Reading to a child has many benefits, including invaluable bonding time between the reader and child.
We created this guide to provide information on developmental milestones and the importance of reading to children.
It also includes 50 of the best children’s books of all times. Click here to jump right to the 50 best books list.
Table of Contents
- Importance of Reading
- 50 Best Children’s Books of All Time
- Reading Tips for Parents
- Sources & Resources
The Importance of Reading
Creating a habit of reading to your child at an early age sets them up for future success. Babies love to hear the voices of their parent(s), so why not spend a few minutes each day reading to them?
Improved literacy throughout their lives is just one reason reading to children is so important. According to the Reach Out & Read program (ROR), 80% of a child’s brain is formed in the first three years.
Low-income children are especially at risk for developmental and literacy delays. Clinical studies show children who take part in literacy programs like ROR develop higher expressive and receptive language skills as early as age three.
Literacy programs are in every state across the country and many pediatricians participate. Creating habits early on will not only help with child development and school readiness, it can also help stop the cycle of family poverty.
The High Cost of Low Literacy
Without early intervention, many children in American enter kindergarten without the skills required to read. This can have lifelong consequences on them, including:
- Repeating grade levels in school
- Inability to graduate high school
- Inability to hold down a job
- Lack of high-paying jobs available
- High risk of living at or below poverty levels
The most recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics shows roughly 20% of adults up to age 65 have a below basic literacy level.
50 Best Children’s Books of All Time
This list is not exhaustive and is broken down by age group. Each title has a brief description of the book contents and a link to use for purchase.
Click the links below to jump to a specific age section or simply scroll from here:
- Babies & Toddlers – 0 to 3 years
- Preschoolers – 3 to 5 years
- Elementary School – 5 to 12 years
- Middle School – 12+ years
Best Children’s Books for Babies & Toddlers
According to the CDC and HealthyChildren.org, children are considered babies until they reach 12 months, or 1 year, in age. Children are considered toddlers until they reach 36 months, or 3 years, in age.
Good Night MoonWritten by Margaret Wise Brown, a story of a rabbit who takes time to say good night to all the things around him. With a soft, repetitive tone, this book will delight your baby while lulling them to sleep.Buy or Download
Chicka Chicka Boom BoomWritten by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault, this book is perfect when you’re ready teach ABC’s. The simple but vibrant images along with a sing-song tone will keep your toddler engaged while learning. Buy or Download
The Very Hungry CaterpillarWritten by Eric Carle in the 1960s, this interactive book tells the tale of a hungry caterpillar who eats his way to becoming a butterfly. Children get to learn to count and the life cycle of a butterfly with encouragement to see, hear, and feel throughout the book.Buy or Download
Where is Baby’s Belly Button?This book, written by Karen Katz, helps baby learn about body parts using flaps and other interactive tools throughout the book. Fun and colorful images will keep your baby engaged until the end.Buy or Download
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?Another classic written by Bill Martin Jr. includes animals depicted in colorful collages to grab baby’s attention. With minimal text written in a rhythmic tone, this is sure to become a favorite.Buy or Download
First 100 WordsThe focus for this book is the images depicting 100 simple words to teach your baby. Written by Roger Priddy, this book will encourage engagement between you and your baby as they learn the correct names for everyday items.Buy or Download
Look, Look!This high contrast illustrated book by Peter Linenthal will be sure to catch baby’s attention. Each page is black and white with paper-cut inspired illustrations. Buy or Download
Baby Touch and Feel: AnimalsThis book, by DK, is for babies who are eager to touch and feel animals but aren’t quite able to yet. Each page shows images of different animals with textures like soft fur and yarn to encourage baby’s exploration.Buy or Download
The Snowy DayThis book by Ezra Jack Keats brings to life the wonderment of a snowy day as seen through the eyes of a child. Experience an urban setting in the 60s along with your child in this beautifully illustrated book.Buy or Download
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little ToesBabies from all over the world have some things in common, including ten fingers and toes. The rhyming text and colorful illustrations will keep baby entertained, written by Mem Fox.Buy or Download
Guess How Much I Love You?In less than 400 words, Sam McBratney tells the story following a rabbit family, trying to measure the unmeasurable: love. This heartwarming tale with beautiful watercolors will have you and your child reciting its lines for years to come.Buy or Download
Best Children’s Books for Preschoolers
You’ve built the foundation, now it’s time to get your toddler ready for a more structured setting in daycare or preschool. Here are some of the best children’s books to help you.
Green Eggs and HamThe lovable Dr. Seuss is here to help even the pickiest child be brave and try out new foods. With easy words and descriptive images, your child can read along with you and tell the tale themselves.Buy or Download
Harold and the Purple CrayonTravel along with Harold as he uses his imagination and purple crayon to go on an adventure. A classic by Crockett Johnson, your child can learn about problem solving and imaginative play.Buy or Download
The Little Engine that CouldThis classic by Watty Piper has been around since the 1930s, with the iconic mantra “I think I can, I think I can” teaching children about hard work, perseverance, and not giving up, even when things are hard.Buy or Download
If You Give a Mouse a CookieYour child can learn about cause and effect in this delightfully illustrated book by Laura Numeroff. Follow the mouse as they teach sequencing, beginning with asking for a cookie.Buy or Download
Where the Wild Things AreThis book tells the tale of Max, a boy who gets in trouble and is sent to his room. Through his imagination, he enters a wild world he’s never seen before as told by Maurice Sendak.Buy or Download
The Tale of Peter RabbitThe story follows Peter Rabbit as he defies his mother and goes into the neighbor’s garden. Children can learn about consequences from their actions in this classic from the early 1900s by Beatrix Potter.Buy or Download
Winnie-the-PoohFollow Christopher Robin into the woods with his stuffed animals come to life, written by A.A. Milne and set in the 1920s English countryside.Buy or Download
The Day the Crayons QuitAs the title suggests, this book is about crayons quitting their “job” and writing letters airing their frustrations. Colorfully illustrated and written by Drew Daywalt.Buy or Download
Giraffes Can’t DanceGerald wants to dance, but he’s just not built for it. He gets some help from an unlikely source in this rhyming tale by GIles Andreae.Buy or Download
The Story About PingPing is a duck who wants to see the world but is constrained by his family. He almost ends up as someone’s dinner but luckily gets set free, as told by Marjorie Flack.Buy or Download
Press HereAn interactive book written by Herve Tullet, your child follows written instructions to follow the journey of a single dot throughout the book.Buy or Download
The Wonderful Things You Will BeEvery parent wonders what their child will turn out to be. Follow the journey in this rhyming tale by Emily Winfield Martin.Buy or Download
Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy ButtonsThis funky illustrated tale by James Dean will help your child learn to count down using catchy rhymes.Buy or Download
National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of WhyAs expected by National Geographic, this book is filled with vibrant and beautiful photos. It’s also highly interactive, and perfect for the curious preschooler whose current favorite word is “why?”Buy or Download
Best Children’s Books for Elementary School
As your child grows and enters elementary school, they’ll start to read on their own, with help from you. These books can assist with their grasp of reading, writing, and vocabulary.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad DayEverything that can go wrong seems to for Alexander, in this story about overcoming life’s obstacles written by Judith Viorst.Buy or Download
Where the Sidewalk EndsA poetry book with simple illustrations by Shel Silverstein, allow your child’s imagination to unfold as they read about common childhood concerns.Buy or Download
Go, Dog. Go!Dogs of all shapes and sizes zoom around town in this colorfully illustrated book. Written with single-syllable words in a rhythmic pattern by P.D. Eastman.Buy or Download
Charlotte’s WebThis story depicts the reality of farm animal life cycles, written by E.B. White. A much beloved classic from the 1950s, be prepared to answer questions as your child reads through the tale.Buy or Download
Sofia Valdez, Future PrezA book about persistence and making a difference in the world as Sofia travels to city hall to make things happen, written by Andrea Beaty.Buy or Download
Charlie and the Chocolate FactoryChildren can learn about morality and kindness in this entertaining book by Roald Dahl.Buy or Download
Amelia BedeliaFollow Amelia as she creates hilarious scenarios simply by doing as she’s instructed, written by Peggy Parish.Buy or Download
The Frog and the Toad CollectionThis series of books by Arnold Lobel shows adventures of two best friends, depicting how wonderful genuine friendship really is.Buy or Download
Love You ForeverThis story tells the love of a mother for her son, even through the most challenging stages of life, written by Robert Munsch.Buy or Download
Pippi LongstockingChildren will be endeared by Pippi, a parent-less, headstrong, and unpredictable young girl. Follow her adventures in this take by Astrid Lindgren.Buy or Download
Miss Nelson is Missing!This book explains just how easily we can take for granted some people in our lives. Only when we face a different option, do we realize what we had written by Harry G. Allard Jr.Buy or Download
The Complete Adventures of Curious GeorgeAnother classic loved by all ages, George the monkey gets himself into some interesting situations when he lets his curiosity get the best of him, written by H.A. Rey.Buy or Download
The LoraxAn important tale about preserving the environment, written by Dr. Seuss. The Lorax speaks for the trees until they are suddenly gone, and it takes a courageous young man to bring them back.Buy or Download
Harriett the SpyHarriett is a truth-teller, writing all her truths in her trusty notebook. All is well until she loses her notebook, causing her friends to read what she really thinks about them, as written by Louise Fitzhugh.Buy or Download
WonderA boy named Auggie with a unique face tells his perspective on being bullied. Then, you read from others point of view in this compassionate story by R. J. Palacio.Buy or Download
Best Children’s Books for Middle School
Many books for this age group provide important lessons to help shape young minds. Here are some of the best children’s books for middle schoolers.
HolesStanley is an adolescent boy who ends up in a detention center. There, he’s instructed to dig holes with other detainees. Find out the truth behind the holes in this story about redemption by Louis Sachar.Buy or Download
Out of My MindA story about a girl suffering from cerebral palsy whose physical body has failed but still has an amazingly sharp mind. As told by Sharon M. Draper.Buy or Download
The Lion, The Witch and the WardrobeThis classic by C.S. Lewis tells the take of children who stumble upon a magical world hidden inside a wardrobe. Themes include sacrifice, betrayal, forgiveness, and the battle between good and evil.Buy or Download
The OutsidersA story about the popular kids and the outsiders, and a teen’s desire to fit in. Fighting, delinquency, and teen drinking are just a few of the things included in this book by Monica Wyatt.Buy or Download
HatchetA 13-year-old puts his skills to the test as the lone survivor of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, as told by Gary Paulsen.Buy or Download
A Wrinkle in TimeMeg’s father disappears, and it’s up to her and her friends to find him between space and time in this sci-fi book by Madeleine L’Engle .Buy or Download
Where the Red Fern GrowsA tale of a boy and his two coon dogs he purchases with his own money and trains for hunting, written by Wilson Rawls.Buy or Download
The MarvelsFollow this twisting story as Brian Selznick unravels the mystery behind the Marvel family, traveling along five generations. It all started with a shipwreck.Buy or Download
Island of the Blue DolphinsA story by Scott O’Dell of a girl who spends 18 years alone on a deserted island, surviving through strength, courage, and self-reliance.Buy or Download
The Hunger GamesThe tale of kill or be killed as the annual Hunger Games pits district against district in this compelling book written by Suzanne Collins.Buy or Download
Helping Parents Read to their Kids
Finding the time to read with your children can seem impossible. However, the earlier you start, the better their chances for lifelong success. Psychology Today suggests getting started with just a few minutes each day with babies as young as six months old.
Tips for success will look different at each stage of child development. Creating a habit when they are babies will help foster a love for reading and make it easier as they get older.
Here are tips you can use at each stage.
Tips for Baby Reading Success
Once your baby hits six months old (or even earlier), set aside time for reading. Many will use this as a bedtime ritual. However, if another time of day works best for you, then use that time for reading to your baby.
Babies will react best to books they can touch and interact with. Choose books with:
- Pages meant to be handled (vinyl, plastic, cloth)
- Ways for babies to interact (touch different materials, sounds, etc)
- Bright colors
- Simple words
- Rhyming text
When it’s time for reading, sit in a comfortable position with baby on your lap. Be animated when reading to your baby, using different voices for characters. Repeat words and help baby connect sounds to items (touch nose when saying nose, point to dresser when saying dresser, etc).
A young baby will want to put books in their mouth, drop them, chew on them. As they get closer to a year old, babies will begin to interact more with the book. This means pointing, helping to turn pages, and even making noises to sound out words.
For best results, make reading time fun. Interact with baby, repeat words and connect them with pictures or objects at home. According to KidsHealth, repetition is key to building language skills, so it’s okay to read the same books over and over.
Tips for Toddle Reading
By now, you should have a daily routine in place to read with your child. They are over a year old and starting to connect words with items and people.
If you still enjoy reading the same books as you did when they were babies, continue reading them. It’s okay to include some harder books with a sentence or two per page. Run your finger from left to right as you read aloud, so they start to understand how a book is structured.
Provide challenges for them. Make noises for each animal in the book you’re reading. Ask them questions like “Where are your ears/nose/mouth?” when seeing a picture of a child. When a page shows a dog or cat, ask them “where is the dog?” and have them point to it (direct their hand and repeat “dog” if needed).
As they get closer to 2 years old, ask more open-ended questions, like “what is that?” when pointing to a blue truck. Encourage any noise or sound they make and reaffirm what they see, “yes, that’s a blue truck. Good job!”
Your child will probably want to read the same books over and over, with the same sounds and animation each time. They may “scold” you if you talk out of turn, as by now they’ve learned how each page should go. Experts believe this allows them to reinforce words in their vocabulary and helps them form new words.
Tips for Preschooler Reading
Your child is reaching an age where they are seeing the world through a whole new set of eyes. They are understanding what things are as they move about their daily lives. If you watch closely, you can almost see them connecting the dots when noticing a truck and saying excitedly “truck!” as it drives past.
To keep the reading momentum going, talk throughout your day with your child. Tell them how much you love your reading time together, and you can’t wait to read the next book with them.
Continue to interact with them while reading together, asking questions and having them point out items. Now that they are recognizing things outside of reading time, point them out as you go about your life together. When you see a plane, point it out to them and repeat the word.
At this stage, Reading Rockets recommends knowing when to stop. If the child isn’t showing interest or you can’t keep their attention, stop the reading session for now. Continue to reinforce words, sounds, and descriptors. Ask them to draw things or “write” them out.
Add in new words and describe everyday things you encounter. Continue to ask them questions about what they’re seeing.
Tips for Elementary School Reading
Your child is now noticing more and likely wanting to imitate others, especially you as the parent. Make sure you are reading books yourself so they can “catch” you reading and modeling this behavior.
Maintain your reading schedule, at least 20 minutes daily. Make sure age appropriate books are in every room in the house. Bring at least one book with you everywhere in case there is an opportunity to read while going about your daily life.
- Be encouraging and animated when reading
- Repeat stories and books
- Be patient and excited for story time
- Track words with your finger as you or they read
- Ask questions while reading and encourage discussion
If your child wants to read to you, let them. If they make a mistake, gently correct them. Reading Partners advises to never nag, criticize, judge, or pressure your children around reading. This is a fun bonding activity and it should be treated as such every day.
At this stage, you may need to break up reading time with them if they don’t want to sit still for long. Use the world around you to continue learning when you aren’t settled in for reading time.
Take advantage of your local library to encourage reading new books. Allow them to attend story time that’s age appropriate. Spend the trip home reflecting on what they learned and talking about the different books they picked out to read.
Tips for Middle School Reading
As your child continues to grow, we hope their love for reading has also grown. By now, they are reading on their own and even working on book reviews and writing projects in school.
At this age, it’s important to know what your child is reading. Be sure to read a few pages of the books they are interested in to:
- Be sure they are age appropriate
- You’re able to ask questions about the book
- You understand what genres they are most interested in
If they have a younger sibling, encourage them to read to the sibling. Ask them to read their favorites from their childhood and share memories of reading with the little one(s).
Playing games that provide vocabulary and spelling opportunities, Scholastic suggests. If they enjoy a movie that was made from a book, encourage them to read the book. When they are done, ask them which they liked better and why.
Listening to books on tape while driving or doing other activities is another way to keep your child engaged. These tips will continue to foster a love for reading and expressing their thoughts and feelings about the world around them.
Now, here is a list of some of the best children’s books of all time. Choose some or all to read to your child as they grow.
Sources & Resources
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Child Developmental Milestones
- HealthyChildren.org (American Academy of Pediatrics) – Ages & Stages
- ROR – Reach Out & Read program (endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics)
- Study – The Impact of a Clinic-Based Literacy Intervention on Language Development in Inner-City Preschool Children
- Study – Mitigating the Effects of Family Poverty on Early Child Development through Parenting Interventions in Primary Care
- Study – A First Look at the Literacy of America’s Adults in the 21st Century
- Psychology Today – The Magic of Reading Aloud to Babies
- KidsHealth – Reading Books to Babies
- ZerotoThree – How to Introduce Toddlers & Babies to Books
- Parents – Age-by-Age Guide to Reading to Your Baby
- Reading Rockets – Reading Tips for Parents of Preschoolers
- Reading Partners – 10 Back to School Reading Tips for Parents and Guardians
- Scholastic – 17 Ways to Keep Your Middle Schooler Interested in Reading
- Reader’s Digest – The 25 Best Children’s Books Ever Written
- Raise Smart Kid – 101 Best Children’s Books of all Time – by Age
- Common Sense Media – 50 Books All Kids Should Read Before They’re 12
- Scholastic – 14 Top Picks for Middle-Schoolers