18 Best Children’s Picture Books of All Time

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I stepped into the classroom as a new teacher with a smile on my face and a book in my hand. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault.

A colleague handed me the book mere seconds before the first bell rang. Now, assembled before me, were 21 young faces, all eagerly anticipating our first shared book.

I’d never read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom before that day. When my colleague handed it to me, she just said it’d be a great ice-breaker. Maybe she knew I was a bit nervous, maybe my inexperience was showing, or maybe she knew I wanted to grab my jacket and run.

Ten years later, I still read Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to my students every year. But now I also have a phenomenal list of picture books that my students adore, year after year. Dare I say, these are the best children’s picture books of all time?!

These are the books that make students think, wonder, or start rolling on the floor with tears of laughter streaming down their faces, the raucous laughter making teachers stick their heads out into the corridor to see where the noise is coming from.

These books have made the list because they have educational value, are engaging for children, and are suitable for a range of ages. I also ask my students to vote for their favorite picture book each year, and I’ve included some of those top voted books in this list. 

Pig the Pug by Aaron Blabey (or any of the ‘Pig’ series) shares the antics of Pig, a hilariously selfish pug, and his best friend Trevor. Trevor just wants to share Pig’s toys but Pig refuses and gathers them all up to stop Trevor from having any.

Pig the Pug generates amazing discussions about character traits and qualities of a good friend while providing a hilarious recount of Pig’s antics.

The visuals are highly appealing to children and the use of rhyme and humor leaves children asking for more. There are several books in this series, all of the similarly high quality.

Whoever You Are by Mem Fox provides a great message that promotes inclusivity and acceptance of oneself.

This book focuses on the message that we might all look or talk differently, but on the inside, we are all the same.

Whoever You Are is a lovely book that appeals to a range of cultures and generations. 

Animalia by Graeme Base is the kind of book that anyone can get lost in.

Children spend hours scrutinizing the detailed illustrations, and every time they look, they find something new.

While this is an alphabet book, I strongly encourage my students to move beyond the written word to be amazed by the detail in the illustrations!

The Book with No Pictures by B. J. Novak breaks all the rules of story writing – there’s no plot, characters, or events, but children love it anyway.

The reader must simply read every word on every page. The Book with no Pictures is a great example of concepts of print and an easy way to reinforce the notion that print contains a message.

And I’m breaking a rule too by adding this book to this list of best ‘picture books’ even though it has no pictures. This is a must-have read-aloud for all children to experience.

Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker features detailed collage images that bring the story to life.

The boy and his father set off on a boat to explore an island. Through his explorations, the boy ponders the past as images appear before him.

Where the Forest Meets the Sea is a thought-provoking story of a boy’s adventure with his father and raises a powerful question about conservation.

The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson is a great read-aloud book about a little mouse and his big imagination.

This is the story of a little mouse enjoying a walk in the woods, using his brains and wit to avoid the dangers.

Featuring rhyme and repetition, The Gruffalo draws children into the little mouse’s secret as he travels deeper into the woods.

The Wrong Book by Nick Bland is about a young boy trying to tell a story. The clever illustrations show his frustration increase as more and more characters interrupt his story.

This book makes a great springboard for discussion with children about expression of frustration and anger. 

Related: The 16 Best Anger Management Books

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst focuses on the main character, Alexander, and his day where everything goes wrong. The long, run-on sentences are used effectively to demonstrate just how bad Alexander’s day is.

The mishaps throughout Alexander’s day are relatable to most children, and the illustrations do a tremendous job of portraying the emotion.

This is another great springboard for discussion about frustration.

Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley by Aaron Blabey is a great starting point for discussion about personality differences, looking after friends, and how to be kind.

Pearl Barley and Charlie Parsley focuses on the friendship between Pearl and Charlie, highlighting their differences and emphasizing how the characters complement each other.

The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin cleverly demonstrates how colors feel, smell, or taste.

The black, tactile pages effectively demonstrate the reading experience of a person with a vision impairment.

There are a range of educative values to this book –highlight the challenge of living with low vision or blindness, develop descriptive language, get children thinking beyond what they can see, and so much more.

When Henry Caught Imaginitis by Nick Bland is a simple story about a serious boy named Henry who liked things a certain way until an unexpected thought popped into his head.

The illustrations and use of color are a powerful nod to the excitement of a child’s imagination.

Thelma the Unicorn by Aaron Blabey is about accepting yourself as you are.

Featuring Thelma the pony, who dreams of becoming a unicorn, and her sweet friend Otis, who sees the beauty within Thelma.

The story follows Thelma’s journey as an accident involving a carrot, paint and glitter turn her dreams to reality and she leaves farm life behind her.

The rhyming story is engaging for young readers, and the theme and message is relevant to older readers. Thelma the Unicorn is a great read aloud for almost any age.

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Dame Lynley Dodd is the first of the Hairy Maclary books.

It tells the story of Hairy Maclary, the scruffy black dog, as he sets of for an adventure with his five dog friends.

Animal lovers will adore the clever illustrations that clearly portray the individual personality of each character.

The Crocodile Who Didn’t Like Water by Gemma Merino is a great book to develop children’s understanding of embracing their differences rather than trying to be the same as those around them in order to fit in.

The Crocodile who Didn’t Like Water is about (as the name suggests) a crocodile who doesn’t like water. The unnamed crocodile makes several attempts to fit in with his siblings, before a clever plot twist is revealed.

This book offers young readers a clever view on facing your fears and understanding why those fears exist.

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish is an older book about Amelia Bedelia, a maid who has a very literal interpretation of the world. She spends her days doing everything wrong but is actually right.

While somewhat dated with the stereotypes, this book is still hugely popular with early readers. The educative value is high, with this book being a springboard for language lessons around idioms, homographs, homophones, problem solving, communication, and humor.

Amelia Bedelia has delighted generations of children, and the series has been extended to include short chapter books, early readers, and picture books.

Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin is about dragons and tacos, and for some reason, children absolutely adore this book.

The story uses a matter-of-fact style and detailed illustrations to engage young readers and build momentum. This book doesn’t have a plot, and the characters are developed through illustrations.

The reader is constantly questioning what will happen if the dragons eat the spicy salsa (because dragons don’t like salsa).

Dragons Love Tacos is a great read-aloud book, and a starting point for teaching children to speculate and make predictions.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems is one of those books that you need to read-aloud with voices and emotion.

The book begins with the bus driver taking a break, leaving one simple instruction asking the reader not to let the pigeon drive the bus.

The pigeon then begins his hilarious, highly relatable attempts to get the reader’s permission to drive the bus.

It’s a great book to begin conversations about peer-pressure and to get children to practice persuasive language.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault provides a delightful twist to the traditional alphabet book.

The fun-loving ‘characters’, vibrant illustrations, and rhyme all engage young readers, and the repetition provides opportunities for early readers to join in with the reading.

At the beginning of each new school year I continue to confidently step into the classroom with a smile on my face and a book in my hand. And I always have a spare copy of Chicka Chicka Boom Boom to hand to the new teacher!

About the Author

Website: Teaching Products

Jennifer has been teaching elementary and SpEd since 2009, and has recently taken on an Academic Advisor role at a prominent university in Australia.

Jennifer has a strong interest in children’s literature and is passionate about teaching children to read. Jennifer’s goal is to support teachers and parents to develop a child’s love of reading.