48 must-have children’s books to add to your collection

Audrey’s sweet dormer window reading nook would not be nearly as sweet if it were not for the adorable illustrated children’s books on display.

For as long as I can remember I have loved picture books. As a child I would study the illustrations of my favorites – Blueberries for Sal, The Bremen-town Musicians, Caps for Sale, Go, Dog. Go! – I can still remember pictures and hear my mom’s voice saying, “kuplink, kuplank, kuplunk!” and “Caps for Sale! Caps! Fifty cents a cap!“.

Picture books are pure magic.

My sophomore year of college my best friend and I shared an apartment. She brought a couch, coffee table, tv; I brought a small stack of favorite picture books. Now looking back, this seems like a strange thing for a 19 year old to travel with from Washington to Southern California, but I guess I felt they were important at the time. I don’t know if I ever opened the books that year, but they sat next to the couch and I saw them everyday. Fun fact: those same books from way back then are up on Audrey’s shelves today.

We have made it a tradition that for the kids’ birthdays and holidays, they get a new picture book. With four kids, lots of birthdays and holidays and a mom who can’t get enough, our collection is solid and continually growing.

Very soon, all four kids will have aged out of picture books, but you better believe I’ll still be enjoying the children’s section at the bookstore and walking out with a small stack.

We have so many favorite books. I thought it might be fun and helpful to have a big list of favorites, all of which are included in our little library.

So, in no particular order, here are 48 must-haves for your picture book collection:

The Jolly Postman

You’re All My Favorites

Guess How Much I Love You

King Hugo’s Huge Ego (get this one!)

Toot + Puddle 

Elephant and Piggie


Sam and Dave Dig A Hole (get this one, too!)

Kiki + Coco In Paris (so adorable)

Lulu + Pip

Learning To Ski With Mr. Magee


Baby Wren and The Great Gift

Triangle (we love everything by this author/illustrator combo)

Extra Yarn

I Want My Hat Back

We Found A Hat

The Day The Crayons Quit (clever, clever, clever)

The Day The Crayons Came Home

Paul Meets Bernadette

Angelina Ballerina

Penguin Problems


The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, And The Big, Hungry Bear

I Had A Favorite Dress (best illustrations)

Birdie’s Big Girl Shoes

Birdie’s Big Girl Dress

Just Being Audrey


Mr. Tiger Goes Wild

The Book With No Pictures

The Circus Ship (love this one)

Bear Snores On

Llama Llama Red Pajama

We’re Going On A Bear Hunt

Sleepy Bears

Bats At The Ballgame

How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight?

Today I feel Silly

Blueberries For Sal

Imogene’s Antlers

Where The Wild Things Are

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie

The Napping House

Julius, The Baby Of The World

The Princess And The Pig

Henry’s Bright Idea

Press Here

Well, that was fun! I hope this list is a helpful resource for adding books to your collection!

39 Responses to 48 must-have children’s books to add to your collection

  1. May June 16, 2018 at 7:17 am #

    Where did the shelves come from? Would like them in my baby’s room.

  2. A September 25, 2017 at 3:32 am #

    I still have my beloved children’s books in my bedroom. They fit in wonderfully with my current favorite adult novels, travel guides, classical literature and cookbooks. 😊 That being said, I put quality over quantity so I don’t have piles of unread or forgettable books without a personal meaning.

  3. Chelsea May 10, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    Thank you for sharing these! I had ordered Mr. Tiger Goes Wild for my 3-year-old son per an earlier recommendation from you, and we LOVE it. Tonight at the library we picked up some from your list that we are already loving – How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night, The Jolly Postman, and Toot and Puddle. (The illustrations for Toot and Puddle are a dream. Gotta order that one.) Blueberries For Sal was one of my childhood faves, along with Make Way For Ducklings and anything by Richard Scarry.

  4. Darcey May 9, 2017 at 11:26 pm #

    Why is there no “The Monster at the End of This Book”? That was always my favorite,

  5. Courtney May 8, 2017 at 5:14 pm #

    I share the same sweet obsession! We home school and found a curriculum that uses picture books as the main source of teaching. I loved it (and my obsession grew). Since you are probably a bigger fan than your kids, check out “you are special” by Max Lucado. I bought it at 15 and still love it!

  6. Aviva Shaw May 8, 2017 at 4:34 pm #

    So happy to see all the Chris Van Dusen books in your collection! He lives here in Maine and visited the local book store in Portland (Maine), we brought our whole collection to sign! He’s amazing, a very sweet guy and beautiful illustrator. ‘The Circus Ship’ is loosely based on a ship that went missing off the coast of Maine too!

  7. Kristin May 7, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

    We lcan be Birdies Big girl Shoes and Birdies Big Girl Dress! Such fun reads for our three little ladies!

    • Kristin May 7, 2017 at 7:50 pm #

      Meant to type we love, not lean… ugh!!

  8. Carol May 7, 2017 at 7:17 pm #

    Children’s picture books lover here, too. With my three we also have most of these in our home. Some of our very favorites are: Mailing May, Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel and Harry, the Dirty Dog.

  9. Jennifer May 7, 2017 at 7:09 pm #

    Emily–Thanks for the suggestions. I have two boys, 8 and 10 and I still read picture books to them. I will definitely try some on your list that we haven’t read. My all-time favorite that you must read is, “All the World,” by Liz Garton Scanlon. I love the illustrations, the rhyming prose, and the message. A few more recommendations: Miss Nelson is Missing! (three in series from the 70s) by James Marshall, Skippyjon Jones (series) by Judy Schacher, and The Art Collector by Jan Wahl. Hope you enjoy!

  10. Joli May 7, 2017 at 1:38 pm #

    Thank you so much for this list, Emily! My two youngest are 2 and 5 years old, so we are (thankfully) still right in the thick of reading picture books (my older four don’t mind listening in…although they might not admit it!). I just requested a WHOLE LOT of books from our library!

  11. Jenny May 7, 2017 at 6:00 am #

    I love picture books as well. Unfortunately, my kids have aged out of them, and it makes me sad. I decided I too can keep collecting them, as someday (in many many years) I will have Grand kids to read them to. Something about sweet picture books just make me happy. Thanks for sharing your list. Also, if you are wanting to add to your collection… one of my favorites is, The Sparrow’s Easter Song, by Michelle Medlock Adams. The whole thing is so well done. :)

  12. Amanda May 6, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

    Thank you so much for taking time to post this lovely updated list, Emily!

  13. Cindy Wigton May 6, 2017 at 11:25 am #

    Thank you Emily!! I see many titles that are new and unfamiliar and that will be fun to add to our library from the time our four kiddos were growing up. Story time was a big deal then and now! We have a three year old grandson who will no doubt love and appreciate what you’ve taken the time to share here. Btw, the way you’ve displayed your family’s collection is wonderful.

  14. Brittany May 6, 2017 at 10:59 am #

    I love this post! Like you, my mother and I have a profound love for books, especially children’s books! In fact, when I got married and moved out my mother and fought over what books I could take. I have a few suggestions that are favorites from my childhood: The Warm Fuzzies Tale, Tiki Tiki Tembo, Ferdinand the Bull, Prince Papaji (also known as Little Black Sambo) and The Twelve Dancing Princesses. At Christmas time, my mom would gather all of our Christmas books and put them in a basket next to the tree and she would read to us by the tree every night. One of my Christmas favorites was Something From Nothing. I always love to see others who enjoy reading and art of children’s books as much as I do!

  15. Monica May 6, 2017 at 7:42 am #

    Love this post Emily!! I too have 4 kids (all boys!!) and we always had the tradition of giving picture books for every holiday as well. Before I had children I taught kindergarten and second grade, so my love for children’s lit goes way back.
    Some of my favorites are “Make way for ducklings” (from my childhood), “Love you forever”, “The giving tree”, “goodnight moon”, and of course anything from Dr. Suess. So many book I can still recite the words without looking at the text. I have saved my favorite for when I have grandkids.
    Nothing better than picture books!!!
    Thank you for sharing your list.

  16. Kelly May 5, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

    Another great book is the paper bag Princess one of my favorites when I was little😉❤

  17. Christy Jones May 5, 2017 at 8:29 pm #

    Blueberries For Sal!!! My mom just bought a used copy for my son who turned 2 on Saturday. It’s the most beloved book I can recall from childhood. So glad you mentioned it. We also love Make Way For Ducklings since we have family in Boston. Classic!

  18. Lindsay May 5, 2017 at 5:09 pm #

    Oh my gosh The Little Mouse, the Big Red Strawberry and the Big, Hungry Bear was one of my absolute favourites growing up!

  19. Tiff May 5, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

    Thank goodness for libraries and used book sellers, I can easily spend a small fortune on books here are just so many of interest!

    One thing that I’ve started doing over the past few years is to be intentional to select a range of books which include diverse characters. I now intentionally seek out children’s books with people of color- Black, Native American, Hispanic, S. American, Asian… I’m still on the hunt for books featuring Sri Lankan or Indian people.

    We live in a society where systemic racism is so prevalent and white people like me can be unaware of the way society is set up to favor us.

    I couldn’t help but notice all of the people on the covers of the books you listed were white… and that sounds not entirely surprising. In 2015 a study of 3,200 children’s books published in the US found only 14 percent had black, Latino, Asian, or Native American main characters. I feel it truly is our responsibilty to actively seek out diversity for our children. It’s a small but meaningful way to demand and promote racial equality.

    In addition to racial and ethnic diversity I work to include:

    Books with people with disabilities, people wearing glasses and hearing aids, people of all shapes and sizes.

    Books (such as on the brilliant list at http://www.amightygirl.com/ ) which show girls and women who refuse to be confined to gender stereotypical roles. And books which show men and boys also breaking free of gender stereotypes and being free to be themselves. (Despite my efforts the tired old ‘helpless princess who needs to be rescued by a brave man’ story has proven so popular as to be unavoidable, sigh).

    Books with diverse family constellations- single parent families, same sex parent day families, children living with grandparents or in foster care, books which mention adoption.

    It’s become a project I really enjoy. Hopefully others will too.

    • Angie May 10, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

      Check out stories by Patricia Polacco, all beautifully illustrated and richly wonderful stories!

  20. Jesse May Danson May 5, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    I’m so happy you listed all the books for us! In your last post, I was trying desperately trying to read the titles. ;)

  21. Brittney May 5, 2017 at 3:00 pm #

    I love your book Lists!

    Emily, I got “I Had A Favorite Dress” years ago when you recommended it, and have now purchased “Swatch: The Girl Who Loved Color” by the same illustrator. Have you read it yet? The art is breathtaking!! Also for the art, Flora and the Flamingo and Flora and the Penguin can’t be beat, and entire stories are conveyed with no words.

    The Jolly Postman and Heckedy Peg were my favorites as a child- anything by Don and Audrey Wood! King Bidgood’s In The Bathtub is hilarious.

  22. Julie Sullivan May 5, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

    Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban along with all the other Frances books are a MUST! Little Frances the badger likes to make up a little songs as you read along. I read them as a child and got them for mine, who loved them as much as I did!

    Thanks for your list and your beautiful site!

  23. Lara May 5, 2017 at 1:46 pm #

    Great list! I love picture books, too. Pumpkin Soup (by Helen Cooper) is one of my favourites, another must-have in my opinion!

  24. Maureen May 5, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    What a wonderful list! My adult children, including the boys, each took favorite picture books with them as they left home. There are deep heart connections with those books. If I could add only one book to your list, it would be The Gardener by Sarah Stewart. One of our most cherished books.

  25. Jen May 5, 2017 at 1:14 pm #

    This post just made my whole weekend (and my kids summer)! Thank you for sharing.

  26. Diana | Dahlias and Dimes May 5, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

    Thanks so much for the suggestions! We just shared how we built book ledges for our baby girl’s nursery and needed suggestions on books to fill them with. I’m definitely jotting these down! :)


  27. Ginny Mapes May 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    Don’t forget the 11th Commandment — buy books!

  28. Ginny Mapes May 5, 2017 at 11:59 am #


    Just a drop in the bucket — from one book lover to another.

    Check out my listings on Pinterest. “Books For Kids, Books Worth Reading [adult], and Children’s Chapter Books.

    PS, I was thinking if you added book shelves on the opposite wall it might look somewhat confining. —Just a thought.

    Place other books in baskets, or some other place. You can stage your favorites on those shelves and change them from time to time.

  29. Irene Talaasen May 5, 2017 at 11:55 am #

    Oh, Emily, that captured my heart too!! I am a retired Kindergarten teacher and still buy new picture books. You had some new ones on your list that I will add and my very favorite read aloud picture book is My Big Dog by Janet Stevens. It is out of print but can be found on AbeBooks.com Thank you for the list!! Love that you love all those books too; many of my favorites there!

  30. Sara May 5, 2017 at 11:42 am #

    I love your list! I personally love using picture books as guest books at events and finding books that match the theme of the event. My sister’s bridal shower was “Flamingos” theme and I came across this beautiful book – Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle. It was perfect! Last week at a women’s retreat, one of the presenters shared – Little Tree by Loren Long, which will soon be added to my collection. Glad to find other adults that continue to love picture books!

  31. Caryn May 5, 2017 at 11:30 am #

    This is a lovely post! Thank you for sharing. I am always looking for solid recommendations on children’s books and this list is A+ :)

  32. Bethany May 5, 2017 at 11:22 am #

    I was the same way in college (and beyond!). I used to go to the library and check some out, saying they were ‘for my niece and nephew’ but were just for me! And I still buy them even though my kids are in college now. Thanks for sharing your list! Now I am becoming a children’s book illustrator which has always been my dream!

  33. Sandy May 5, 2017 at 11:21 am #

    Love this! Do your older kids still love to read? Any suggestions in that department?

    • emily May 5, 2017 at 12:32 pm #

      My oldest has always loved reading – he is so fast and moves quickly through books. Our second has a different personality and could hardly sit through a board book as a baby. It has taken him until this year (5th grade) to really enjoy sitting long enough to read a book. He does enjoy it now. Our 3rd grader is becoming more of a reader. He still likes picture books and has (thankfully) moved on from the comic style books, like Big Nate and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Audrey now reads on her own (1st grade) but loves having us read to her.

      Just last night I went upstairs to tuck them in and all four kids were reading. I had a hard time telling them to stop, so I just came back downstairs :)

      We’re thinking of instilling a reading time this summer – for all of us to stop and read for an hour. I love reading and would love to take time during the day to have a quiet house full of readers. So I think we’ll give that a try for the days we are home.

      I think the most important part of having your kids enjoy reading is to provide them with books they are interested in and can confidently read. Hence the period all three boys have gone through of those graphic novels. My oldest loves mysteries, the second was into animal books for a while, our third loves anything funny.

      Hope this helps!

      • Jen May 8, 2017 at 1:11 pm #

        Emily, you should definitely instill the reading time in the summer. We’ve done it for years and really enjoy taking that quiet time break in the afternoon. For me it was originally a nice way to transition out of the baby/toddler napping stage but has really turned into a practice of intentional self-care for each of us. The kids can read wherever they want to (bedroom, family room, backyard, bathtub, etc) and I only ask them to take an hour, but often they read longer than that. Even though my sons are 11 & 12 now, I also like to do a read-aloud chapter book before they go to bed. The last couple of summers we’ve been pretty relaxed on summer bedtimes, and it’s been more of a hit-and-miss, but we’ll probably try it again this year.

  34. Lauren May 5, 2017 at 11:05 am #

    YES! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We’re an ex-homeschool family with 4 kids (my youngest is 4), and we can’t get enough picture books. My 10 year old still loves them. We go to the library every week. I’ll definitely be adding some of these to my Mother’s Day wish list. :-)

  35. Sam May 5, 2017 at 6:09 am #

    I totally remember the Jolly Postman book! I loved that as a kid. How funny.

    Books are a common gift for our son too. He has a few of these — we’ll have to check out the rest!

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