What makes children’s books famous is probably less about the awards they win and more about how many times children want to read them. The classic books on this list include some older and long-loved favorites as well as many newer entries that can now be considered must-reads for the younger set. There may be some famous children’s books we missed, so please share in the comments the classics in your collection!
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Our Favorite Famous Children’s Books
1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Keats’ Caldecott Medal–winning book depicts the adventure and wonder of a young boy who steps out into a city made new by a blanket of snow. Readers will be unable to resist its tender magic.
Buy it: The Snowy Day on Amazon
2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
It’s likely no surprise to find this children’s classic listed here. Brown channels the simple joy of a child’s bedtime routine in a story that’s as much a quiet meditation as it is the perfect nighttime read.
Buy it: Goodnight Moon on Amazon
3. Busy, Busy Town by Richard Scarry
The clever creatures of Scarry’s Busy Town—from Huckle the Cat to Lowly Worm—and the myriad details he includes in every illustration make Busy Town a place that keeps kids … well, busy, as they discover something new in every scene.
Buy it: Busy, Busy Town on Amazon
4. Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
Kids hooked on the latest Jumanji movies might be unaware that the adventures on screen began with a Caldecott Medal–winning—and delightful—picture book.
Buy it: Jumanji on Amazon
5. Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
Sweetly funny and often quite moving, Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories appeal as they follow friends enjoying the pleasures of each other’s company.
Buy it: Frog and Toad Are Friends on Amazon
6. Yes Day! by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld
Rosenthal leverages children’s ultimate question—what if they got to do whatever they’d like for a day?—in this more recent kids’ classic book.
Buy it: Yes Day! on Amazon
7. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
Klassen is one of picture books’ most well-known names, partly thanks to this excellent story. Though the simple story of a bear in search of his hat, it incorporates a sly twist at the end.
Buy it: I Want My Hat Back on Amazon
8. The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Santat’s Caldecott Medal–winning story of an imaginary friend awaiting his person and the journey he takes to find that person is both funny and thought-provoking.
Buy it: The Adventures of Beekle on Amazon
9. Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse by Leo Lionni
This book, about a real mouse who wishes he could be loved like the household toy version of him is, offers a gentle lesson in honoring our true selves. Lionni’s unique collage artwork makes this a special volume.
Buy it: Alexander and the Wind-Up Mouse on Amazon
10. Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Peña, illustrated by Christian Robinson
CJ and his grandma’s bus ride is more than a journey to a destination but also an education in appreciating the beauties woven throughout everyday life.
Buy it: Last Stop on Market Street on Amazon
11. Tar Beach by Faith Ringgold
Award-winning author and artist Ringgold’s most well-known picture book blends fiction, autobiography, and Black history in a story about a young girl whose dream to go wherever her fancy takes her comes true for a night. She’s lifted from the tarred rooftop of her apartment building to see the world around her.
Buy it: Tar Beach on Amazon
12. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
What goes on in the community of a crayon box? The crayons let kids know in this whimsical and thoughtful epistolary picture book in which each color drafts a letter of its grievances to their owner, young Duncan.
Buy it: The Day the Crayons Quit on Amazon
13. Press Here by Hervé Tullet
Tullet’s clever picture book launched a trend toward interactive page turns. As kids flip through this set of colorful instructions, they’re asked to smush, poke, press, and shake the book that is as much an inspiration to play as it is a call to read.
Buy it: Press Here on Amazon
14. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Michael Smollin
This Little Golden Book has become a mainstay in toddler libraries for its ingenuity and its suspense. As kids read, Sesame Street pal Grover begs kids not to turn the page lest they encounter a monster—but who can resist the temptation to see what (or who?) awaits at the very end?
Buy it: The Monster at the End of This Book on Amazon
15. Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask To Be in This Book) by Julie Falatko, illustrated by Tim Miller
Picture books that pose a great question are must-haves, and this one has a hilarious premise that’s brilliantly executed. When Snappsy the Alligator wants to have a run-of-the-mill alligator day, an annoying narrator intrudes, suggesting he spice things up a bit.
Buy it: Snappsy the Alligator on Amazon
16. Instructions by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess
With allusions to fairy tales and fables, this lyrical picture book from fantasy author Gaiman is the perfect bedtime read.
Buy it: Instructions on Amazon
17. In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak
Though Sendak’s best-known book is the also-classic Where the Wild Things Are, this fantastical adventure about a boy whose dreams take him to a magical and oddball kitchen of bakers taps into childhood flights of fancy.
Buy it: In the Night Kitchen on Amazon
18. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
Willems’ characters, from Knufflebunny to Elephant and Piggie, are extremely well-known in kid circles, but the pigeon is perhaps the most like a child himself. Sometimes stubborn, often curious, always hilarious, this Pigeon tome is a must-have.
Buy it: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus on Amazon
19. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond
Numeroff’s mouse asks for a cookie, but its sweet tooth sets off a chain of events that feel like spending the day with an idea-filled kid, and that’s exactly why this book and its companion volumes have endured.
Buy it: If You Give a Mouse a Cookie on Amazon
20. The Very Quiet Cricket by Eric Carle
Everyone knows Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and they are certainly among some of the most famous children’s books out there. The prolific children’s author-illustrator created an array of characters, each of them memorable. The quiet cricket, who can’t make a sound as he meets other insects, is one of the best. The book also makes chirping sounds that the littlest readers love.
Buy it: The Very Quiet Cricket on Amazon
21. The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Aesop’s fables are an enduring childhood mainstay. Multi-award–winning artist Pinkney has adapted many of them in glorious picture-book form, and his gorgeous take on the tale of a lion and a mouse who learn that a kindness-first approach has deep value is one of his best.
Buy it: The Lion and the Mouse on Amazon
22. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers
Some of the best famous children’s books take absurdity very seriously and Jeffers’ book—about a boy who tries to get his kite out of a tree by throwing a series of increasingly strange objects into the same tree (also getting them stuck)—will prompt gales of laughter.
Buy it: Stuck on Amazon
23. Go, Dog. Go! by P.D. Eastman
Dogs and cars, what more could kids want? Using only 75 different words, this energetic picture book captures toddlers’ interest before they’re ready to read, and then transitions to be the perfect beginning reader book when kids enter school.
Buy it: Go, Dog. Go! on Amazon
24. The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse, by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
This winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award is another relatively new entry for this list, but it will no doubt remain on lists for years to come. When a duck and a mouse are swallowed by a wolf, they decide to make a home in his belly.
Buy it: The Wolf, the Duck & the Mouse on Amazon
25. Saint George and the Dragon retold by Margaret Hodges, illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman
Hodges’ retelling of a segment from Spenser’s The Faerie Queen, in which St. George slays the dragon that’s been terrorizing the land, has all the elements of fairy tales kids crave. And as Albert Einstein once said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”
Buy it: Saint George and the Dragon on Amazon
26. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst, illustrated by Ray Cruz
While many children’s books tend toward the upbeat and sunny, the reality of being a child is that some days really do not go your way. Viorst understood this, and that’s why her Alexander and his litany of things-gone-wrong remains such a kid favorite.
Buy it: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day on Amazon
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