat in the Hat and Other Dr. Seuss Favorites
Narration by Kelsey Grammer? Perfect! A rotation of celebrities help cover the other 10 children’s books in this CD, including Billy Crystal reading Horton Hatches the Egg and John Lithgow doing Yertle the Turtle.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $11, Amazon.com

The Boxcar Children
Download the whole series of children’s books about four resourceful siblings and play them via Amazon’s Audible. There are CDs as well, with three storybooks on each.
Recommended age: 7 and up
Buy It: $30, Amazon.com

The Roald Dahl Audio Collection
Several of the masterful storyteller’s best kids’ books are on this single CD. Listen to an abridged of these classic children’s books: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach, plus an unabridged version of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
Recommended age: 9 and up
Buy It: $19, Target.com

Marsupial Sue
Not only can John Lithgow act, he’s a great author of children’s books. Both skills come together when he reads his own Marsupial Sue book and CD set. It’s a fun tale of a kangaroo learning to embrace who she is.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $14, Amazon.com

Little House in the Big Woods
Start in on the 19th-century story of young Laura Ingalls Wilder with an audio version of the first book in her series of children’s books. It’s downloadable via Audible.
Recommended age: 8 and up
Buy It: $4, Amazon.com

James Herriot’s Treasury for Children
Eight of the British veterinarian’s gentle animal children’s books come alive on this CD. It’s perfect for when everyone needs to hear something sweet and heartwarming.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $9, Amazon.com

Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Got a long trip? The audio edition of this funny classic by Richard Atwater is a good two hours long, downloadable through Audible. That should save you from at least 10 “Are we there yet?” queries.
Recommended age: 7 and up
Buy It: $4, Amazon.com

Top 10 Funny Children’s Books

Entertain your kids and share a laugh—or okay, a lot of them—with these funny children’s books.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus
For kids, nothing’s more hilarious than saying, “No!” Children are encouraged—outright asked—to keep the pigeon from driving the bus, no matter how much the pigeon begs. By the end you’ll be laughing not just at Mo Willems’s bird but at your child’s attempts at keeping the pigeon in line.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $6, Scholastic.com

Green Eggs and Ham
Funny because we’ve all been that person refusing to try a new food. In this case, Sam-I-Am relentlessly pushes a plate of green eggs and ham, and Sam chases his potential diner from here to there to get him to try it. (And yes, he does like it, after all.) It’s Dr. Seuss, so the rhymes are brilliant and the drawings are fantastical. And “Sam I am” is an easy phrase for a beginning reader to spot and read by herself.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $8, Walmart.com

Llama Llama Red Pajama
Hmmm…do you ever have trouble getting someone to go to sleep? Anna Dewdney’s tale will make you and your kid laugh as Llama Llama delays bedtime.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $12, Barnesandnoble.com

Go, Dog. Go!
Written in easy words that your child will start to sound out himself, P.D. Eastman’s book follows cartoon dogs on the move. Every few pages you see a lady dog fishing for compliments (and not getting them, which is funny). Best of all, your child will continue to find silly things with each reading.
Recommended age: 5 and up
Buy It: $14, Barnesandnoble.com

Dog (and Cat)
Why are dog and cat faces so absurdly funny? Who knows, but their expressions—courtesy of Brian Stanton’s photography—paired with short phrases from Matthew Van Fleet, make this pair of children’s picture books just perfect. Interactive flaps, textures, and moving parts give your child something to do with her hands as you find goofy pets that remind you of your own.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $14 ($12 for Cat), Amazon.com

Once Upon a Potty
Sold in boy and girl versions, Alana Frankel’s children’s books are honest (you will see poop) and anatomically correct, so between all that and the character guessing what a potty could be used for, expect giggles. But hey, if reading one of these children’s books moves potty training forward, it’s all good!
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $7, Walmart.com

There is a Bird on Your Head
The title is so funny that you can almost stop there! In the third of Mo Willems’s Elephant and Piggie children’s books, we see the pals working on a problem, namely that a bird has settled in on Elephant’s head. What to do?
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $6, Scholastic.com

Click, Clack, Moo Cows That Type The cows are on strike! Doreen Cronin’s book is funny for a child, but reading it as an adult is hysterical as you realize you’re essentially teaching the art of collective bargaining: No milk for humans until those cows get some electric blankets!
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $9, Amazon.com

The Day the Crayons Quit
The crayons are all experiencing angst and frustrated self-confidence, arguing and ultimately refusing to work. If you’ve ever had to deal with challenging children, family members or coworkers, you’ll relate to Drew Daywalt’s book, which sees the young boy who owns the crayons having to step in to soothe each crayon’s ego and get them back to work.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $15, Amazon.com

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
This leads to that, which leads to another thing in a tale of taking predictions to a hilarious extreme. And in the end, author Laura Numeroff circles it back to the mouse simply wanting a cookie.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $11, Walmart.com

Top 10 Award-Winning Children’s Books

One way to find the best kids’ books is to look for children’s books with an award-winning seal. Mix up honorees from the past with recently recognized works, and you’ll have a great foundation of children’s books to grow with your child’s imagination.

The Snowy Day
A Caldecott Medal winner, Ezra Jack Keats’s 1963 classic was a big deal at the time for depicting an African-American child exploring the snow-covered city. These days, it’s a beautiful reminder of how much kids can discover by enjoying the outdoors.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $10, Amazon.com

We Are in a Book!
Of Mo Willems’s adored children’s books, this one gets meta and it’s genius. Elephant and Piggie realize they’re in a book, and it’s being read..by a reader! It won a 2011 Geisel Award Honor and, indeed, Dr. Seuss would have loved its absurdity.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $10, Barnesandnoble.com

I Want My Hat Back
This Jon Klassen tale of a bear looking for his hat was named one of the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2011 for its spare, simple drawings of a despondent bear on a search and discovery mission.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $17, Landofnod.com

No, David!
Some kids just can’t stay out of trouble. Here’s the good news: Their mamas love them anyway. David Shannon won a 1999 Caldecott Honor for this book based on his childhood scribbles (and presumably hearing “no” a lot).
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $5, Scholastic.com

Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons
This catchy and modern take on a counting book by author Eric Litwin and illustrated by James Dean won the Geisel Honor Award in 2013.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $18, Petethecatbooks.com

Corduroy
Don Freeman’s 1968 classic was inducted into the Indies Choice Book Awards Hall of Fame in 2011 because everyone can relate to falling in love with a stuffed animal.
Recommended age: 3 and up Buy It: $17, Landofnod.com

Freight Train
Some kids can’t get enough of reading about vehicles, and Donald Crews’s 1979 Caldecott Honor book is full of rainbow-colored train cars crossing the land. Simple language and vibrant imagery make it great for even babies. Recommended age: 2 and up Buy It: $5, Barnesandnoble.com

A Ball for Daisy
The 2012 Caldecott Medal went to Chris Raschka for this book about a dog who loves—and loses–a favorite toy. It’s a good lesson in moving past that sad feeling when an object unexpectedly breaks, and finding something new that brings you joy.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $10, Walmart.com

The Lion and the Mouse One of Aesop’s classic fables—about a big beast that needs help from a little critter—won a 2010 Caldecott Medal in this re-telling featuring lush pictures by artist Jerry Pinkney. Recommended age: 1 and up Buy It: $11, Amazon.com

Blueberries for Sal
Robert McCloskey, who also wrote Make Way for Ducklings, won a 1949 Caldecott Honor for this book about two mamas picking blueberries—one human, one bear—and how they nearly mix up their kids!
Recommended age: 3 and up Buy It: $8, Barnesandnoble.com

Top 10 Children’s Book Characters

These characters appear in multiple kids’ books, so if you fall in love with them, there are at least several popular children’s books that follow their story.

Llama Llama
This little character is perfect preschooler feeling frustration and fear. Whether being put to sleep or taken on a shopping trip (boring!), little llama tries to be good…but inevitably has a meltdown and needs to be calmed. Ahem, sounds familiar! If you’ve already read Anna Dewdney’s other children’s books in the Llama Llama series, try Llama Llama Mad at Mama.
Recommended age: 2 and up
Buy It: $11, Amazon.com

Elephant and Piggie
Elephant worries. Piggie has ideas. The two play off each other in Mo Willems’s wonderful series of children’s books. Watching the good friends tackle misunderstandings and rein in fantasies never gets old. Start at the beginning with My Friend is Sad.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $12, Barnesandnoble.com

Eloise
She’s the spoiled brat that everyone loves because, really, it’s not her fault that her mother leaves her alone at their penthouse in the Plaza. She’s got a nanny that she runs ragged, hotel staff at her beck and call, plus a pet pug and a turtle. Most importantly, she’s got many things to do, like press all the buttons in the elevator. Written in 1969, Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups is Kay Thompson’s first volume of children’s books and it’s a riot.
Recommended age: 6 and up
Buy It: $19, Hudsonbooksellers.com

The Boxcar Children
Four orphaned siblings—Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny—experience adventures in the hundred-plus children’s books of Gertrude Chandler Warner’s Boxcar Children series. It’s a little like Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, but the kids are young (about age 7 to 15) so the tales are perfect for younger readers. Try a boxed set of kids’ books one through four to get to know the family.
Recommended age: 7 and up
Buy It: $14, Amazon.com

Clifford
This dog is really big. Like, as tall and wide as a house. That alone makes Norman Bridwell’s oversized pup a memorable book character. Also big: The number of Clifford children’s books that have been printed, which Scholastic says is more than 126 million! Start at the beginning with Clifford and his owner, Emily Elizabeth, in Clifford The Big Red Dog.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $3, Amazon.com

Pete the Cat
If there can be a red dog, why not a blue cat? James Dean’s Pete is one cool customer, rarely breaking expression. With young ones, start with the very first book, Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes, in this series of kids’ books.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $13, Amazon.com

Babar the Elephant
This classic character comes from French author Jean de Brunhoff and first appeared in the early 1930s. Babar’s story is perhaps a little tough by today’s standards, with his mother being killed by hunters a la Bambi, but most kids look past that and enjoy the young elephant’s adventures in the city and back in the jungle. It all begins with The Story of Babar: The Little Elephant.
Recommended age: 4 and up
Buy It: $10, Amazon.com

Carl
He’s one of fiction’s best (and strangest!) characters, a rottweiler named Carl who, for unknown reasons, is trusted as a babysitter. Author Alexandra Day doesn’t try to explain what Carl (drawn as a real dog) is thinking, but we can sense his anxiety about getting things in order before the parents return home. Start with the first, Good Dog, Carl.
Recommended age: 1 and up
Buy It: $4, Amazon.com

Curious George
The little monkey and the man with the yellow hat are an enduring odd couple—one being all spontaneity and the other being all responsibility—among classic children’s books. If your child has mostly seen the cartoons on TV, be sure to introduce him to H.A Rey’s introduction to the duo in Curious George.
Recommended age: 5 and up
Buy It: $8, Barnesandnoble.com

Little Critter
Mercer Mayer’s little guy goes through one relatable scenario after another through dozens of short children’s books. He has a day out with his mom, he doesn’t want to go to bed, he needs to go to the dentist, he gets a new neighbor—there’s practically a book for everything that’s a big deal for a young kid! The very first, Just for You, is about Little Critter trying to do something nice for his mom, but being too little to be of much help.
Recommended age: 3 and up
Buy It: $4, Amazon.com

Top 10 Children’s Book Authors (for Very Young Children)

We admit: it’s impossible to limit this list of kids’ books to 10, but here’s a sampling of the best authors whose classic children’s books still stick in our heads and hearts.

Margaret Wise Brown
Not everything rhymes. There’s not always a plot. But all of Margaret Wise Brown’s children’s books use beautiful language to describe a scene and a feeling, nailing it in a way that impresses adults and kids. If you have Good Night, Moon and Little Fur Family, track down her more obscure Little Golden Books, like The Color Kittens and The Sailor Dog, to grow your appreciation of her repertoire of kids’ books.

Cynthia Rylant Her kids’ books tug at the heartstrings as she shows special relationships between creatures, both humans and animals. The Mr Putter and Tabby children’s books slay with the portrayal of an elderly man and his kitty. Dog Heaven or Cat Heaven can help your family through a loss of a beloved pet. But if we were to recommend only one among her many children’s books, it’s The Relatives Came, a sweet reminder of how much we love to see extended family members arrive, love to see them go…and miss them immediately!

Mo Willems Mo Willems only started publishing in this century and he’s already a master of many beloved kids’ books. He’s given us three amazing series of children’s books: the tales of Knuffle Bunny, the Pigeon, and Elephant and Piggie. If you haven’t read it yet, check out The Pigeon Finds a Hot Dog! * Your family will forever have inside jokes: “Well, they are a taste sensation...a celebration in a bun!” And *Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale is a wonderful read for every parent who’s had to roll up his sleeves and really look for a lost lovey. (Uh, that’s all of us.)

Dr Seuss His name was actually Theodor Geisel and his lessons live on through his popular kids’ books, a namesake award given to authors of children’s books and even a theme-park within Universal Orlando Resort. Beyond beginning readers like The Cat in the Hat, start a family tradition of reading Happy Birthday to You on your child’s special day, and try not to sniffle as you realize just how much you would love to give your kids the world.

David Shannon There are some stubborn, relatable kids in David Shannon’s children’s books, and he draws honestly from his own childhood—in case you couldn’t guess that by the character David, who appears in Shannon’s kids’ books like David Gets in Trouble. His bestselling Duck on a Bike is fun and ridiculous. But for an interesting character and predicament—a girl lies to fit in, and it really haunts her—read A Bad Case of Stripes.

Sandra Boynton She started with stationery and puns (“Hippo Birdie Two Ewe”) and went on to write some 50 great children’s books. Her sense of humor can’t be denied in board-book classics like The Belly Button Book and Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs! But for pure sweetness, read/sing the adorable Snuggle Puppy: A Little Love Song to whatever tune seems right to you.

Eric Carle His wildly colored and funky-shaped animals are as well known as his infectious, repetitious language in all of Carle’s children’s books. Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? is a companion to his famous Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? If you’re a huge fan, we recommend a visit to the Eric Carle Museum in Massachusetts, where you can learn more about his kids’ books and other authors too.

Karen Katz Her kids’ books are a wonderful reading primer for babies and toddlers, but that doesn’t keep them from being great children’s books! Katz draws her babies with big, round heads and colorful clothes that make them fun to stare at. You can see her illustrations in other people’s children’s books too, like Anastasia Suen’s Subway. Her work is all about loving a baby, and she’s at her cutest—and most interactive—with the lift-a-flap Where is Baby’s Belly Button?

Byron Barton Graphic, bold pictures convey vehicles, animals, and people in Barton’s work. Kids love single subject children’s books, like Trucks and Planes. His jubilant description of an Airport might make you reconsider your feelings about being stuck in one. But a favorite is My Car, about a guy named Sam who loves being behind the wheel.

Ezra Jack Keats The Snowy Day and Whistle for Willie still resonate today among favorite children’s books about city-kid life. Enjoy nine stories in one collection with Keats’ Neighborhood: An Ezra Jack Keats Treasury.

Published August 2017

PHOTO: Daria Bova