Today, we’ll take a look at the best classic children’s books of all time, the picture books that have stolen hearts for generations. Perhaps you have a dusty copy of one of these classics lying around from your childhood with fragile pages and some wear and tear after countless readings. Perhaps you’ve come across a copy in the library or sought one out in the bookstore so that you can relive a moment of your childhood and pass on a treasured story to your own little one.
Choosing the best classic children’s books of all time would be quite a task and is also very subjective, so for today’s list we’ll rely on Publisher’s Weekly’s list of all-time bestselling children’s books.
Top Selling Children’s Books of All Time
The Poky Little Puppy takes the No. 1 spot on the list, according to Publishers Weekly’s data. The No. 2 spot on the list goes to The Tale of Peter Rabbit by the much-beloved Beatrix Potter.
Dr. Seuss was the most prolific author on the bestseller list with six books claiming spots in the top 20 list. The next-most popular author with a book listed in the top 20 is J.K. Rowling. Four of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books made the list, which is impressive given that they were published rather recently and thus have had fewer years to accrue sales in comparison to some of the other books on the list that were published in the 1940s, for example. The only other authors to have more than one children’s book in the top 20 rankings of the all-time bestseller list are Shel Silverstein and Gertrude Crampton.
The Evolution of Children’s Literature
The oldest book on the list is The Tale of Peter Rabbit, published in 1902. This timeless classic children’s book remains relevant even today.
Children’s literature certainly existed before the 1900s. In fact, it has been around for centuries, but children’s literature has evolved over the years. Early literature was focused on teaching children how to behave. Spirituality was a major aspect of children’s literature.
John Locke is largely credited with the idea of making reading fun. In the 1600s, Locke promoted the idea that children would learn better if their books were entertaining as well as educational. However, he did not encourage fantasy, but rather preferred that literature resemble life.
The rise of printing and literacy in the 18th century naturally led to an increase in children’s literature, which continued to focus on morality and education.
As ideas of childhood changed so did children’s literature. Childhood began to be viewed with a sort of reverence as a protected time of innocence and enjoyment.
Children’s books became more entertaining, imaginative, and fanciful; although we can still see plenty of contemporary children’s books that push a moral agenda. In fact, we’re currently seeing a surge in children’s books that while perhaps not pushing the spirituality and morality of ages past, are very intentionally “socially conscious.”
The Top 20 All-time Bestselling Children’s Books
- The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey (Golden, 1942)
- The Tale of Peter Rabbitby Beatrix Potter (Frederick Warne, 1902)
- Tootle by Gertrude Crampton (Golden, 1945)
- Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1960)
- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic/Levine, 2000)
- Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt (Golden, 1940)
- Saggy Baggy Elephant by Kathryn and Byron Jackson (Golden, 1947)
- Scuffy the Tugboat by Gertrude Crampton (Golden, 1955)
- The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1957)
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secretsby J.K. Rowling (Scholastic/Levine, 1999)
- Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkabanby J.K. Rowling (Scholastic/ Levine, 1999)
- Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, 1974)
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fishby Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1960)
- The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (HarperCollins, 1964)
- The Littlest Angel by Charles Tazewell (Children’s Press/Ideals, 1946)
- Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1963)
- Oh, the Places You’ll Go!by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1990)
- Dr. Seuss’s ABC by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 1960)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Scholastic/Levine, 1998)
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Philomel, 1969)