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Children’s Books | 50+ Must-Reads, From the Classics to Up-and-Coming Indie Authors

Interested in picking up some new children’s books?

Want to make sure you don’t miss any of the classics? Or any of the popular new reads?!

Friend…we’ve got you covered!

History of Children’s Books

You might be surprised to learn that children’s books, as we know them today, are a relatively recent development. Before the mid-19th century, books for children were primarily designed to teach moral and religious lessons.

However, the first Golden Age of Children’s Literature began with the publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, a book that aimed to entertain rather than educate young readers. This period marked a significant shift in the purpose and content of children’s books (source).

During this time, advances in printing technology, cultural beliefs about childhood, and increasing literacy rates contributed to the growth and development of children’s literature. You’ll find that many beloved characters and books emerged during the Golden Age, including The Wizard of Oz, Peter Pan, and The Secret Garden. These stories provided young readers with engaging tales that captured their imaginations while also presenting relatable themes and life lessons.

The mid-20th century brought about another wave of change in children’s literature due to political influences. The competition between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a re-evaluation of children’s books in the classroom.

This period saw the rise of many renowned authors, such as Dr. Seuss, Maurice Sendak, and Roald Dahl, who focused on combining entertaining stories with educational elements to help children navigate the complexities of the world.

Today, children’s books continue to evolve, and the genre now includes a wide variety of options for readers at all age levels. From picture books to middle-grade novels to young adult fiction, there’s a wealth of diverse stories featuring relatable characters, captivating plots, and important themes.

Children’s Book Genres and Themes

When exploring children’s books, you’ll come across a variety of genres and themes that cater to different interests and age groups. Here are just a few:

  • Mystery: As a beloved genre in both adult and children’s literature, mystery books keep young readers engaged by unraveling the unknown, solving cases, and uncovering the truth. Well-known children’s mystery series include Case Closed and The Greystone Secrets.
  • Fantasy: A genre that transports readers into magical realms, fantasy books often feature mythical creatures, enchanted objects, and supernatural powers. If your child enjoyed the Harry Potter series, they might enjoy discovering other fantasy books recommended by librarians.
  • Historical Fiction: Ideal for children fascinated by events of the past, historical fiction combines real-life occurrences with relatable fictional characters. Books like the Little House on the Prairie series offer engaging stories set in different historical periods.

When it comes to themes, consider looking for books that explore topics like friendship and revenge. These themes are often relatable to children’s everyday experiences, helping them develop empathy and understand complex emotions.

Some ways to find themed books for your child include:

  • Browse themed booklists for kids aged 0-12, which are carefully curated by experts in children’s literature.
  • Discuss your child’s interests with a librarian, who can recommend titles that align with their favorite themes and subjects.

By considering various genres and themes, you can help your child discover books that capture their imagination and foster a love for reading. Use these suggestions as a starting point to expand your child’s literary world and encourage them to explore new stories and characters.

Children's Books | 50+ Must-Reads, From the Classics to Up-and-Coming Indie Authors

Prominent Titles and Characters

As you explore the world of children’s books, you’ll come across some prominent titles and characters that have captured the hearts of readers for generations. Here’s a list of some notable children’s books and the memorable characters within them.

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle: This classic picture book tells the story of a caterpillar who eats its way through various foods before transforming into a beautiful butterfly. The simple, yet engaging illustrations and repetitive text make it a favorite among young children.
  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein: This touching story tells the tale of a tree that offers everything it has to a boy throughout his life, from its apples to its branches and trunk. The book’s unique illustrations and poignant message make it a popular choice for readers of all ages.
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown: This beloved bedtime story features soothing rhythmic text and illustrations that guide the reader through saying goodnight to various items in a cozy bedroom. The calming tone makes it an ideal choice for helping young readers wind down before bed.
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: This timeless story follows a young pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a clever spider named Charlotte. Together, they navigate the realities of life on a farm while Charlotte devises a plan to save Wilbur from his fate. Their heartwarming tale teaches important lessons about friendship, sacrifice, and the beauty of life.
  • Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: This collection of quirky, imaginative poems and drawings delights readers with its whimsical wordplay and amusing illustrations. Silverstein’s unique style sparks creativity and inspires laughter while also introducing valuable life lessons.

As you continue to explore the world of children’s literature, you’ll no doubt encounter many more unforgettable stories and characters. Remember to enjoy the journey, and don’t be afraid to revisit your favorite titles as you grow.

Classic Children’s Books

Picture Books

Diving into the world of children’s literature can be an absolute delight, and a great place to start is with classic picture books. These books are filled with stunning illustrations that capture the imagination and stories that resonate with readers of all ages.

As a parent, you could introduce your child to classic picture books like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle, and Pat the Bunny: First Books for Baby. Sharing these stories with your child will not only help them develop a love for reading, but will also give them a chance to bond with you over these timeless tales.

Young Readers

As your child grows older and develops their reading skills, it’s an excellent time to introduce them to classic books for young readers. These books contain engaging stories that still challenge your child’s reading skills but are not overly complex.

One fantastic series to check out is The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, which takes readers on a magical journey through a world filled with fantastical creatures and epic battles. Other great options for this age group include E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the beloved Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel.

YA Novels

When your child reaches their teenage years, you can explore the world of young adult (YA) novels. These novels deal with themes and situations that are relevant to young adults and often have engaging coming-of-age storylines.

Notable classic YA novels include The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and The Giver by Lois Lowry. These books not only serve as thought-provoking stories but can help your child develop critical thinking skills as they examine and process the themes presented in these books.

Introducing your child to classic books from early picture books to YA novels can have a profound impact on their love for reading and the development of their own worldview. And, as a parent, accompanying them on this literary journey can provide countless opportunities for bonding and cherished memories.

Children's Books | 50+ Must-Reads, From the Classics to Up-and-Coming Indie Authors

Popular Children’s Book Authors

Dr. Seuss

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) was a beloved children’s book author known for his imaginative stories and unique rhyming style. Some of his most popular books include The Cat in the Hat, Green Eggs and Ham, and Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Your children can enjoy the whimsical tales and illustrations in his books, as well as learn valuable life lessons from the engaging narratives.

Eric Carle

Eric Carle is best known for his colorful, collage-style illustrations in children’s books. You might remember him from his popular book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar which has been a staple on children’s bookshelves for years.

His other works include Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, and The Mixed-Up Chameleon. Your children can learn about colors, animals, and counting in his beautifully crafted and engaging books.

Shel Silverstein

Shel Silverstein is an author, poet, and illustrator whose books and poems provide both entertainment and food for thought. His collection of illustrated poetry, Where the Sidewalk Ends, is a true classic.

With whimsical, thought-provoking, and sometimes funny poetry, it’s a book that you can enjoy along with your children. Silverstein’s other works, such as The Giving Tree and A Light in the Attic, make him an outstanding choice for children’s literature.

Maurice Sendak

Maurice Sendak is a celebrated author and illustrator, best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are, which is a cherished classic among generations of children. In this book, Sendak tells the story of Max, a young boy who creates a world of wild creatures in his imagination. Sendak’s distinctive illustrations and the empowering themes in his stories make his books a must-read for children.

These authors offer a variety of engaging tales sure to entertain and educate your young ones. Whether through colorful illustrations, rhyming adventures, or thought-provoking poetry, each author brings an unforgettable contribution to the world of children’s literature.

Poll and Best Children’s Books

You might be interested to know that there’s been a recent poll revealing the 100 greatest children’s books ever, including fan favorites like Matilda and The Hobbit. Keep reading to find some of the top children’s books from this poll and discover great options for your little ones!

Based on the poll, here are some noteworthy books:

These books span various genres, allowing you to explore different worlds, stories, and characters with your kids.

In addition to the results from the poll, BBC Culture also curated an impressive list of the 100 greatest children’s books. It includes gems such as Noughts and Crosses, The BFG, and Momo. You may also enjoy exploring wordless graphic novels like The Arrival (Shaun Tan, 2006), which can be a unique way to spark imagination in your little readers.

While you decide which books to introduce to your children, keep in mind that it’s essential to choose age-appropriate stories and topics. The New York Times recommends some of the best children’s books of 2022 that are suitable for various age groups.

Children's Books | 50+ Must-Reads, From the Classics to Up-and-Coming Indie Authors

Indie Author Children’s Books

Over the last decade, indie authors have risen to the occasion to publish quality children’s books. These authors might publish through a smaller publisher or micropress, or even self-publish their work!

I’ve recently opened my doors to receiving and reviewing children’s books from new and upcoming indie authors to help save parents time in knowing what’s worth picking up (and what’s not). Titles reviewed so far include:

This page will be continually updated as I add new indie titles, so be sure to bookmark it to return to later! (Are you an author interested in receiving a children’s book review? Click here to review my submission guidelines!)

Children’s Books’ Impact on Society and Culture

Children’s literature plays a crucial role in shaping society, as well as reflecting its diversity. When you expose young readers to stories that depict various cultures, backgrounds, and experiences, it fosters empathy and understanding. Stories can encourage social change and introduce new visions of society, empowering children to actively engage in building a more inclusive world.

By selecting inclusive children’s books, you’re also helping kids become more aware of their own culture and those of others. You’re sending the message that all cultural backgrounds have a right to be fairly represented.

To make a difference:

  • Actively seek out books with diverse characters, writers, and illustrators.
  • Advocate for more inclusive book selections in schools and libraries.
  • Share diverse children’s literature recommendations with friends and family.

When selecting stories that focus on change, ensure that they:

  • Assume young readers are socially aware, competent, and interested in improving society.
  • Provide readers with the skills, ideas, and information necessary to effect change.
  • Feature a wide range of characters, voices, and storytelling styles.
  • Value and respect youthful opinions.

Remember, the impact of children’s literature is not limited to its entertainment value; it carries deep social and cultural implications. By offering diverse and meaningful stories to your young ones, you create a more empathetic, knowledgeable, and engaged generation.

Children's Books | 50+ Must-Reads, From the Classics to Up-and-Coming Indie Authors

Wow! Did you catch all of that?!

No matter what genre, author, or title, introducing both classic and new children’s books to your child will help them to develop into an adult who is wiser and, we hope, kinder. Happy reading!

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