Part of the impetus for this blog was the nagging thought that there are many amazing picture books in the world that I do not want to miss sharing with my children. This thought has reared its head again and spurred me to come up with the following list of 60 books that I absolutely do not want to miss sharing with my children. These 60 books are books that I hope my children will read repeatedly and remember fondly as part of their childhood.
Why 60? I was aiming for my top 50 picture books, but 50 felt a little too restrictive and is not divisible by 12.
Why divisible by 12? While I could simply share my Top 60 list with you today, I thought it would be more helpful and exciting to reveal five not-to-be-missed picture books on the first of each of the 12 months of the year.
Without further ado…
1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Ages 1+
2. Crictor by Tomi Ungerer. Ages 3+
“Once upon a time in a little French town…” Madame Louise Bodot received a boa constrictor in the mail. She named the boa constrictor Crictor, and it became her pet. So begins Crictor, a delightfully apsurd exposition about what it might be like to have a boa constrictor as a pet.
4. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig. Ages 4+
The heart-wrenching tale of a donkey who discovers a magic red pebble and unwittlingly turns into a rock. This miserable plot is tempered by William Steig’s wit and the perfect set-up for a well-delivered message about being thankful for what you have.
5. Art and Max by David Wiesner. Ages 4+
An energetic, imaginative tale that only David Wiesner has the artistic skills to pull off. I could have selected any one of Wiesner’s three Caldecott-award-winning picture books for this list – Flotsam, The Three Pigs, or Tuesday. All three are super innovative, artistic masterpieces. Art & Max is pure, unadulterated fun.
6. The Daddy Book by Todd Parr. Ages 1+
Todd Parr’s colorful, bold illustrations are great for babies and toddlers, while his humor and messages entertain older children. The Daddy Book, intentionally or not, also offers encouragement for parents.
7. Fredrick by Leo Lionni. Ages 3+
A story about a family of field mice preparing for winter that celebrates the value of art and poetry. Leo Lionni is one of my favorite authors. His stories are always carefully crafted and give you something to think about.
A charming book about a young girl and her father who head out on a winter night in search of an owl. In lesser hands, this wisp of a storyline would fall flat. However, Yolen’s poetic prose and Schoenherr’s muted pen and watercolor illustrations are captivating.
9. Wolves by Emily Gravett. Ages 5+
Emily Gravett is awesome. She is funny. She is clever. She is an amazing artist. I think Wolves is Gravett’s best book thus far. A rabbit checks out a book at the library about wolves, begins reading, and the book comes to life.
10. Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine and Kadir Nelson. Ages 7+
The true story of a man Henry “Box” Brown who, born a slave, had himself packed in a box and mailed North to freedom. The story of Brown’s life as a slave, brought to life by Kadir Nelson’s rich illustrations, is heartbreaking.
11. Spring is Here by Taro Gomi. Ages 3+
I am a fan of Taro Gomi’s illustrations in general. Of Gomi’s books, Spring is Here stands out because it features a clever and beautifully executed concept. In addition, the evocative text describing the change of seasons is a joy to read aloud.
12. Elena’s Serenade by Campbell Geeslin and Ana Juan. Ages 3+
Ana Juan’s illustrations are captivating. In Elena’s Serenade, Juan’s illustrations transport readers on a magical journey where a girl can pass as a man, animals can be tamed by pipe music, and blown glass creations can take flight.
13. Knuffle Bunny Too by Mo Willems. Ages 3+
Knuffle Bunny Too is the second is a series of three stories about a girl Trixie and her beloved Knuffle Bunny. While the stories of Trixie’s attachment to her stuffed animal are familiar, Willems’ tellings of them are not. Willems’ humor — aimed at parents as well as kids — is spot on. His illustrations — a mixture of black and white photographs and colorful cartoon drawings — are fresh and fun.
14. Press Here by Hervé Tullet. Ages 4+
An innovative, interactive book that is sure to delight kids. Press Here is perfect for the four to seven-year-old set who are old enough to follow the directions in this book and young enough to have the capacity to suspend reality for a bit.
15. A Birthday for Frances by Russell Hoban. Ages 4+
A wonderful story written by a wonderful storyteller. A Birthday for Frances is chalk full of material to satisfy kids: a protagonist grappling with feelings of jealousy, mild misbehavior, amusing dialog, and descriptions of birthday party preparations. A Birthday for Frances not only withstands, but truly gets better, with repeat readings.
16. My Spring Robin by Anne Rockwell. Ages 2+
As a young girl searches her backyard for her “spring robin,” she notices many signs of spring — a bee taking honey from a crocus, a yellow forsynthia bush, fuzzy fiddleheads sprouting, etc. This is a perfect story for toddlers, without a word out of place.
17. Creature by Andrew Zuckerman. Ages 2+
An amazing alphabet book that stands out both due to Andrew Zuckerman’s phenomenal photographs and its engaging format. Many of the spreads in this alphabet book include a picture of an animal body part and the first letter of the animal’s name on one page and a picture of the entire animal on the following page. My kids love guessing which animal they will see next.
18. George and Martha by James Marshall. Ages 3+
A delightful collection of humorous stories about two best friends. These remarkably pithy stories make my kids and I laugh out loud and contain wonderfully accurate descriptions of imperfect interactions between two true friends.
19. Rechenka’s Eggs by Patricia Polacco. Ages 4+
An engaging tale about an old woman who witnesses two miracles while decorating eggs for an Easter festival. As with other Patricia Polacco books, Rechenka’s Eggs features a unique, meaningful storyline and beautiful, energetic illustrations.
20. Can you whistle, Johanna? by Ulf Stark. Ages 5+
22. Vera’s Baby Sister by Vera Rosenberry. Ages 3+
Vera’s Baby Sister does a great job of accurately depicting the negative feelings that can accompany the birth of a younger sibling, has a heartwarming ending and stars a bean tent. If you enjoy this book, look for Vera Rides a Bike and other books featuring Vera.
23. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen. Ages 5+
24. Mapping Penny’s World by Loreen Leedy. Ages 5+
Loreen Leedy has devoted her writing career to creating picture books that introduce kids to a range of challenging topics, from fractions to energy to maps. Leedy has written a handful of nonfiction picture books that are true gems. Mapping Penny’s World is one of those nonfiction picture book gems, clearly and engagingly introducing kids to maps.
25. Zen Shorts by Jon Muth. Ages 5+
26. Slowly Slowly Slowly said the Sloth by Eric Carle. Ages 2+
The Very Hungry Caterpillar is better known. Do You Want to be My Friend? is more beloved by the author himself. But, Slowly Slowly Slowly said the Sloth is my favorite Eric Carle book. Carle’s illustrations of rainforest animals are beautiful. I like the rhythm of the book and enjoy reading it aloud. Most of all, I love the message about being true to yourself and about the value of moving slowly.
27. Ben’s Trumpet by Rachel Isadora. Ages 2+
A simple yet moving story about a young boy who longs to play the trumpet like the trumpeter he hears at the Zig Zag Jazz Club. The illustrations are remarkably varied and incorporate graphic patterns that give readers a sense of jazz music playing behind the text.
28. I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child. Ages 3+
29. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson. Ages 5+
An extremely satisfying read. My kids and I both enjoy reading this humorous tale with instructions for turning a best enemy into a best friend. Enemy Pie is a fantastic book to read during the summer, full of mentions of baseball, tree forts, and other summery fun.
30. Fox by Margaret Wild. Ages 7+
31. Mr. Gumpy’s Outing by John Burningham. Ages 1+
A delightful story about an amiable man named Mr. Gumpy who agrees to take two children and a slew of animals on a boat ride. While the outcome of the boat trip is predictable, my 2-year-old son is superbly entertained each time we read about Mr. Gumpy’s boat tipping. John Burningham’s illustrations are rich, textured and beautiful.
32. Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney. Ages 2+
A story about a boy Max who imitates the sounds he hears in his neighborhood by hitting a variety of objects with his two sticks. A lovely story about music found and made everywhere. Max Found Two Sticks is well paced and fun to read aloud.
33. Olivia Forms a Band by Ian Falconer. Ages 4+
My view of this book is colored by the fact that it is my husband’s favorite book. My husband and children have a lot of fun laughing at Olivia’s efforts to imitate an entire marching band. This is one in a series of books about Olivia – a spunky character who Ian Falconer brings to life with his fantastic illustrations.
34. The Subway Mouse by Barbara Reid. Ages 5+
An adventure story about a subway mouse who sets off one day in search of a mysterious world that he has heard exists outside the subway system. While The Subway Mouse lacks a strong arch of a storyline, it draws readers into a convincingly rendered underground world. Barbara Reid’s illustrations made of plasticine and found objects are impressive.
35. Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin. Ages 6+
I laughed out loud reading Diary of the Worm for the first time…and the second…and the third. Diary of a Worm is a series of jokes told in the form of a diary written by a worm. This is a very fun book to read aloud to a group of 7 to 9-year-old kids.
A father and daughter engage in a playful game of jut-ay (Thai hide-and-seek). This is one of my children’s favorite books; they enjoy searching for the daughter hidden on each page. Illustrator Holly Meade received a Caldecott Honor for Hush!: A Thai Lullaby, and Meade’s illustrations in Peek!: A Thai Hide-and-Seek are equally impressive — colorful and textured, with unusual perspectives.
37. The Curious Garden by Peter Brown. Ages 3+
A magical story about a young boy who discovers a patch of wildflowers growing on an abandoned railway. When the boy cares for the wildflowers, they begin to thrive and transform the city. Peter Brown has imagined and created a extraordinary green city that my children are delighted to visit.
38. Fish is Fish by Leo Lionni. Ages 4+
A masterfully told story about identity and friendship. In Fish is Fish, a fish dreams of exploring the world outside the water like his good friend the tadpole turned frog. One day, with a great whack of his tail, the fish leaps out of the water only to find himself laying on the grass gasping for air.
39. Stella: Star of the Sea by Marie-Louise Gay. Ages 4+
The story of a boy Sam’s first trip to the sea that features entertaining banter between Sam and his older sister Stella and beautiful illustrations. In Stella: Star of the Sea, Sam is full of questions about the sea, and Stella is full of delightfully absurd answers.Stella: Star of the Sea spawned a series of books about this unforgettable pair of siblings.
40. Linnea in Monet’s Garden by Cristina Bjork and Lena Anderson. Ages 6+
An enchanting story of a girl’s trip to Paris and to Monet’s garden in Giverny. Linnea in Monet’s Garden does a wonderful job of introducing kids to impressionism and Monet as well as helping kids imagine what it would be like to travel to Paris. Linnea’s curiosity is contagious.
41. Barnyard Banter by Denise Fleming. Ages 1+
A jaunty rhyming book that is very fun to read aloud to toddlers and also great for sharing with kids just learning to read. Barnyard Banter features richly colored and textured illustrations that Denise Fleming created by pouring colored paper pulp through hand-cut stencils.
42. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey. Ages 3+
This story is clearly set in a different era…an era when people dressed up to visit the Public Garden, police officers made phone calls from police booths, and it was natural for dad to go off on an adventure and leave mom to raise the kids. Yet, McCloskey’s phenomenal illustrations and his story of eight ducklings’ adventures as they walk through the streets of Boston still captivate kids. According to Anita Silvey, McCloskey bought ducks, raised them in his bathtub, and fed them red wine to slow them down so that he could practice drawing the Mallards.
43. The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons. Ages 4+
Gail Gibbons has churned out nonfiction books about nearly every topic a kid could want to read about. However, in The Seasons of Arnold’s Apple Tree Gibbons does more than simply convey information. Instead, Gibbons created a portrait of a young boy’s attachment to his apple tree that charms.
44. The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. Ages 4+
A joyful adventure story about a French aerialist Philippe Petit who walked on a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers in 1974. From the slough of concept books and predictable storybooks written for children, this suspenseful and unique story sticks out.
A moving true story about a girl Ruby who lived in Old China during a time when girls were expected to get married rather than attend university. Shirin Yim Bridges teamed up with one of my favorite illustrators, Sophie Blackall, and Blackall created beautiful illustrations for this book. In a world of muted greens and yellows, young Ruby, always dressed in red, stands out.
46. Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf by Lois Ehlert. Ages 2+
A simple story about a child planting a maple tree that is a wonderful choice for celebrating fall leaves. Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf features colorful and textured collages created with seeds, roots, fabric, ribbon, wire, paper, plastic, cardboard, watercolors, crayons, pencils, pens, and oil pastels. Lois Ehlert is one of the best author/illustrators creating books for the one to three-year-old set, and this is my favorite Lois Ehlert book.
A Sick Day for Amos McGee is a very sweet book about a friendship between a zookeeper named Amos and the animals he cares for. When Amos gets sick, his friends elephant, tortoise, penguin, rhinocerous and owl come to his house to comfort and care for him. Erin Stead’s lovely, layered illustrations convincingly depict the friendship between Amos and the zoo animals. The Steads have only begun, but thus far they seem to be at their best when they team up, as they did to create this gem of a book.
48. Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg. Ages 3+
A school story about a boy who mistakenly dresses up for crazy hair day on the wrong day. Crazy Hair Day includes a super-satisfying mix of humor (sure to generate roomfuls of giggles) and emotion (that kids can related to). The surprise ending will leave readers feeling warm and fuzzy inside. Oft repeated line from this book: “Is that a hairdo or a hair don’t?”
49. Galimoto by Karen Lynn Williams and Catherine Stock. Ages 4+
50. This is London by M. Sasek. Ages 5+
This is London is one in a series of fantastic picture books by M. Sasek that introduces readers to famous cities around the world. Sasek is a witty tourguide. This is London begins with a spread that is entirely grey: “This is London,” reads the caption. “But don’t worry, it is hidden in fog like this only a few times a year in winter.” Although many facts are out-of-date, Sasek’s mid century modern illustrations of London scenes look fresh and new.
51. Snow by Uri Shulevitz. Ages 3+
52. Toot & Puddle: You Are My Sunshine by By Holly Hobbie. Ages 3+
One of a series of books about two adorable pigs, Toot (the adventurer) and Puddle (the homebody), who are best friends. In all Toot and Puddle books, the two friends are affectionate, picking out thoughtful gifts, writing postcards to eachother, and looking out for each other. In Toot and Puddle: You are my Sunshine, Puddle goes to great lengths to try to cheer up his friend Toot.
53. Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel. Ages 4+
A collection of five, often-humorous, short stories about two best friends Frog and Toad. Frog and Toad Together has well-developed characters; lovely, muted illustrations; and stories with creative, quirky plots. See also Frog and Toad Are Friends, Days with Frog and Toad, and Frog and Toad All Year.
54. Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes. Ages 4+
In Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, Lilly gets in trouble with her teacher for not listening, and Lilly’s very understanding teacher and parents teach her to take responsibility for her actions. Kevin Henkes is great at telling stories that are at once humorous and capture childhood emotions.
55. Are We There Yet? by Alison Lester. Ages 5+
I have always liked books that begin with maps, and Are We There Yet? begins with a map, a map depicting the route eight-year-old Grace’s family takes during their three-month family vacation around Australia. Are We There Yet? enables readers to imagine what it might really be like to take a road trip in Australia. It begins with a fun description of the fold-out camper that Grace’s family travels in and then briefly and humorously describes each of Grace’s family’s adventures.
56. Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. Ages 2+
A fun story told in rhyme about animals who seek cover from a storm in a bear’s den. The animals enjoy tea, popcorn, honey nuts and a warm fire, while the bear sleeps through the party. Few stories are more fun to read aloud.
57. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Ages 4+
A story about a boy Max who, when sent to his room, sails to the land of the wild things and leads a wild ruckus. When Max is ready to return home, he is wecomed back to the comfort of his bedroom where a warm supper is waiting for him. Childhood emotions are allowed to freely express themselves in the pages of Maurice Sendak’s book. Where the Wild Things Are feautures beautiful, textured illustrations and lyrical prose.
58. Boundless Grace by Mary Hoffman. Ages 4+
Grace is a wonderful character — creative, adventurous and thoughtful. In Boundless Grace, Grace is invited to visit her father, who she has not seen for years, in The Gambia. Boundless Grace is a compelling story about Grace trying to make sense of her family after meeting her father’s new wife and children.
59. The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. Ages 5+
A story about a boy who devours books — no really devours books — until he begins to feel sick to his stomach. While the incredible book eating boy loves the knowledge he acquires by eating books, he knows that he must find a better way. The Incredible Book Eating Boy is a one-of-a-kind tale that celebrates reading. I am a big fan of Oliver Jeffers’ minimal designs, beautiful color pallets, tender characters and offbeat humor.
60. Grandpa’s Angel by Jutta Bauer. Ages 7+
A humorous and, to me, comforting tale about the narrator’s grandfather and an angel who looked after the grandfather throughout his life. While the words tell one story of disaster miraculously avoided and unexplained good luck, the illustrations tell another story of a hardworking and resourceful angel responsible for the grandfather’s good fortune.
10 More Books That You Definitely Should Not Miss
These 10 books were recommended most frequently by my book-loving and discerning readers! Thank you to all of you who participated in our year-end poll. It was fun!
The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler.“Walk further into the deep dark wood, and discover what happens when the quick-thinking mouse comes face to face with an owl, a snake and a hungry gruffalo…” *
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. “On each page, we meet a new animal who nudges us onward to discover which creature will show up next: ‘Blue Horse, Blue Horse, What do you see? I see a green frog looking at me.’”
A Bit Lost by Chris Haughton. “Uh-oh! Little Owl has fallen from his nest and landed with a whump on the ground. Now he is lost, and his mommy is nowhere to be seen!…A cast of adorable forest critters in neon-bright hues will engage little readers right up to the story’s comforting, gently wry conclusion.”
Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr. “Mog always seems to be in trouble because she is such a very forgetful cat. But one night, when an uninvited visitor turns up at the house, Mog’s forgetfulness comes in very handy!”
The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. “One tiny snail longs to see the world and hitches a lift on the tail of a whale. Together they go on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins, and the little snail feels so small in the vastness of the world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, it’s the tiny snail who saves the day.”
* The book descriptions for these last 10 books come from Goodreads. Click on the bookcover images to read more about these books on Goodreads.