The 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

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.

Baby/toddler: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

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? 

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.

Baby/toddler: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault

This fun alphabet rhyme 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? 

Pre-K/kindergarten: Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

We could fill this whole list with just books 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.

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 sequencingand cause and effect. The first book in the If You Give series, published in 1985, has sold over 15 million copies worldwide.

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.

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.

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.

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 listof the best children’s books.

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.

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