It's been such a strange, lost summer. Camps and schools and activities have shut down during the pandemic, leaving kids and caregivers stuck at home and climbing the walls — and sometimes the garden fences.
With that in mind, we decided that this year's summer reader poll should be all about keeping kids occupied. We asked you to tell us about your favorite kids' books, from board books for babies to great read-alouds to early chapter books and even a few books for older readers. And thousands of you answered.
As with all our summer polls, this one isn't a straight-up popularity contest. (Otherwise it would have been nothing but 100 Mo Willems books — and we love Mo Willems, but that wouldn't have been the most useful list.) Rather, it's a curated list built from your recommendations and picks from our expert panel of judges — a fantastic group of authors, librarians, publishers and all-around book nerds. And instead of a ranked list, it's grouped into categories that we hope will help you find just the right books for the kids in your life.
Now, we understand that half the fun of a list is arguing about what didn't make it on — and our judges had to make some hard choices. But there was one easy decision: A few years ago, we did a summer list based on All Things Considered's Backseat Book Club of great reads for kids from 9 to 14. This year's list is focused on younger readers, but we did include a few books for older kids. So if something appeared on the Backseat 100, we didn't include it here. That means no Charlotte's Web, no Matilda and no Little House books (though we've got some wonderful suggestions for Little House fans, like Linda Sue Park's Prairie Lotus).
We want this list to be a tool for discovery, which means we had to walk a delicate path when it comes to books that are undeniable classics — we knew all hell would rain down on us if we left out Where the Wild Things Are or The Very Hungry Caterpillar. But we decided you probably didn't need our help to discover Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry or The Little Engine that Could, so those didn't make it onto the list.
And as always, we had to decide which work to pick from creators who were nominated multiple times. Readers may remember the Nora Roberts Rule, which came about during 2015's romance poll: No one gets on the list twice UNLESS they're as titanic a figure in their field as Roberts is in romance; we included her in that list under both her own name and her pen name, J.D. Robb.
This year brought an interesting twist. Since many books on the list have both authors and illustrators, we eventually decided that authors could appear only once, but we didn't mind seeing illustrators again. (Hello, Christian Robinson and Vashti Harrison!) And generally, when someone appeared more than once in the nominations, we went with whichever title was more popular with voters (so Kevin Henkes' Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse beat out Kitten's First Full Moon).
You'll also see there's a section of books for older readers. We wanted to recognize that a lot of kids read ahead of their age groups — and also, there have been so many great books that came out since we put together the Backseat 100 list in 2013 that it seemed a shame not to include a few of them here.
We hope you and the kids in your life will have as much fun poring through this list as we had putting it together! We had a blast recalling old favorites and discovering new classics (and a shoutout to our gracious judges, who let me sneak in one of my all-time childhood faves, Paul Goble's gorgeous The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses).
To make things easier, we've split up the list into categories: Picture Perfect, Baby's Bookshelf, Conversation Starters, Family Life, Animal (and Monster) Friends, Folktales and Fairy Tales, Fun to Read Out Loud, Nonfiction, Early Chapter Books, and Older Readers. Happy reading!