Get ready for some major throwbacks
There’s something magical that happens when little fingers turn the pages of a good book—the words and illustrations within reveal a world of imagination that isn’t visible on a screen. We’ve gathered 21 classic children’s books that belong on the bookshelf of every young reader. From books where the weather is a little, well, unique, to page-turners about wizards and interplanetary travel, these stories transport readers into a world where animals talk and even the hardest life lessons are easy to understand. So unplug the tablet and introduce the kiddos to the classics that shaped our own childhoods.
Classic Children’s Books for Little Kids
1. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
There’s a reason nearly every newborn baby is given a copy of Goodnight Moon as a gift. The engaging text (“goodnight room, goodnight moon”) along with the soothing illustrations, has kept this story a bedtime staple for generations. The simple nature of the story makes it a great first book when little ones start becoming readers too. Age range: 1 and up. Buy it here.
2. Love You Forever by Robert Musch
We’d be remiss if we didn’t include this simple story about the unconditional love that is always present between a mom and her little one. From baby to toddler, and from tween to teen, Love You Forever illustrates that a mother’s bond with her kiddo will never break. Age range: 1 and up. Buy it here.
3. Animalia by Graeme Base
The illustrations alone are worth adding this classic kids’ book to the shelf. Top it of with each picture being a letter of the alphabet and plenty of hidden games and riddles, and your kids will be enthralled for hours. Ages: 2-8. Buy it here.
4. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
Behind this story about the little engine who was small but mighty is the lesson that anything can be accomplished if you believe in yourself and put your mind to the task. We think this is an important lesson for all kids to learn. What better way to teach it than through the words of the beloved blue train? Today’s self-help gurus have nothing on this famous tale of motivation and positive thinking. Age range: 3 and up. Buy it here.
5. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
What little kid hasn’t imagined being swept away into an imaginary world where all his problems disappear? This classic book may have been written in 1963, but its theme is still relatable to today’s young readers. Let your kiddo’s imagination soar as she follows the adventures of Max as his bedroom turns into a jungle full of wild things. Age range: 3-5 years. Buy it here.
6. Corduroy by Don Freeman
Who can resist this sweet brown bear whose only desire is to be taken home by a friend? Locked in a department store overnight, this fun book follows the adventures of a teddy bear named Corduroy. Your kids will love this classic children’s book, and like many of our fellow childhood peers, might even name their own teddy bear after Dan Freeman’s protagonist. Age range: 3-5 years. Buy it here.
7. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
All timid bull Ferdinand wants to do is sit under his cork tree in the shade and smell the flowers. But a case of mistaken ability leads Ferdinand to the bullfights in Madrid, where he comes face to face with the Banderilleros, Picadores, and the brave Matador who, try as they might, just can’t get him to fight. Ages 3-5. Buy it here.
8. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Explore a tranquil winter wonderland with Peter, an African-American boy who dons a rather iconic red suit. Keats’ illustrations have a humble and peaceful aura that makes us eager for winter. Ages 3-5. Buy it here.
9. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
Looks like Alexander’s got a case of the “Mondays.” He’s got gum stuck in his hair; he gets the hump seat on the ride to school; He’s served lima beans at lunch. What else could go wrong? Find out when you read this classic kids’ book. Ages 3-7. Buy it now.
10. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett
Who can forget the legendary bedtime story (or was it?) about the tiny town of Chewandswallow? Yup, the place where the weather is a drizzle of orange juice, a drift of mashed potatoes, and drifts of hamburgers. It’s when the food gets larger and more intense that the story gets really interesting. This classic children’s book is just as good as when it was published in 1987. Ages: 3-7. Buy it here.
11. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
In this old house in Paris, all covered in vines lived the wonderful story of Madeline. Kids love the stories about this famous orphan and how her bravery helps her face fierce tigers, little mice, and even a burst appendix. Madeline’s individuality makes her a classic and modern-day heroine for younger readers. Age range: 3-8 years. Buy it here.
12. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Harold and his big imagination take a purple crayon out for a walk under the moon one night. As he draws his own adventures, he comes across a pie-only picnic, a monster guarding an apple tree, and a friendly policeman who finally points him in the right direction—back home to the comfort of his own bed. It’s a classic for a reason. Ages 4-7. Buy it here.
13. Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys, and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina
This humorous story of a peddler chasing after mischievous monkeys for his hats will have your teeny rascal holding their stomach in stitches. A twist on the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do,” Caps for Sale is a timeless read-aloud with repetitive sentences that invite listeners to join in. Ages 4-8. Buy it here.
14. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch
Princess Elizabeth has a very nice life until a dragon burns it all (including her clothes) to the ground and takes off with her prince. Follow along as the spunky and brave protagonist dons a paper bag and rescues the prince (who turns out to be a dud) instead of waiting to be rescued herself. This classic children’s book has a strong feminist message and is a lot of fun. Ages 4-7. Buy it here.
Classic Kids’ Books for Older Children
15. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
A box of tissues is recommended to accompany this classic story of Wilbur the pig, Charlotte the spider, Fern, and all their beloved barnyard friends. This story is, at its heart, about the power of friendship and words, and how those things can truly change someone’s life for the better. Age range: 6-11 years. Buy it here.
16. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
While we’re totally #teamgenewilder when it comes to film adaptations, there’s nothing quite like reading the original. You’ll get more of Charlie’s backstory, and the details of the chocolate factory are a treat for the imagination. Age range: 6-9. Buy it here.
17. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
When J.K. Rowling wrote the sentence, “Every child in our world will know his name,” in the first chapter of The Sorcerer’s Stone, no one had any idea those words would ring so true. While kids love Harry, Hermione, and Ron’s adventures at Hogwarts, we like that at the root of these books is the lesson that nothing is stronger than the bond of friendship. Age range: 7 and up. Buy it here.
18. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Kids will love this world filled with magic and imagination. Find out what happens when four siblings, Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy, step through the doorway from their wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia. While there are certainly more books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe is probably the best-known in the series. Age range: 8 years and up. Buy it here.
19. Anne of Green Gables Series by L.M. Montgomery
While the books were originally published in 1908, we bet your little ones will still delight in the young orphan, Anne Shirley’s adventures as she makes her way at Green Gables. Her feisty spirit, outspoken nature, and sense of humor make Anne a great role model for young girls and teach them that it’s okay to speak up and be yourself. Age range: 9 years and up. Buy it here.
20. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
While this book is geared more toward the older reader, it still deserves to be on the list of classic kids’ books. Young readers will love following Mary Lennox and her adventures in a secret garden that soon changes not only her life but the lives of the new friends she makes. We love seeing Mary’s transformation from sad to happy, and the role nature plays in that change. Age range: 9 and up. Buy it here.
21. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Travel between universes and go on an adventure that digs into the meaning of family bonding and friendship in this classic children’s book. Note to sensitive bookworms: The plot can get dark and teems with unsavory characters. Ages 10 & up. Buy it here.
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