No child’s room is complete without a budding bookshelf, and we’re here to help you build your little one’s library. From classic to contemporary reads, we’ve brought together 50 of the most unforgettable picture books of all time. Knowing that most children (or babies, even!) receive The Cat in the Hat, Goodnight Moon The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Where the Wild Things Are as shower or birthday gifts, we bypassed those four to make room for a few other delights. (For example: have you ever heard of Fortunately? Well, fortunately, now you have!) Happy shelf-stocking!
Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey
When Sal and her mother go blueberry picking in Maine, they cross paths with a curious bear cub and his mother that are also on the hunt for food. A story about budding independence and mischief, Blueberries for Sal urges children to compare and contrast by careful observation of McCloskey’s rich illustrations.
Go, Dog. Go!, by P.D. Eastman
In P.D. Eastman’s comical canine classic, readers can’t help but ask: where are all the dogs going? Turns out, all the hounds, poodles, labs and more are going to a party on top of a tree. Full of bright colors, first words, and dry wit, Go, Dog. Go! has delighted bigs and littles since 1961.
The Lorax, by Dr. Seuss
Who speaks for the trees? The Lorax does, and in this famous fable, he has plenty to say about greed and destruction. A cautionary tale filled with brilliant rhymes, drawings, and Seuss’s trademark quirkiness, The Lorax teaches the importance of conservation and temperance.
Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Pena and Christian Robinson
Winner of numerous honors and awards, Last Stop on Market Street follows CJ and his Nana on a bus ride that teaches appreciation of life’s simple gifts. Full of vibrant art and intergenerational lessons, this book celebrates the diversity of city life.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, by William Steig
This poignant tale about a little donkey who accidentally wishes to become a rock, offers up various lessons, including the importance of family, perseverance, foresight, and gratitude. Chock full of delightful artwork and tender comedy, it’s no wonder this gem is widely revered.
Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say
A young Japanese man travels to the United States where he falls in love with California’s Sierra Mountains before returning home to marry his sweetheart. After several journeys back and forth between Japan and America, and several generations later, the young man’s grandson repeats the same path. A story about voyages, longing, and two places called home.
Jumanji, by Chris Van Allsburg
Judy and Peter find a discarded board game at the park that warns: “Do not begin unless you intend to finish.” Little do they know that the game will soon come to life, replete with wild animals and natural disasters, right in their family home. This classic, laden with Allsburg’s stunning illustrations, continues to awe year after year.
Library Lion, by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes
Miss Merriweather, the librarian, is firm on no running and no noise in the library. But what about lions? This gentle, artful read tells the story of a lion who makes himself quietly at home among children in a library, until the day an emergency strikes. A sweet tale about friendship, the love of reading, and those times when rules must be broken.
The Little Fur Family, by Margaret Wise Brown and Garth Williams
Margaret Wise Brown has delighted generations with her well-known Goodnight Moon, but this magical little jewel will mesmerize readers, young and old. A story of a tiny, fur child who explores a forested world of creatures before returning to his cozy tree trunk, this book pays homage to the magical worlds of our imaginations.
Madeline, by Ludwig Bemelmans
No one can resist a tale of a brave little redhead girl who attends a Parisian boarding school, and is known for not just taunting the tiger at the zoo, but surviving a midnight, ruptured appendix. An artfully illustrated, funny, fearless classic, Madeline delights with its scenery and spunk.
Caps for Sale, by Esphyr Slobodkina
This lively folktale follows a cap peddler who wears his entire inventory on his head and takes an unfortunate nap beneath a tree full of scheming monkeys. Full of vivid drawings and repetitive text, Caps for Sale prompts little ones to infer, predict, and chant along.
Stone Soup, by Marcia Brown
This tricky tale tells the story of hungry soldiers who outsmart villagers unwilling to share their food. The soldiers concoct a soup made of stones, that little by little requires vegetables and meat, until the soldiers ultimately cook up a hearty meal. A book about sharing and cleverness, Stone Soup also featuring drawings that reveal something new with each view.
Bread and Jam for Frances, by Russell Hoban and Lillian Hoban
Picky eaters and young foodies alike will love this tale of Frances, the finicky badger, who refuses to eat anything but bread and jam, morning, noon, and night. Eventually her witty parents use reverse psychology to convince Frances to eat almost anything. Adorable, mouth-watering drawings abound within.
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, byJudi Barrett and Ronald Barrett
Before the rip-roaring movie of the same name, there was this singular picture book about the strange town of Chewandswallow where the unpredictable weather rained down everything from fried eggs to hot dogs. A far-fetched classic unlike any other, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is both a visual and fantastical treat.
The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes, by DuBose Heyward and Marjorie Flack
This beautifully conceived book tells the story of a little brown rabbit who desperately wants to become the Easter Bunny, but is repeatedly scorned by the elite, city rabbits who live in fine houses. Eventually, after raising twenty-one bunnies of her own, the brown rabbit achieves her greatest dream. A story of doggedness and grace, with an underlying message of feminism and anti-racism.
Pancakes, Pancakes, by Eric Carle
Eric Carle’s famous hungry caterpillar might be the star of his best-known book, but this Carle sleeper-hit just might take the (pan)cake. A colorful romp through a hungry farm boy’s morning, this story shows kids how much work it takes to make a single flapjack, from gathering eggs and grinding wheat, to milking a cow and churning butter.
Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold
Cassie Louise Lightfoot wishes to freely go wherever she wants in life, and one night, on the tar roof of her Harlem apartment building, her dream comes true. She flies over Manhattan and claims the buildings as her own, imagining a different future for her and her family. A story of courage and hope, Tar Beach melds African American history with young literature.
Miss Nelson is Missing, by Harry G. Allard Jr. and James Marshall
From spitballs to paper airplanes to general rowdiness, classroom 207 is out of control. So, easygoing teacher Miss Nelson decides to go undercover as strict substitute Viola Swamp, and the results are hilarious. A favorite of schoolchildren since 1977, this classic doubles down on the fun with its goofy, unforgettable illustrations.
Frederick, by Leo Lionni
This sweet story about a field mouse who stores up his vivid memories of summer to warm his extended family come winter, is a perennial reminder of the importance of embracing your gifts. Perfect for teaching children about individuality and sharing, Frederick, with its collage-style artwork, is a must-read for all young dreamers.
Corduroy, by Don Freeman
When a lonely stuffed bear is almost bought from a department store until it is discovered he is missing a button, the bear embarks on an after-hours quest to make himself presentable. His dreams come true when little girl Lisa spends her savings to finally give him a forever home. A timeless treasure about friendship and unconditional love.
The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton
This precious 1942 book tells the story of a little country cottage that bides its time on a hillside, watching the seasons pass. After many generations, urban sprawl surrounds the little house and its original owner’s great-great-granddaughter sets out on a mission to return the house to the countryside. Complete with detailed illustrations and the happiest of endings.
I Want My Hat Back, by Jon Klassen
A bear is missing his hat and he’s determined to get it back by asking all the animals if they’ve seen it. Delightfully sly, and expertly drawn, I Want My Hat Back will have readers of all ages laughing out loud as they solve the mystery along with (or likely before) the forgetful bear.
Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever, by Richard Scarry
Kids like naming everything they see and this Scarry mainstay will help early readers do exactly that. Crammed with the funniest lederhosen-clad animals doing all the things people do (from grocery shopping to tooth brushing to flying biplanes) this word books names all the people, places, and things a kid can think of.
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale, by Mo Willems
When Trixie’s stuffed bunny gets left behind at the laundromat, missing-plaything panic ensues. The chaos is further heightened when Trixie, who cannot yet talk, attempts to communicate her despair with a series of meltdowns. Outrageously funny and replete with Mo Willems’s singular style of illustration, this must-own resonates with kids and parents alike.
The Fire Cat, by Esther Averill
Author and illustrator Esther Averill wowed readers with her Cat Club stories starring Jenny Linsky and friends, and this gem about Pickles the bad cat, who longs to be a good fire cat, is the perfect introduction to one of the most beloved children’s series around. Charming and timeless in both look and message, The Fire Cat is sure to be requested again and again.
Frog and Toad Together, by Arnold Lobel
Best friends and polar opposites, Frog and Toad, team up in this popular series for a variety of adventures that are equal parts wistful and wacky. From a windblown to-do list and an impatient gardener to a box of irresistible cookies, a treacherous hike, and a nightmare about shrinking, this collection celebrates differences and devotion.
A Kiss for Little Bear, by Else Holmelund Minarik and Maurice Sendak
Little Bear makes a drawing for his Grandmother and sends it her way, courtesy of his friend Hen. Delighted with her gift, Grandmother sends a kiss back to Little Bear via Hen, who, along the way, passes it on to Cat, some skunks, and back to Hen. Beautifully illustrated by Maurice Sendak, this affectionate read is a perfect good-night tale.
Just For You, by Mercer Mayer
This was Mayer’s first book, published in 1975, and it was an instant classic, thanks to the honesty with which it portrays a common phenomenon: a kid trying to help his mom out, but goofing up the job. “I wanted to wash the floor just for you, but the soap was too bubbly,” he says, as soap bubbles fill the floor and fly up into the air and his mom has a weary look that many of us can relate to. Even though Little Critter’s mom is frequently exasperated in this book, she’s more often amused by his missteps, and in the end enjoys his bedtime kiss.
Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein
What happens when Little Red Chicken cannot stop interrupting her father during reading time? She ends up spoiling all the stories (and frustrating her dad) until she decides to read to him. With text and pictures both screamingly funny, Interrupting Chicken, will never cease to delight, even after you know the ending.
The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein
This legendary Shel Silverstein read follows the relationship between a selfless apple tree and a little boy as he grows into an old man. The tree, who gives the boy her apples, leaves, branches, and trunk, shows the depths and sacrifice of pure love through simple prose and line drawings.
The Story of Ferdinand, by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson
Young Ferdinand the bull is more enamored with leisurely sniffing flowers than competition, but when he is selected by bullfighters because of his size, he finds himself transported to an arena in Madrid. Despite expectations, Ferdinand never succumbs to violence and instead reveals his gentle nature to the world. A book for lovers, not fighters.
The Monster at the End of This Book, by Jon Stone
Finally, this is the original not-so-scary monster book that generations of kids have enjoyed. Grover spends the story terrified about the monster at the end of the book, begging the reader not to turn the page. But kids know better—Grover himself is the monster! Plus, it’s fun to watch him sweat. As a bonus, this book introduces kids to metafiction.
Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson
What can one little boy bring to life with a single purple crayon? Boats, a hungry moose, pies, moons, and his bedroom window to name a few. A simple, vivid classic about imagination, adventures, and the comforts of home.
The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats
The only thing more mesmerizing than a snowy day is The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats’s vivid tale about a boy named Peter and his romp through a winter wonderland. A book that broke racial barriers when it was published in 1962, this classic still awes readers with its magical, minimalist message.
Olivia, by Ian Falconer
It’s everyone’s favorite precocious piglet—Olivia! The red-only-wearing, brother-scaring darling who hates naps and loves exhausting everyone makes an unforgettable name for herself in this howl that pays homage to Eloise. Full of expertly rendered charcoal drawings that deliver zinger after zinger, Olivia is perfect for energetic kids and their exhausted grown-ups.
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion and Margaret Bloy Graham
Oh, Harry! He hates baths so much that he’s willing to run away from his beloved family for a romp through construction sites and coal chutes until he’s no longer a white dog with black spots, but a black dog with white spots. When Harry finds himself unrecognizable to his loved ones, he learns that being clean might not be so bad after all. A book that will make anyone sit up and beg for another reading.
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Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz
What’s the solution for a day that involves chewing gum stuck in your hair, lima beans, no dessert, being the third-best-friend, and having to watch people kiss on TV? Maybe moving to Australia. This lovable book about unlucky Alexander is the perfect read for kids who think they’re alone in their challenges.
Ten, Nine, Eight, by Molly Bang
A sweet goodnight story about a little “big” girl who doesn’t want to go to sleep and her loving father who knows how to make bedtime a fun counting game. A colorful, catchy, Caldecott honoree.
Fortunately, by Remy Charlip
A hilarious book about cause and effect, Fortunately relays both the unfortunate and fortunate events of Ned, a boy trying desperately to get to a surprise party. Sharks, malfunctioning planes, and pitchforks sticking out of haystacks will try their best to derail Ned’s celebratory plans, but fortunately, fate has something else in mind. Replete with laugh-out-loud illustrations.
Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi
This bright, bold, biology book of sorts has entertained and educated kids and parents for decades. Maybe it’s the array of images of animals and people going about their business (pun intended) that delights. Or maybe it’s the unapologetic honesty of the text that readers find refreshing and fun. Whatever the case, this classic that brings new meaning to the term “potty humor” belongs in every young library!
Tuesday, by David Wiesner
A text-free, visual masterpiece, Tuesday overflows with glorious (and funny!) art that tells the story of a magical Tuesday night when frogs go flying about town on lily pads. It’s no surprise that this opus won the Caldecott medal, nor that it entrances all who open it.
A Tree Is Nice, by Janice May Udry and Marc Simont
Simple text, fetching watercolors, and an enduring message about the grandeur and necessity of trees, this award-winner prompts little ones and grown ups to get outside a go climb the nearest maple. A cornerstone of any child’s library.
No, David!, by David Shannon
Kids don’t get more rascally or rowdy than mile-a-minute David, who seems to cause mayhem wherever he goes. Inside this topsy-turvy book, that bursts with wild, comical illustrations, children and parents enter a world they can relate to: one where things never go as planned, but love is still in abundance.
Officer Buckle and Gloria, by Peggy Rathmann
When Officer Buckle’s safety tips presentation starts putting kids to sleep, he decides to bring along police dog, Gloria. Little does Officer Buckle know that behind the scenes, Gloria is stealing his thunder! A heartwarming and hilarious story of friendship, the book also serves up lots of hidden joy in the details of its winning drawings.
Umbrella, by Taro Yashima
Momo receives an umbrella and red rain boots for her birthday, but soon learns that she must wait (and wait and wait) for a rainy day to put them to good use. An enchanting book about patience and excitement, Umbrella grows more loved with every read.
May I Bring a Friend?, by Beatrice de Regniers and Beni Montresor
When the King and Queen invite a boy over for tea, he asks if he may bring along a friend. Little do the royals know he is bringing a giraffe, but they are gracious nonetheless and continue to extend invitations to the boy, who, over time, brings an entire zoo to the castle! Jewel-toned drawings complete this charmer.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Philip C. Stead and Erin E. Stead
An elderly man who works at the zoo always spends quality time with his animal friends. But when he gets too sick to come to work, the animals decide they must go to him. A sweet message and woodblock drawings combine to make this must-read a must-own.
Anno’s Journey, by Mitsumasa Anno
This meticulous visual stunner takes readers on an imaginary tour of northern Europe, over countrysides and forests and past storybook characters, optical puzzles, and hidden jokes. A book that reveals something new wth each reading, it is sure to delight for not just hours but a lifetime.
Paddle to the Sea, by Holling C. Holling
In this magnificent visual and literary masterpiece, a young Native Canadian boy, who longs to see the Atlantic Ocean, carves a tiny boat and figurine from wood and sets them on a journey both dangerous and delightful through the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence River. Full of adventure, geography, and natural wonders, Paddle to the Sea belongs in every home.
Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer
In this laugh-a-minute read, George the dog cannot stop making all the wrong noises, from “Meow” to “Oink” to “Moo.” Whatever can the trouble be? Children will delight at George’s outrageous diagnosis, and parents will adore the drawings from Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, of The New Yorker fame.