Book Lists

Teachers' Picks: Top 25 Picture Books

The best picture books ever, from Where the Wild Things Are to Curious George, and a few surprises in between!

  • Grades: PreK–K, 1–2, 3–5, 6–8

We asked more than 200 teachers, children’s authors, and children’s literature experts to name the best picture books ever. Did your favorites make the list? Read on to see. And save up those gift cards — there are surprising must-haves inside.


1. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

It is “so compressed in its language and so exuberant in its pictures and so psychologically right,” says author Jane Yolen, herself nominated for Owl Moon. “I return to it again and again.” So do teachers! Max earned three times as many votes as a certain munching insect.
Who it’s for: Grades PreK–3
What it’s about: When Max is sent to bed without his dinner, he imagines an adventure to the land of the Wild Things, where he meets a crowd of fanciful beasts. When he becomes homesick, he wakes up in his bedroom to find his warm supper waiting for him.
 

2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Who it’s for: Grades PreK–2
What it’s about: Eric Carle’s colorful classic depicts the famished insect eating his way through an apple, two pears, three plums, and a smorgasbord of other treats. Along the way, readers learn about colors and counting — not to mention the life cycle of a caterpillar.
 

3. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

For many of you, this shadowy story is a winter must, up there with hot chocolate and mittens. Third-grade teacher Janice Wright explains: “It’s magic.”
Who it’s for: Grades K–5
What it’s about: Could there be a better Christmas tale than that of a boy lying awake on Christmas Eve who is taken by Santa himself to the North Pole? This Caldecott winner encourages kids to believe in the spirit of Christmas.
 

4. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

Who it’s for: Grades PreK–2
What it’s about: A young bunny tries to stave off sleep by bidding goodnight to every item he can think of, leading himself (and readers!) to a quiet sense of peace. Clement Hurd’s illustrations range from small black and white drawings to full color beauties.
 

5. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Sheila McGraw 

“I can’t help myself, I cry every time I read it,” says Instructor editor Hannah Trierweiler. Sniff. Pass the tissues.
Who it’s for: Grades K–3
What it’s about: The story of a boy and his mom. While the mother continues to rock her boy to sleep — even if she must sneak in his bedroom to do so — eventually he will do the same for her. A touching cycle-of-life tale.
 

6. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Who it’s for: Grades 2–5
What it’s about: This wise and lovely story of the tree that gives her all for love is also a wonderful tale about life transforming the boy that played on her branches to an old man that sits on her stump.
 

7. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig

Who it’s for: Grades K–5
What it’s about: Once a pebble-collecting donkey finds his lucky stone, misadventure begins. Once Sylvester accidentally turns himself into a stone, it seems all is lost, but eventually he comes back to his donkey self — and wishing is approached more carefully!
 

8. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans 

Who it’s for: Grades K–5
What it’s about: Ah, the Parisian adventures of Madeline! Her life with the nuns, her trip to the hospital, and Bemelemans’ depictions of the city still satisfy kids of many ages. This long-running series never surpasses the charm of its first installment!
 

9. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton

Who it’s for: Grades 1–4
What it’s about: Before arriving at the happy ending, readers will experience the growth of a city as it surrounds the previously isolated little house. Burton’s fanciful drawings add to the delight of the story.
 

10. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey 

Who it’s for: Grades PreK–2
What it’s about: As Sal and her mom set out to pick blueberries, so do a mother bear and her cub. Eventually the young set swap moms for a cross-species adventure tale and a comedy of errors.
 

11. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats 

Who it’s for: Grades K–4
What it’s about: A book that makes the simple, everyday activities of a little boy into an epic. When Peter awakes to the first snow of the season, every detail of the day — from kicking snow off a branch to the attempt to save a snowball — becomes magical.
 

12. Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

“Kids really connect to the message,” wrote first-grade teacher Laurie Foote. What higher praise could a book receive?
Who it’s for: Grades K–3
What it’s about: A story about a fruit bat raised by birds, this book celebrates uniqueness and independence. As a beautifully told tale with gorgeous illustrations and a section of bat information as well, this book has it all.
 

13. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond 

Who it’s for: Grades PreK–2
What it’s about: Oh, that hungry mouse. Once you give him the cookie, the trail of action is unstoppable! By the end, the mouse and the boy that gives him the cookie (and perhaps the reader) are exhausted! With terrific illustrations and a wonderful lead character.
 

14. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis 

Who it’s for: Grades 1–4
What it’s about: A powerful narrative with echoes of metaphor, this is a story about a fence that divides a white neighborhood from a black one and the two little girls whose need for play and companionship allow them to straddle and then cross it.
 

15. Owl Moon by Jane Yolen, illustrated by John Schoenherr 

Who it’s for: Grades 1–5
What it’s about: A classic example of child’s mind expanding a simple walk into a glorious adventure. As a girl and her father hike through the moonlit night, the creatures they encounter become thrilling companions for their owl hunt.
 

16. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

The only wordless tale on our list.
Who it’s for: Grades PreK–2
What it’s about: A great book to lead a child into reading. A whimsical story of a boy who makes and then befriends a snowman who both enters his world and takes him out on a nighttime escapade. The enigmatic ending can also be a great beginning.
 

17. The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg

Who it’s for: Grades 2–6
What it’s about: This exquisite book offers fourteen drawings with captions, each its own launch pad for stories and imaginings of any sort. The lack of a cohesive narrative allows, indeed requires, that kids provide their own ideas of what happens next.
 

18. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Anita Silvey, author of 100 Best Books for Children, cherishes McCloskey’s “subtle economy in text and art.”
Who it’s for: Grades K–3
What it’s about: Watch out for urban ducks… A great read aloud book, this tale of two mallards who decide to raise their family in the Boston’s Public Garden is a perennial favorite. Beautiful drawings and a great story make Boston seem perfect for ducks!
 

19. SkippyJon Jones by Judy Schachner

Who it’s for: Grades 1–4
What it’s about: A wonderful combo of story, rhyme, Spanish-English hybrid, color, action and pure joy, this book has something to enchant any kid and is a fantastic read aloud. SkippyJon is part kitten, part dynamo. A real fiesta (muy caliente)!
 

20. No, David! by David Shannon

Who it’s for: Grades K–4
What it’s about: As little David careens from one forbidden activity to the next, with his mom shouting the title, David’s naughty output is impressive. A kid’s book with a “real” soundtrack, the text is drawn from a book the author produced when he was 5!
 

21. The Keeping Quilt by Patricia Polacco

Who it’s for: Grades K–3
What it’s about: A rich immigrant’s tale, this book is the classic American story. A quilt that is made from the bits and pieces of the past to warm up the present, it provides not just the story, but the only color in these otherwise black and white ink drawings.
 

22. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper, illustrated by George & Doris Hauman

Will the real Watty Piper please stand up — and accept our hurrahs? (It’s a pseudonym for the original publisher; the author is disputed.)
Who it’s for: Grades PreK–3
What it’s about: What would childhood be without the whispered “I think I can, I think I can”? This book is possibly the best-known children’s classic and a wonderful read-aloud. Its positive message has underscored the days of thousands of children.
 

23. The Mitten by Jan Brett

Second-grade teacher Donna Thaggard echoed many voters when she said “any book by Brett” is bound to be an instant favorite.
Who it’s for: Grades K–4
What it’s about: With illustrations to delight, this story of a grandma-knitted mitten that becomes a home to a whole group of chilly winter animals — until a sneeze ousts them all — is a perfect winter companion. Nicki’s glove has a life of its own!
 

24. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss

Thank goodness the good doctor accepted a bet that he couldn’t write a story using only 50 words. As Instructor editor Jennifer Prescott sums up in only five words: “I do so like it!”
Who it’s for: Grades PreK–3
What it’s about: I am Sam, Sam I am. Possibly the most fun a kid can have while learning to read, this book’s repetitive phrases, simple drawings and goofy charm make it one of childhood’s must-haves.
 

25. Curious George by H.A. and Margret Ray

Who it’s for: Grades PreK–2
What it’s about: The world’s most beloved monkey! Curious George has had many adventures in his day, but it all starts with this classic. Introduce a new generation of readers to his irrepressible chimp.

 

—Additional reporting by Christine Mills

  • Subjects:
    Literature Appreciation
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