One of the best ways to get children hooked on books is by reading with them from a very young age. But first you must find quality and age-appropriate books to keep those young minds engaged!
British educator-reformer Charlotte Mason coined the term “living books” to describe books that awaken children’s imaginations with beautiful language and images.
In contrast, what she calls “twaddle” are books with dumbed-down language, from the mistaken notion that children are not able to understand good literature.
Classic Children’s Picture Books
Many classic children’s picture books are among those considered “living,” as tested by generations of us who have enjoyed them and still remember them many years down the road! Plus, they are fun to read aloud, so children love listening to them over and over!
The following classic picture books will surely be a great addition to any bedtime basket and will help encourage children to read!
1. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
From its first publication in 1962, children have loved this little caterpillar! It eats a different food for each day of the week, and finally gorges on so much food on Saturday that he gets a stomachache! Later the caterpillar goes into a cocoon, and comes out as a beautiful butterfly.
The book provides an engaging first look at the life cycle of a butterfly while also familiarizing young children with numbers and the days of the week in a fun and relaxed way.
2. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
First published in 1955, this book features a curious four-year-old boy named Harold, who wields his purple crayon to creates an entire world of his own around him.
3. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
This classic picture book, published in 1947, continues to entertain children with the great green room where a little bunny wishes good night to everything in sight.
4. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
First published in 1936, this picture book has since been made into a full-length animation film. The story features a bull named Ferdinand whose friends all want to make it to the bullfights in Madrid. But Ferdinand has other interests: smelling the flowers in his favorite field!
5. Caps For Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Children love this picture book published back in 1938, in which a cap peddler loses all the caps he’s selling when he takes a nap under a tree. When he looks around for them, he finds each one on the head of a mischievous monkey up in the tree! The repetition in his angry outbursts and the monkeys’ imitation keeps children in stitches laughing.
6. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
First published in 1963, Maurice Sendak’s simple story and illustrations of Max continues to be a favorite today. Max’s mother sends him to bed without any supper for the trouble he caused that day, and in his room a forest grows, where he becomes the King of all Wild Things.
7. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
This rhyming story published in 1939 features the brave Madeline: she’s not afraid of mice nor tigers, and even when she needs to go to the hospital for appendicitis, she remains unfazed and everything turns into an adventure.
8. Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
This picture book published in 1956 features a white dog with black spots who doesn’t like taking a bath. He buries the scrubbing brush to get away from getting a bath and runs away from home, where he gets so dirty, he becomes a black dog with white spots—and needs to find a way to convince his family that it’s really him!
9. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
This classic picture book published in 1922 follows a stuffed rabbit who wants to become real. But the boy who owns him suddenly falls sick and the doctor wants his room purged of everything that may carry germs—including his beloved stuffed rabbit!
10. Corduroy by Don Freeman
This story published in 1968 tells the adventures of a little toy bear who looks for his missing button after all the customers have left the store.
11. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Dr. Seuss delights children with this rhyming story featuring Sam-I-am who offers green eggs and ham in all different ways.
12. The Story About Ping by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese
This story published in 1933 follows a small duck named Ping who lives on a house boat in the Yangtze River with numerous relatives. One day, when he doesn’t hear the master of the boat calling them back, he gets accidentally left behind and experiences adventures in search of his family.
13. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
The original picture book published in 1963 continues to tickle children’s funny bones. When Amelia Bedelia starts working for Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, she keeps taking their instructions literally and ends up with hilarious interpretations of her chores!
14. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton
In this book first published in 1939, Mike Mulligan loves his steam shovel named Mary Anne. But when gasoline, electric, and diesel engines replace steam shovels, he has to find a way to prove that Mary Anne can still be useful, so he volunteers to dig the foundation for the new town square in one day. Will he be able to do it?
15. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton
This classic tale follows the transformation around a little house set amid a field of flowers and trees when a city rises up around it. Generations later, a family member finds the little house, digs it up, and moves it back out of the city where it can again see the moon and the things it loved and missed.
16. Lentil by Robert McCloskey
Lentil is a boy who wants to sing, but he can’t carry a single tune, so instead he learns to play a harmonica. When a famous person visits his town, the marching band is ready to play—but when they can’t, Lentil comes to the rescue with his harmonica.
17. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
This picture book follows a little boy as he plays in the snow. When he comes home, he hides a snow ball in his pocket—only to find it melted!
18. Curious George by H.A. Rey
In the original story of Curious George, a man in a yellow hat takes George the monkey from the jungle to live with him. Children generations over love the antics of this innocent little monkey whose curiosity gets him into more scrapes than he can handle!
19. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
This beautifully illustrated story shows Sal and her mother setting off to collect blueberries on a hill while a mother bear and her cub also climb the other side of the hill. The children wander away from their mothers and end up in each other’s place, resulting in panic and confusion as each mother searches frantically for her own child.
20. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
This repetitive question-and-answer format of different animals in bold colors continue to delight little ones while also encouraging them to interact with the story.
21. The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
Follow a family as they plant, harvest, and sell their produce in town in exchange for the things they need for the winter. When spring comes, the cycle begins again.
22. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
The classic tale of this lovable bear has been given a new face by Disney, but the original version continues to enthrall children with the excellent language and illustrations, telling about Christopher Robin and his adventures with Pooh and the other animals of the Hundred Acre Wood.
23. Alfie by Shirley Hughes
Shirley Hughes effectively portrays little Alfie and his sister Annie Rose in his numerous adventures with his friends and neighbors.
24. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
First published in 1982, this book tells the story of Miss Alice Rumphius, whose grandfather encouraged her to make the world more beautiful. The story follows her adventures as a librarian as she travels to distant lands.
25. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
When a family goes hunting for a bear, they come across many obstacles, including tall grass, squishy mud, a dark forest, and even a wild snow storm and a scary cave.
26. Stellaluna by Janell Cannon
When her mother is attacked by an owl, the baby bat named Stellaluna falls into a bird’s nest. Three baby birds welcome Stellaluna, but when she teaches them the ways of bats, Mother Bird gives her an ultimatum: be like the birds or get out of the nest. Stellaluna tries her best to be like a bird, with hilarious results.
27. Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban
Children love Frances, and Frances loves bread and jam—she won’t eat anything else! When her mother decides to give her nothing but bread and jam to eat for days on end, she finally breaks down and begs to have some spaghetti and meatballs.
28. The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
This classic picture book has inspired countless children with the determination of the little engine to make it up the hill bearing important cargo.
29. Katy and the Big Snow by Virginia Lee Burton
When a big snow hits town, a snowplow named Katy needs to do whatever it takes to help save the townspeople by shoveling a path for different vehicles to use.
30. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Children love how naughty Peter gets into Mr. McGregor’s garden and escapes without his blue jacket. This classic picture book inspired the 2018 3D live-action and computer-animated movie adaptation of the same name.
Reading with Children
If you want your children to grow up with a love for reading and learning, make a commitment right now to read to your child at least once every day. You can make it your bonding time to read a story before bed.
And for more great books to read with your little one, check out our list of sites with free ebooks for kids!
What was your favorite book growing up? Share it with us in the comments below!
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Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.