The Kindergarten Canon: The 100 Best Children's Books

One of the great joys of parenthood is reading to my two young sons. Partly it’s the visceral experience: Little guys curled up on my lap, in their PJ’s, soft light overhead, the day winding down, sleep coming (well, one can hope). But it’s also about the books: An endless treasure trove of stories to share, pictures to enjoy, traditions to pass along.

So I got to wondering: Is there a list of the must-read picture books for preschoolers? The greatest classics, old and new? A “canon,” if you will? I couldn’t find one, so I decided to create one. You can find the books on Amazon with this wishlist. With help from some friends, I now present to you the Kindergarten Canon:

1 is One - Tasha Tudor

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

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst & Ray Cruz

Anansi the Spider

Anansi the Spider - Gerald McDermott

Amazing GraceAmazing Grace - Mary Hoffman & Caroline Binch

Are You My Mother?Are You My Mother? - P.D. Eastman

Bear Called Paddington, A - Michael Bond

Click for full list.

Bear Snores On - Karma Wilson & Jane Chapman

Beauty and the Beast, The - Brothers Grimm*

Big Red Barn, The - Margaret Wise Brown

Birthday for Frances, A - Russell Hoban & Lillian Hoban

Blueberries for Sal - Robert McCloskey

Bremen Town Musicians, The - Brothers Grimm*

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? - Bill Martin, Jr. & Eric Carle

Caps for Sale - Esphyr Slobodkina

Carrot Seed, The - Ruth Krauss & Crockett Johnson

Cars and Trucks and Things that Go - Richard Scarry

Cat in the Hat, The - Dr. Seuss

Chair for My Mother, A - Vera B. Williams

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom - Bill Martin, Jr. (author), John Archambault (author), and Lois Ehlert

Cinderella - Brothers Grimm*

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type - Doreen Cronin & Betsy Lewin

Corduroy - Don Freeman

Curious George - Margret Rey & H.A. Rey

Dear Zoo - Rod Campbell

Emperor's New Clothes, The - Hans Christian Andersen*

Fisherman and his Wife, The - Brothers Grimm*

Frederick - Leo Lionni

Freight Train - Donald Crews

Frog and Toad are Friends - Arnold Lobell

George and Martha - James Marshall

Gingerbread Man, The - Fairy Tale*

Giving Tree, The - Shel Silverstein

Go, Dog. Go! - P.D. Eastman

Goldilocks and the Three Bears - Brothers Grimm*

Good Night, Gorilla - Peggy Rathmann

Good Night, Moon - Margaret Wise Brown & Clement Hurd

Green Eggs and Ham - Dr. Seuss

Guess How Much I Love You - Sam McBratney & Anita Jeram

Hansel and Gretel - Brothers Grimm*

Harold and the Purple Crayon - Crockett Johnson

Harry and the Dirty Dog - Gene Zion & Margaret Bloy Graham

Horton Hears A Who! - Dr. Seuss

The House on East 88th Street - Bernard Waber

If You Give A Mouse A Cookie - Laura Numeroff & Felicia Bond

In the Night Kitchen - Maurice Sendak

Jack and the Beanstalk - Fairy Tale*

King Bidgood's in the Bathtub - Audrey Wood & Don Wood

Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale - Mo Willems

Lion and the Mouse, The - Aesop's Fable*

Little Bear - Else Holmelund Minarik & Maurice Sendak

Little Engine that Could, The - Watty Piper

Little Red Hen, The - Fairy Tale*

Little Red Riding Hood - Brothers Grimm*

Madeline - Ludwig Bemelmans

Make Way for Ducklings - Robert McCloskey

Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel - Virginia Lee Burton

Millions of Cats - Wanda Gag

Mother Goose - Traditional

Olivia - Ian Falconer

One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish - Dr. Seuss

One Morning in Maine - Robert McCloskey

Owl and the Pussycat, The - Edward Lear*

Pat the Bunny - Dorothy Kunhardt

Pinocchio - Carlo Collodi*

Poky Little Puppy, The - Janette Sebring Lowrey & Gustaf Tenggren

Princess and the Pea, The - Hans Christian Andersen*

Puss in Boots - Charles Perrault*

Put Me in the Zoo - Robert Lopshire

Rainbow Fish, The - Marcus Pfister

Rapunzel - Brothers Grimm*

Runaway Bunny, The - Margaret Wise Brown

Sleeping Beauty - Brothers Grimm*

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - Brothers Grimm*

Snowy Day, The - Ezra Jack Keats

Stellaluna - Janell Cannon

Stone Soup - Fairy Tale*

Story about Ping, The - Marjorie Flack & Kurt Wiese

Story of Babar, The - Jean de Brunhoff

Story of Ferdinand, The - Munro Leaf & Robert Lawson

Strega Nona - Tomie dePaola

Swimmy - Leo Lionni

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble - William Steig

Tale of Peter Rabbit, The - Beatrix Potter

There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly - Simms Taback

There's a Nightmare in My Closet - Mercer Mayer

Three Billy Goats Gruff, The - Fairy Tale*

Three Little Pigs, The - Brothers Grimm*

Thumb elina - Hans Christian Andersen*

Tikki Tikki Tembo - Arlene Mosel & Blair Lent

Time for Bed - Mem Fox & Jane Dyer

Tootle - Gertrude Crampton & Tibor Gergely

Tortoise and the Hare, The - Aesop's Fable*

Ugly Duckling, The - Hans Christian Andersen*

Velveteen Rabbit, The - Margery Williams & William Nicholson

Very Hungry Caterpillar, The - Eric Carle

When We Were Very Young - A. A. Milne

Where the Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

Winnie-the-Pooh - A. A. Milne

* You can find myriad versions of these classic folk stories, fairy tales, and fables.

While this is, to my knowledge, the first ever Kindergarten Canon, there are certainly other worthy lists of great children’s books. These include the Caldecott Medal and Honor books; the Core Knowledge Foundation’s selection of recommended books for Kindergarteners; the American Library Association's Notable Children's Books list; and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. I also found some solid recommendations in The Educated Child, by William J. Bennett, Chester E. Finn, Jr., and John T. E. Cribb, Jr.

Yet none of these lists amounts to a canon, per se. A canon, after all, isn’t simply a critic’s selection of the greatest books ever written; they also have to be books that everyone reads. You may or may not think Moby Dick was the premier work of American fiction, but you still had to read it because you couldn’t be considered culturally literate without it. Likewise with, say, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. There are plenty of children’s stories more compelling, in my opinion. But if you’ve never read Goldilocks, you’ll miss myriad references in literature, pop culture, newspaper editorials, and so forth. Which makes Goldilocks a must.

It’s worth noting that recently-published books struggle to reach canonical status; they simply haven’t been around long enough. And plenty of excellent books never get there either. Peruse the list of Caldecott winners, for instance, and I bet you’ll spot many unfamiliar titles. The books have merit in the eyes of “those who know”—but they don’t catch on in the marketplace. A canon is a quirky thing—connected to quality, but also to commercial success.

So are these the right books? What did I omit? What doesn’t belong here? The comments section is open.

Most of all, parents, I hope this list leads to many happy story times (and bedtimes) for you and yours.

Also by Mike Petrilli: "In praise of PBS kids"

Mike Petrilli is president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, executive editor of Education Next, and a Distinguished Senior Fellow for Education Commission of the States. An award-winning writer, he…

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