NPR's 100 Best Children's Books This year we had kids and caregivers in mind when we chose the genre for our summer poll. So here are 100 favorite kids' books, picked by readers and expert judges, to while away the hours at home.
NPR logo Welcome To Story Hour: 100 Favorite Books For Young Readers

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Welcome To Story Hour: 100 Favorite Books For Young Readers

Esmé Shapiro for NPR
Summer Reader Poll 2020: 100 Favorite Kids' Books
Esmé Shapiro for NPR

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!

Picture Perfect

The Snowy Day

50th Anniversary Edition

One morning, a little boy in Brooklyn wakes up to a changed world — sparkling with fresh snowfall. And though it's never directly mentioned in the text, young Peter is Black, one of the first non-caricatured Black people to star in a major children's book. Author and illustrator Ezra Jack Keats was white, but his sensitive depiction of a child's first experience with snow won the Caldecott Medal and was embraced by parents and children of all colors. (For ages 0 to 2)

Where the Wild Things Are

Readers nominated so many Maurice Sendak books, it was hard to pick just one. Well, no, actually — despite a moment of competition from In the Night Kitchen, we knew we had to go with this classic tale of Max, his wolf suit, the wild rumpus, and of course ... the dinner that was still warm when he got home. (For ages 4 to 8)

The Old Truck

Jerome Pumphrey was driving through central Texas to visit his brother Jarrett, and along the way he kept seeing old trucks sitting out in the fields. He began to wonder what stories those old trucks could tell — the result, created by both brothers together, is this story, illustrated by hundreds of hand-carved stamps, of a farm family and their beloved pickup. (For ages 3 to 5)

Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut

We couldn't put Hair Love on the list (you'll find it a little further down) and leave out this tribute to the magic of the barbershop. "You came in as a lump of clay, a blank canvas, a slab of marble," author Derrick Barnes writes. "But when my man is done with you, they'll want to post you up in a museum!" Gordon C. James' lively paintings of smiling boys showing off their fresh cuts will put a smile on your face, too. (For ages 3 to 8)

Julián Is A Mermaid

Julián is riding the subway with his abuela when he sees them: three mermaids, with fabulous hair and fishtail dresses. And Julián loves mermaids. So much that he makes his own costume at home, with a yellow curtain for a tail and a potted fern for a crown. This is a gorgeous tale of creativity and acceptance, rounded out with misty, jeweled gouache illustrations. (For ages 4 to 8)

Miss Rumphius

Miss Rumphius dreams of living by the sea, traveling the world, and making it a more beautiful place — and she does it on her own terms, living alone with her cat and sowing lupine seeds along the coast of Maine despite the local kids who call her "That Crazy Old Lady." (She was based on a real person — Maine resident Hilda Hamlin, who was known as the "Lupine Lady" for her habit of scattering seeds.) (For ages 5 to 8)

The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses

Everywhere you look in The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, there's a tiny, precise and lovely detail — a plant, a bird, a lizard, a pebble, a shell and of course the magnificent horses. This story of a Plains Indian girl who runs away with a band of wild horses, and eventually becomes one of them, won the Caldecott in 1978, and for good reason. (For ages 5 to 8)

Hello Lighthouse

Waves roll by, seasons come and go, keepers tend to their duties, and through it all, the lighthouse stands tall, sending its beam out into the darkness, bidding hello to all the ships at sea. Caldecott winner Sophie Blackall does a gorgeous job showing the timeless nature of lighthouse life — and the change that's coming. (For ages 4 to 8)

Tar Beach

Artist Faith Ringgold's tale of young Cassie Louise Lightfoot who flies far above the "tar beach" of her apartment building roof is — along with The Undefeated — one of the most beautiful books on this list. Lifted up by the stars, Cassie flies over the city, claiming its beauty for her own and imagining a better life for her family. As a bonus, you can see Ringgold reading the book here. (For ages 5 to 8)

The Undefeated

One of the most — if not the most — beautiful books on this list. Kadir Nelson's glowing, photorealistic paintings pair with Kwame Alexander's powerful words (with nods to Langston Hughes, Gwendolyn Brooks and more) for a tribute to decades of Black brilliance, pain and perseverance. "This is one of those texts that really spoke to me; it was beautifully written and I felt it was a really great pairing of words and pictures of an author and an artist," Nelson told NPR. (For ages 6 to 9)

Harlem

A Poem

This poem by Walter Dean Myers — a revered elder of children's literature — celebrates Harlem, where he grew up, full of "colors loud enough to be heard" and songs first heard in the villages of "Ghana/Mali/Senegal." His son Christopher's bold illustrations, part paint and part collage, don't talk down to kids, instead pulling them into a vibrant city. (For ages 9 and up)

Baby's Bookshelf

Antiracist Baby

Ibram X. Kendi wanted to have a tool to teach his young daughter about racism, so he adapted the ideas in his book How to Be an Antiracist into this brightly colored guide. In nine steps, Kendi (and illustrator Ashley Lukashevsky) offers parents a way to open their eyes, and their children's eyes, to the realities of racism. (For ages 0 to 3)

Goodnight Moon

Margaret Wise Brown's hushed, incantatory bedtime poetry — set against Clement Hurd's bright blocks of green, blue, red and yellow — has sent generations of children off to sleep. Don't you wish you had a great green room and a red balloon? And two little kittens and a pair of mittens? (For ages 0 to 4)

Freight Train

Red caboose at the back, and forward through the rainbow to the black tender and engine, Donald Crews' simple, powerful freight train chugs its way through towns and tunnels, days and nights. Kids will love exploring the blocky, brightly colored train cars and seeing what's inside. Here comes the train! (For ages 0 to 4)

Good Dog, Carl (series)

Little Madeleine has a pretty great babysitter: A big friendly Rottweiler named Carl. Together, they go to the store and to the zoo, to costume parties and daycare classes — in richly illustrated, mostly wordless books that let readers form their own ideas about what's happening on each page. (For ages 1 to 4)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf — and it hatched into a hungry caterpillar who munched his way right off the page and into the hearts of kids everywhere. Eric Carle's charming story and luminous, stained-glass illustrations make The Very Hungry Caterpillar a classic for the ages (and a good advertisement for the benefits of snacking). (For ages 2 to 5)

But Not the Hippopotamus

All the other animals are having fun! They cavort in the bog, they try on hats, they sip juice at a cute cafe ... but not the hippopotamus, who's always in the background looking on sadly. But luckily, by the end of Sandra Boynton's cheerful tale, the hippo gathers her courage and joins in the party. (For ages 2 to 5)

Brown Baby Lullaby

Tameka Fryer Brown's lilting, musical rhymes and A.G. Ford's glowing art follow one very active baby through a very busy day of zooming around the house, getting kisses, napping, playing in the grass, getting a bath and finally going to bed as the sun sets. (For ages 2 to 6)

Go, Dog. Go!

Big dogs, little dogs, red dogs, blue dogs, dogs on cars and scooters — kids will love learning colors and emotions and ideas with P.D. Eastman's zippy dogs. And hopefully they'll learn some manners, too; the answer to "Do you like my hat?" should generally be "Yes!" (For ages 3 to 7)

The Napping House

It's a soft gray rainy day and everyone's asleep in the Napping House — but unfortunately, they're all trying to pile into the same bed, with predictably unfortunate (but funny) results. This is a book that'll put any kid to sleep — and we mean that in the best possible way. (For ages 4 to 7)

Conversation Starters

Last Stop on Market Street

CJ is full of questions: Why do we have to take the bus when my friend has a car? Why is it raining? Why can't that man see? Luckily, his nana is always ready with an answer that helps CJ find beauty wherever he looks."You can feel like you have been slighted if you are growing up without, if you have less money, or you can see the beauty in that," author Matt de la Peña told NPR in 2016. "And I feel like the most important thing that's ever happened to me is growing up without money." (For ages 3 to 5)

Story Boat

For the family in Story Boat, "here" is home — but "here" keeps changing as they travel onward to an unknown destination. Illustrator Rashin Kheiriyeh, whose family fled Iran after war broke out in 1980, told NPR that when she first read the manuscript, "I thought, oh, that's me." Her bold, carefully color-coded illustrations balance a serious situation with the whimsy of children spinning tales out of the few belongings they've brought with them. (For ages 3 to 7)

Dreamers

Yuyi Morales was born in Mexico; she came to America with her baby boy in 1999, and she builds that experience into a poetic, visually stunning tribute to the immigrant experience — to walking the streets of a new place, getting lost and learning a new life and language, and to the dreams, hopes and talents immigrants bring to this country. (For ages 4 to 8)

Jabari Jumps

Not a lot of brand-new books make it into these lists, but our judges felt that Gaia Cornwall's sweet, engaging story of a little boy conquering his fear of the high jump would stand the test of time. If you've ever stood at the edge of that board looking down at the deep end, Jabari Jumps is the book for you. (For ages 4 to 8)

The Rabbit Listened

Ever have a friend who's sad, and you just don't know what to say or how to help them? The Rabbit Listened is the book for you — with simple text and illustrations so cute you'll want to hug yourself, it tells the story of Taylor, who's sad that his tower of blocks fell down, and all the animals who really aren't helping until the rabbit comes along. (For ages 3 to 5)

Sulwe

"Dear Lord," Sulwe prays, "Why do I look like midnight when my mother looks like dawn?" She tries makeup, eating only light-colored foods, and in one painful scene, using an eraser to rub away her darkness. But a magical flight through the night sky helps her learn to love that darkness. Actor and author Lupita Nyong'o told NPR she based the book on her own experiences of colorism as a child, "And so that's why I wrote this — to hopefully bring it to the fore and people can address it." (For ages 4 to 8)

I Am Enough

"I'm not meant to be like you; you're not meant to be like me," writes actor and author Grace Byers. "Sometimes we will get along, and sometimes we will disagree." But as kids will learn from I Am Enough, like the sun, we're all here to shine. (For ages 4 to 8)

Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse

Lilly loves everything, especially her purple plastic purse full of treasures. She even loves her teacher Mr. Slinger — but when the wondrous purse and its contents keep interrupting his lessons, he confiscates it, leading Lilly to attempt revenge. Luckily, her favorite teacher understands her emotions. (For ages 4 to 8)

The Proudest Blue

A Story of Hijab and Family

Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad was bullied as a child for wearing a hijab. She decided to turn that experience into this lovely tale of two sisters, Faizah and Asiya, who confront a playground bully threatening to yank Asiya's blue hijab off her head. Muhammad told NPR she hopes little girls wearing hijabs will "see themselves in this work." (For ages 4 to 8)

Each Kindness

So many great Jacqueline Woodson books, so little space! We settle on Each Kindness, gorgeously illustrated by E.B. Lewis. Maya is the new girl at school, with ragged clothes and the wrong shoes for winter. No one wants to play with her — not even Chloe, who sits next to her, and eventually has to deal with the results of her unkindness. (For ages 5 to 8)

Wherever I Go

Abia is the queen of the Shimelba refugee camp — because she's been there the longest of any of her friends, and she rules her domain with love and an acacia-twig crown. Wherever I Go is a heartfelt portrait of life in a refugee family, and a meditation on the idea of home. Is the camp home? What about the "forever home" Abia's Papa dreams of? And will she still be a queen when she gets there? (For ages 6 to 9)

Front Desk

10-year-old Mia Tang mans the desk at her family's motel — and helps keep its biggest secret: Her parents hide immigrants, letting them stay for free in empty rooms. And she wants to be a writer, but English isn't her first language. Writer Kelly Yang based this powerful story on her own experience, and the stories of the immigrants who stayed at her family's motels. (For ages 8 to 12)

Family Life

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

When Alexander wakes up with gum in his hair, he knows nothing good is coming. And he's right — there's no toy in his cereal, his teacher doesn't like his drawing and there's kissing on TV. A great read for anyone who's ever been down in the dumps. Even grown-ups can take solace in Alexander's troubles — poll judge Juanita Giles says it was the book she chose to read at her mother's bedside on her last day. (For ages 2 to 4)

Fry Bread

A Native American Family Story

Author Kevin Noble Maillard — who's part of the Seminole Nation — told NPR he had a hard time finding books about Native Americans that weren't about historical figures like Sacagawea or Pocahontas. "Nothing about people alive that were wearing sneakers, that were eating candy, or making cakes with their grandma." So he created this ode to a favorite food that brings Native families together. (For ages 3 to 6)

A Chair for My Mother

Rosa's mom works in a diner — and so does Rosa, sometimes, peeling onions, washing salt shakers and saving her pennies to buy her mom a comfortable chair because all their furniture was lost in a fire that turned their apartment to "charcoal and ashes." And bit by bit, with hard work and cooperation, Rosa and her mom find the perfect chair. (For ages 4 to 8)

My Papi Has a Motorcycle

Daisy Ramona waits every day for her Papi to come home from work — because then she gets to ride around their city on the back of his motorcycle. Writer Isabel Quintero told NPR the story is a loving tribute to her own father, and her childhood in Corona, Calif. "It is very specific, but it's also a story that especially Latinx kids in other parts of the country can enjoy or relate to." Zeke Peña's warm, bustling illustrations bring those childhood memories to life. (For ages 4 to 8)

Drawn Together

As a child, Minh Lê loved his grandparents but didn't really know what to say to them. He works through that awkwardness in Drawn Together, about a boy and his grandfather who learn to connect through their mutual love of art. "And then their relationship kind of takes off from there," Lê told NPR. (For ages 4 to 8)

Meet Yasmin! (series)

Yasmin is a spunky second-grader who tries out all kinds of occupations — superhero, writer, chef, zookeeper — whether or not she actually knows what's involved. But she always has fun, thanks to her quick thinking and support from her big Pakistani American family. (For ages 5 to 8)

Hair Love

Based on the Oscar-winning short film, this lovely story of a dad learning to do his daughter's hair, which "kinks, coils and curves every which way," will leave you sniffling fondly. Creator Matthew Cherry told NPR he was inspired by friends of his who are young fathers, and "they're all willing to do whatever it takes for their young girls." (For ages 4 to 8)

A Different Pond

by Bao Phi and Thi Bui

Hours before the sun came up, Bao Phi's father would wake him — quietly — for a fishing trip. Not for fun, but to feed their family. And as they fished, Bao's father would tell him stories about another pond back in their homeland of Vietnam. Thi Bui's gorgeous, quiet illustrations are perfect for this lovely story of the bond between father and son. (For ages 6 to 8)

The Boxcar Children (series)

No one knows what to do with orphaned siblings Henry, Violet, Jessie and Bennie — and they don't want to live with the grandfather they've never met. So they set up house in an abandoned boxcar and try to make it on their own. But that's just the first of more than 150 Boxcar Children adventures — eventually reconciled with their grandfather (who turns out to be both rich and quite nice), they end up as amateur sleuths in the tradition of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. (For ages 7 to 10)

Animal (and Monster) Friends

Stellaluna

Fact: Bats are adorable, and few bats are more adorable than Stellaluna, the little one who gets lost when an owl dives at her mother and ends up trying to fit in with a nest full of baby birds. Janell Cannon's glowing illustrations, paired with a couple of pages of fun facts about bats, make this a great book for budding naturalists (or anyone who understands that yes, bats are adorable). (For ages 0 to 3)

Corduroy, by Don Freeman Viking Books for Young Readers hide caption

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Viking Books for Young Readers

Corduroy

Corduroy the bear sits on a shelf in a department store, longing for a friend — but little Lisa's mother refuses to buy him. He's missing a button after all. Corduroy's after-hours search for his missing button leads to escalating mischief and a story that's great for anyone who's ever wondered whether toys come to life when you aren't looking. (For ages 2 to 5)

The Story of Ferdinand

Peaceful Ferdinand just wants to be left alone, to sit under his cork tree sniffing the flowers — and when he ends up in the bullring, his refusal to fight (the flowers in the lady spectators' hair are so much more interesting) confounds the bullfighters. A classic tale of pacifism and being true to yourself. (For ages 3 to 5)

A Sick Day for Amos McGee

Amos McGee is a zookeeper, and a kind and punctual fellow. He's always on the same bus every morning, and he always has time to visit his animal friends. But one day, he wakes up with a cold and decides to stay in bed, so his worried animal friends jump on the bus to visit him. A lovely, gentle story about what friends can do for each other. (For ages 3 to 6)

Mother Bruce (series)

Oh, no! Bruce, the grumpy, solitary bear, loves to eat eggs — except these eggs happen to be full of goslings, and Bruce finds himself with a feathery family he doesn't know what to do with. And it's not just geese — mice, possums, foxes and more all pile into Bruce's den. (For age 3 to 5)

The Monster at the End of this Book

Don't turn the page! Don't you know there's a monster at the end of this book? "Lovable, furry old Grover" does his best to keep kids from turning the pages — but all his efforts can't prevent readers from discovering who the monster actually is. Oh no! So embarrassing! (For ages 3 to 7)

Blueberries for Sal

You guys voted in a lot of Robert McCloskey books! But the judges felt Blueberries for Sal was the most compelling read. Sal and her mother head to Blueberry Hill to pick berries for canning; meanwhile a mother bear and her cub are fattening themselves for winter on the other side of the hill, and mix-ups ensue. First published in 1948, this tale of two mothers, two children and a bucket of blueberries is still charming young readers. (For ages 3 to 7)

Bowwow Powwow

Windy Girl loves the stories her uncle tells about long-ago powwows. And she loves the real-life powwows she goes to with her uncle and her dog, Itchy Boy. One night, lulled to sleep by drums, she dreams of an all-dog powwow, with all kinds of breeds dancing drumming, even selling Indian fast food to the attendees. It's a joyous, funny book that gives young readers a look at an important tradition. (For ages 3 to 7)

Catwings (series)

Putting together these lists is as much of a discovery experience as reading them is, and I'm especially glad to have discovered Catwings, Ursula K. LeGuin's tale of four tabby kittens inexplicably born with wings. Thelma, Jane, Harriet and Roger use their wings to fly far away from the dangerous alley where they were born, but they find country life has its own challenges. Steven D. Schindler's soft-edged illustrations will make you believe winged kittens might actually exist. (For ages 4 and up)

Hyperion Books for Children

Elephant & Piggie (series)

Readers voted in just about everything Mo Willems has ever written, but sadly, with only 100 slots on the list, we could only keep one (although we cheated a little by picking a series). Elephant and Piggie are funny, adorable cartoon animals, but they have to work through the same serious issues — sharing, patience, new friendships, sadness — that all kids face as they grow up. (For ages 4 to 8)

Henry and Mudge (series)

Lonely little Henry has no brothers and sisters. He doesn't like the street he lives on, and then his parents get him Mudge, a dog who's considerably bigger than he is. It's pretty great to have a giant dog because then when you walk to school, you can think about ice cream and rain instead of tornadoes or ghosts. (For ages 5 to 7)

Mercy Watson (series)

Kate DiCamillo is another author who showed up all over the original list of nominations, but our judges thought this series about a terrific, radiant little pig — who likes buttered toast, car rides and solving the occasional mystery — was the pick of the litter. Chris Van Dusen's lively, sweet-natured illustrations helped seal the deal. (For ages 5 to 8)

Dog Man (series)

You can't have a kids' books list without Dav Pilkey. So here comes Dog Man: Half dog, half cop, this gruff crime fighter is here to sniff out wrongdoing, especially when it involves his nemesis Petey the Cat, who cooks up crimes in his secret cat lab. (For ages 7 and up)

Folktales And Fairy Tales

Strega Nona

Strega Nona should have known better than to leave Big Anthony alone with her magic pasta pot! He's only supposed to look after her house and garden — but one day when she's away, he decides to make the pot produce dinner for the whole town. You can pretty much guess what happens after that. A terrible pasta flood might be scary, but Tomie dePaola's velvety illustrations reassure little readers that everything will be alright in the end, if a little sticky. (For ages 2 to 5)

The Mitten

Jan Brett's luminous art brings this Ukrainian folktale about a careless boy and a snow-white mitten to life. Nicki demands mittens knitted from wool as white as the snow — which his grandmother knows is impractical, but she humors him. When he drops one in the snow, a host of animals come to investigate, even a bear. (For ages 3 to 5)

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales

Little kids are goofy and frequently gross, we all know that — so Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith's gleefully surreal inversion of familiar fairy tales is perfect for little readers. (And you don't actually have to be a little kid to laugh your ... hiney ... off at just the table of contents, even before you get to stories like "Little Red Running Shorts" and "Cinderumpelstiltsin.") (For ages 3 to 7)

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

A Big Mooncake for Little Star

Any kid who has looked up at the moon and wondered why it changes shape will love the story of Little Star — who bakes a mooncake with her mother, and then can't resist a nibble ... and then another nibble ... and then another nibble. You'll want a mooncake of your own (and a set of sparkly, starry pajamas, too). (For ages 4 to 8)

Beautiful Blackbird

Long ago, the birds of Africa were all the colors of the rainbow — but none of them had any black, because Blackbird had it all. So they asked Blackbird to give them some of his beautiful color. Ashley Bryan's paper-cut illustrations, reminiscent of Henri Matisse, bring this story of envy, beauty and acceptance to gorgeous life. (For ages 3 to 8)

Extra Yarn

Annabel finds what looks like an ordinary box full of ordinary yarn — but it's enough to clothe, brighten and bind together a whole town in colorful knitted cozies. And when a sinister archduke tries to grab the box for himself, he learns that crime doesn't pay. A lovely story about a girl who has the power to change the world around her. (For ages 4 to 8)

The Princess in Black (series)

A princess? A superhero? Why not both?! Princess Magnolia — inspired by author Shannon Hale's daughter, who insisted that princesses couldn't wear black — can have scones with duchesses AND fight monsters, or a mysterious stinky cloud, or a sea monster (some princesses just can't catch a break, even on the beach). (For ages 5 to 8)

The People Could Fly

American Black Folktales

Virginia Hamilton — herself descended from enslaved people who escaped via the Underground Railroad — retells Black folktales like "He Lion, Bruh Bear and Bruh Rabbit" and "How Nehemiah Got Free" in a simple, powerful style. Put that together with Leo and Diane Dillon's luscious illustrations and you have an almost perfect story-hour read. (For ages 8 and up)

A Wish in the Dark

A fantastical, Thai-inspired twist on Les Misérables. In the city of Chattana, all the light was created by one man, the Governor. To Pong, born in prison, those lights mean freedom, but when he escapes he discovers that freedom is only for the wealthy. Nok, the prison warden's daughter, is determined to recapture Pong — but her quest leads her to some uncomfortable revelations. (For ages 8 to 12)

My Father's Dragon

Childhood surrealism at its best. If you like The Phantom Tollbooth, try this story about a little boy named Elmer Elevator (the narrator's father as a child) who befriends a talking alley cat that sets him on his way to a grand adventure on a wild island — past muddy rivers, fierce tigers and fashionable lions — to rescue a yellow-and-blue-striped dragon. (For ages 8 to 12)

Fun To Read Out Loud

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Chicka Chicka series)

"A told B and B told C, I'll meet you at the top of the coconut tree." A read-aloud classic, this rollicking alphabet rhyme has all the letters racing one another up a coconut tree. "Chicka Chicka boom boom! Will there be enough room?" We defy you to read this to a kid and not end up dancing. (For ages 1 to 4)

A Is for Activist

Innosanto Nagara's ABCs of activism simplifies ideas about environmentalism, feminism, civil rights and democracy for the littlest readers. Bold, bright illustrations and lively rhymes make this a solid read-aloud choice, too. (Oh, and there's a cat hiding on every page, too — can you find it?) (For ages 3 to 7)

The Gruffalo

There's no such thing as a Gruffalo! Or is there? A savvy mouse avoids the clutches of a fox by invoking the terrible Gruffalo — setting off an increasingly ridiculous (and delightful) chain of events, all told in rhyming couplets that are all kinds of fun to read aloud. (For ages 3 to 5)

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel

Story and Pictures

Who doesn't love a big chunk of heavy machinery? First published in 1939, Virginia Lee Burton's tale of Mike Mulligan and his steam shovel, Mary Anne, has inspired decades of sandbox excavation projects — and, memorably, it also prompted Ramona Quimby to wonder out loud whether Mike ever had time to go to the bathroom. (For ages 4 to 7)

Bark, George

George is a little dog who just can't bark. He can meow and oink and quack — but barking? Nope. When his frustrated mother takes George to the vet, the answer to his problem turns out to be quite the surprise. Jules Feiffer's illustrations are minimalist but incredibly expressive — plus, it's just fun to yell MOO and OINK and QUACK QUACK! (For ages 4 to 8)

Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads

Drywater Gulch has a toad problem — specifically the unmannerly Toad brothers, who will steal your gold and insult your chili. But then hope arrives — sloooowly on tortoise-back — in the form of 7-year-old Kid Sheriff Ryan, who may not know about toads specifically, but he does know about dinosaurs. And that might just be enough. (For ages 4 to 8)

Ada Twist, Scientist (series)

Young Ada is insatiably curious: "She started with Why? And then What? How? and When? By bedtime she came back to Why? once again." From why roses have thorns to why noses have hair — and what's that stink in the house? — Ada Twist considers all the things. From the team that created Iggy Peck, Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer. (For ages 5 to 7)

The Book With No Pictures

Yup, it really doesn't have any pictures. But, as author B.J. Novak points out, "Here is how books work: Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say." And we bet the kids in your life will love making you say things like "BLORK" or "My only friend in the whole wide world is a hippo named BOO BOO BUTT" or "BADOONGYFACE!!!!" (For ages 5 to 8)

Where the Sidewalk Ends

The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein

How many of you, reading this page, still have chunks of Where the Sidewalk Ends memorized? Do you think of Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout when you have to take the garbage out? Do you pause in the produce aisle and think about one real peach? And if you don't, why not? (For ages 6 to 8)

Nonfiction

Hidden Figures

The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Margot Lee Shetterly adapts her groundbreaking book about Black female mathematicians at NASA for young readers, with sharp-edged, jewel-toned illustrations by Laura Freeman. A great pick for any budding mathematician or astronaut — and for any parent needing to teach their kids at home. (For ages 4 to 8)

Schwartz & Wade

The Oldest Student

How Mary Walker Learned to Read

Mary Walker's life stretched all the way from the Civil War to the civil rights movement. She was born into slavery in 1848, freed at 15, worked all kinds of jobs to support her family and then outlived them all — and in 1963, she enrolled in a literacy class where she learned to read and write. Oge Mora's painterly illustrations are a beautiful complement to this story about how you're never too old to learn. (For ages 4 to 8)

Josephine

The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

This gorgeous book will introduce kids to the glory of Josephine Baker — not just her fabulous dance routines, but her life of activism and service, including speaking alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. Patricia Hruby Powell's jazz-inflected words and Christian Robinson's bright, exciting pictures make this book a treat for readers and listeners. (For ages 7 to 10)

Early Chapter Books

Frog and Toad (series)

Amphibians, sport coats and lasting friendship. Over the course of four books, Frog and Toad go swimming and sledding, search for lost buttons, bake cookies, grow gardens and generally have fun together all year round. If only adult friendships were as simple and solid as Frog and Toad's! (For ages 4 to 8)

Little Bear (series)

Else Holmelund Minarik wrote this tale of a Bear and his Mother for her own daughter, to read in the mornings before school — longhand, as she wrote all her manuscripts, because she never learned to type. Together with Maurice Sendak's delightfully shaggy illustrations, Minarik's gentle words are perfect for the littlest readers. (For ages 4 to 8)

Anna Hibiscus (series)

Anna Hibiscus lives in "Africa, amazing Africa," in a compound with her large and loving family. Nigerian storyteller Atinuke spins a wonderful saga of modern West African family life — follow along with Anna as she learns about the world outside her walls, faces stage fright and even snow for the first time. (For ages 4 to 10)

Juana & Lucas (series)

Juana lives in Bogotá, Colombia, and she loves drawing, her dog Lucas and Brussels sprouts. (Did you know they're called repollitas in Spanish?) This is a lively, loving tour of Juana's world, liberally sprinkled with Spanish words to learn as you go — meanwhile, Juana has to practice her English, and she's really not happy about that. (For ages 5 to 8)

Dory Fantasmagory (series)

Dory is the youngest in her family, with a yen for attention and an overactive imagination — and did we mention her nemesis, Mrs. Gobble Cracker? Young readers will love following along with Dory as she battles everything from monsters around the house to pirates to more mundane concerns like making and keeping friends. (For ages 6 to 8)

Junie B. Jones (series)

Junie B. Jones is almost 6 years old! And she's really excited about everything, especially spaghetti and meatballs. The B stands for Beatrice, by the way. This series made the American Library Association's list of 100 top banned or challenged books from 2000 to 2009; apparently, some grown-ups thought sassy, mouthy Junie wasn't a good role model. We disagree. (For ages 6 to 9)

Ivy + Bean (series)

Ivy is quiet; Bean is loud and goofy. Ivy wants to be a witch, Bean wants to play games. Naturally, they're going to end up being best friends and getting into all kinds of scrapes together since their approach to pretty much everything — from discovering dinosaurs to starting their own summer camp — is "Why not?" (For ages 6 to 10)

Clementine (series)

Spunky, redheaded third-grader Clementine starts this series by having a seriously bad week (how many times is she going to get sent to the principal?), but we promise things will get better. Fans of Ramona Quimby will get a kick out of Clementine, her brother Spinach (that's not really his name) and her sort-of-snooty best friend Margaret. (For ages 6 to 10)

Older Readers

Ways to Make Sunshine

Ryan Hart wants to see the good in everybody — even when she gets teased for having a boy's name. She has a lot to deal with — her dad's been laid off and the family has to move to a smaller house. But when Ryan runs into problems, she's always looking for ways to make sunshine. (For ages 7 to 10)

Ratburger

A delightfully gruesome tale in the Roald Dahl vein. Sheila lives with her father and unpleasant stepmother; she's bullied by a classmate and sneered at by her teacher. Her only friend is a rat she names Armitage, after the brand of toilet in her apartment — but could scary Burt, who sells burgers from a food truck outside her school, be making his burgers out of ground-up rat? (For ages 8 and up)

The Trumpet of the Swan

This book is responsible for my attempt, at age 7, to have a conversation with the swans at the National Zoo by standing outside their enclosure yelling "Ko-hooo!" E.B. White wrote a full shelf of children's classics, but this story about a mute trumpeter swan — who woos his lady love with an actual trumpet — should get more attention than it does. (For ages 8 to 12)

From the Desk of Zoe Washington

On her 12th birthday, Zoe Washington gets a letter from the father she's never met, who's in prison for a crime he says he didn't commit. Is he innocent? Zoe decides to find out — but it's hard to keep her investigation secret from the rest of the family AND stay on top of things at her bakery internship so she can achieve her dream of competing on a TV baking show. (For ages 8 to 12)

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale Of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, And A Very Interesting Boy

Fans of Ballet Shoes and the Green Knowe books will love this tale of four sisters who go to spend their summer vacation in a cottage on the grounds of a grand mansion. Each sister has a unique, winning personality; young readers will finish the first book and want to spend more time with them. Luckily, there are four more Penderwicks books. (For ages 8 to 12)

New Kid

Fans of Raina Telgemeier will love Jerry Craft's sympathetic graphic novel about seventh-grader Jordan, who's trying to fit in at the fancy new private school where he's one of the few kids of color in his grade. And all he really wants to do is draw comics — so how can he stay true to himself and his neighborhood, and still figure out his new school? (For ages 8 to 12)

The Wild Robot

Roz the robot wakes up on a remote island — how did she get there? Who knows! All she knows is that she has to survive. And surviving involves making friends with otters and baby geese, climbing cliffs and avoiding storms — until Roz finally remembers who she is and why she's on the island. (For ages 8 to 12)

Klawde: Evil Alien Warlord Cat (series)

Lots of people think their cats are aliens — but Klawde really is one. Once the High Commander of the planet Lyttyrboks, he's lost his throne and been exiled to earth, so he has something in common with Raj Banerjee, who's been exiled to rural Oregon because of his mom's new job. The chapters switch back and forth between Raj and Klawde, whose narration of his new life has the hilariously overamped hysteria of the best B-movies. (For ages 8 to 12)

Betsy-Tacy

We always say that these polls don't produce ranked lists — and they truly don't — but I'd be remiss in not pointing out that Maud Hart Lovelace's Betsy-Tacy books, about the enduring friendship between two young girls — got the most votes of any book on this list. The series grows up with its readers; at the beginning, Betsy and Tacy are small children; we see them through adventures fanciful and down-to-earth, and finally leave them as young married women. (For ages 8 to 12)

Ronia, the Robber's Daughter

Sure, Pippi Longstocking is great — but have you met Ronia, the robber's daughter? Born in her father's castle in the middle of a thunderstorm, Ronia grows up compassionate and brave. She befriends Birk, the son of a rival robber, and when she brings him food during a harsh winter, her father disowns her; she ends up living an adventurous life in the woods with Birk. (Don't worry, everyone is reconciled in the end.) (For ages 8 to 12)

Encyclopedia Brown Boy Detective

A classic! Leroy Brown (not the bad one) is a 10-year-old genius who solves mysteries for 25 cents a day (no case too small) — often for his police chief dad, and often involving his nemesis, the bully Bugs Meany — alongside his pal and partner Sally Kimball, who often solves the case by noticing things Encyclopedia doesn't. (For ages 8 to 12)

Stargazing

Quiet, studious Christine and lively, messy Moon are unlikely friends — but when Moon and her family move in next door, they form a close bond. Moon has a secret: She sees heavenly visions, hears voices that tell her she doesn't belong on earth. But those visions have a terrible earthly cause, and Christine has to find it in herself to be the friend Moon needs as she fights for her life. Jen Wang based this heartfelt story of friendship through adversity — which was a 2019 Book Concierge pick — on her own childhood. (For ages 8 to 12)

The Jumbies (series)

Fair warning — Tracey Baptiste's Jumbies books, based on Caribbean folklore, are scary. REALLY scary. But Corinne La Mer isn't afraid of anything, especially jumbies, since everyone knows they're just made up, right? But then one night she sees yellow eyes shining in the forest ... and soon, she finds she has to use all her wiles to keep the jumbies away from her island. (For ages 9 to 12)

Wells & Wong mysteries (series)

Best friends Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong do what any enterprising young women at boarding school would do: They form a detective agency — and quickly run up against their first real case when Hazel finds the body of their science teacher sprawled on the gymnasium floor. And that's just the beginning for this detective duo and their strangely murder-prone school. (For ages 10 and up)

Better Nate Than Ever (series)

The budding drama club kids in your life will love this trilogy about a small-town boy with big Broadway dreams. Nate Foster longs to get away from Jankburg, Pa., to star in a Broadway show (or even just see one). And then something amazing happens: There's an open casting call for a Broadway musical based on E.T. He just has to get there. (For ages 10 and up)

Prairie Lotus

We did not include the Little House books on this list — they're already part of the Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf. But readers wanting a frontier tale will find a friend in Hanna, a mixed-race girl growing up in the Dakota territory in 1880. Author Linda Sue Park made the parallels between Hanna and Laura Ingalls deliberate — as she writes in her author's note, she loved the Little House books as a child, but she knew Ma and Pa Ingalls wouldn't have let Laura "become friends with someone like me ... someone who wasn't white." (For ages 10 to 12)