The Ultimate Children’s Picture Book List


I’ve long had this fantasy of curating the perfect library for Elili.  I just re-read that sentence and realized just pretentious that sounded.  What I mean is that I’m kind of obsessed with the idea of Elili having a kick-ass bookshelf.  Obviously, I am a big reader, but for me it’s about more than that.  Reading, books are a religion for me.  And I’m not saying that in a casual way, like how someone might say, “Glee, is like, totally my religion.”  I mean that reading for me borders on the spiritual.  (Interestingly, I might even go as far as to say that reading, even more than writing, is my religion.)  For me, besides the added perks that books can help foster intellectual curiosity, and maybe even more importantly empathy, I use them—and I will freely admit this—as a way to self-medicate.  Comfort, refuge, and best of all, a never-ending supply. No judgment from the outside world either.  No one has ever said, “Man, that lady should really lay off the books.”

So, yes, I’ll confess: I very much hope Elili grows up to be a reader.  And one way I’m encouraging this is by buying her lots and lots of books, and reading with her as much as possible.   (Yes, a nearby library would do the trick too.) I realized yesterday that I actually know a lot of people who know a hell of a lot more about children’s literature than I do–writers, booksellers, book bloggers, a ton of moms and dads—and so I crowd-sourced the question on Facebook and Twitter: What is your must-have children’s picture book?

I asked.  You all answered.  Here’s the master list.  Can you hear my American Express card weeping?

If I’m missing anything, please chime in via the comments. (Those with an * are Elili’s current favorites.  For point of reference she’s fourteen months.)

THE WHEELS ON THE BUS, by Paul O. Zelinsky * (Can’t recommend this one highly enough)

KNUFFLE BUNNY, by Mo Willems *(Both E and I love this one. Hate to say it, but this is perfect for the hipster parent. It has Brooklyn and goatees and a Laundromat.)


GOODNIGHT GORILLA by Peggy Rathmann *(E and I both LOVE this one. Absolute favorite in our house.)

10 MINUTES TILL BEDTIME by Peggy Rathmann

HEADS, by Mathew Van Fleet *(E. has a bunch of his books, and they are all beautiful and amazing on a technical level.  I’ve made the editorial decision to list HEADS, because it’s a bit harder to destroy.)

GOODNIGHT MOON, by Margaret Wise Brown  (E. has multiple copies.  I love it, because I remember reading it with my mom.   E. indulges me.  According to a children’s librarian I know, though, anything by Wise Brown is great for bedtime.)

ON THE NIGHT YOU WERE BORN, by Nancy Tillman *(Beautiful book.  Too many words for E. at the moment, but she loves the pictures.)

Anything by Sandra Boynton (I happen to like MOO BAA LALALA.  E. prefers BARNYARD DANCE.)

LITTLE OWL LOST by Chris Haughton * (E. has the British version called A BIT LOST. She loves, loves, loves it, even though I read the word “biscuits” as “cookies.”)

Anything by Dr. Suess *(E. loves HOP ON POP.)

THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.

BROWN BEAR, BROWN BEAR WHAT DO YOU SEE?, and POLAR BEAR, POLAR BEAR WHAT DO YOU HEAR?  Both by Eric Carle and Bill Martin Jr.  * (E. loves identifying the animals.)

THERE WAS AN OLD LADY WHO SWALLOWED A FLY (Slightly inappropriate for children, and yet I still read it to Elili, because it cracks me up.)

THE GRUFFALO by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

THE SNAIL AND THE WHALE  by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

STELLALUNA by Janell Cannon

MY CAR by Byron Barton

THE CLICK, CLACK MOO, Cows that Type Series, by Denis Cronin (Hilarious, but for kids a bit older than E.)

PROFESSOR WORMBOG IN SEARCH FOR THE ZIPPERUMP-A-ZOO by Mercer Mayer (Rumor has it anything by Mercer Mayer is great)

DEAR ZOO by Rod Cambell *(I added this one, because E. loves it.)


HECKETY PEGG by Audrey Wood

OWL BABIES by Martin Waddell

CHICKA CHICKA BOOM BOOM by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert

YOU CAN’T TAKE A BALLOON INTO THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman and Robin Glasser

GOOD DOG CARL, by Alexandra Day

THE MAX AND RUBY books by Rosemary Wells

THE MCDUFF series by Rosemary Wells

Any of the MAISY books  *(E. loves, loves, loves Maisy, though I have no idea why.)

Quiet LOUD by Leslie Patricelli  *(Fun to read aloud.  Apparently her others are supposed to be great too: BIG Little and Yummy YUCKY)

THE LADYBUG GIRLS (series) by Jacky Davis and David Soman

PIG IN THE POND by Martin Wadell

JEEPERS CREEPERS, A MONSTROUS A B C by Laura Leuck and David Parkins

WHERE’S MY MUMMY? by Carolyn Crimi and John Manders (A Halloween book, not a British one)

SHEEP IN A JEEP by Nancy E. Shaw and Margot Apple

ANGELINA BALLERINA by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig

THE GIVING TREE by Shel Silverstein (E. is too young still for this one, but it’s a family favorite.)


PEEK A MOO by Marie Torres Cimarusti and Stephanie Petersen

POODLENA by E.B. McHenry


COLOR SURPRISES, a pop up book by Chuck Murphy

FANCY NANCY series by Jane O’Connor and Robin Preiss Glasser

Favorites that might be out of print: THE CAT WHO WORE A POT ON HER HEAD by Jan Slepian, TIMMY NEEDS A THINKING CAP by Charlotte Steine, WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS, by Cynthia Rylant.

Finally, the children’s librarian I know, suggested “Melaine Watts for insanity and Van Dosen for rythmning. Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphiums for gift books.”

One last note: if, like me, you are going to go on a big book buying binge from this list, if you are lucky enough to still have an independent bookstore in your neighborhood, please support them!  They are a dying breed, and we need every last one of them.  They do good things for the world.  And they are my supplier.  So, please don’t cut me off, man.  I’m not ready…

13 Responses to “The Ultimate Children’s Picture Book List”

  1. Thinking about this brings back so many happy memories! Some others we have loved:

    THE SNOWY DAY – Ezra Jack Keats (Also HI, CAT and GOGGLES)
    WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE and the Chicken Soup/Alligators/One Was Johnny miniature collection – Maurice Sendak
    OWL MOON – Jane Yolen (for slightly older picture book readers/listeners)
    TIME FOR BED – Mem Fox
    PLEASE BABY PLEASE – Spike & Tonya Lee

  2. Ada RW says:

    Kids books are my favorite. I’m a former preschool teacher and loved reading books with the kids.

    The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything by Linda Williams. It’s a Fall-time book with great repetition and movements (clapping, wiggling, foot stomping). Total favorite.
    It Looked Like Spilt Milk by Charles Shaw. My cousins kid loved this when he was 3-ish.

  3. Bianca says:

    I cannot believe that no one sent these to you (though that includes me):
    Anything by Robert Munsch, especially the Paper Bag Princess and Love You Forever.
    Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst.
    Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
    George and Martha by James Marshall

  4. Peggy Kenny says:

    Hi, Julie!
    I forgot to add what I call the “If Collection” of books by Laura Numeroff:
    If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, If You Take a Mouse to the Movies, If You Take a Mouse to School, If You Give a Pig a Pancake, If You Give a Moose a Muffin, If You Give a Cat a Cupcake, and If You Give a Bear a Brownie.
    (Very popular in schools- great for helping children to use their imaginations and predict what might happen “If”)

  5. Kathleenh says:

    One of my favorites is OFFICER BUCKLE AND GLORIA by Peggy Rathmann. Touching story, fantastic funny pictures would probably appeal to a kindergarten age child.

    Also, fabulous pictures and story in THE COUNTRY BUNNY AND THE LITTLE GOLD SHOES by Dubose Heyward.

    I really cannot express the feeling I get when I read these books. They bring me such great pleasure.

  6. And anything written by Kevin Henkes. Especially OWEN.

  7. This list is AWESOME

    Other than quite a few on your list, my 20monthold loves

    SLEEPY ABCs Margaret Wise Brown
    GO DOG GO P.D. Eastman
    HIPPOS GO BESERK Sandra Boynton

    Though, lately she’s been finding it hard to choose a book. She’ll open a new book, and decide halfway through that she’d rather another book. And then she opens that book, and wants another book. Finally I just make her finish the one in hand. I feel really bad for her. I know how hard it is to choose, too!

  8. Thank you everyone for your suggestions. And Ernessa, Elili abandons books halfway through all the time and I never know if I should force her to finish. Does it help? My kid, like me, has no attention span. By the way, just checked out again, and now, I’m kind of obsessed with you.

  9. Melissa says:

    Hi Julie!
    I have a 5 yr old boy, and of course boys find bodily functions to be quite hillarious….so needless to say, his favorites right now are the Walter the Farting Dog series. It really does have a great meaning behind it, just because someone or something is different, doesn’t mean they/it don’t deserve love. Walter is a scroungy, smelly dog and the family that takes him in learns to love him and all his faults…and teaches others the same! They really are great, and I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, to hear his belly laughs when he and his Daddy are reading these at bedtime!

  10. Paulita says:

    My kids also loved We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury, Mouse Paint by Ellen Stoll Walsh, and Good Night Gorilla by Peggy Rathman.
    When she’s old enough for her first chapter books, my favorites are Wolf Story by William McCleery and My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. They’re hard to find so snatch them up if you see them.

  11. I am still a huge fan of Rosemary Wells’ Max and Ruby books.

  12. Sarah says:

    Here are some real oldies (favorites from my ’70s childhood) that I still love today:

    The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle and Who Was in It, by Carl Sandburg
    The Elephant and the Bad Baby, by Elfrida Vipont
    Tell Me a Mitzi, by Lore Segal
    One Morning in Maine, by Robert McCloskey
    the Little Bear books by Else Holmelund Minarik
    the Frances books by Russell Hoban

    And some new favorites for when Elili’s a little older:

    Uncle Andy’s, by James Warhola
    Grandma’s Records, by Eric Velasquez
    Lucky Beans, by Becky Birtha
    The Seven Silly Eaters, by Mary Ann Hoberman

    I could go on and on, but I will follow your good example and escape from the wormhole of Internetville.

    Happy reading!

  13. Oooh, thanks so much for these, Sarah! Can’t wait to check them out. I should add one more to the list: a friend gave Elili a copy of THE CIRCUS SHIP by Chris Van Dusen and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I love it.

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