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Top 10 Children's Books

Updated on November 11, 2013
Dr. Seuss cartoon
Dr. Seuss cartoon | Source

Greatest Children's Books

We were all children once, and we certainly remember the stories that we read as child with a sense of nostalgia. However, other children's stories go forgotten. I've found that the children's stories that continue to be inspirational well into adulthood were also the one's I remembered the most as a child.

Now before I begin this list I would like to say that narrowing the best children's books down to 10 is no easy task, and that it's also a matter of personal preference. There are many children's books that should be in the top 10, this is just what I narrowed it down to. Positive qualities I'm using to judge this list include re-readability, thematic depth, emotional depth, multiple levels of depth (speaks to everyone, or most people, not just children), originality, and uniqueness.

Children's books have a broad age range, so this list is specifically focusing on early childhood, or better known as from the time you were first able to read or understand what was being read to you (the 3-6 average age group). Also, the books could be no longer than 100 pages, since most 3-6 years old's don't have the focus for books of that length yet. So here they are, the top 10 children's books.

Number 10 - Goodnight Moon

By Margaret Wise Brown

"Goodnight room
Goodnight moon
Good night cow jumping over the moon."

Goodnight Moon is a simple book that on many levels is very ordinary... and that is one of its unique qualities as a children's book. Most people visualize the children's book as a short, colorful, highly imaginative book that teaches children important life lessons. Most children's books feature talking animals, make believe creatures, or children accomplishing extraordinary feats while on surreal adventures.

Goodnight Moon does none of these things. So in the grand scheme of things, this children's book is one of the more unique one's due to its being so ordinary. Other than teaching kids how to fall asleep, no other life lessons are learned. Nothing truly extraordinary happens in the book. The rhyme scheme and the pictures make this book incredibly memorable, but ultimately it's unique idea as a children's book is why it makes this list.

Number 9 - Go, Dog. Go!

By P.D. Eastman

"Do You Like My Hat?"
"No I Do Not."
"Good Bye."

Go, Dog. Go! It's another remarkably simple book, but it's very creative, especially if you think about the color and dog placement combinations literally. The book basically contains dogs doing various activities (that humans usually do), while another short story simultaneously develops between a girl dog who keeps trying to find a hat that her guy dog friend likes.

The book culminates in a big dog party and the girl dog finding an extravagant hat that the guy dog likes. This book is highly imaginative, and the pictures have a lot of subtle humor that even a young child can grasp. Eastman ultimately is teaching kids to pay attention to details, which is cleverly done through the text and illustrations, something not commonly seen in children's books.

Number 8 - Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

By Judith Viorist

"My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes,
my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad pajamas.
I hate my railroad pajamas."

First of all this book is really funny, laughing at the misfortune of others has been a staple of comedy since it began centuries ago. However, despite laughing at Alexander's misfortunes, there isn't a person alive, adult or child, that cannot relate to this title. Everyone has bad days, and Alexander is having one of those particularly bad days where nothing seems to go right for him... to the point where he wants to move to Australia.

The message of this book is simple, to remind children that they will have bad days, and that bad days are a part of everyday lives. This simple message is a truly global and universal, it's an idea that can transgress cultures, countries, and every other imaginable human division, which is something that makes this book truly unique.

Number 7 - Harold and the Purple Crayon

By Crockett Johnson

"But he didn't seem to be getting anywhere, on the long straight path.
So he left the path for a shortcut across a field, and the moon went with him."

Harold has a purple crayon, and he can draw anything he wants with it. In short he can create and manipulate the surroundings of his world. Harold goes on adventures in the moonlight with his purple crayon, drawing his way into and out of interesting situations. He ultimately ends up back at home where he goes to bed.

As an adult this book reminds me of a quote by German composer Richard Wagner, "Imagination creates reality." Harold creates all of the adventures he goes on, creating a unique journey. The journey he goes on is all a part of Harold's imagination, giving the reader a sense of the power of creativity. This is an inspiring book about creativity, and the benefits of maintaining your imagination.

Number 6 - The Very Hungry Caterpillar

By Eric Carle

"On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake, one ice-cream cone, one pickle, one slice of Swiss cheese, one slice of salami, one lollipop, one piece of cherry pie, one sausage, one cupcake, and one slice of watermelon. That night he had a stomach."

The very hungry caterpillar was very hungry indeed, just look at what he ate on Saturday. Most people wouldn't be able to eat that much in a single day.

Eric Carle's book was inspired by a hole puncher, and from there we are treated to one of the most visually enticing children's books ever created. The artwork is both unique and beautiful, and has probably inspired a countless number of children to purse the visual arts. They way it's painted gives the effect that a child painted it, but looking at it closely you can tell it's a lot less simple than it looks.

The story is very short, and it culminates in the idea of transformation. The idea of transformation in this book almost reminds you of the Ugly Duckling, except that the caterpillar is never considered ugly. The beautiful butterfly at the end is a transcending moment that suggests that beauty can be found in change.

Number 5 - Horton Hears A Who

By Dr. Seuss

"Don't give up! I believe in you all.
A person's a person, no matter how small!
And you very small persons will not have to die
If you make yourselves heard! So come on, now, and TRY!"

This book is about an elephant named Horton who discovers a tiny society populated by "Who's" on a spec of dust. Other animals think Horton is crazy, so they try to take the spec of dust from him. Horton has to convince the rest of the animal kingdom that there is a society of people living on that spec of dust in order to save them from being destroyed.

This book is deep. When you hear the phrase, "A person's a person, no matter how small," it makes you wish that every politician reads this book before making a decision that could potentially effect millions of average people.

Many life lessons are presented to the reader, but the lesson that keeps showing up the most is how important every individual in a society can be. It takes all of the Who's screaming at the same time in order for the other animals of the forest to believe in the tiny society that Horton is talking about. Even with one Who missing, the effect is not the same.

That's pretty deep for a children's book, but Dr. Seuss doesn't stop there. Horton Hears a Who also provides many other additional life lessons including: sticking to your beliefs even in the face of adversity, fighting for what you believe in, and making your voice heard. These are many life lessons adults should relearn, and they're important for children to learn about, too. On many levels this is a children's book for adults.

Number 4 - The Polar Express

By Chris Van Allsburg

"At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe."

At last we have come to a children's book that features a major holiday, Christmas. A little boy who is losing faith in Christmas and Santa is visited by a train on Christmas Eve that takes him to the North Pole with a score of other children. At the North Pole the boy sees all of the toys at Santa's workshop and the elves that are making them. The little boy is chosen by Santa to choose the gift of Christmas, so the boy chooses a bell off of one of the reindeer.

On the train ride home the boy loses the bell through a hole in his pocket. However, the next morning, on Christmas he finds the bell wrapped in a box from Santa. The book ends with the quote at the top of this lens. The Polar Express is one of the more emotionally powerful children's books you can read. Although it is set on Christmas, the book's universal message to have faith and believe is a value and message that extends beyond the holiday.

Number 3 - Where the Wild Things Are

By Maurice Sendak

"And he sailed back over a year
and in and out of weeks
and through a day
and into the night of his very own room
where he found his supper waiting for him
and it was still hot."

In Where the Wild Things Are, Max is sent to his room without supper for being mischievous and not listening to his mother . In his room he goes to a place in his imagination, where there are wild things are. Once there, he encounters fearsome looking monsters, but Max ends up being the fiercest of them all. He is so fierce that the monsters make him their king. Max, while feeling lonely, ultimately decides to come back home, where he finds a hot supper still waiting for him.

Where the Wild Things Are deals with a subject that most parents find uncomfortable or bothersome to deal with while raising their children, and that is anger. Anger is one of the earliest emotions that can be experienced by a person, and it's an emotion for better or worse that needs to be handled with care throughout a person's life. According to Sendak this is one of the few books he wrote that is about mastering your emotions.

The thematic material and its dealings with anger gives this book a universal appeal. The illustrations in this book help really drive home Max's frustration, and the monsters.... wow those illustrations were great as a kid, and they're still great now.

Number 2 - The Giving Tree

By Shel Silverstein

"And the boy loved the tree.......very much. And the tree was happy."

The Giving Tree is about a boy who he keeps asking his friend, a tree, to help him. The tree does this by giving parts of itself to the boy. It allows the boy to sell its apples, cut down its branches for a house, and finally cut down its trunk so the boy can make a boat. In his old age the boy returns to the tree. Once they reunite, the tree tells the boy it has nothing left to give him. The boy says he needs a place to sit, and the tree happily obliges as the boy sits on the tree's stump... and the tree was happy.

This is one of those books that makes you feel like a knife is going through your heart. This story of sacrifice and love makes The Giving Tree one of the most emotionally powerful children's books ever written. The book gives you a strong emotional attachment to the tree and the boy, while thematically combining this with the importance of the needs of people, and the sacrifices of others that are needed in order for people to meet those needs.

The book makes an interesting allegory between the relationship of a parent (the tree) and a child (the child) in which the parent must sacrifice and get almost nothing in return, except for happiness, in order to raise the child.

Number 1 - The Lorax

By Dr. Seuss

"But now," says the Once-ler, "now that you're here, the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear. UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

The Lorax is a made up creature by Dr. Seuss, just like most of the creatures in this book. The Lorax speaks for the trees and he tries to stop the greedy Once-ler from destroying the environment. The Lorax ultimately fails in this goal when the last Trufula tree is chopped down.

The Once-ler realizes his error and gives the very last seed of the very last Trufula tree to a young boy imploring him to re-grow the trees so the Lorax and his friends may come back.

This book is very dark for a children's book, the Lorax cannot save his home and the homes of all of his friends from the Once-ler. All though Dr. Seuss leaves us with hope at the end of the story, the future still looks bleak.

On the surface this book is a pro-environment book, but it also includes an even bigger lesson in fighting apathy. Even if you don't agree with the environmental themes of The Lorax, or its condemning of greed and materialism, you can relate to how much the Lorax cares about everything. Apathy is an even bigger issue today than when it was when Dr. Seuss wrote this book, and the Lorax is ultimately fighting against people's indifference towards the issues that matter. With all of these adult issues this is another Dr. Seuss book that falls under the category of children's book for adults.

The dark emotional landscape, the strange plants and animals, combined with deep thematic material make this book extremely effective. It's a very creative book that contains a message no adult or child could forget once they've read it, which is why it is at the top of this list.

What's Your Favorite Children's Book?

What's Your Favorite Children's Book?

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    • Lynn Savitsky profile image

      Lynn Savitzky 

      3 years ago from New Jersey

      I remember a lot of Maurice Sendak's stuff in general. He told some amazing stories.

    • Music-and-Art-45 profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from USA, Illinois

      Thanks for reading and commenting. I loved Where The Wild Things Are

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      My favorite is "Where The Wild Things Are." I recall reading that frequently. There are so many fabulous books available these days, it's so hard to choose. I frequently read to my daughter starting when she was an infant, and now she is an avid reader herself. Reading sets us up for success in life. Nice list.


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