15 of the Best Children’s Stories of All Time

Finding the right book to read your children can be a challenge. In the digital realm, screening the content ahead of time is nigh impossible. With that in mind, we’ve gathered together all the best kid-appropriate books, ranging from important life lessons to fantasy epics. Together, they form a library of must-read stories that children of various ages will enjoy.

So what books should you be targeting to give your kids a well-rounded literary education? Let’s jump right in.

1. Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak

Cover art for Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are | Harper

Where the Wild Things Are is one of those truly rare books that can be enjoyed equally by a child and a grown-up. If you disagree, then it’s been too long since you’ve attended a wild rumpus. Max dons his wolf suit in pursuit of some mischief and gets sent to bed without supper. Fortuitously, a forest grows in his room, allowing his wild rampage to continue unimpaired. Sendak’s color illustrations (perhaps his finest) are beautiful, and each turn of the page brings the discovery of a new wonder.

Amazon’s official editorial review gives us a thorough look at what it is that makes this book so special. Coming up on 45 years since it was first published, Where the Wild Things Are transcends generations, and continues to be a mainstay of any child’s library.

Incredible artwork and a heartfelt story give kids plenty of reason to remain engaged, while encouraging them to dream in their own, unique way.

2. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time cover art
A Wrinkle in Time | Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Young people who have trouble finding their place in the world will connect with the ‘misfit’ characters in this provocative story. This is no superhero tale, nor is it science fiction, although it shares elements of both. The travelers must rely on their individual and collective strengths, delving deep into their characters to find answers.

Amazon’s review of A Wrinkle in Time cited above, says it best: This isn’t your run-of-the-mill sci-fi story.

3. The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

The Giving Tree cover art
The Giving Tree | Harper

If you’re looking for a children’s book that teaches generosity or unselfishness, most people will point you right to The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein’s lovely story of a tree that will do anything for the boy it loves—and for good reason. This classic is always a good place to start.

Nurturing a giving spirit within your kids is an important part of their emotional development, as the reviewer Brightly tells us in their summary of The Giving Tree. 

4. The Sneetches and Other Stories, by Dr. Seuss

Cover art for The Sneetches, by Dr. Seuss
The Sneetches | Random House

This collection of four of Dr. Seuss’s most winning stories begins with that unforgettable tale of the unfortunate Sneetches, bamboozled by one Sylvester McMonkey McBean (‘the Fix-it-up Chappie’), who teaches them that pointless prejudice can be costly

Reviewer Paul Hughes highlights it well when he talks about the lesson of “pointless prejudice.” Never has Dr. Seuss’ Sneetches narrative been more culturally relevant, teaching children about how outward appearance shouldn’t dictate the way we treat each other.

5. Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh

Cover art for Harriet the Spy, by Louise Fitzhugh
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh | Harper

This is the book that made me want to be a writer. [Harriet] was the first fictional female character I ever came across who privileged her own truth above the expectations put on her as a little girl.

Bookish’s Anna Holmes talks in-depth about how Harriet the Spy inspired her to write. Suffice it to say, it’s a solid read for any young woman looking to find her voice.

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

Cover art for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone | Scholastic

Obviously, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone should make any modern 11-year-old a very happy reader. The novel moves quickly, packs in everything from a boa constrictor that winks to a melancholy Zen-spouting centaur to an owl postal system, and ends with a scary surprise.

What is there to say about the Harry Potter saga that hasn’t already been said? The Washington Post sums it up succinctly above.

7. The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Jon Scieszka

cover art for The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs | Viking Press

Jon Scieszka’s The True Story of the Three Little Pigs (1989) turned the favorite porkers’ story upside-down by allowing the grossly misjudged wolf to tell his side of the story. Wiesner’s latest is a post-modern fantasy for young readers that takes Scieszka’s fragmentation a step further: it not only breaks apart and deliciously reinvents the pigs’ tale, it invites readers to step beyond the boundaries of story and picture book altogether.

Booklist gives us an awesome summary of what it is that makes The True Story of the Three Little Pigs such a critical read for any child, as a book that teaches kids that every story has two sides.

8. Harold and the Purple Crayon, by Crockett Johnson

Harold and the Purple Crayon cover art
Harold and the Purple Crayon | Harper

Crockett Johnson’s understated tribute to the imagination was first published in 1955, and has been inspiring readers of all ages ever since. Harold’s quiet but magical journey reminds us of the marvels the mind can create, and also gives us the wondrous sense that anything is possible.

Amazon’s review of Harold and the Purple Crayon gives you all the reasons you could possibly need to add it to your child’s bookshelf.

9. The Giver, by Lois Lowry

The Giver cover art
The Giver | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

With a storyline that hints at Christian allegory and an eerie futuristic setting, this intriguing novel calls to mind John Christopher’s Tripods trilogy and Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl. Lowry is once again in top form–raising many questions while answering few, and unwinding a tale fit for the most adventurous readers.

Publishers Weekly recommends The Giver for kids in the 12–14-year-old range, but it’s also a book that plays well if read to a younger audience.

10. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka

The Stinky Cheese Man cover art
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales | Viking Press

The Stinky Cheese Man deconstructs not only the tradition of the fairy tale but also the entire notion of a book. Our naughty narrator, Jack, makes a mockery of the title page, the table of contents, and even the endpaper by shuffling, scoffing, and generally paying no mind to structure. Characters slide in and out of tales; Cinderella rebuffs Rumpelstiltskin, and the Giant at the top of the beanstalk snacks on the Little Red Hen. There are no lessons to be learned or morals to take to heart–just good, sarcastic fun that smart-alecks of all ages will love.

Amazon outlines the hilarious slant behind The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, brought to us by the writer and illustrator of The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. 

11. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, by Laura Joffe Numeroff

If You Give A Mouse a Cookie cover art
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie | Harper

Laura Joffe Numeroff’s tale of warped logic is a sure-fire winner in the giggle-generator category. But concerned parents can rest assured, there’s even a little education thrown in for good measure: underneath the folly rest valuable lessons about cause and effect. Felicia Bond’s hilarious pictures are full of subtle, fun details.

As Amazon points outIf You Give a Mouse a Cookie isn’t just a fun story for kids; it’s a parable that teaches them about cause and effect in a simple, easy-to-digest format.

12. The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit cover art
The Hobbit | Allen & Unwin

It is from this life-or-death game in the dark that J.R.R. Tolkien’s masterwork, The Lord of the Rings, would eventually spring. Though The Hobbit is lighter in tone than the trilogy that follows, it has, like Bilbo Baggins himself, unexpected iron at its core.

Amazon’s Alex Wilbur recommends The Hobbit for older audiences. That said, it’s also a great gateway for kids into the realm of fantasy novels.

13. Who Was? book series

a selection of cover art from the Who Was? Book Series
Who Was? book series | Penguin Random House

Our family filled this need with the Who Is or Was …? Series. It’s a fantastic biography series that has got us totally hooked. We are all reading them! Most of the books have a different author but each is well-edited to ensure a smooth read for 3rd-5th Grade reading level. This series is real people telling their real and interesting stories. It doesn’t get better than that.

Youth Muse lays out the wonderful educational value of the Who Was? series, giving kids an easy way to learn about a collection of historical figures.

14. The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe movie poster
The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe | Disney

This book taught me two important lessons; that looks can be deceiving and that two wrongs don’t make a right. Lewis has a clear and vivid writing style, which makes it easy for the reader to follow and remain engrossed.

Reviewed in full by The Guardian, here we have a classic novel that works for children of all ages, introducing them to C.S. Lewis’ fantastic world of Narnia.

15. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, by Roald Dahl

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover art
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory | Scholastic

Great ideas, well crafted prose, and an understatement of its morality make Charlie and the Chocolate Factory a modern fairy tale that will likely be popular for years to come, among children and any adults who aren’t entirely devoid of any sense of magic.

Fantasy Book Review perfectly encapsulates what it is that makes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory such a timeless classic.

Follow Nick on Twitter @NickNorthwest

Check out Entertainment Cheat Sheet on Facebook!