The 50 Best Children's Books

Here's a collection of timeless classics-and fresh new titles-that your kids will love to listen to again and again.

Little Cute Girl in Yellow Dress Reading a Book Sitting on the Floor
Photo: Tatiana Bobkova/Shutterstock

AGES 2-5

The Baby Beebee Bird, by Diane Redfield Massie (HarperCollins, 1963). The baby beebee bird likes to stay up all night singing, but the other animals in the zoo teach him that nighttime is really for sleeping.

Bunny Cakes, by Rosemary Wells (Dial, 1997).Too young to write, Max scribbles the ingredients for his cake on a shopping list, but the grocer can't read it--until Max figures out that he can draw what he needs instead.

Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina (HarperCollins, 1940). When a cap peddler wakes up from his nap under a tree, he discovers that a band of naughty monkeys has stolen his wares. His funny attempts to get the caps back bring to life the expression "Monkey see, monkey do."

Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown (HarperCollins, 1947). This classic celebrates the comforting familiarity of a child's bedroom.

Guess How Much I Love You, by Sam McBratney (Candlewick, 1995). In this lovely book, which encourages children to articulate their feelings, Little Nutbrown Hare and his father take turns explaining how huge their love is for each other.

Horton Hears a Who! by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1954). This touching, cleverly rhymed book has an important message: "A person's a person, no matter how small."

Hug, by Jez Alborough (Candlewick, 2000). When Bobo the chimp sees all the other baby animals cuddling with their mothers, children are reminded that sometimes all you really need is a big hug from your mommy.

Jamberry, by Bruce Degen (HarperCollins, 1983). The exuberant illustrations of a world overflowing with berries will inspire your child's imagination.

Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? by Nancy White Carlstrom (Aladdin, 1986). Jesse Bear wears lots of different outfits throughout his busy day, and the rhymes that he uses to describe them show how very much he loves his family and his routine.

Leo the Late Bloomer, by Robert Kraus (HarperCollins, 1971). Leo, a tiger who doesn't talk, draw, or read as soon as his friends do, shows that everyone develops as his own pace.

Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik (HarperCollins, 1957). This gentle story, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak, inspired the popular television series.

The Little Engine That Could, by Watty Piper (Platt & Munk, 1930). Who can forget the refrain of the determined little engine who refuses to give up until she has pulled the train full of toys over the mountain? "I think I can" becomes part of every child's vocabulary.

Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey (Viking, 1941). This Caldecott Medal winner follows a loving pair of ducks in search of the perfect place to raise their family. In the most famous scene, traffic comes to a stop as the mother leads her ducklings across the street to Boston Public Gardens, where they make their home.

Millions of Cats, by Wanda Gag (Putnam, 1928). A classic tale about an old man who goes to get his lonely wife a pretty cat and comes home followed by millions. They decide to keep just one scrawny kitten, and then shower her with love.

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, by Virginia Lee Burton (Houghton Mifflin, 1939). This story of Mike Mulligan's loyalty to his trusty steam shovel illustrates the power of friendship and proves that old-fashioned doesn't necessarily mean obsolete.

The Mitten, by Jan Brett (Putnam, 1989). After Nicki loses one of his new white mittens in the snow, it stretches to become a home for increasingly large animals--even a bear. Based on a Ukrainian folktale, this story is lavishly illustrated with lots of details for observant little eyes to discover.

More More More Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams (Greenwillow, 1990). First, a father throws his baby in the air, then a grandmother counts a baby's toes, and finally, a mother gently puts her baby to bed. Each family comes from a different culture, but the language of love is universal.

My Dad, by Anthony Browne (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000). In this tribute to fathers, a little boy is convinced that his dad is able to do absolutely anything-walk tightropes, wrestle with giants, and sing brilliantly.

The Napping House, by Audrey Wood (Harcourt Brace, 1984). The cumulative rhymes and soothing colors in this story about a family's interrupted snooze on a rainy day will have kids eager to turn the page to see what's next.

Olivia, by Ian Falconer (Atheneum, 2000). Like many preschoolers, Olivia the pig is incredibly energetic and imaginative. At the end of a long day, her mother's words ring true: "You really wear me out, but I love you anyway."

On the Day You Were Born, by Debra Frasier (Harcourt Brace, 1991). This vividly illustrated book welcomes children to a world full of miracles.

Sammy and the Dinosaurs, by Ian Whybrow (Orchard, 1999). A perfect book for kids who are obsessed with dinosaurs and want to master all their tricky names.

Stellaluna, by Janell Cannon (Harcourt, 1993). When Stellaluna is just a baby fruit bat, she is orphaned and taken in by a kind mother bird. One day, she rejoins her own kind and discovers that although she and her adopted bird family are different, they can still be friends.

Strega Nona, by Tomie de Paola (Weston Woods, 1975). Strega Nona (Italian for "Grandma Witch") tells her assistant not to touch her magic pasta pot, but he does-and the town nearly drowns in spaghetti.

The Very Busy Spider, by Eric Carle (Philomel, 1984). Part of the beautiful series that includes The Very Hungry Caterpillar and The Very Quiet Cricket, this multisensory book lets kids trace the spider and her raised web with their fingers.

When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry . . . by Molly Bang (Scholastic, 1999). Sophie is furious with her big sister, but she learns that she can find her own way to calm down.

AGES 4-8

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst (Aladdin, 1972). Kids relate to Alexander, who's having one of those days: His best friend hates him; his parents and teacher yell at him-but we know tomorrow will be better.

Amazing Grace, by Mary Hoffman (Dial, 1991). Grace-who convinces everyone that a black girl should play Peter Pan in the school play-will inspire all kids to believe in themselves.

Amelia Bedelia, by Peggy Parish (HarperCollins, 1963). This first book of a series makes homonyms hilarious: When Amelia Bedelia is hired as a maid, she "dresses" the chicken in real baby clothes and snips away with scissors to "change" the towels.

Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban (Harper

Collins, 1964). All Frances wants to eat is bread and jam. But when her parents let her eat it for every meal, she quickly learns that variety is the spice of life.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, by Judi Barrett (Aladdin, 1978). In the whimsical land of Chewandswallow, it rains soup and juice. When storms of pancakes and tomato tornadoes threaten the town, delicious disaster looms.

The Doorbell Rang, by Pat Hutchins (Greenwillow, 1986). Even though Mother's freshly baked cookies are irresistible, the kids are willing to share the batch with everyone who comes to the door.

The Empty Pot, by Demi (Henry Holt, 1990). In this exquisitely drawn story, a boy named Ping tries to grow a flower for the Emperor, but the seed doesn't sprout. When he shamefully presents the Emperor with an empty pot, he is richly rewarded for his honesty.

Frederick, by Leo Lionni (Knopf, 1967). Although Frederick seems to be lazy while the other mice gather food for winter, he's really collecting images of spring and summer in his mind. In the dead of winter, the mice are grateful to their poet friend, who proves you can be warmed and fed by colorful memories.

Henry Hikes to Fitchburg, by D.B. Johnson (Houghton Mifflin, 2000). Based loosely on Henry David Thoreau's Walden, this tale follows Henry and his friend, who both want to go to Fitchburg, and shows that people can have different approaches to life. While his friend works to earn money to take the train there, Henry walks through the countryside to enjoy nature and think.

Jessica, by Kevin Henkes (Mulberry, 1989). Ruthie doesn't want to leave her imaginary friend Jessica home on her first day of school, but miraculously, a real Jessica in her class turns out to be her best friend. Kids learn that their fears and fantasies are perfectly normal.

Joseph Had a Little Overcoat, by Simms Tabak (Viking, 1977). When Joseph's favorite coat gets old and worn, he makes a jacket out of it, then a vest, a tie, a button-and when there's hardly a thread left, he makes a story out of it. He learns you can always make something out of nothing.

Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story From China, by Ed Young (Philomel, 1989). Shang and her sisters open the door to the wolf, who pretends to be their grandmother. After they discover who he really is, resourceful Shang comes to the rescue.

Madlenka, by Peter Sis (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2000). In this exquisitely illustrated book about multicultural New York City, when Madlenka's tooth gets loose, she runs to tell all her friends: the French baker, the Indian newsstand man, the Latin greengrocer, and the Asian storekeeper. By the time she gets home, she's gone all around the world in a single block.

Officer Buckle and Gloria, Peggy Rathmann (Putnam, 1995). Officer Buckle's safety lectures at school are boring until he teams up with his new dog, Gloria. At first, he feels jealous of the attention that she gets, but he soon learns the most important safety tip of all: "Always stick with your buddy!"

Owl Moon, by Jane Yolen (Philomel, 1987). In this magical story about learning to appreciate nature, a girl and her father walk through a snowy forest, looking for owls.

The Piggy in the Puddle, by Charlotte Pomerantz (Aladdin, 1974). These tongue-twisting rhymes about a happily dirty piglet will leave your child giggling.

The Polar Express, by Chris Van Allsburg (Houghton Mifflin, 1985). This Christmas tale of a boy who rides the Polar Express train to meet Santa became an instant classic. Luminescent pastel effects evoke the wintry magic of the season.

Parts, by Tedd Arnold (Dial, 1997). When a little boy's tooth comes loose, he notices other suspicios signs-;hair in his comb, sticky "brains" coming out of his nose, even stuffing coming out of this belly button. Echoing the questions many children have as they learn about their bodies, he wonders, Could he be falling apart?

Rabbit Makes a Monkey of Lion, by Verna Aardema (Penguin, 1989). Rabbit loves honey so much that he tries to steal it from Lion's own tree. He escapes several times before he learns his lesson.

Rapunzel, by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dutton, 1997). Magnificent pictures in the Italian Renaissance style highlight this retelling of the classic fairy tale.

Snowflake Bentley, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). A true story about scientist Wilson Bentley, who loved snow as a child and went on to discover that no two flakes are alike even though his father once thought his fascination was foolish.

Too Many Tamales, by Gary Soto (Paper Star, 1993). Maria and her mother are making tamales for Christ- mas. But when Maria secretly tries on her mother's diamond ring and loses it in the dough, she realizes she has to confess.

Under the Lemon Moon, by Edith Hope Fine (Lee & Low, 1999). One night, Rosalinda spies a man stealing all of the lemons from her precious tree. She decides to seek help from a wise woman, who helps Rosalinda do a good deed as well.

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak (HarperCollins, 1963). When Max misbehaves, he's sent to bed without his supper-beginning a night of colorful imagination in which he sails off and becomes king of all the wild things. But then he decides that he'd rather come back to his cozy home, "where someone loved him best of all."

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