Best Classic Children’s Books

Today, we’re journeying into the enchanting and timeless realm of classic children’s literature. If there’s one thing that binds generations together, it’s the magical world nestled within the pages of a children’s book – a world that ignites imagination, fosters dreams, and instills lifelong lessons.

Over the past few posts, we’ve taken nostalgic strolls through the rich tapestry of classic literature, exploring gems from the ’60s, ‘70s, and ’80s. We’ve delved into their narratives, unraveling the threads that have made them enduring favorites across decades.

Through meticulous research, careful review of reader responses, and a touch of personal nostalgia, I have compiled a list of classic children’s books that stand as towering landmarks in the landscape of juvenile literature. These books have charmed, entertained, and educated young readers for generations, and continue to do so even in our rapidly changing world.

In this post, we are celebrating these cherished narratives, the ones that have the power to transport us back to our childhood, spark joy in our hearts, and kindle a love for reading in our children. These classic children’s books are not just stories but shared experiences across time, and an integral part of our collective cultural heritage.

Table of Contents

Children’s books from the 60s

1. It’s Like This, Cat, by Emily Neville

Classic Children's Books

It’s Like This, Cat by Emily Neville is a 1964 Newbery Award-winning novel about the coming of age story of 14-year-old Dave who lives in New York City. After getting into an argument with his Pop, Dave is nearly hit by a car until Kate, the local cat lady, saves him.

Taking in the stray tom, Dave finds a confidante as well as new friendships and experiences. This 1960s novel offers an atmospheric journey of the city through stickball games, pastrami sandwiches, music and theater.

2. Always Room for One More, by Sorche Nic Leodhas

Classic Children's Books

Always Room for One More, by Sorche Nic Leodhas, is a heartwarming tale of generosity and kindness. The story is set in Scotland and follows the adventures of Lachie MacLachlan, a generous man living with his family in a tiny house in the heather.

Whenever anyone passes by on a stormy night, Lachie is always ready to open his door and welcome them in. He’s sure that no matter how many people come, there will always be room for one more.

3. The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats

Classic Children's Books

The Snowy Day, by Ezra Jack Keats, is an iconic children’s book that has been beloved by millions of readers since it was first published in 1962. The story follows the adventures of a young boy named Peter, who puts on his snowsuit and explores the world around him.

He discovers the joys of playing in the snow, the beauty of a winter landscape, and the wonder of discovering something new. This book is a timeless classic that captures a child’s joy in the world around them and their excitement to explore it.

4. The Cricket in Times Square, by George Selden

Classic Children's Books

The Cricket in Times Square: Revised and updated edition with foreword by Stacey Lee, by George Selden is a beloved classic which follows the adventures of Tucker, a street-wise city mouse, and his two friends Harry Cat and Chester Cricket. Chester, who ended up in the heart of New York City after following the aroma of liverwurst into someone’s picnic basket, is a charming and curious cricket who has a lot to learn about the hustle and bustle of city life.

5. A Wrinkle in Time Movie Tie-In Edition, by Madeleine L’Engle

Classic Children's Books

A Wrinkle in Time Movie Tie-In Edition, by Madeleine L’Engle is a classic of children’s literature beloved around the world. The novel won the 1963 Newbery Medal and has been adapted into a major motion picture featuring an all-star cast including Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Chris Pine and newcomer Storm Reid.

Classic Children's Books

Zlateh the Goat and Other Stories, by Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, is a collection of magical folktales set in the village of Chelm. The stories focus on the foolish behavior of different characters, from seven Elders to an irresponsible bridegroom and four silly sisters who mix up their feed in bed one night. But there are also tales of heroism, such as Zlateh the goat who risks her life to save her family.

7. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein 

Classic Children's Books

The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein, is a touching and meaningful parable about the power of giving and love. It tells the story of a boy who visits a tree every day to play, eat her apples and swing from her branches.

As he grows older the boy begins to ask for more and more from the tree, which is always willing to give, until finally the tree has nothing left to give. This story illustrates the beauty and power of selfless giving and love, as well as a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return.

8. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken

Classic Children's Books

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken is a classic story about two cousins, Bonnie and Sylvia, whose parents have left them in the care of the cruel Miss Slighcarp. The girls soon find their once happy home turned into a prison-like orphan school, but with the help of Simon the gooseboy and his flock, they manage to escape and embark on a journey to free Willoughby Chase from Miss Slighcarp’s clutches.

9. Time of Wonder, by Robert McCloskey 

Time of Wonder

Time of Wonder, by Robert McCloskey, is a classic tale of one summer spent on a Maine island. The story follows the daily life of a family on the island, and begins with an evocative description of its rocky shores and the passing of time.

Throughout their stay, they experience the beauty and serenity of rain, foggy mornings, sailing, the thrill of a hurricane, and the tranquility that envelops them as they prepare to leave. The story is told with poetic language and beautiful illustrations that bring the island to life.

10. Once a Mouse…, by Marcia Brown 

Once a Mouse...

Once a Mouse…, by Marcia Brown is an Indian fable about the life of a small mouse that is threatened by large jungle predators. In order to save it, a kindly hermit uses magic to turn the mouse into a cat, then a dog, and finally a majestic tiger.

However, this transformation also has consequences – when the tiger becomes vain and ungrateful, the hermit’s magic diminishes and he is returned to his humble beginnings. Marcia Brown’s beautiful woodcuts bring this story to life with exceptional beauty.

11. Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O’Dell 

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Island of the Blue Dolphins is a Newbery Medal-winning classic by Scott O’Dell that tells the story of Karana, an Nicole o Indian girl who was left alone on San Nicolas Island off the coast of California for eighteen years.

Karana had to be resourceful to contend with the wild dogs that killed her brother, the Aleutian sea otter hunters, and a precarious food supply. Her courage, self-reliance, and grit have inspired millions of readers in this timeless tale.

12. Terrible, Horrible Edie, by E.C. Spykman

Terrible, Horrible Edie

Terrible, Horrible Edie is the story of the titular character and her adventures set in a summer house on the sea. Edie is the youngest sibling of two snooty brothers, one fancy-pants sister, and two baby half-sisters.

With her father and stepmother away for the summer, Edie has to find a way to keep up with the rest of her family. She embarks on an exciting adventure filled with sailing, mystery-solving, and even a hurricane. Through it all, Edie proves that she is not so terrible and horrible after all.

Children’s books from the 70s

1. Where the Sidewalk Ends ,(1974) by Shel Silverstein

Children’s Books from the 70s

Where the Sidewalk Ends Special Edition with 12 Extra Poems is a collection of hilarious and thought-provoking poems and drawings for readers of all ages. The special edition features 12 additional poems, making it a must-have for any bookshelf. Shel Silverstein, author of The Giving Tree, A Light in the Attic, Falling Up, and Every Thing On It, has created a world where shoes can fly, sisters are auctioned off, and a girl eats a whale.

Through his masterful use of language and imagination, Silverstein has produced a timeless collection that stretches the bounds of imagination. It makes a great gift for special occasions like holidays, birthdays, and graduation. With the upcoming release of Runny Babbit Returns in the fall of 2017, fans of Silverstein’s work have even more to look forward to.

2. The Lorax, (1971) by Dr. Seuss 

Children’s Books from the 70s

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss is a heartwarming and educational story that encourages children to speak up for the environment. The book follows the journey of a young boy as he learns about the Truffula Trees and their importance to the ecosystem.

With a strong message about the dangers of greed and the impact of human actions on nature, The Lorax is a great tool for teaching kids about environmental issues. Its “Go Green” message and use of recycled paper also make it a perfect gift for Earth Day. Ultimately, the book reminds us that even one small voice can make a big difference in protecting our planet.

3. In the Night Kitchen, (1970) by Maurice Sendak

Children’s Books from the 70s

In the Night Kitchen is an acclaimed tale by Maurice Sendak that won the Caldecott Honor award. It chronicles the playful adventures of Mickey, who ends up falling into the bakers’ cake batter while they are preparing their morning cake, and they decide to put him in the oven.

However, he escapes in a plane made of bread dough and helps the bakers find the missing milk. The story is a brilliant example of Maurice Sendak’s imaginative world and playful illustrations, as well as an affirmation of the empowering imaginative potency of childhood. The book is a celebration of the sensory world of childhood and can delight readers of all ages.

4. Fantastic Mr Fox, (1970) by Roald Dahl 

Fantastic Mr Fox

Fantastic Mr Fox is a children’s book by Roald Dahl, which tells the story of a clever fox who outwits three cruel farmers. The farmers are Boggis, who fattens up and eats boiled chickens; Bunce, who enjoys eating duck and goose and has a short temper, and Bean, who drinks copious amounts of hard cider and raises turkeys and apples.

Mr Fox, who lives in a hole with his family, has a habit of stealing food from their farms. When the farmers finally decide to kill him, Mr Fox comes up with a daring plan to save himself and his family. The story is filled with action and suspense, as well as Dahl’s signature humor and wordplay. This classic tale teaches children about bravery, ingenuity, and the power of teamwork.

5. Corduroy’s Christmas Surprise, (1968) by Don Freeman 

Corduroy's Christmas Surprise

In “Corduroy’s Christmas Surprise” by Don Freeman, the beloved teddy bear is filled with excitement for Christmas and his long list of desired gifts. However, as he learns more about the true meaning of the holiday, he realizes that it’s not just about receiving presents but about cherishing the company of good friends.

The heartwarming storyline is perfect for a holiday read-aloud, as it emphasizes the importance of human connection and holiday traditions. Don Freeman’s charming illustrations bring Corduroy and his animal friends to life, making this a timeless classic for readers of all ages. Overall, “Corduroy’s Christmas Surprise” is a delightful addition to any holiday collection.

6. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, (1969) by William Steig 

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

Sylvester is a young donkey who discovers a magic pebble that can grant any wish he desires. Ecstatic with his newfound luck, Sylvester goes off to share the news with his parents. However, he gets scared on the way home and makes a hasty wish that changes his life forever. As a result of his wish, he turns into an inanimate object and cannot change back.

The story revolves around Sylvester’s family’s struggle to find him and bring him back to life. Through their perseverance and love, Sylvester is eventually restored, and the family learns the importance of being patient and thoughtful when making wishes. The book is a classic tale of growth and understanding for both children and adults alike.

7. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, (1967) by Bill Martin, Jr.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a children’s book authored by Bill Martin, Jr, and illustrated by Eric Carle. The book features a series of vibrant and engaging illustrations of different animals, including a brown bear, a red bird, a yellow duck, and a blue horse, among others. The accompanying text is written in a playful, singsong rhythm, making it easy to read and interactive for young readers. The book’s bold, flat collages and simple shapes have made it a classic in children’s literature, appealing to children’s innate love of animals and the excitement of discovery.

8. The Slave Dancer, (1973) by Paula Fox 

The Slave Dancer

The Slave Dancer, by Paula Fox, follows thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier as he is captured and thrown onto a slave ship bound for Africa. Forced to provide music for the slaves to dance to, Jessie witnesses the cruelty and greed of the sailors firsthand. Throughout the long journey, Jessie becomes sickened by the treatment of the slaves and is forever changed when faced with one final horror.

Set during the height of the illegal slave trade in the mid-19th century, The Slave Dancer is a vivid and shocking depiction of the brutality of slavery. Fox’s unflinching historical accuracy brings to light the horrors of this era, making The Slave Dancer a must-read for anyone seeking a deeper understanding of this period in history.

9. The Monster at the End of This Book, (1971) by Jon Stone 

The Monster at the End of This Book

The Monster at the End of This Book authored by Jon Stone is a charming and humorous children’s book. The story revolves around Grover, an endearing and hairy character, who becomes anxious upon learning that a monster is present in the book’s conclusion. Despite his pleading with young readers to avoid turning the pages, the children proceed, excited to see the creature.

Nevertheless, Grover is astonished, and children will be elated to discover the surprising revelation about who the real monster is at the story’s end. The book is entertaining and meant for toddlers, with delightful illustrations and witty dialogue that will engage and captivate them. This book is a must-read for children who appreciate humor and intriguing storytelling.

10. Fungus the Bogeyman: The 35th Anniversary, (1977) by Raymond Briggs

Fungus the Bogeyman

Fungus the Bogeyman: The 35th Anniversary, written by Raymond Briggs, is an engaging and sophisticated cartoon-strip picture book that targets older children. The book is set in Bogeydom, where life is filled with snot, slime, scum, and other unspeakable things. Bogeymen, who live underground, revel in all the nastiness imaginable.

The 35th-anniversary edition of Fungus the Bogeyman offers readers an opportunity to dive into a whole new world of imaginative writing and fascinating illustrations. The book is perfect for reluctant readers as it entices them to flip through its pages with curiosity and interest.

Raymond Briggs has created a brilliantly detailed world of Bogeydom, where every scene is illustrated with a high level of detail, from the bogeymen’s underground homes to the slimy surroundings that they inhabit. The book was first published over three decades ago, but the colorful illustrations and the imaginative writing are still as vibrant as ever.

Overall, Fungus the Bogeyman: The 35th Anniversary is a must-read book for children who love imaginative storytelling and sophisticated illustration. With its stunning visuals and entertaining storyline, this book is sure to capture the hearts and minds of readers of all ages.

11. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, (1972) by Judy Blume 

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” is a highly acclaimed children’s book by Judy Blume that follows the life of Peter Hatcher, a young boy who is constantly forced to deal with the mischievous antics of his younger brother Fudge. Fudge is a source of constant trouble and chaos, leaving Peter to clean up his messes.

When Peter wins a small green turtle, named Dribble, he vows to keep it out of Fudge’s hands. However, Fudge eventually gets his hands on the turtle and creates a disastrous situation. This classic story explores sibling relationships and the difficulties of growing up with a bothersome sibling. With its relatable characters and entertaining plot, “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” is a must-read for any child or adult looking for a nostalgic and heartwarming read.

12. Little Man, Little Man: A Story of Childhood, (1976) by James Baldwin

Little Man, Little Man

Little Man, Little Man is James Baldwin’s only children’s book that explores the unique experiences and challenges of black childhood in 1970s Harlem. The story revolves around four-year-old TJ and his adventures on his block, where he plays with his best friends and runs errands for neighbors.

This new edition of the book, now available after forty years, includes the original illustrations by French artist Yoran Cazac, a foreword by Baldwin’s nephew, and an afterword by his niece. Through TJ’s perspective, readers gain a deeper understanding of the life of a black child in Harlem and appreciate the brilliance of Baldwin’s writing.

13. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, (1972) by Judith Viorst

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Alexander and Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day is a children’s book by Judith Viorst. The story follows Alexander’s journey through a day that seems to be going completely wrong. He wakes up with gum in his hair, trips over his skateboard, and accidentally drops his sweater in the sink while the water is running.

Every event that happens throughout the day seems to make it worse, including having lima beans for supper and seeing people kissing on TV. Alexander even contemplates moving to Australia to escape the terrible day.

The book teaches children that everyone has bad days and that they are a part of life. The story is relatable and engaging, and the illustrations perfectly capture the emotions of the characters. It is an excellent book for children who are learning to cope with frustration and disappointment.

14. Frog and Toad are Friends, (1970) by Arnold Lobel 

Frog and Toad are Friends

Frog and Toad Are Friends, a Level Two I Can Read book by Arnold Lobel, tells the story of two best friends who are always there for each other. The book consists of engaging stories that cover a range of activities, from writing letters to swimming, telling stories to finding lost buttons. Although it is geared towards children who are learning to read on their own, the entertaining and heartwarming tales are appropriate for all ages.

Children’s books from the 80’s

1. Wayside School Is Falling Down, by Louis Sachar

80's children's books

“Wayside School Is Falling Down” is a hilarious chapter book by Louis Sachar, featuring the zany characters of Wayside School. In this book, Miss Mush serves up her famous Mushroom Surprise in the cafeteria, causing some interesting side effects. Meanwhile, the students prepare for class picture day by wearing their craziest outfits, including striped bikinis and birthday tattoos.

2. I Can Do It Myself, by Emily Perl Kingsley 

80's children's books

In “I Can Do It Myself” by Emily Perl Kingsley, the beloved Sesame Street characters showcase their independence by listing all the things they can do on their own. From brushing their teeth to tying their shoes, the characters take pride in their ability to be self-sufficient. The book encourages young readers to also develop their own sense of independence and self-reliance.

3. The Dragon and the Wild Fandango, by Patty Wolcott 

The Dragon and the Wild Fandango

In “The Dragon and the Wild Fandango” by Patty Wolcott, a dragon surprises a group of dancers by joining in on their fandango. The dragon’s enthusiastic participation leads to chaos and hilarity as the other dancers try to keep up with the dragon’s wild and unconventional moves. The story is told through playful and colorful illustrations that capture the dragon’s joyous spirit and the excitement of the dance.

4. The Fox With Cold Feet, by Bill Singer, Dennis Kendrick

The Fox With Cold Feet

“The Fox With Cold Feet” by Bill Singer and Dennis Kendrick is a children’s book that tells the story of a young fox who is struggling to keep his feet warm in the cold snow. The book features large-frame comic strips that vividly illustrate the dilemma of the young fox. In an attempt to keep his feet warm, he tries to use a pail, an old nest, an ear muff, and a scarf as makeshift boots.

However, each of these attempts proves to be unsuccessful, and the young fox is left with cold and uncomfortable feet. Through the course of the book, the young fox learns the importance of being prepared and finding appropriate solutions to his problems.

6. The Amazing Mumford presents all about bones, by Jocelyn Stevenson

The Amazing Mumford presents all about bones

“The Amazing Mumford presents all about bones: Featuring Jim Henson’s Sesame Street muppets” by Jocelyn Stevenson is a children’s book that features the magician character, the Amazing Mumford, from Sesame Street. In the book, Mumford performs a magic show, producing X-ray type pictures out of his hat to demonstrate what the skeletons of various animals and humans look like.

The book offers a fun and engaging way for children to learn about the skeletal systems of different creatures, including birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals, including humans. The illustrations and simple language make the content accessible and entertaining for young readers.

8. Hidden Picture Puzzle Coloring Book, by Anna Pomaska

Hidden Picture Puzzle Coloring Book

The “Hidden Picture Puzzle Coloring Book” by Anna Pomaska is a children’s activity book that offers a double treat for young readers who love to color and solve puzzles. The book features imaginative scenes, including elves, fairies, and other magical creatures, with hidden objects cleverly worked into the designs.

Children can search for animals, numbers, letters, and other items as they color the pictures. The book contains thirty-one pictures, each with its own unique objects to hunt for, such as fish, birds, rabbits, umbrellas, and ice cream cones.

Captions for each picture provide storylines and indicate the numbers and kinds of items to locate. Solutions to the puzzles are provided in the back of the book. With charming illustrations and engaging puzzles, the “Hidden Picture Puzzle Coloring Book” is a fun and entertaining activity for children.

9. George Washington’s Breakfast, by Jean Fritz

George Washington's Breakfast

“George Washington’s Breakfast” by Jean Fritz is a Newbery Honor-winning children’s book that presents a fun and engaging take on history. The story follows George Washington Allen, a determined boy who is eager to learn all there is to know about his namesake, including what the first president ate for breakfast.

Through his persistent research and investigation, George discovers the answer to his question, as well as some interesting insights into George Washington’s life. The book combines history, biography, research, cooking, and a determined child in a plot that is both humorous and educational. With likable illustrations and lively storytelling, “George Washington’s Breakfast” brings history alive and offers a painless way for younger and reluctant readers to learn about the past.

10. The Housekeeper’s Dog, by Jerry Smath

The Housekeeper's Dog

“The Housekeeper’s Dog” by Jerry Smath is a children’s book that tells the story of a playful dog who loves to roll, scratch and play with bones. However, after attending Madame de Poochio’s School for Dogs, the dog undergoes a transformation and becomes quite different. The school teaches the dog manners and how to behave properly.

As a result, the once-playful dog becomes a well-behaved and polite companion. Through colorful illustrations and engaging storytelling, “The Housekeeper’s Dog” highlights the importance of obedience and manners for dogs. It is a fun and educational read for young children.

12. The House That Biff Built, by Janet Campbell

The House That Biff Built

“The House That Biff Built: Featuring Jim Henson’s Sesame Street Muppets” is a children’s book written by Janet Campbell that takes the reader through the process of building a house. The story begins with the drafting of the plans and follows the construction of the house through to the final stages. Along the way, various characters from Jim Henson’s Sesame Street, including Biff and Sully, help with the building process. The book culminates with a housewarming party to celebrate the completion of the project.

13. The Littlest Angel, by Charles Tazewell

The Littlest Angel

“The Littlest Angel” is a fictional story by Charles Tazewell about a young angel who is struggling to adjust to his new life as a cherub in heaven. Despite being surrounded by beauty and wonder, the little angel is homesick for Earth and finds it difficult to fit in with the other angels. The story explores themes of nostalgia, homesickness, and the difficulties of adapting to new environments. It also touches on the holiday of Christmas, but it is not the main focus of the story.

14. The Castle in the Attic, by Elizabeth Winthrop

The Castle in the Attic

“The Castle in the Attic” by Elizabeth Winthrop is a children’s book about a boy named William who receives a mysterious model castle from his caretaker, Mrs. Phillips, who is leaving. The castle is perfect in every way, complete with a drawbridge, moat, and tiny knight.

When William picks up the tiny silver knight, Sir Simon comes alive in his hand and tells William a story of wild sorcery, wizards, and a kingdom in need of saving. William embarks on a fantastic quest to another land and time to battle an evil wizard and a fiery dragon. Hoping the castle’s magic holds the key to getting his friend to stay, William goes on an exciting adventure filled with magic, bravery, and danger.

15. Five Run Away Together, by Enid Blyton 

Five Run Away Together

“Five Run Away Together” by Enid Blyton is the third book in the Famous Five series. In this adventure, the group of friends discovers that someone has been on George’s island, and they find a mysterious trunk locked away on Kirrin Island. Thinking they might be on the trail of smugglers, they hear a child scream and realize they might be onto something more dangerous.

16. The Whipping Boy, by Sid Fleischman 

The Whipping Boy

“The Whipping Boy” by Sid Fleischman is a briskly told tale of adventure and mistaken identity. It follows Prince Brat and his whipping boy, who inadvertently trade places after becoming involved with dangerous outlaws. Despite their differences, they must rely on each other when they find themselves taken hostage after running away. The book is full of suspense and colorful characters, with brief action-packed chapters and black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Honor artist Peter Sís.

17. Ladybird Classics: The Secret Garden, by Hodgson Burnett Frances 

Ladybird Classics

The Ladybird Classics edition of “The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett is a beautifully illustrated introduction to the classic story for younger readers. The book has been abridged and retold to make it suitable for sharing with children aged 5 and up, while still retaining all the important elements of the original story, including the mysterious locked garden. The detailed illustrations throughout the book help to bring this beloved tale to life.

18. Dear Mr. Henshaw, by Beverly Cleary

Dear Mr. Henshaw

“Dear Mr. Henshaw” is a novel by Beverly Cleary about a boy named Leigh Botts who moves to a new town with his mother after his parents’ separation. Struggling to cope with his anger towards his absent father and make new friends, Leigh finds solace in a class assignment where he writes to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw. When Mr. Henshaw responds, the two form an unexpected friendship that helps Leigh navigate and heal from life’s growing pains