Inside: To make this list of the best picture books for kids, every picture book had to earn the seal of approval from kids of all ages…and from parents, too.
Here’s the problem with most lists of the best picture books: Those lists typically leave out two of the most important criteria for deciding whether a picture book really is the best.
- Do kids actually enjoy this book? (For example, sometimes adults like books with a “message” even if kids find them boring.)
- As a parent, is this book something you’d want to spend money on and let into your home, knowing that you may end up reading it to your kid 72 billion times a day?
Because if as you’re reading a “best picture book,” you find yourself fantasizing about setting it on fire and roasting marshmallows over the flames – then it’s not the best picture book for your collection.
Kids are no dummies. When there’s a book you despise reading, they’ll eventually pick up on that.
Reading works best when it’s something you look forward to so you can be close to your child and feel connected. Not so much when you’re gritting your teeth and skipping every third word to get through it as fast as possible.
How This List of the Best Picture Books Is Different
Below, you’ll find two “best of” sections. The first section will give you the absolute best picture books known to mankind, according to my stringent criteria, which I’ll get to in a minute. The second section will give you my themed lists for different situations, from the best baby board books to the best bedtime stories for kids.
But how are my book lists different?
- Every time I put together a new list of the best picture books in a certain category, my kids and I read hundreds of books to find the best. Each list takes months to finalize because the librarian looks at us funny if we walk out with more than 50 books at a time. What makes it to the final list is just the best of the best.
- We have a wide range of ages in our family, from toddler to grade-schooler – and a healthy variety of reading tastes, too. And so I can’t guarantee that every kid will love every book on these lists of the best picture books, but I can tell you that every one of these books wowed my test audience of three very different kids, plus me and my husband. I’m also pretty annoying about telling friends and family to give these books as birthday and holiday and “just because” presents, and every single time they report back: Everyone loved the book! The kid and the parents.
- I’m kind of obsessed with picture books, which means I’ve read thousands and thousands of picture books as an adult. I’m also the pickiest one in my family. If a book doesn’t have a good hook or fizzles out at the end or is just kind of blah, I’m ruthless about getting that book out of our house as soon as possible.
Life is too short for books you don’t love.
36 All-Time Best Picture Books Most Loved by Kids And Parents
Here are the absolute best picture books for kids that meet the tough criteria above. To be clear, these books aren’t all award winners, and you won’t see the titles most children’s literature gurus would put on a “best picture books” list.
But the point of this list isn’t to share which books professionals think are the best. You could find that anywhere. The point of this list is to give you the tried-and-true children’s stories most loved by kids and parents.
In our family, we find ourselves coming back to these books again and again. We have most memorized by heart. And when my toddler comes up to me holding one of these books, I smile because I look forward to reading it for the 72 billionth time.
- Bear Snores On – Babies love the rhythm of this book, and it stands the test of time as they grow into toddlers and preschoolers.
- Before I Leave – When your little one has to say goodbye to someone important like a friend who’s moving away or even just at the end of a visit from the grandparents, this is the perfect book.
- The Carrot Seed – This book shows kids the power of a fierce belief in yourself even when everyone else thinks you can’t do it.
- Charlotte and the Quiet Place – Charlotte is a little girl who likes quiet, but everywhere she goes, she’s overwhelmed with noise. The book steps through what Charlotte does to find a quiet space and how to practice mindful breathing. We breathe along with Charlotte, and my little ones can’t help but calm down as a result.
- Click, Clack, Moo – This is a silly story that everyone loves, and who knows – it may even help prepare kids for the day they need to ask for a raise.
- Dragon Was Terrible – This is one of the best stories I’ve seen that helps kids assign positive intent to someone they’re not getting along with. Plus, it’s hilarious.
- Duck for President – The humor in this book crosses party lines, and kids learn a valuable lesson about seeking fame.
- Ducks Don’t Wear Socks – This is out of print, but it’s well worth getting a gently used copy on Amazon. Perfect for kids who could stand to loosen up and get in touch with their silly side.
- Elephant and Piggie – You can’t go wrong with this series. Technically, they’re easy readers not picture books, but even babies love these stories.
- Everywhere Babies – Babies don’t judge, and they love looking at all kinds of babies.
- George and Martha – Kids may not pick up on the dry humor at first, but parents definitely will.
- Good Night, Gorilla – Forget Curious George. If you’re looking for a mischievous primate, this gorilla’s got your back.
- Horrible Bear – This picture book does an excellent job of teaching kids how to assume the best in others while also making you giggle.
- How to Put Your Parents to Bed – In this book, the child is the one putting the parents to bed. And so our favorite time to read this book is to get the wiggles out well before bedtime. Here’s how.
- I Am a Bunny – This simple, soothing text moves through each of the seasons until the end, where the bunny cuddles up for a long winter sleep, looking forward to spring. Perfect for calming kids down before sleep!
- Leonardo, the Terrible Monster – Mo Willems at his best. This picture book shows kids the power of empathy.
- Library Lion – Such a silly idea when you look at it objectively: a lion in a library? But this is one of the sweetest stories you’ll ever read.
- The Lion Inside – This picture book shows your kids that brave comes in all shapes in sizes.
- Mrs. Biddlebox – This is possibly my favorite picture book of all time, and I don’t say that lightly. Unfortunately, it’s out of print. The good news is you can get a used copy in good condition on Amazon. Mrs. Biddlebox wakes up in a bad mood, but instead of sitting around like a grouch, she tackles that bad mood and turns it around in time for sleep. We reach for this book anytime my little ones and I have butted heads during the day, and it’s the perfect tool to help us process the bad mojo and end the day on a positive note.
- My Rhinoceros – This story makes no logical sense at first, but the absurdity is what makes it awesome. Your kids will giggle, and so will you.
- Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed – Plant the seed with your kids before they’re teenagers that fitting in isn’t the goal in life.
- Not a Box – This is a great little book about the power of your imagination.
- The Old Woman Who Named Things – This beautifully told story will warm the hearts of all ages.
- Our Tree Named Steve – I know this is just a book about a tree, but I cry every time and then end up with a big watery smile at the end. If you’ve ever felt The Giving Tree is depressing and/or creepy, you need this book instead.
- The Paper Bag Princess – This should be required reading for every girl before she starts dating.
- Peek-a-Who? – This is a simple story that babies love, but because it has 10 words total, my older kids love “reading” it to the youngest even if they can’t read yet.
- Plant a Kiss – My whole family has this book memorized (even the toddler’s got most of it down). A powerful message of putting out kindness into the world and expecting nothing in return. The world lost an amazing gift when Amy Krouse Rosenthal left us.
- Poor Little Guy – This is a simple and funny story about standing up to bullies.
- Princess in Training – Of all the alternative princess picture books out there, this is our favorite. And I’ll never forget that one of my middle child’s first words was chiming in with the “Hi-yah”s in this book!
- Rosie Revere, Engineer – The perfect rhythm of this picture book puts my little ones to sleep every night. We love Ada Twist, Scientist, and Iggy Peck, Architect, too,
but Rosie is our absolute favorite from this author.
- A Sick Day for Amos McGee – Being a friend means showing up, and no other picture book demonstrates that as beautifully as this story does.
- Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon – This is perfect for preparing kids how to handle themselves when another kid picks on them. Poor Ronald Durkin.
- Stick and Stone – This is a cute story about the power of friendship, and adults love the puns.
- The Stray Dog – Kids never seem to get tired of this award-winning picture book, which isn’t always a given with the award winners. And it’s such a perfectly sweet story that you’ll love it, too.
- Strictly No Elephants – This cute book helps kids think about the ramifications of excluding others and how that makes others feel.
- Wolfie the Bunny – If you’re expecting another child, this is the best picture book about becoming a big sibling that I’ve ever come across. Kids and adults will giggle at this one!
The Best Picture Books for Every Situation
We may not have every situation covered quite yet, but we’re working on it. We focus on a topic for a few months, read hundreds of books related to that topic, then I publish the cream of the crop.
To suggest a book list idea, let me know in the comments.
- Board books: The Best Baby Board Books That Will Delight Your Baby (And You)
- Bedtime stories: 10 Soothing Bedtime Stories for Kids Who Fight Sleep
- Interactive books: 12 Best Interactive Books for Kids That Will Get the Wiggles Out
- Friendship: The Ultimate List of the Best Picture Books About Friendship
- Love: 10 Picture Books About Love That Will Make Your Kids Feel Absolutely Loved
Need More Ideas for the Best Picture Books?
If you’re still thirsty for good picture books, check out these lists from people who know a lot about picture books for kids:
- Caldecott Award Picture Books
- New York Public Library: 100 Great Children’s Books
- School Library Journal: Top 100 Picture Books (PDF)
- A Mighty Girl: Top 100 Picture Books
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What would make your list of the best picture books? Share in a comment below!