I recently asked friends of the Childhood 101 Facebook page to share the titles of the books they most enjoyed as children. With literally hundreds of suggestions, I have begun compiling them into collections that I will be sharing over the next few weeks, starting today with 50 very popular classic picture books to read with children.
These are books that have stood the test of time. The books we remember fondly from our own childhoods and look forward to sharing with our children and grandchildren. The ones that end up ragged and dogeared from being read over and over again. And while some may be considered controversial, and others not seen as conforming with our changing social values, they each certainly provide us with a platform for enjoying the process of reading with our children, and for opening discussion about life and the many issues we face as inhabitants of the world we live in.
Remember picture books are not just for tiny tots, some of these stories are much more suited to children in the early and even middle years of primary (elementary) school. Each title is linked to an Amazon page where you can find reviews and age recommendations for those you might not be personally familiar with (I certainly haven’t read them all…or at least I don’t remember reading them all!) I hope this list re-connects you with a story or two that you had forgotten all about and that you will take pleasure in re-visiting with the children in your life.
50 Classic Kids’ Picture Books
1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. First published 1969.
This well loved favourite features a caterpillar who eats its way through a wide variety of foodstuffs before pupating and emerging as a butterfly. The holes in the pages, counting and simple story promise to engage readers of all ages.
2. The Big Honey Hunt -the first in the series of over 300 titles in The Berenstain Bears series by Stan and Jan Berenstain. First published 1962.
The Berenstain Bear books star a family of grizzly bears named Berenstain. Each title discusses a moral or safely related lesson.
3. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. First published 1955.
Harold, is a curious four-year-old boy who, with the help of his purple crayon, has the power to create a world of his own simply by drawing it.
4. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. First published 1947.
In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny who poetically wishes goodnight, one by one, to everything he sees.
5. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. First published 1936.
The story of Ferdinand, a bull who would much rather smell flowers than fight in bullfights!
6. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. First published 1938.
In this fun, repetitive story a peddler sits down under a tree to take a nap, with all his wares still on his head. When he awakens, all the caps but his own are gone – stolen by a troop of monkeys! How will he get them back?
7. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans. First published 1939.
“In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines …” Including the very brave Madeline. Nothing frightens Madeline—not tigers, not mice, not even getting sick, in fact, to Madeline a trip to the hospital is a grand adventure.
8. The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey. First published 1942.
This curious little puppy was the star of the single all-time best-selling hardcover children’s book in the US, having sold nearly 15 million copies by 2011.
9. Grug by Ted Prior – the first in the Grug series of books. First published 1979.
Grug is a curious fictional character, fascinated by the world around him he solves everyday problems creatively and without fuss. For example, when dancing instructions are too difficult to understand, Grug invents his own dance and calls it “The Grug.”
10. But No Elephants by Jerry Smath. First published 1979.
When the pet man comes to visit Grandma Tildy she’s happy to buy a canary, a beaver and a tortoise – “but no elephants”, she always says. Then one cold winter day the pet man comes again and this time the only pet left is an elephant. And Grandma Tildy just can’t leave it out in the cold.
11. Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins. First published 1968.
Rosie the hen is enjoying a leisurely walk around the farm, but the stroll isn’t nearly as pleasant for the fox who is trying – unsuccessfully – to navigate the obstacle course Rosie is unknowingly leading him through.
12. The Little Red Hen by Little Golden Books. First published 1942.
When the Little Red Hen asks her farmyard friends to help her make the bread, they all refuse! A great resource for talking to children about teamwork.
13. Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing by Judi Barrett. First published 1970.
Animals should definitely not wear clothing…. because a snake would lose it, a billy goat would eat it for lunch, and it would always be wet on a walrus!
14. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. First published 1968.
A tiger with a voracious appetite arrives unexpectedly to join Sophie and her mum for afternoon tea.
15. Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion. First published 1956.
Harry hates bathtime so he buries the bathtub scrubber and runs away from home. Harry gets so dirty that when he returns home his family does not recognise him. How will he get them to realise it is him?
16. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. First published 1964.
In many ways a sad story, this parable of love and giving tells the story of a tree that keeps giving and a boy that keeps taking.
17. Millions of Cats by Wanda Gag. First published 1928.
Millions of Cats is the tale of a lonely couple who decide to take in a cat for company. The old man sets off to find the most beautiful cat of all but when he cannot choose from the millions of cats he finds he decides to bring them all home. The cats are asked to choose the most worthy amongst themselves and a huge cat fight erupts. Who will be chosen?
18. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. First published 1922.
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.” The stuffed toy rabbit’s journey to become real through the wisdom and experience of love.
19. Corduroy by Don Freeman. First published 1968.
The adventures of a small, soft toy bear who, after being left on the shelf by a discerning buyer, decides to search the store to find his missing button once all of the customers have gone for the day.
20. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss. First published 1960.
“Do you like green eggs and ham?” asks Sam-I-am in this famous Seuss title. With Seuss’ signature rhyming style and fabulous characters and illustrations this much loved children’s classic has been a favourite for many, many generations.
21. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. First published 1963.
When Max is sent to his bed without supper for wreaking havoc at home a forest grows in his room and he continues his wild rumpus accompanied by the Wild Things! Will he return home or stay to continue his romping as King of the Wild Things?
22. The Sweet Smell of Christmas by Patricia M Scarry. First published 1970.
Little Bear can smell that Christmas is coming. The air is filled with the aroma of gingerbread cookies, minty candy canes, the piney Christmas tree, and yummy hot apple pie. Celebrate the holiday season with this classic Golden storybook which includes six scratch-and-sniff scents.
23. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack. First published 1933.
On a day like any other, a small duck, Ping, sets off from the boat he calls home with his family in search of “pleasant things to eat.” He is accidentally left behind when the boat leaves but undaunted heads out onto the Yangtze in search of his family, only to discover new friends and adventures around every bend.
24. Mr Tickle by Roger Hargreaves. First published 1971.
The first of the Mr Men and Little Miss series of over 90 books; when Mr Tickle decides it is a tickling kind of day, you never know who he might tickle next. It may even be you!
25. Tikki Tikki Tembo by Arlene Mosel. First published 1971.
First born (with a grand and honorable name) Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo (which means “the most wonderful thing in the whole wide world”) and his brother Chang (which means “little or nothing”) get into trouble with a well, are saved by the Old Man with the Ladder, and change history while they’re at it.
26. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish. First published 1963.
When Mrs. Rogers leaves Amelia Bedelia alone in the house on her first day of work, anything can happen. And it does! For when Amelia Bedelia draws the drapes and dresses a chicken, the results are hilariously different than might be expected!
27. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Voirst. First published 1972.
Alexander knew it was going to be a terrible day when he woke up with gum in this hair – from the moment he wakes up EVERYTHING goes wrong for Alexander and he may just pack up and move to Australia! A fabulous read for everyone who has ever had a bad day.
28. The Big Orange Splot by Daniel Manus Pinkwater. First published 1977.
When Mr. Plumbeans’ house is splashed with bright orange paint he decides a multi-colored house would make a nice change, upsetting the neighbours who all live in identical brown houses with gray roofs and green shutters. “My house is me and I am it. My house…looks like all my dreams,” Mr Pumbean shares with them and one by one the neighbours come around to Plumbean’s way of thinking.
29. Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll. First published 1970.
Meg is a well-meaning witch who lives with her cat, Mog and her owl. When Meg flies off to meet her witch friends for some spell-making at a Halloween Party her spell does not go exactly to plan.
30. The Five Chinese Brothers by Claire Huchet Bishop. First published 1938.
Five brothers, each with a special and unique power, rescue the First Brother from being unfairly put to death.
31. What Do People Do All Day? by Richard Scarry. First published 1968.
In classic Richard Scarry style, we are introduced to the citizens of BusyTown, their occupations and daily activities.
32. Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss. First published 1957.
Poor Dick and Sally. It’s cold and wet and they’re stuck in the house with nothing to do and mother away . . . until the Cat in a Hat shows up, transforming the dull day into a madcap adventure.
33. Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton. First published 1939.
Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel Mary Anne make quite a team but the introduction of gasoline, electric, and diesel shovels means big trouble for Mike and Mary Anne. No one wants an old-fashioned steam shovel like Mary Anne when a modern shovel can do the digging in half the time!
34. Miffy by Dick Bruna. First published 1955.
Mr. and Mrs. Bunny want a baby bunny more than anything, and one day they’re visited by an angel who gives them good news – the first book in the popular Miffy series by Dick Bruna.
35. The Wind Blew by Pat Hutchins. First published 1974.
The wind blew! It blew so hard, it took everything with it: Mr. White’s umbrella, Priscilla’s balloon, the twins’ scarves, even the wig on the judge’s head. But just when the wind was about to carry everything out to sea, it changed its mind!
36. Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats. First published 1964.
Peter wants to learn to whistle in order to call his dog Willie. Peter tries so hard to whistle that his cheeks hurt, but he doesn’t give up.
37. The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipoint. First published 1969.
The Elephant takes the Bad Baby for a ride and they go ‘rumpeta, rumpeta, rumpeta down the road.’ They help themselves to ice creams, pies, buns, crisps, biscuits, lollipops and apples! And the unhappy shopkeepers follow them down the road!
38. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. First published 1962.
The adventures of a little boy in the city on a very snowy day.
39. Badjelly the Witch: A Fairy Story by Spike Milligan. First published 1973.
Badjelly The Witch can turn children into sausages or chop them up to make boy-girl soup. She can turn policemen into apple trees or bananas into mice and she is the wickedest witch in all the world!
40. Curious George by H. A. Rey. First published 1941.
In the original book about the curious monkey, George is taken from the jungle by the man in the yellow hat to live in a new home, but oh no, what happened! Join George on his adventures as he unintentionally wreaks havoc on his new city home.
41. The Chocolate Touch by Patrick Skene Catling. First published 1952.
Midas acquires a magical gift that turns everything his lips touch into chocolate. Can you ever have too much of your favorite food?
42. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. First published 1974.
Come in . . . for where the sidewalk ends, Shel Silverstein’s world begins. A very special collection of Silverstein poems and drawings.
43. Grandpa Bunny by Jane Werner Watson. First published 1953.
Grandpa Bunny teaches his adoring brood to decorate nature, knowing he will “go away” soon he prepares a surprise for them (a sunset). Only the youngest bunnies know of the surprise, but when the sunset comes, all the bunnies are comforted.
44. A Fish Out of Water by Helen Palmer Geisel. First published 1961.
“Never feed him a lot. Never more than a spot! Or something may happen. You never know what.” When the boy ignores these instructions out of compassion for his new fish, Otto begins to outgrow his fishbowl with humorous results!
45. Are You My Mother? by P. D. Eastman. First published 1960.
A lost baby bird asks cows, planes, and steam shovels the Big Question – are you my mother? before he is happily reunited with his maternal parent.
46. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey. First published 1948.
Sal and her mother set off in search of blueberries for the winter at the same time as a mother bear and her cub. A quiet comedy of errors ensues when the young ones wander off and absentmindedly trail the wrong mothers.
47. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. First published 1967.
Familiar animals, bold colors and a rhyming question-and-response text delight young readers and listeners to participate actively in this fun book.
48. The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone. First published 1971.
Sesame Street favourite, Grover will do whatever he can to stop the reader from discovering the monster at the end of the book, begging the reader not to finish it so as to avoid the monster!
49. Hippos Go Beserk by Sandra Boynton. First published 1977.
How dull, to be one hippo all alone… until the one calls two other hippos on the phone. Soon three more hippos are at the door, bringing along another four. Before the night is through, a houseful of hippos has joined the one hippo for a boisterous bash.
50. Swimmy by Leo Lionni. First published 1963.
Swimmy, one tiny fish, teaches his friends that together they needn’t be afraid of the dangers in the sea.
Are your childhood favourites on this list?
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