The Children's Book Hall of Fame
The Best of the Best
Kids know what to expect at grandma and grandpa's house: Hugs, kisses, special toys, delicious treats, and great books to share. The following 20 books, for kids from age 1 to 13, are the very best in children's literature. Their enduring popularity has earned each of them a place in our Hall of Fame. Read on to see if your family's favorites made the list, or to get ideas for titles to pick up for the children's section of your home library.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
by Beatrix Potter (1902) You surely don't have any grandchildren as incorrigible as Peter, but they'll still love learning lessons alongside him. After all, who among us does not have a temptation we can't resist, like the vegetables in Mr. McGregor's garden, or siblings like Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, ever eager to blow the whistle on us? Potter's cheerful illustrations have carried generations of kids into Peter's world, and are sturdy enough to carry generations more.
by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (1947) If your grandchildren will ever sleep over in your house, this book is as essential for bedtime as a favorite stuffed animal. While academics study how Brown created the perfect bedtime story — is it the cadence, the word choice, the way the words force the eye to dart across the page? — all you need to know is that you cherished it, your kids cherished it, and your own sleepy bunnies will cherish it, too.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
by Eric Carle (1969) Carle could fill a Hall of Fame by himself (and in fact there is a museum dedicated to his work), but this is the story we've found young children to identify with most. As the caterpillar east his way through snack after snack, on page after page, kids' giggles will grow as he does. And in the end (spoiler alert), he becomes a butterfly. Flawless execution makes this a classic.
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
by Mo Willems (2003) One of the most recent books in our Hall, and the most interactive, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is a silly, irresistible story about, yes, a pigeon who desperately wants to drive a bus. And Willems brilliantly gives the young reader the responsibility of keeping the bird from the driver's seat. You'll be amazed at the relish with which your grandkids scream "No!" and the persistence of this clever pigeon.
The Snowy Day
by Ezra Jack Keats (1962) The story couldn't be simpler: A boy wakes up, finds that snow has fallen over night, bundles up, goes outside to play, comes home, takes a bath, goes back to bed, wakes the next day to find the snow still there. But Keats' quiet, soothing tone and sweet, inviting images make this a book kids want to hear over and over again. No fantasy, no talking animals, just a brilliant artist telling children a bedtime story.
by Jan Brett (1989) The Mitten is as heartwarming as a book gets. A grandmother knits her grandson a pair of white mittens, and cautions him not to lose one in the snow. Naturally, he does, and in one rich illustration after another, more and bigger animals move into the cozy space until one of them sneezes the glove right off the group. Throughout these developments, the boy's discovery of his failed promise mutely plays out along the edges, until the two stories unite in a happy ending.
by Ludwig Bemelmans (1939) If you haven't picked up this book for many years, you may discover that you know every detail of every picture by heart but have no memory of the words, or the story about the 12 little girls in "an old house in Paris that was covered by vines." Revisiting it with a grandchild today will transport you to Paris and bring smiles to both your faces.
Green Eggs and Ham
by Dr. Seuss (1960) It never fails to delight young children and it somehow never bores adults even after frequent re-readings, but Green Eggs and Ham is also a remarkable achievement because Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) wrote it using just 50 different words. In doing so, he won a bet with his publisher and created one of the world's most beloved books. Your grandchildren will like it, like it in your house.
Caps for Sale
by Esphyr Slobodkina (1940) A tale perfect in its simplicity, Caps for Sale follows a hat peddler as he takes a walk, lies down for a nap, and, upon waking, finds a tree full of precocious monkeys mocking him in a way that children love to imitate. Slobodkina, born in Siberia, was one of the founders of the American Abstract movement, and it shows in her carefully executed art work, where hills resemble tailored cloth and bushes look as much like broccoli as they do topiary.
Where the Wild Things Are
By Maurice Sendak (1963) Who doesn't love putting on a pair of wolf pajamas and making mischief of one kind ... and another? Max's existential journey into the night's darkness has a strangely comforting effect on children, as they learn to tame and love the monsters in the room even before they start imagining them to be there.
by Jon J. Muth (2005) Muth's captivating drawings and pitch-perfect storytelling earn Zen Shorts a space in the Hall. As he relates separate stories to three separate siblings, Stillwater the panda conveys messages of forgiveness, selflessness, and acceptance, with a good deal of humor.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl (1964) Many kids discover this story on film (and hopefully the 1971 original and not the dreary 2005 remake) before they read it, but just as Willy Wonka's chocolate factory offers surprises at every turn, so does Dahl's book. When Charlie Bucket, a poor boy living with his parents and grandparents (both sets), finds one of Wonka's five Golden Tickets, he wins a tour of the factory, which had been closed to visitors for years. We all know what he will find there, and what he'll really win, but the journey is delicious especially for children experiencing it for the first time.
Little House on the Prairie
by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams (1935) If your ancestors were of the sod-house variety, this book should touch a genetic chord. Even if it's not your family history, Little House and the other books in Wilder's series provide amazingly detailed information of a simpler time and life. Get the boxed set for your grandchildren and read them together in order.
A Little Princess
by Francis Hodgson Burnett (1904) Burnett's immensely popular story for girls, the source for several film and TV adaptations and stage shows, began as a magazine serial in 1888. Fully fleshed out as a novel several years later, it tells of 8-year-old Sara Crewe, daughter of a wealthy man who sets her up at a London boarding school while he seeks fortune in India. When he dies, the school's cruel headmistress makes a servant of Sara but never changes the girl's generous, positive spirit. Sara remains a princess, and girls will love her and cheer her eventual salvation.
by E.B. White (1952) The bestselling children's book of all time, before a certain young wizard named Potter came along, E.B. White's quiet classic tells of Wilbur the pig, a runt who is saved from the ax by 8-year-old Maine farm girl Fern, and then kept from the slaughterhouse by his devoted friend Charlotte, a literate spider. Children who have yet to encounter Charlotte's Web will be forever grateful to the adult who introduces it to them.
The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer(1961) Juster's masterpiece is the kind of book readers first encounter as kids but then revisit again and again. The plot finds 10-year-old Milo at home, bored, bored, bored, and as always, wishing he were somewhere else. He gets his wish when a tollbooth magically appears to transport him to another dimension where he discovers danger, adventure, and perhaps the cleverest wordplay in all of children's literature.
A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L'Engle(1962) L'Engle's Hall-of-Fame fantasy famously and ironically begins with the cliché, "It was a dark and stormy night," but takes its readers in a bracingly original direction from there. A mysterious stranger appears that stormy night and tells Meg Murry and her brother, Charles Wallace, that there may be a way for them to rescue their long-missing scientist father — by passing through a tesseract, or a wrinkle in time and space. They do so, with the help of a friend, in an adventure that thrills and empowers young readers.
by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (1991) Ages 9 to 13 How far would you go to help an animal in need? That's the question Naylor's heartfelt novel asks. Marty Preston, an 11-year-old in rural West Virginia, suspects that a neighbor is abusing his beagle, and resolves to do whatever it takes to rescue it. Tween readers will feel for Marty but also experience his ethical dilemmas in a book that skillfully folds those questions into an iconic tale of a boy and his dog.
by Gary Paulsen (1987) Ages 9 to 13 Paulsen's heart-stopping and poetic novel remains the modern blueprint for the boy-alone-against-the-wilderness genre. When a small plane carrying 13-year-old Brian to see his father crashes in the Canadian wilderness, the boy is the only survivor. Thoroughly alone and in constant danger, Brian, with only his wits and a hatchet to aid him, somehow survives for 54 days in a gripping tale that has earned its place in the canon of books for tween boys.
A Family of Poems
selected by Caroline Kennedy, illustrated by Jon J. Muth (2005) Growing up, Jacqueline Kennedy's children, Caroline and the late John Jr., were encouraged to write or choose a poem as a gift to her on holidays and birthdays instead of buying gifts. Caroline honored that family tradition when she released this anthology of the family's favorite children's poems. Ranging from Emily Dickinson to Sandra Cisneros and everywhere in between, this most personal collection has something for every child to enjoy.
More Ideas for Family Fun
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