21 Classic Children’s Books for Children Aged 1-6

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March 2020

Remember those books you revisited over and over as a kid? Lately we’ve been thinking about the best classic children’s books, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the timeless favorites out there for children aged one through six. Some of these books have been fan-favorites since the early 1900s, while others have been published in the last ten years. Despite the age gap, all of these titles have a special place in the hearts of millions of readers and listeners of every age among the best books of all time.

But, before we start, we have to ask: what makes a children’s book a classic? Is it that it became a bestseller? Is it that it has great illustrations and an interesting plot line? Is it that it was parents’ favorites that they passed down to their children? We also wonder how old a book has to be before we can consider it a classic. Is Harry Potter a classic yet, or just a contemporary hit?

For our list, we’ve selected some books from the past few decades that have impacted countless readers. They are ones we would recognize on any bookshelf or on any reading list, but they are also well-written, with great illustrations that will engage any child. Here are 21 of our favorite classic children’s books.

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Stories for Kids: Ages 1-3

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Bill Martin Jr.

This timeless classic features a brown bear looking around at all the other animals he can spot. From a big happy frog to a plump purple cat to a handsome blue horse, this book depicts many different animals along the way. Eric Carle’s signature style brings each illustration to life and makes the storyline all the more engaging. This book also features a repetitive rhythm and rhyme that makes it an amazingly engaging read that a child of any age will enjoy.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom
Bill Martin Jr.

In this exciting read, the letters of the alphabet race up a coconut tree. Will there be enough room for all the letters up top? Oh no–Chicka Chicka Boom! Boom! The simple yet engaging illustrations and the lively rhyme scheme make this book a timeless classic to read with little ones who are learning their ABCs.

Goodnight Moon
Margaret Wise Brown

This classic picture book, enjoyed by generations and generations, make a perfect book to say goodnight with. In a great green room, tucked away in bed is a little bunny who says goodnight to everything in his room, from the picture of three little bears sitting on chairs to the mittens and the kittens. Let the soft pictures and the quiet, lyrical poetry get your little one ready to say goodnight to everything around them. You can’t go wrong with this timeless classic.

Hop on Pop
Dr. Seuss

HOP. POP. We like to Hop. We like to hop on top of Pop. One of Dr. Seuss’ best books for young children, Hop on Pop is a classic everyone will love. Full of short, easily-recognizable words and rhythmic rhymes, this book is great to introduce your child to reading and to rhyme schemes. The words are simple enough that when they begin talking, they can repeat some of the words along with you, making this book a great opportunity for a read-aloud.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle

This classic tale is a must-have for any bookshelf. A very hungry caterpillar must find food as it prepares to turn into a butterfly. He goes through apples and pears and oranges, but is it enough? Join the very hungry caterpillar and talk about numbers, time, and days of the week with your child as you enjoy Eric Carle’s iconic illustration style and his imaginative storyline.

Go, Dog, Go!
P.D. Eastman

How many different ways can a dog travel? Find out in P.D. Eastman’s classic, where dogs use all kinds of modes of transportation. Whether by foot, boat, car, or even unicycle, these dogs are sure to make you and your child laugh. With simple words, short phrases, and engaging illustrations, this book is great to share with new readers.

Freight Train
Donald Crews

This book earned its title as a contemporary classic with its vibrant illustrations that are sure to excite any young reader. Take a walk through each car of a freight train from the red caboose in the back to the black steam engine up front. As you go along, talk about different colors while enjoying powerful illustrations. By the end, you’ll feel as if you’ve seen a freight train travel right before your eyes.

Stories for Kids: Ages 3-4

Where the Wild Things Are
Maurice Sendak

Max is an imaginative young boy who get sent to bed with no dinner. Little do his parents know that he will take a journey to a faraway land, a land where the wild things are. Courageous and fearless, Max soon becomes leader of the wild things, but will he be able to keep his throne for long? Find out in this timeless classic filled with imagination, mischief, and adventure.

Don Freeman

Maurice rides his bike to work every day while Lotta rides her bike to collect sticks. They take separate routes until, one day, a branch and a lemon peel throw a wrench into their routine. The two end up meeting and instantly become best friends. This story shows that friendship can pop up anywhere and everywhere and that you should always be open to making a new friend because you never know where they’ll come from.

Harold and the Purple Crayon
Crockett Johnson

One evening, Harold decides to go on a moonlight walk, but not without his trusty purple crayon. Using his magical tool, he draws himself a land full of wonder and excitement. Along his adventure, he traverses through woods, sails across seas, and even spots a dragon before arriving back in his bed, safe and sound. Bring adventure to your storytime with this classic, imaginative favorite.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! Book Cover

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Mo Willems

This modern classic is sure to make both you and your child laugh. When a bus driver takes a break, a very unlikely volunteer takes over his route. He may be a pigeon, but he’s no ordinary pigeon. He pleads, wheedles, and begs his way through the book as people say “don’t let the pigeon drive the bus!” But, who knows, maybe we should?

Love You Forever
Robert Munsch

One of the sweetest, most sentimental classic children’s books, Love You Forever is a great way to share with your child how much you love them. In this book, a mother holds her son and sings him a song: “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, as long as I’m living, my baby you’ll be.” As the child grows up, despite his silliness and despite life’s hardships, the mother never stops telling her son how much she loves him. In the end, the son finds that this song is the perfect way to say goodbye to his mother when the time comes. 

The Little Engine That Could
Watty Piper

One day, a train filled with toys and gifts for children breaks down. After asking other trains for help, it’s only a small blue train that agrees to help the stranded toys. Though she is small, she does her very best to get the toys over the hill to their children. This inspirational story of perseverance and the importance of helping others is a perfect addition to any library.

If you Give a Mouse a Cookie
Laura Numer

This classic book withstands the test of time with its silly and mischievous main character. A hungry little mouse shows up at your doorstep and asks for a cookie. If you give him one, though, he’ll ask for milk. He also might ask even more of you, from letting him look in the mirror to providing him a pair of scissors to give himself a trim. Be careful what happens when you give a mouse a cookie!

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Stories for Kids: Ages 5-6

Miss Nelson is Missing!
Harry Allard and James Marshall

The kids in Room 207 are up to no good again–spitballs on the ceiling, paper planes flying through the air. They do not respect their teacher until, one day, she goes missing and her substitute, Miss Viola Swamp, is their worst nightmare. She begins to make them regret their wicked ways and to miss their old, kinder teacher. This book is a quirky classic that encourages children to show appreciation to those who matter to us and to be kind to those who show us kindness.

Ludwig Bemelmans

Madeline is one of the smallest girls in a Catholic boarding school in Paris. She is fearless, brave, and daring, and always gives their caretaker, Miss Clavel, a headache. One night, however, the courageous, brave Madeline has a ruptured appendix. After she gets home from the hospital, safe and sound, the other girls demand to have their appendixes removed too in solidarity. This classic book tells a tale of friendship and of courage in scary times.

The Giving Tree
Shel Silverstein

Another timeless classic, this book tells the story of a friendship deep and selfless. The Giving Tree loves a little boy so much that she would give up everything for him. The little boy, in return, comes to visit her every day so that they can play together. The boy over time, however,  takes everything that the Giving Tree offers him until his friend has nothing left. In the end, they both learn to appreciate each other and what the other has offered to their friendship. This book teaches an important lesson about being selfless and being kind to friends. 

The Cat in the Hat
Dr. Seuss

One of the most iconic children’s books of all time, The Cat in the Hat tells the story of poor Dick and Sally, two children who are stuck in the house, bored with nothing to do. That is, until a giant cat in a hat shows up and brings them on an exciting, if not chaotic, adventure. Written in 1957, this book stands the test of time and continues to be a favorite of countless families.

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

Alexander wakes up and just knows it is going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He finds gum in his hair, trips over his skateboard, and drops his sweater in the sink while the faucet is on. He just can’t catch a break. He wonders if maybe he should just run away to Australia and find a better life in the outback. He eventually learns, however, that sometimes, days are terrible, horrible, no good, and very bad for other people too.

The Little House
Virginia Lee Burton

The Little House stands tall and proud out in the countryside. As time passes, however, the city gradually moves closer and closer. Until one day, the little house is surrounded by high-rises, roads, traffic, and tons of people. What is the owner to do to save its poor, crowded little house but lift it up and return it out to the countryside. With its simple illustrations and sweet, wholesome message, this book has been beloved by many since its publication in 1942. 

Ian Falconer

A more modern classic, Olivia has captured the hearts of many. It tells the heart-warming story of a sweet pig with a whole lot of energy. Getting into many adventures and making a little trouble along the way, Olivia is an endearing and relatable character that your children are sure to love. And with engaging illustrations that play with minimal color, this book is perfect for a read aloud with your little one.

What are the best selling children’s books and classic children’s novels of all time?

We have listed some of the best classic children’s books. But what are some of the best selling ones since 1900? Here are the top 10 best selling children’s book in order:

The Poky Little Puppy
Janette Sebring Lowrey (1942)

The Tale of Peter Rabbit
Beatrix Potter (1902)

Gertrude Crampton (1945)

Green Eggs and Ham
Dr. Seuss (1960)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
J.K. Rowling (2000)

Pat the Bunny
Dorothy Kunhardt (1940)

Saggy Baggy Elephant
Kathryn and Byron Jackson (1947)

Scruffy the Tugboat
Gertrude Crampton (1955)

The Cat in the Hat
Dr. Seuss (1957)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. Rowling (1999)

What are the latest children’s books to become classics?

Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes
Eric Litwin

Kids love the bestselling Pete the Cat books, and this is only the first in a series of many. This book follows Pete as he walks down the street in his brand-new white shoes that turn from white to red to blue to brown as he steps in piles of strawberries, blueberries, and different messes. These books are classics because they are simple, silly, and so funny.

The Day the Crayons Quit
Drew Daywalt

In this modern classic, all Duncan wants to do is color. But when he opens up his box of crayons, he has found that all his colors have up and quit, leaving behind letters with their grievances. Blue is tired of coloring the ocean, Black wants a chance to do more than just outline, and Orange and Yellow are fighting over which is the true color of the sun. In this hilarious and creative book, Duncan must figure out a way to address these grievances and get the crayons back to doing what they do best.

Llama Llama Red Pajama
Anna Dwedney

When it’s time for bed, little llama has some concerns and is a little nervous about going to bed alone. Even after Mama Llama tucks him in tight, he’s scared to be alone. This book’s lyrical rhyme scheme is sure to soothe any young reader and get them ready for bed.

Elephant Books

At Elephant Books, we love and cherish the classics more than anyone, but we think that there are new and exciting titles being published every single year that could soon become classics. We search for the best new titles on the market to include in our subscription boxes, ones that we’re pretty sure aren’t already on your shelf but should be. Learn more about how we select the books we deliver monthly, right to your door here.

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