Published on September 10th, 2014 | by Bright Kids Books0
The Ultimate List of Classic Children’s Books
These classic children’s books all have one thing in common: they’ve entertained and delighted millions of children (& adults) for generations. So whether you’re looking for a classic children’s books for a baby, young adult, or anyone in between… these are the books that will resonate. Better yet, these classic children’s books are still as relevant as the day they were written – ready to delight a new generation of readers too. So pull up a comfortable chair and enjoy this selection of classic children’s books.
Classic Children’s books for toddlers
by Eric Carle
A much-loved classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has won over millions of readers with its vivid and colourful collage illustrations and its deceptively simply, hopeful story. With its die-cut pages and finger-sized holes to explore, this is a richly satisfying classic children’s book that has delighted generations of toddlers. One of the best selling children’s books of all time and also one of the true classics.
by Bill Martin Jr.
On a train ride in 1966, the title phrase Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? popped into Bill Martin Jr.’s head. Later, he spotted an illustration of a red lobster in a magazine and contacted the creator, Eric Carle, to ask if he would illustrate his poem. So began Eric Carle’s career as a children’s book illustrator – along with a life-long collaborative friendship with Bill Martin Jr. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See is one of the all-time classic children’s books for toddlers.
by Ezra Jack Keats
When Whistle for Willie was first published in 1964, The New York Times wrote “Mr. Keats’ illustrations boldly, colorfully capture the child, his city world. and the shimmering heat of a summer’s day”. Now the story of Peter, who longs to whistle for his dog, is accessible to even the youngest child in this durable board book edition. Whistle for Willie is a delightful and engaging story and one of the genuine classic children’s books for toddlers.
by Don Freeman
Don Freeman’s classic children’s book character, Corduroy, is even more popular today then he was when he first came on the scene in 1976. Corduroy is the perfect children’s book. It is a gentle, sweet tale of a little bear in green corduroy overalls waiting to be purchased in a department store. Youngsters (and adults!) will never get tired of this toy-comes-alive tale with a seriously happy ending.
by Crockett Johnson
“One night, after thinking it over for some time, Harold decided to go for a walk in the moonlight.” So begins this gentle story that shows just how far your imagination can take you. Armed only with an oversized purple crayon, young Harold draws himself a landscape full of beauty and excitement. Crockett Johnson’s understated tribute to the imagination was first published in 1955, and has been inspiring readers of all ages ever since. Harold’s quiet but magical journey reminds us of the marvels the mind can create, and also gives us the wondrous sense that anything is possible. Still as relevant today as the day it was published 60 years ago, Harold and the Purple Crayon is one of our favorite classic children’s books for toddlers.
This timeless Dr. Seuss classic was first published in 1960, and has been delighting readers ever since. Sam-I-am is incredibly persistent, changing as many variables as possible in the hopes of convincing the nameless skeptic that green eggs and ham are a delicacy to be savored. No doubt you know what happens, but even after reading Green Eggs and Ham for the hundredth time, the climactic realization that green eggs and ham are “so good, so good, you see” is still a rush. As usual, kids will love Dr. Seuss’s wacky rhymes and whimsical illustrations – one of the classic children’s books that your toddler will just love.
by Dorothy Kunhardt
Pat the Bunny is the original interactive, multimedia experience for kids! Virtually unchanged since its introduction in 1940, the kind tone and sweet illustrations in this classic recall a bygone era, while the simple language and large print invite kids to get interested in the written word as an invitation to thought and action. As one of the bestselling children’s books of all time, Pat the Bunny has become a tradition passed from one generation to the next to help instill a love of books and reading.
by Virginia Lee Burton
“Once upon a time there was a Little House way out in the country. She was a pretty Little House and she was strong and well built.” Virginia Lee Burton won the Caldecott Medal in 1943 for her memorable picture book The Little House - a poignant story of a cute country cottage that becomes engulfed by the city that grows up around it. Young readers will be drawn in by the whimsical, detailed drawings and the happy ending. While adults will recognize this as one of the most poignant and ahead-of-its-time classic children’s books for toddlers.
By Margaret Wise Brown
In a great green room, tucked away in bed, is a little bunny. “Goodnight room, goodnight moon.”
In this classic of modern children’s literature, beloved by generations of readers and listeners, the quiet poetry of the words and the gentle, lulling illustrations combine to make a perfect bedtime story for the end of the day. Goodnight Moon has literally helped send millions of little ones to sleep – and is one of the most popular bedtime stories ever written. Definitely one of the classic children’s books for sending toddlers to sleep.
by Margery Williams
A stuffed toy rabbit (with real thread whiskers) comes to life in Margery Williams’s timeless tale of the power of love. Given as a Christmas gift to a young boy, the Velveteen Rabbit lives in the nursery with all of the other toys, waiting for the day when the Boy (as he is called) will choose him as a playmate. In time, the shy Rabbit befriends the tattered Skin Horse, the wisest resident of the nursery, who reveals the goal of all nursery toys: to be made “real” through the love of a human. “‘Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'” This sentimental classic has been charming children since its first publication in 1922.
Classic children’s books for kids aged 3-5
by Ezra Jack Keats
The Snowy Day, a 1963 Caldecott Medal winner, is the simple tale of a boy waking up to discover that snow has fallen during the night. Keats’s illustrations, using cut-outs, watercolors, and collage, are strikingly beautiful in their understated color and composition. Awakening to a winter wonderland is an ageless, ever-magical experience, and one made nearly visceral by Keats’s gentle tribute.
The book is notable not only for its lovely artwork and tone, but also for its importance as a trailblazer. According to Horn Book magazine, The Snowy Day was “the very first full-color picture book to feature a small black hero” – yet another reason to add this classic children’s book to your shelves. Today, it’s still as unique and special as a snowflake.
by Esphyr Slobodkina
Subtitled A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business, this absurd and very simple story has become a classic children’s book, selling hundreds of thousands of copies since its first publication in 1940.
A peddler walks around selling caps from a tall, tottering pile on his head. Unable to sell a single cap one morning, he walks out into the countryside, sits down under a tree, checks that all the caps are in place, and falls asleep. When he wakes up, the caps are gone–and the tree is full of cap-wearing monkeys. His attempts to get the caps back generate the kind of repetitive rhythm that 3- and 4-year-olds will adore and is one of the classic children’s books you’ll enjoy reading again.
by Maurice Sendak
Where the Wild Things Are is one of those truly rare books that can be enjoyed equally by a child and a grown-up. If you disagree, then it’s been too long since you’ve attended a wild rumpus! The wild things – with their mismatched parts and giant eyes – manage somehow to be scary-looking without ever really being scary; at times they’re downright hilarious. Sendak’s defiantly run-on sentences – one of his trademarks – lend the perfect touch of stream of consciousness to the tale, which floats between the land of dreams and a child’s imagination. Truly one of the classic children’s books – and as relevant and engaging today as it was when first published!
by Ludwig Bemelmans
Nothing frightens Madeline—not tigers, not mice, not even getting sick. To Madeline, a trip to the hospital is a grand adventure. Originally published in 1939, Madeline lives on today – along with Caldecott Medal winner Madeline’s Rescue - as a seminal picture book in children’s literature. One of the true classic children’s books from your (and your grandparents’) childhood.
by Robert McClasky
Mrs. Mallard was sure that the pond in the Boston Public Gardens would be a perfect place for her and her eight ducklings to live. The problem was how to get them there through the busy streets of Boston. But with a little help from the Boston police, Mrs. Mallard and Jack, Kack, Lack, Nack, Ouack, Pack, and Quack arive safely at their new home.
This brilliantly illustrated, amusingly observed tale of Mallards on the move has won the hearts of generations of readers. Awarded the Caldecott Medal for the most distinguished American picture book for children in 1941, it has since become a favorite of millions and is one of the genuinely heartwarming classic children’s books.
by Dr. Seuss
First published in 1972, In a People House is a super simple, delightfully silly introduction to objects found around the home.
When a spunky mouse invites a passing bird to see what’s inside a People House, chaos ensues while beginning readers learn the names of 65 common household items – and that people are generally not pleased to find mice and birds in their houses! Though it’s difficult to choose a Dr. Seuss that isn’t one of the classic children’s books – this is definitely up there!
by Munro Leaf
Published more than 50 years ago (and one of the bestselling children’s books of all time), this simple story of peace and contentment has withstood the test of many generations. Ferdinand is a little bull who much prefers sitting quietly under a cork tree– just smelling the flowers–to jumping around, snorting, and butting heads with other bulls. This cow is no coward–he simply has his pacifist priorities clear. As Ferdinand grows big and strong, his temperament remains mellow, until the day he meets with the wrong end of a bee. In a show of bovine irony, the one day Ferdinand is most definitely not sitting quietly under the cork tree (due to a frightful sting), is the very same day that five men come to choose the “biggest, fastest, roughest bull” for the bullfights in Madrid. Fortunately, The Story of Ferdinand closes with one of the happiest endings in the history of happy endings, making it one of the classic children’s books for kids aged 3-5.
by P.D. Eastman
Using single-syllable words in rhythmic repetition, and introducing colors and prepositions, this Seuss-styled classic has been an early favorite of children since 1961. Originally created by Dr. Seuss, Beginner Books encourage children to read all by themselves – with simple words and illustrations that give clues to their meaning. So not only will this book inspire peals of laughter in your kids, it will also help them make the magical connection between those mysterious black squiggles on the page, and the words they hear and speak.
Classic Children’s books for kids aged 6-8
by E.B. White
E. B. White’s Newbery Honor Book is a tender novel of friendship, love, life, and death that you and your kids will love. This is the story of a little girl named Fern who loved a little pig named Wilbur – and of Wilbur’s dear friend Charlotte A. Cavatica, a beautiful large grey spider who lived with Wilbur in the barn. With the help of Templeton, the rat who never did anything for anybody unless there was something in it for him, and by a wonderfully clever plan of their own, Charlotte saved the life of Wilbur, who by this time had grown up to be quite a pig. But be forewarned, you may need a box of tissues within close reach. There’s no doubt that Charlotte’s Web is one of our favorite classic children’s books ever.
by Shel Silverstein
“Once there was a tree . . . and she loved a little boy.” So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the supremely gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein. Since it was first published more than fifty years ago, this moving parable (for readers of all ages) has offered an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving – and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return. In addition, the nuanced and deliberately ambiguous ending provides an interesting philosophical discussion point for young readers. One of the more moving classic children’s books for ages 6-8.
by Roald Dahl
Exciting, bold and instantly recognisable with Quentin Blake’s inimitable artwork – the hugely popular story of James and his journey to New York with the strangest group of insect friends is sure to entertain everyone in the room. After James’ parents are tragically eaten by a rhinoceros, he goes to live with his two horrible aunts, Spiker and Sponge. Life there is no fun, until James accidentally drops some magic crystals by the old peach tree and strange things start to happen. Roald Dahl delivers one of the most delightful and engaging classic children’s books for ages 6-8.
by Astrid Lindgren
Tommy and his sister Annika have a new neighbor, and her name is Pippi Longstocking. She has crazy red pigtails, no parents to tell her what to do, a horse that lives on her porch, and a flair for the outrageous that seems to lead to one adventure after another! The classic novel will delight and entertain both you and your children. Pippi’s high-spirited, good-natured hijinks cause as much trouble as fun, but a more generous child you won’t find anywhere. Pippi Longstocking is a rollicking read and one of the most entertaining classic children’s books for kids aged 6-8.
by Rene Goscinny
Nicholas and his friends always seem to end up in some sort of mischief. In the school room, at home and in the playground, their exuberance often takes over and the results are calamitous – at least for their teachers and parents. Whether confusing the photographer hired to take the class picture, rescuing a ‘stray’ dog, or trying desperately to help the teacher when the school inspector pays a visit, Nicholas always manages to make matters worse. This hilarious and heart-warming book will ignite laughter in children and adults alike. These stories of Nicholas’ careless antics blend a wonderfully imaginative sense of humour with a refreshing take on life – to leave a lingering aftertaste of ageless romantic charm in any reader. A worthy addition to any list of classic children’s books.
by A. A. Milne
For nearly seventy years, young readers have been delighted by the adventures of Christopher Robin and his lovable friends. A true classic of children’s literature, Winnie-the-Pooh is often referenced. And with gems of quotes such as this – “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – it’s no wonder. Go Pooh! Go You!
Classic Children’s books for ages 9-12
by Katherine Paterson
In 1976, Katherine Paterson’s son David was 8 years old when his friend, Lisa Hill, was struck by lightning and killed. A year later Bridge to Terabithia was published – winning a Newbery Medal and becoming, if such a thing is possible, an instant classic. Jess Aarons has been practicing all summer so he can be the fastest runner in the fifth grade. And he almost is, until the new girl in school, Leslie Burke, outpaces him. The two become fast friends and spend most days in the woods behind Leslie’s house, where they invent an enchanted land called Terabithia. One morning, Leslie goes to Terabithia without Jess and a tragedy occurs. This story of friendship, loss, grief and strength will touch you – so keep the tissues handy. Surely one of the most moving classic children’s books of all time!
by William Goldman
The first thing you need to know about this book is that it is very, very funny. The author, William Goldman, is a legend in the world of screenwriting – known for his clever, crisp dialogue and engrossing narrative. This modern fantasy classic is a simple, exceptional story about “Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passions.” And of course, true love. Thrilling AND timeless. One of the funniest classic children’s books you’ll ever come across.
by Roald Dahl
A true star of children’s literature, Roald Dahl seems to know just how far to go with his oddball fantasies. In fact, it could be argued that nearly all of his stories are worthy of being included in lists of classic kids books. In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the nasty Violet Beauregarde blows up into a blueberry from sneaking forbidden chewing gum, and bratty Augustus Gloop is carried away on the river of chocolate he wouldn’t resist. In fact, all manner of disasters can happen to the most obnoxiously deserving of children because Dahl portrays each incident with such resourcefulness and humor. Charlie Bucket, Our Hero, is a boy who’s honest and kind, brave and true, and good and ready for the weirdest and wildest time of his life! One of the best and most original classic children’s books you’ll ever read.
by Lewis Carroll
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (commonly shortened to Alice in Wonderland) is a novel written by English author Charles Lutwidge Dodgson in 1865 under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll. It tells of a girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole into a fantasy world populated by peculiar, anthropomorphic creatures. The tale plays with logic, giving the story lasting popularity with adults as well as with children. It is considered to be one of the best examples of the literary nonsense genre and is a genuine classic of children’s literature.
by Francis Hodgson Burnett
This timeless classic is a poignant tale of Mary, a lonely orphaned girl sent to a Yorkshire mansion at the edge of a vast lonely moor. At first, she is frightened by this gloomy place until she meets a local boy, Dickon, who’s earned the trust of the moor’s wild animals, and the invalid Colin, an unhappy boy terrified of life, and she discovers a mysterious, abandoned garden…
For anyone who has ever felt afraid to live and love, The Secret Garden‘s portrayal of reawakening spirits will thrill and rejuvenate. Frances Hodgson Burnett creates characters so strong and distinct, young readers continue to identify with them even 85 years after they were conceived. A classic in children’s fiction if ever there was one.
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit who enjoys a comfortable, unambitious life, rarely traveling any farther than his pantry or cellar. But his contentment is disturbed when the wizard Gandalf and a company of dwarves arrive on his doorstep one day to whisk him away on an adventure. Though The Hobbit is lighter in tone than the trilogy that follows, it has, like Bilbo Baggins himself, unexpected iron at its core. Don’t be fooled by its fairy-tale prose; this is very much a story for adults, though older children will enjoy it, too. By the time Bilbo returns to his comfortable hobbit-hole, he is a different person (hobbit) altogether – well primed for the bigger adventures to come – and so is the reader. The Hobbit has stood the test of time and is definitely one of the classic children’s books that you and your kids will love reading.
by Louisa May Alcott
The novel follows the lives of four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March — detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood. Little Women was an immediate commercial and critical success, and readers demanded to know more about the characters. Alcott quickly completed a second volume, entitled Good Wives. It was also successful. The two volumes were issued in 1880 in a single work entitled Little Women. Although Little Women was a novel for girls, it differed notably from the then-current writings for children, especially girls. The novel addressed three major themes: “domesticity, work, and true love, all of them interdependent and each necessary to the achievement of its heroine’s individual identity.”
Little Women is an outstanding achievement of nineteenth-century American literature, and the first children’s novel written in the United States to have become one of the most enduring classic kids books with strong female characters.
by L. Frank Baum
The classic American fairy tale is one of the staples of American literature. The story chronicles the adventures of a young girl named Dorothy Gale in the Land of Oz – after being swept away from her Kansas farm home in a Tornado. Since it’s publication in 1900, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz has stimulated the imagination of young and old for generations. Definitely one of the classic children’s books that has stood the test of time. Interestingly, the film adaptation didn’t come about until 1939 – a full 39 years since the book was first published!
Classic children’s books for Teens and Young Adults
by JD Salinger
The book famously begins, “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth. In the first place, that stuff bores me, and in the second place, my parents would have about two hemorrhages apiece if I told anything pretty personal about them.“
Since his debut in 1951 as The Catcher in the Rye, Holden Caulfield has been synonymous with “cynical adolescent.” Holden narrates the story of a couple of days in his sixteen-year-old life, just after he’s been expelled from prep school, in a slang that sounds edgy even today and keeps this novel on banned book lists. His constant wry observations about what he encounters, from teachers to phonies (the two of course are not mutually exclusive) capture the essence of the eternal teenage experience of alienation. One of the All Time classic children’s books for teens and Young Adults.
by Harper Lee
The bad news is that Harper Lee only wrote one novel. The good news is that To Kill a Mockingbird is a genuine literary classic – both an instant bestseller and a critical success when it was first published in 1960. It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1961 and was later made into an Academy Award-winning film, also a classic.
Set in the deep South during the Depression, Jean-Louise Finch – better known as Scout – narrates the story with the keen eye of an adult looking back on a childhood rich with incidents that shaped who she has become. Scout might be described as a tomboy, but that would be doing her a disservice. Her adventures with her older brother Jem, and their diminutive friend Dill evoke the timeless place of childhood. Then one Fall, everything changes… Scout and Jem’s father, Atticus Finch, a lawyer in their town of Maycomb, Alabama, is appointed to the defense of Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman. By turns funny, wise, and heartbreaking, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the classic books for teens and Young Adults that continues to speak to new generations.
by Dodie Smith
Dodie Smith, author of 101 Dalmatians, wrote this novel in 1948. And though the story is set in the 1930s, it still feels fresh and deserving of its reputation as a modern classic. I Capture the Castle tells the story of seventeen-year-old Cassandra and her family, who live in not-so-genteel poverty in a ramshackle old English castle. Here she strives, over six turbulent months, to hone her writing skills. She fills three notebooks with sharply funny, yet poignant entries. Her journals candidly chronicle the great changes that take place within the castle’s walls, and her own first descent into love. By the time she pens her final entry, she has “captured the castle” – and the heart of the reader – in one of literature’s most enchanting entertainments.
by S. E. Hinton
Written forty-five years ago – when she was 16 years old – S. E. Hinton’s classic story of a boy who finds himself on the outskirts of regular society remains as powerful today as it was the day it was written.
According to Ponyboy, there are two kinds of people in the world: greasers and socs. A soc (short for “social”) has money, can get away with just about anything, and has an attitude longer than a limousine. A greaser, on the other hand, always lives on the outside and needs to watch his back. Ponyboy is a greaser, and he’s always been proud of it, even willing to rumble against a gang of socs for the sake of his fellow greasers – until one terrible night when his friend Johnny kills a soc. The murder gets under Ponyboy’s skin, causing his bifurcated world to crumble and teaching him that pain feels the same whether a soc or a greaser. No doubt, one of the classic children’s books for teens and Young Adults.
by Kurt Vonnegut
One of THE classic books for teens and Young Adults, Kurt Vonnegut’s absurdist novel Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim – a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of his life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut’s) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who witnesses the firebombing of Dresden. But don’t let the ease of reading fool you – Vonnegut’s isn’t a conventional, or simple, novel. It fashions the author’s experiences in the Second World War into an eloquent and deeply funny plea against butchery in the service of authority. Slaughterhouse-Five boasts the same imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd found in Vonnegut’s other works, but the book’s basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy – and humor. A true classic of Young Adult fiction.
by William Golding
Lord of the Flies remains as provocative today as when it was first published in 1954 – igniting passionate debate with its startling, brutal portrait of human nature. Though critically acclaimed, it was largely ignored on its initial publication. Yet soon it became a cult favorite among both students and literary critics who compared it to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye in its influence on modern thought and literature. Labeled a parable, an allegory, a myth, a morality tale, a parody, a political treatise, even a vision of the apocalypse, Lord of the Flies is a genuine classic novel for Teens and Young Adults.
by Mark Twain
First published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885, and commonly named among the Great American Novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the first in American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English – characterized by local color and regional dialect. Told in the first person by Huckleberry ‘Huck’ Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective), it’s a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Satirizing a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist about twenty years before the work was published, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism. Although not without its share of controversy, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a true classic for Young Adults.
by F. Scott Fitzgerald
One of the genuine classics of twentieth-century literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s third book stands as the supreme achievement of his career. This exemplary novel of the Jazz Age has been acclaimed by generations of readers. The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan, of lavish parties on Long Island at a time when The New York Times noted “gin was the national drink and sex the national obsession,” it is an exquisitely crafted tale of America in the 1920s. The Great Gatsby is fast paced, slick and a wonderful insight into the Jazz Age.
We’ve really enjoyed putting this list of the ultimate Classic Children’s Books together. However, we’re always learning, so if you think we’ve missed a classic children’s book, please leave a comment below and we’d be delighted to make this list even better. Thank you.