I think there are more children’s books in existence than there are children in the world. Honestly, I have no idea of either number, but I think we can all agree that the number of books available to kids seems to be limitless. So how does one know where to begin? Does it even matter what they read as long as they’re reading? Are all books created equally? Are there any books that are so crucial to my kid’s development that he will be seriously deprived if he doesn’t grow up having at least seen them? How will I know if he’ll even be interested in what I pick? What if he doesn’t ever learn how wonderful books are and grows up to think reading is boring? I’ll admit maybe I’ve overthought this whole thing, but what I know is that I’m no authority on children’s books. My kids seem to know when they find something they like, but it seems like there must be a better way of choosing books then pulling books randomly off the library shelf.
My method of tackling this problem was to check out a book specifically on kid’s books: 100 Best Books for Children by Anita Silvey. This person definitely seemed like someone who knew what she was talking about as she spent years as a children’s book publisher. However, while I definitely trusted her recommendations, I quickly needed another list as my child had already read most of the books in her 0-2 year age range. So I chose another one: 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up by Julia Eccleshare. Now I had the opposite problem as this book had an overwhelming number of books to choose from, but I did notice a great deal of overlap. It’s nice to have one authority recommend a book, but if the same book has two stamps of approval, isn’t that better? Following this methodology, so far I’ve cross-referenced 5 sources, with plans to include more:
- 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up
- 100 Best Books for Children
- The Read-Aloud Handbook
- Babies Need Books
- Valerie and Walter’s Best Books for Children
*** Update: Since initially writing this page, I’ve added the following references:
- What to Read When
- Best Books for Boys: A Resource for Educators
- The New York Times Parent’s Guide to the Best Books for Children
What I’ve found has surprised me. For example, the most recommended books for babies and toddlers are The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?. Don’t get me wrong, these books are extremely well-known and enjoyed by my kids as much as the next. However, I know I’m not the target audience, but are they really on a plane of their own, above every other children’s book in that age group out there? The fact that I’d even ask the question clearly demonstrates that I’m not an authority on the subject.
There are some flaws with this method. First, any book published can only recommend books that came out before publication, so newer books are unfortunately less-represented, though you can find some of them among our Personal Family Favorites. I’ve thought about alleviating this problem by using online book lists, but I’ve decided against it at least for the time being, partially due to lack of time and partially due to the second concern. Namely, what makes one author of best books for kids as good as the next? How do we know they’re not all just copying each other or picking the safe choices? Well, we don’t, but I have to assume that if someone paid them to write the book and other people paid to buy the book, their opinion must have real value. A third issue is how to assign a given book to age groups as different sources disagree on appropriate ages and some recommendations are based on listening ages vs. reading ages. I’ve attempted to place books in age groups based on difficulty and maturity levels with the understanding that any child is welcome to read books from any age group. My preschooler has personal favorites included in both the babies and kindergarten lists. If you believe a book should be added or removed from any age group, feel free to let me know.
I don’t expect these compiled, cross-referenced lists to be a final answer regarding which kid’s books should be read and which ones should be ignored. I still let my preschooler come home with bags full of random books from the library. However, I hope that they will be a useful starting point and a helpful guide in choosing books for your kids.
Best Books for Kids
Best Books for Babies and Toddlers
Best Books for Preschoolers
Best Books for Kindergarteners
Best Books for Early Elementary
Best Books for Mid Elementary
Best Books for Late Elementary
Best Books for Middle School