Anything is possible within the imagination of a child. From their point of view, the impossible does not exist—magical worlds are always within reach, animals talk, and dreams come true if you wish upon a star.
But nothing encourages that endless potential more than a good book. Within the pages of emblematic children’s books, you can find everyday stories of mundane occurrences alongside exceptional tales of enchanted adventures, all just as magical.
Selecting the best children’s books is complicated—many masterpieces will inevitably end up excluded. Nonetheless, we assumed the challenge.
The following are some of the best children’s books of all time—an excellent starting point for sharing the magic with a child or filling your heart with nostalgic wonder.
Where the Wild Things Are
Nowadays, it may be hard to believe that once upon a time, Where the Wild Things Are was deemed controversial and damaging for children.
The picturesque story follows the adventures of Max, a mischievous child who is sent without supper to his bed after misbehaving. His anger at his punishment transforms his room into a jungle, where he eventually meets the Wild Things—monsters that, just like him, are a bit wild.
A masterclass in imagination and emotional regulation, Where the Wild Things Are entertains young children while allowing them to explore the concept of anger, its consequences, and how to manage their feelings.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Tom Sawyer is, in many ways, one of the best representatives of the average American boy.
Cheeky and clever, he is mischievous enough to trick his peers to have fun at their expense. Nonetheless, as his adventures grow more complex and nerve-wracking, he proves that he will always do the right thing.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a timeless book that generations of children flock to, not in small part for its exceptional portrayal of children’s imagination and sense of fun.
Considered the first novel in the English language, Robinson Crusoe dates back to 1712. But despite the less-than-modern origins, it remains a stellar adventure book that fascinates children across centuries.
It follows Crusoe and his adventures as a castaway on a remote tropical island after a shipwreck. Although many children above ten years read and enjoy the original version, many adaptations for younger ones are available.
However, it’s worth mentioning that the book is a product of its time, including references to slavery, colonialism, and other topics that may require parental guidance.
The symbol of eternal childhood, Peter Pan has taken many children by the hand across generations, welcoming them to Neverland through the pages penned by James Matthew Berrie.
The book introduces the Darling siblings as they meet the dashing yet selfish Peter Pan and his fairy companion Tinker Bell, who takes them to the magical Neverland. Upon arriving, the siblings encounter the eternal children group called Lost Boys and face their enemy, Captain Hook.
Peter Pan is a fascinating adventure that highlights the beauty of childhood while showcasing the importance of growing up.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
The first book from the Chronicles of Narnia saga, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a captivating gateway novel for children to venture into the literary world of fantasy.
Narnia is a fantastic world with a gateway hiding inside an old wardrobe, inhabited by creatures living under the White Witch’s tyrannical rule. The four Pevensie children, hiding from World War 2 in the countryside, venture to Narnia and discover their role as heroes of prophecy.
The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is an adventure as much as a tale of wisdom and morals. Just keep in mind—even though it’s the first book of the saga, it’s the second one in chronological order!
Although you may first picture the famous mascot, Winnie-the-Pooh is, first and foremost, a collection of short stories starring the eponymous sentient teddy bear and his many friends.
A.A. Milne wrote the story to amuse his son, inspiring himself with his numerous toys. Christopher Robin, the kind young child who acts as caretaker for the multiple creatures, is directly named after Milne’s son.
Whimsical and magical, Winne-the-Pooh’s adventures are timeless. Children are already familiar with the characters, making the book an excellent way to encourage reading and introduce children to prose and poetry.
A heartwarming tale about friendship and change, Charlotte’s Web is an ode to the importance of forging bonds and supporting one another across time.
The story follows a livestock pig raised for slaughter named Wilbur and his unlikely friendship with Charlotte, a barn spider, as she tries to save his life by impressing humans into sparing Wilbur—by webbing words of praise.
Although the end of the book is a tearjerker, Charlotte’s Web remains a classic tale and an age-appropriate introduction to the concepts of mortality, grief, and the importance of letting go.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Whether you picture Gene Wilder or Johnny Depp as the emblematic Willy Wonka, odds are you are already familiar with Roal Dahl’s whimsical world.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory follows Charlie, an 11-year-old boy who wins one of the five exclusive Golden Tickets—prizes hidden inside chocolate bars by Willy Wonka, a reclusive chocolate factory owner. With the Golden Ticket, Charlie and the other four lucky children are invited to tour the imaginative, near-magical factory.
Considered a modern-day fairytale, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory poses engaging moral lessons through the lens of a rich, imaginative world.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
A journey through the illogical whimsicality of dreams, reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is akin to falling down the rabbit hole yourself.
The book follows the adventures of young Alice, who lands in a strange world after chasing a peculiar white rabbit. On her path, she encounters quirky characters that behave bizarrely, much to her confusion.
Appealing to nonsensicality and leaning onto the irrational, Carroll told his story through riddles, poems, and puns. Rich with meaning and hidden, complex mathematics, it’s a book that adults and children can enjoy.
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Harold and the Purple Crayon gives young children a straightforward yet incredibly rich premise—what if you had a purple crayon that could create anything?
Filled with blank pages until he uses his crayon, the adventurous 4-year-old Harold builds a path using his imagination to create what he envisions and solve the problems he encounters.
The book penned by Crockett Johnson stands out as an ode to the value of creativity for problem-solving. Likewise, it is a valuable tool for children to explore the dichotomy between fiction and reality.
The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree is, by far, the most controversial entry on this list. Polarizing due to conflicting interpretations of its message, this classic book is called a tale of selfless love. Instead, it is a cautionary tale about self-sacrifice.
The story follows the relationship between a boy and a tree—the boy takes what he needs from the tree throughout his life, and the tree provides until it has nothing left to give. Rather than being role models, the boy and the tree are clear examples of what not to do.
The Giving Tree can be a starting point for conversations regarding healthy relationships, empathy, and the limits of generosity.
The Story of Ferdinand
The story follows Ferdinand, the biggest and strongest bull in the herd. But rather than aiming to stand against bullfighters in Madrid like other bulls, he is a gentle soul that prefers sitting down and enjoying the smell of flowers.
The Story of Ferdinand has been described as allegorical for many things, including politics. Nonetheless, the book’s meaning is far simpler: there is joy in being yourself and value in a tender heart.
Eccentric, free-spirited, and unnaturally strong, the nine-year-old Pippi Longstocking lives life in her way. She has a pet monkey, a suitcase full of gold, and moves into the town alone because her dad is a sea captain and her mother died.
The redheaded girl is clever and brave yet lacks common sense or courtesy, which makes her rambunctious yet a delight to the children around her.
Lindgren conceived Pippi Longstocking as a book centered on someone with the power and freedom to do as she wants, yet chooses to live as a kind, non-violent, and compassionate girl.
The Wizard of Oz
The first—and most well-known—book in the Oz Books collection, The Wizard of Oz is considered America’s best fairytale by the Library of Congress.
The whimsical tale of young Dorothy and her beloved dog Toto being whisked away into the magical Land of Oz is part of popular culture, but the original book remains a must-read for children and adults alike.
Littered with events that may even surprise parents—since they’re not in the famous Judy Garland movie—it can be a fantastic book to impart lessons of self-sufficiency, confidence, and friendship.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
A true classic of nursery education, this picture book encompasses layers upon layers of educational concepts essential for child development.
With striking visuals and concepts, The Very Hungry Caterpillar makes it easy to interactively teach concepts such as colors, numbers, days of the week, food association, nutrition, time, and more. But the true secret of this book’s success lies in its simplicity—it is educational without seeming so. It just is.
Although these children’s books are some of the best, the list falls short. Many books not featured in this article are great childhood staples that have brought joy to the hearts of many children across generations.
Books focusing on moral lessons, educational value, or fantastic journeys to distant lands—there are many options to choose from, all of which are available on BookScouter. Enter a book’s name or ISBN, and you’ll get access to offers from over 20+ online bookstores & marketplaces compared instantly on one page.