If you love kid lit, these 16 favorite children’s picture books are absolute must-haves. They are the ones I could (and have) read hundreds of times and never get tired of them.
NOTE: THIS POST INCLUDES AFFILIATE LINKS. AS ALWAYS FEEL FREE TO SHOP AROUND FOR THE BEST DEALS. SEE MY DISCLOSURE TO LEARN MORE.
I’m pretty sure I came out of the womb reading a book…which worked out well because I was born into a family where bookcases decorated every room of the house. As a child, I spent countless hours poring over the pages of gorgeous books. So many worlds waited to be discovered every time I opened the cover of a new book. My version of heaven.
As much as I love novels and other grown-up books, picture books have always had my heart. My mom collects picture books (what a fabulous thing to collect!), and I suppose her enthusiasm for gorgeous and clever children’s literature was contagious.
I’ve shared several book lists in the past, but today is my ultimate book recommendation–my very favorite books of all time. Some I have LOVED since before I can remember, and others I have only recently discovered.
Some of them teach powerful messages, others are just downright hilarious.
But all of them make me incredibly happy. No matter how many times my children ask to read them, I never get tired of them.
I’m not claiming that this is a definitive list of the best children’s picture books, and it’s certainly not comprehensive…the world has room for SO many wonderful books to enjoy. These are just a few of my absolute favorites.
I hope you can find some new favorites to love, too!
My favorite children’s books that every child needs to read
Wordless picture books must do that much more to tell the story solely through the illustrations. Journey is my favorite of all the wordless books I’ve read…immersing the reader in the world of a young girl with a red marker and a limitless imagination.
Oh, Tacky…how I love that bird! This unorthodox book celebrated the value of marching to beat of your own drum, and shows how sometimes being different from everyone else is the best thing you can possibly be. I memorized this book for an oratory festival in first grade, and it’s still one of my favorites.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that it’s a story about how delicious strawberries are (YUM!), the clever mouse, or the Groucho Marx glasses, but this was my favorite story as a child. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized that the narrator was really trying to trick innocent mouse into sharing that delectable strawberry…naughty narrator.
It’s charming, and the beautiful pictures are just so satisfying. Move over The Napping House, this is Don and Audrey Wood’s greatest work (at least for me).
“Pirates have green teeth. That is, when they have any teeth at all…” How can you not love a story that starts like that?
The narrative voice in this book is what sets it apart. Jeremy Jacob, master sand castle builder and would-be pirate, is the delightful young narrator of this story–who decides to become a pirate…as long as he can be back for soccer practice tomorrow. It’s a fabulous read-aloud (of course, you have to really get into using your best pirate talk).
What I love most about this book (other than the fun-to-read rhyme and cadence) is its message about the importance of showing our love. Mr. Fish is a pretty glum fellow, and all the sea creatures keep telling him he needs to put on a happy face. But he just can’t seem to shake the dreary-wearies…until a new fish comes along and shows him a little love without expecting anything in return. A simple message, but SO powerful to teach our kids that actions speak louder than words.
This gorgeous (and clever!) book has a permanent place on display on top of the bookshelf in our playroom. Its extra-large pages are full of maps, I-spy style illustrations, tons of fun facts about far-off places, and some sneaky animals doing ridiculous things to add a little extra fun. It’s the kind of book that you can lie on the living room rug and pore over for hours on a rainy afternoon.
This story is about a moose…who wants to be an astronaut. Moose can’t be astronauts though…or can they?
I mean, how can you go wrong with a premise like that? I still remember the first time I read this book. I almost couldn’t actually read it aloud because I was laughing SO hard (maybe it was just the end of a really long day, but I’m pretty sure the book really is that funny). I discovered it on the award winner shelf at our local library (it was a Beehive Book Award nominee–Utah’s version of a people’s choice award), and we loved it so much that we now own it.
Amos McGee is more than just a zookeeper–he is a kind and gentle friend to all the animals in his care. But one day when Amos gets sick, who will take care of him? This delightfully slow-paced story teaches in the best way possible that the kindness you give will come back to you when you need it most.
I don’t remember reading this book much growing up, but as a parent I have come to adore it. The illustrations are simple, but the text is sneakily clever. Wordplay that went over my head as a child makes me smile now as the author describes how Harold “made land without much trouble” and “drew up the covers”. It’s an ode to the power of a child’s imagination that I happily read over and over again.
This has got to be one of the most iconic picture books of all time, and it wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized just how brilliant it really is. Fun fact…have you ever noticed how the illustrations literally get bigger and bigger as the book progresses until you get to the climax of the full two-page spreads of the “wild rumpus”? Then, as Max journey’s back home (and out of his imagination), the illustrations parallel his journey by getting smaller and smaller again. Go see for yourself right now! It’s completely fantastic.
Chris Van Allsburg was (and still is) one of my mom’s favorite children’s authors, and Harris Burdick was by far my favorite of all his books. For a girl who dreamed of being an author, the Harris Burdick mysteries provided ample inspiration for writing my own stories based on its cryptic pictures and captions. If you have an aspiring author, introduce them to this book and watch their creativity soar.
For any child (or adult) who has ever felt lonely in a crowd or just not good enough, this book is a must! Gerald the giraffe thinks he can’t dance because he doesn’t know the steps everyone else is doing. Then a wise friend teaches him a simple, but profound truth that changes everything for him. Vivid illustrations, rhythmic poetry, and a powerful message about self worth make this little board book a classic.
As a girl who has always liked to imagine that inanimate objects were secretly alive, this book makes me happy.
Who knew crayons had so many opinions about things?! Well, Duncan’s do, and they write him impassioned letters expressing their frustration with their lives in the crayon box…and with each other. So much more than a color primer, I love the conversations this book opens up about thinking outside the box and embracing creative–sometimes unexpected–ideas.
What happens if you press the yellow dot? As it turns out, a whole lot can come of a simple little action like that…a whole story, in fact! This interactive book is a great way to get kids involved in reading. This book has been loved just about to death at our house, and somehow my boys never tire of pushing those dots, even though they know what will happen next.
Oh. my. goodness. If you have EVER tried to put an energetic child to bed, you NEED to read this one. Daddy chicken keeps trying to tell his little chicken a bedtime story, but she can’t wait for him to finish the story, so she jumps in, telling her OWN version–making readers laugh, and exasperating her father. I won’t tell you how the story resolves, but I will say that Daddy chicken comes up with a brilliant solution to the problem.
This book is eye (and ear???) candy for all lovers of words. Part alphabet book, part dictionary, part work of art…this book brilliantly makes crazy, big words accessible to young readers. I loved it from the first minute I saw it, but I was surprised how much my four-year-old enjoyed it, too! He loved trying to say the long crazy words with me as we flipped through the pages. Trust me when I say you NEED this in your life.
And they all lived happily ever after…reading books in the sunshine every day. The end.
It’s really hard for me to stop there. There are SOOO many more books that are near and dear to my heart. But, maybe someday I’ll do a part 2: the honorable mention list.
For now, though, it’s your turn!
I’d LOVE to hear…what are YOUR favorite children’s picture books of all time?
No, seriously…don’t leave me hanging. I REALLY want to know. Be sure to leave at least one suggestion in the comments below. I can’t wait!
Want more book ideas? Try these other favorite book recommendations for kids: