The 50 best books for kids
We've put together a top 50 list of best books for kids including The Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter and more.
Thu Mar 1 2012
In honor of Dr. Seuss's birthday (he'd be 108 this year) and the NEA's Read Across America Day on Friday, March 2, we decided it was time to put together the definitive list of best books for children. The task wasn't easy: After all, children's books are among the most indelible sources of memory—and therefore opinion—on the planet. We knew we didn't want only 20th-century classics, and also that we wanted to mix in a few graphic novels and nonfiction works, genres that have come a long way in recent years. And of course we wanted something for every child, from tots and emerging readers to middle-grade kids and middle-school students. (We stopped at roughly age 12, though many in the oldest age category are teen and adult gems as well.) A lot of our personal favorites made the cut (Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat, Harry Potter, A Wrinkle in Time) but we're also thrilled that the top 50 include some new classics we'd never heard of. We hope you'll weigh in with favorites of your own that aren't on our list of best books. In the meantime, click through our list and then head to the library or one of our favorite indie bookstores with your kids to pick up some of our top titles. Let the reading begin!
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Maurice Sendak illustrated more than 50 books for other authors before he thought of making one of his own. When he finally did he managed to create the Citizen Kane of picture books, one that resonates across generations. It dares to lead kids to their wilder sides and then back to the sweet safety of their own bedrooms where a dinner of soup—still hot, no less—awaits them. HarperCollins. Ages 3 to 6.
Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
"Where's Papa going with that axe?" The world's greatest first line accompanies the animal tale, recounted with a child's wisdom, that kids remember and love long after they've put it down. Even if a young reader's closest association with a pig consists of pork chops at dinner, all kids can identify with Fern and Wilbur—and when they grow up and have children of their own they'll find themselves identifying with Charlotte. HarperCollins. Ages 8 to 12.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd
The No. 1 sleepytime rhyme award goes to Brown, who created the rare book that can be read a hundred times over without ever becoming tiresome. Amazingly, the quintessential bedtime story wasn't a hit in its day (1947), but the sheer levels of comfort it offers have made it a go-to book for generations of families. HarperCollins. Ages 6 months to 3 years.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
Despite using potentially overdone elements (an orphan with special powers, a school for sorcerers), Rowling wove together a series that gave kids the chance to feel true wonder, some for the very first time. Ten years ago every child in the nation had read this modern-day classic. These days a whole new generation of kids is ready to meet Harry—and get sucked into his deeply engrossing world—for themselves. Scholastic. Ages 8 to 12.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The idea of writing a book for kids that manages to cover colors, counting, days of the week, healthy eating and the process of metamorphosis sounds impossible. All the more reason to admire what might well be the world's most perfect picture book. As Carle himself once said of his work, it's a book of hope for any child who feels small and helpless and wonders if they'll ever grow up. In other words, it's for the future butterflies of the world. Good thing Carle's editor convinced him to make the book about a caterpillar instead of Carle's original Willie Worm. Penguin. Ages 6 months to 3 years.
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Seuss was charged with making a story out of the 348 words every six-year-old should know. What he produced was a 1,629-word tale that didn't just use most of the words but also produced a famous character, a hugely amusing story, and a classic to be read, shared and loved. Random House. Ages 3 to 6.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle
Now celebrating its 50th anniversary, this superstar is a crazed amalgamation of religion, fantasy and science. Protagonist Meg Murray, who has bad hair, glasses and braces, manages not only to win the heart of the basketball star but also to save her father and brother from a fate worse that death—and maybe the universe as well. Macmillan. Ages 8 to 12.
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The urban cityscape takes on a wintry luster when the iconic, red-snowsuit-donning Peter explores the bright white world of a new snowfall. Though it caused a stir in its day for featuring an African-American boy, Keats's classic has since become beloved the world over. Penguin. Ages 6 months to 3 years.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
It may always be winter and never Christmas in this magical land, but Narnia's lure has always enthralled young readers. When four kids stumble into a new world, the evil White Witch who rules there has no idea what she's in for. HarperCollins. Ages 8 to 12.
Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems
Though his Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus gets more attention, this Caldecott winner is a book with real heart. And just as children will identify with poor Trixie as she loses her beloved bunny, so too will parents completely identify with the dad who just cannot figure out what's wrong with his kid. Disney Books. Ages 3 to 6.