When Jenna and Mia asked us to name our all-time favorite books for kids, we were thrilled . . . until we started to panic. We thought it would be a snap to figure out our top ten, but in the blink of an eye our list was as long as your arm. It quickly became crystal clear that neither of us would be capable of picking just ten out of all the books we love and cherish. We would be leaving out too many great books. Really great books. Ten spots would be taken up by the classics alone: those innovative, timeless, industry-builders from the ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s. But luckily, there are more than ten must-read books, and a lot of them have been written recently, even in this new century. And to be honest, the two of us have different favorites, which is as it should be. So, after much agonizing, we decided to try for our ten favorite picture books and our ten favorite novels.
You’d think we would be happy with that, but no. Choosing twenty wasn’t much easier. Now, before we go any further, we will say that we both are asked to recommend the “best of the best” books all the time. If you twist our arms really hard, we’ll finally give in with the qualifier that there are many, many other worthy books, and we are only choosing because you made us. The next question we are most often asked is, “My child loved this particular book, so what other book is just like it?” The answer is: none. A great book has a unique vision and a voice that is one of a kind. No other book can really be the same as a Dr. Seuss, or an E. B. White, or a Neil Gaiman; and any good writer and illustrator would not want to be “like” anyone else anyway. You see our dilemma.
So, after some heated arguments between ourselves (“How can you leave thatout????”) we came up with ten unforgettable, classic picture books and ten equally brilliant, classic novels to offer readers and a like-minded partner to go with each. Please note “like-minded” and not “like.” We have much too much respect for all authors and artists to not give proper due to their own creativity and ingenuity. There is also one other book that is in an altogether special place in our hearts.
Oh, and while ten became forty-one, we still had to leave out a lot of treasures. We feel badly about that, but as we can never say no to Jenna or Mia, here you go.
Picture Books (for the most part)
Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown / Clement Hurd and Good Night, Good Night, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker / Tom Lichtenheld
Comfort and quiet. Settle down now.
Eloise by Kay Thompson / Hilary Knight and Fancy Nancy by Jane O’Connor / Robin Preiss Glasser
Precocious, opinionated, splendiferous girls with attitude.
Curious George by Margret and H. A. Rey and If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff / Felicia Bond
Trouble-making, mischievous, thoroughly lovable little heroes.
Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans and Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes
Ooh-la-la, when you’ve got style, flaunt it whether it’s with a jaunty hat or a purple purse.
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams / William Nicholson and Knuffle Bunnyby Mo Willems
Oh, so hard to grow up and let go.
The Night Before Christmas by Clement C. Moore/ Various Artists and The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
Christmas classics, and what else is there to say except that presents are only part of the magic.
The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss and Pete the Cat by Eric Litwin / James Dean
Well, one is by that genius, Dr. Seuss. If you love cats, and you love them sassy, these are for you.
Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne / Ernest H. Shepard and Toys Go Out by Emily Jenkins / Paul O. Zelinsky
Best friends forever and ever and ever, through thick and thin.
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein and An Awesome Book! by Dallas Clayton
It’s all about creativity and language.
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
We admit to being stumped by this one as far as like-minded is concerned. Is it the art, the handful of lines, the daring idea? It’s all that and more, and it is utterly and perfectly unique.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis / Pauline Baynes and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
Magical worlds, characters to love—and hate—and good triumphing over evil. Hits every note.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett and Liesl & Po by Lauren Oliver / Kei Acedera
Life-transforming discoveries surrounded by a little mystery. Hauntingly beautiful.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder / Garth Williams and Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
We thought there couldn’t be anything close to Laura’s adventures on the prairie . . . until we met Sarah, plain and tall and perfect.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll / John Tenniel and Coraline by Neil Gaiman / Dave McKean
From two brilliant minds separated by more than a century—the topsy-turvy, sometimes chilling adventures of intrepid, quite singular girls.
Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary and Clementine by Sara Pennypacker / Marla Frazee
Just thinking about Ramona and Clementine makes us laugh. Oh, to be as daring and irrepressible as these two.
Old Yeller by Fred Gipson and Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
A boy and his dog; a girl and her dog . . . love and devotion to the end. We’re crying already.
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster / Jules Feiffer and Wildwood by Colin Meloy / Carson Ellis
Quests. Mysteries. “A universe full of magical things.”
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle and The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
The kinds of books that open your mind to worlds beyond what we see.
The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé and Big Nate: In A Class By Himself Lincoln Peirce
We are big fans of comic books and graphic novels with all that great art to pour over. And you’d want both of these guys as BFFs.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White / Garth Williams
Seriously stumped here. Charlotte and Wilbur leave us speechless. Except to say this book is terrific, radiant, humble, and one of a kind.
Defies any category. Period.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
A book for the ages.
But wait . . . there’s more! There’s all of Eric Carle and The Wind in the Willows, Corduroy and Hugo Cabret’s invention, a whole Series of Unfortunate Events, and absolutely anything by James Marshall. There are enough amazing books for a lifetime, and aren’t we lucky?
Kate Morgan Jackson is Editor-in-Chief of HarperCollins Children’s Books, which publishes picture books, novels and nonfiction works for readers of all ages. She feels it’s the best job in the world and working with talented people has inspired her to create her cooking and photography website Framed Cooks.
Antonia Markiet is Senior Executive Editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books and has been there for close to forty years. She has enjoyed every minute of it and still finds working with authors and artists exciting and continually surprising in the best of ways.