Find the best children’s picture books from birth to five – and older!This post may contain compensated links. Read my disclaimer here
How the best illustrated children’s books support your child’s reading
Picture books are a great way to start encouraging a child’s love of reading and stories. This can start a long time before they are able to read independently or even recognise letters of the alphabet.
Reading out loud to a baby or toddler, and letting them turn the pages and enjoy the illustrations will help them to develop a love of books. And sharing picture books is a great way to encourage children’s imagination and inspire them with exciting and fun stories.
It will also lead them to start to make connections between the sound of a word and the shape of it on a page. A skill which will eventually enable them to read independently.
Whether you are looking for the best children’s picture books to read out loud to babies and toddlers, or books that children can begin to read for themselves, there are a huge number of wonderful picture books to chose from.
One of the great aspects of these stories for kids is that they are very age flexible. A book that can be read to a toddler can eventually be read by them and the enjoyment of the story and the illustrations will endure.
I asked writers and bloggers who have experience of reading with children – including teaching professionals and parents, to share their favourite children’s pictures books, what they loved about them and their personal experiences of reading them with children.
Their suggestions included stories to read out loud to children, from relaxing bedtime stories for kids to activity based and laugh out loud funny stories for kids. Early independent reading books for kids also made the list. One thing they all have in common is including beautiful children’s book illustrations.
Our resulting guide lists some of the best children’s books by age. These picture books are all roughly aimed at children from birth to five. However, the age guidelines are approximate and flexible and these books can often be enjoyed by older children (and adults) too!
A quick overview of the books featured
|Best kids picture books for ages:||Title and author||28 of the Best Picture Books for Children||Availability and prices|
Our full selection of 26 of the best children’s picture books
Books for babies
Research shows that being read to from an early age will set your child up for more success in their future education. Even from birth, baby can pick up the soothing intonation of your voice as you read the words aloud.
I am passionate about reading and keen to pass this love of books on to my son, so I was delighted when I found these little books by Stella Baggott from Usborne. I got them when Rowan was about three months old and I found at this age he really started responding to them.
These books are designed for very young babies with highly contrasted images and colours. A newborn’s eyes can see strong contrast more clearly so black and white is the obvious palette to use to catch their eye. They are small and made of cardboard so I can hold them in front of Rowan easily where he can focus on them.
There are words to accompany the images so I either read the words out loud or I invent a story to connect one image to the next. As well as feeding his young mind, these books also provide a great distraction when Rowan might otherwise want to tantrum!
Books for 1 year olds and older
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? is a classic children’s book written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle. The large board book is colorful with beautiful pictures and easy to read sentences that children love to follow along with. This is a children’s book that children of all ages can easily enjoy.
We began reading this book to our firstborn when she was 1 year old. The short-prosed book with repetitive sentences and flaps and windows that open to reveal the next animal make it fun for children. It is an interactive book, which is great fun for kids.
What makes it especially fun is as the child remembers the book they gleefully shout out the next animal in the book. It turns into a fun game when you ask what the next animal is and they are excited to tell you. The book never gets old and remains a classic in our family even as our children grow older.
by Diana from theelusivefamily.com
Probably my favorite picture book that kids (and adults!) love is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, written and illustrated by Eric Carle. This book was published even before I was born (which wasn’t that long ago…) so it’s old but timeless. It works because of its simple style. I loved the book when I was a kid and I love it more now I’m a mom. Luckily for me, my kids love it too!
The pictures in the book are simple yet colorful and it is a lot of fun to watch the caterpillar eat through an array of foods on different days of the week and slowly get bigger and bigger. The simple story means that the book is great for preschoolers but may start to lose it’s appeal once kids get to school. As an added bonus, it teaches kids about caterpillars turning into butterflies and also about counting and colors.
by Suzi from surveysuzi.com
This gorgeous tactile book is perfect for babies through to pre-schoolers. I started reading it with my eldest when she was just 12 months old, guiding her fingers along the ladybugs and counting them as we went. Cassie would stick out her finger on each page, waiting for me to count with her as we read along with the text.
Cassie is now 3 and a half years old and loves counting the ladybugs on each page all on her own. It has been amazing to watch her learn and grow with the story. Her 18-month-old sister now sits and watches on (while I guide her finger for counting) and I love that the story is great for both ages. It’s a book that will grow with your child and has been treasured in our home.
The rhyming text makes the book a nice and easy read, which means both girls are more likely to sit quietly and enjoy the story without disruption. It is one of our favourites at bedtime to help us all unwind for the day as we count down each of the ladybugs together.
by Felicity from The Baby Vine
Our favorite picture book to read to our son was The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton. It’s perfect to read over and over again to kids from birth to age 3 – though I think my older kids still secretly love it!
There’s so much to love about this sweet, simple book. It follows a group of silly animals as they rhyme their way through the bedtime routine on a big boat. The book is a great transition to bedtime because it starts out with plenty of laughs and action but gradually winds down to a calm and quiet bedtime.
We read the story so many times that we all have it memorized; my husband and I could recite it for our son when he was upset in the car and he would immediately calm down thanks to the familiarity. The book itself is also extremely durable and survived daily use by two young kids without falling apart!
Melissa from mytravelstrollers.com
Books for 2 year olds and older
Where the Wild Things Are is recommended for children age 2+ but can also be enjoyed by any child from birth. Older children love it too. I’m an English teacher in my day job, and recently read this to a library full of high school students, who loved it!
This was one of the first picture books I bought when I became pregnant with my son. It was a top choice because I had fond memories of the story myself from when I was little and I wanted to share it with him.
Ben loved the story of Max who is sent to his room without his dinner for “making mischief” and then ends up with a group of wild things.
Our favourite part was when Max and the wild things “let the wild rumpus start.” When this happened we both would make whooping noises which would change in pitch as we turned the pages, until I would yell, “Now stop!” Little Ben would say this with me.
I have so many fond memories of reading this book and plan one day to read it to my grandchildren too so that it spans three generations!
by Kate from mysweethomelife.com
Kuwi’s (Coo-wee) First Egg is a beautiful New Zealand story about a wee Kiwi bird whose “Puku is growing very big.” Her puku (tummy) is growing because she has a big beautiful egg, but she just doesn’t know what to do with it.
She tries her best to make the egg happy and look after it until it cracks. She thinks the egg is broken and she hasn’t done a great job until something very beautiful happens.
This tale is perhaps the sweetest thing you will read to your little one. But it is the vibrantly detailed illustrations that will keep the adults engaged and amused. Your child will be introduced to a few Maori (New Zealand’s native language) words. And the simple language will have your toddler memorising and reading along every night.
Console them as they worry that the egg is broken, and enjoy their delight as they realise a beautiful baby has hatched. Parents can look out for intricacies like “Huhu Potter” on the bookshelf and Kuwi’s variation of famous New Zealand foods on the shelves. If you are looking for a book that is visually stunning and practically a piece of art, then this is for you.
For more New Zealand inspiration please visit Backyard Travel Family.
by Jennifer from Backyard Travel Family
Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd has been a much-loved picture book by my family for many years. As a child, I was not exposed to this delightful series. So when I came across it for my own children, from around the age of 2+ years and saw how much they loved it I was so excited that I invested in the entire book series.
Hairy Maclcary and his little posse are always out and about getting up to mischief, which is why these stories are just so much fun. The illustrations are superbly done, but the true joy is in the brilliant writing by Lynley Dodd.
Her ability to create rhyme in a way that captures the interest of the child and rolls off the tongue of the reader, along with meter that canters along seamlessly is a true gift. The books are brimming with fabulously, advanced vocabulary for such a young audience, but it is delivered in a way that the reader is enchanted.
It’s not often that a fabulous artist can segue into a brilliant author and combine both of those talents. Lynley has created stories that span generations and have filled hearts and minds with sheer joy, time and time again.
by Kylie from homeschoolfamiliesnetwork.
The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry, and The Big Hungry Bear by Audrey Wood and illustrated by Don Wood
I have wonderful memories of my mother reading this story to me as a child and it’s one I was very excited to read to my own children when I became a parent. The tone is fun and it’s an easy book to add to in an interactive way. We SNIFF loudly with the bear. We say BIG HUNGRY BEAR in a threatening “bear way.”
It’s a fun, lighthearted read that our entire family enjoys. It’s also short enough so that no one gets bored and is my favorite gift to give to a big sibling when they are welcoming a new baby into their home.
Life with a new baby is hard and it can be a big adjustment for older siblings, so having a fun book to read with Mom can be a great bonding activity together. This book is perfect for quality time!
by Emily from journeyofparenthood.com
We bought it to read to our four-year-old twin sons and our two-year-old daughter while we were planning our move from the UK to Australia. It introduced them to lots of Australian animals and words.
Our daughter is now six and it is still her favourite bedtime story. The combination of the rhyming words, the illustrations, and the imagery make it a lovely, funny, sweet book. We often find ourselves quoting it in everyday life as my husband and I have read it more times than we can count.
by Karen from SmartStepstoAustralia
I often find that saying I love you isn’t enough. Saying I love you doesn’t convey what love really means, or how much I really love someone. When I became a parent, I realized how true this was. Not only in that I couldn’t possibly express my love for my children enough, but that children find it hard to grasp the concept of love. This book illustrates love so well.
We use the fun creativity that this book brings out on a daily basis. My 4-year-old is constantly coming up with ways to express how much she loves me. Sometimes she uses the ideas in the book and stretches out her arms as wide as they can go. Other times she comes up with her own and tells me something along the lines of “I love you as much as all of the clouds in the world.”
This book brings our love together in so many ways. I read this book as a part of my newborn’s daily bedtime routine – every single night. It’s the perfect book.
by Katrina from mamasorganizedchaos.com
All seven of my children have adored Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell when they were preschoolers. I would say the best age range for this book is 2 to 5. the fact that it has stood the test of time in our household for 21 years is a testament to its longevity! It was first published in 1982 and still continues to delight audiences.
It is a bright and colourful book that teaches children about different types of animals and reasons that the child cannot keep the particular animal that has been sent to them from the zoo. The children love turning the pages and lifting different flaps to find out what’s behind the doors and making the sound of the animal they find.
Some copies of the book also come with a cuddly toy of the animal they finally get to keep, which we still have now! The board book pages are thick and chunky so are perfect for little hands and are not easy to destroy. The book will never go out of fashion or become dated so this will continue to be a family favourite for generations to come.
by Mandi from bigfamilyorganisedchaos.com
The Snail and the Whale is a favourite with all of our family. We started reading it to our youngest when she was 1, she still loves it at 5 and I am sure we will get another good few years out of it.
The book tells the tale of a tiny snail with a yearning for adventure. She leaves the rock that is her home to travel around the world on the tail of a whale. On the way, she sees many wonderful places and learns that despite being small she can still make a difference.
The pictures that go along with the story are my favourite of all the many Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler books that we have read. They are mostly double-page spreads of places around the world. They are perfect for very young readers to point at as they learn to recognise and say their first few words.
We love that reading this book to young kids encourages a sense of adventure and highlights that the world is full of wonderful places.
by Chris from morelifeinyourdays.com
Books for 3 year olds and older
All Better! by Henning Lohlein is the perfect board book for kids who cannot sit still. When my daughter was young, she could not last through one page of a board book without turning the pages or running away to do other things. All Better! was the game changer when it came to story time.
The book is about different adorable animals accidentally getting a boo-boo. Your child gets to make the animals feel “all better” by placing the reusable and repositionable bandage stickers on the wounds.
The 5 bandages come in different colors and each has a distinct animal and its favorite food on the bandage. Your child can match the bandage to the corresponding animal that needs it. Since my daughter is so active, the bandages give her something to do with her hands while reading. Who knew you can practice fine motor skills while reading?
Although the book is generally recommended for age 3+ All Better! has repetitive text and large illustrations that are perfect for kids ages 18 months to 4 years old. Just make sure the younger kids don’t put the bandages in their mouths! However, even my 5 years old enjoys placing the bandages on each animal.
by Betty from mombrite.com
Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers is a book recommended for children between the ages of 3 and 5 years. However, we started reading it to our son when he was just one year old and four years later it is still a firm bedtime favourite.
It was the cover picture that caught our eye in the book store and we bought the board book version, along with two other titles by the author. And stories by Oliver Jeffers are among our favourite children’s books to read with our son. As for Lost and Found, as soon as we turned to the first page, our son was captured by the story of a little boy who finds a penguin at his door one day.
It follows their journey together and is a heartfelt story enjoyed by both us and our son. Our favourite thing about reading this book is how our son started saying “pen-pen” instead of penguin, and that name for the bird has stuck ever since. It is a story so loved, it was even made into a short film.
by Cath from Passports and Adventures
In this Australian book, a dingo catches a wombat and plans to make wombat stew with him. But all of the other animals have a plan to save their friend from becoming the dingo’s lunch. They each add something unique, like mud, bugs and feathers to make dingo’s gooey, chewy stew even gooier, chewier and crunchier.
This book has beautiful illustrations, and it’s fun to read. There’s plenty of repetition that kids love to join in on, and it’s definitely a book that can be read and enjoyed time and time again.
Wombat Stew is a firm favourite in our house and it’s definitely well loved. It’s bound to become a favourite in your house too.
by Candice from writteninwaikiki.com
I think this book should be on every young child’s bookshelf. It’s the most fantastic introduction to the alphabet, with a beautifully clear font, and illustrations that are just stunning. Although it is recommended for 3 to 5 year-olds I started reading this to Flora when she was 18 months old and it was a repeatedly requested book for a good couple of years after that.
Here’s an example of the text: “V is for Vampire: Vampires are very pale because they don’t eat their greens. They … drink chocolate through little holes in their teeth.” Flora LOVED this book and took great delight in recognising the letters each time we read it. She was word perfect after we read this night after night for weeks on end… and I have to say I never got tired of reading it with her either.
Plus, every time we looked at the pictures, we found something new to admire – I was very tempted to buy a spare copy and cannibalise it for nursery prints! I bought it for all our friends’ children and they adored it as well. A truly lovely and unique book that, at Flora’s request, is now being kept for her children in the future!
by Lisa from Lisa’s Notebook
The Gruffalo, written by Julia Donaldson and illustrated by Axel Scheffler has been a favourite in our house since my boys were babies. We’ve read it from age 2 with my eldest and he still loves it at 7, and his younger brother has heard is since he was a baby.
The Gruffalo tells the story of a mouse walking through a wood and coming across a number of creatures who invite him to dine with them but secretly wish to eat him (although that isn’t obvious to a young child).
The mouse deflects their attention by mentioning that he’s off to meet a Gruffalo, the details of which emerge as the story progresses. The Gruffalo is a monster-like creature that likes to eat scrambled snake and owl icecream. Naturally, the predators are scared by this and get away from the mouse as soon as possible.
As a parent, I love that the mouse is able to use his smarts to scare off predators including the Gruffalo. My kids mainly love the rhyming narrative and descriptive imagery of The Gruffalo. It’s a bedtime favourite in our house and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
by Emma from Little House Lovely Home
Mutt Dog was the very first book my daughter borrowed from her school library. She immediately fell in love with the title character and empathised with this scruffy dog who has no home and no family.
As a parent, I particularly love this book’s gentle and compassionate
themes that explore homelessness and belonging. Although Mutt Dog lives
on the fringe, he is described as smart, tenacious and resilient because he has survived life on the streets.
The book reminds us that everyone deserves to be treated with compassion and dignity. Even at the tender age of 5, my daughter could understand and relate to these quite complex and challenging themes.
Mutt Dog now has a permanent place in our home library, and three years after she first read it, it is still on high rotation in our household.
It is suitable for ages 3-7; however, its themes will appeal to children of all ages, even those that have grown up and have children of their own.
by Lisa from runeatsleeprepeat.com.au
Though we had several highly-recommended starter books on our baby registry, they were all cast aside as soon as we discovered Deborah Diesen’s The Pout-Pout Fish. Not only does our son love it, but we do, too. It’s one of the few books we can read over and over without getting sick of it!
We began reading it to him when he was three weeks old, and now at three years old, The Pout-Pout Fish is still his favorite go-to.
The repetition of the “blub, bluuub, bluuuuuuuuub” verse especially entertained him his early days. As soon as he started talking, he loved reciting it each time we got to those pages of the book. Dan Hanna’s illustrations are bright and colorful, and the story has a great message – we’ve used it to talk with our son about happiness, sadness, friendship… and even biology!
I credit The Pout-Pout Fish with his current obsession with marine animals. In fact, we recently got a membership to the local aquarium because he asks to “see Pout-Pout fish’s friends” non-stop!
by Mary Beth from a Reluctant Mom
Elmer is a Patchwork Elephant who features in a picture book series written and illustrated by David McKee. The series follows the adventures of Elmer the elephant, an elephant whose skin is made up of rainbow squares.
It’s safe to say he doesn’t quite look like the other elephants of the herd. The important theme the entire series is centred around is diversity.
My favourite Elmer story has to be Elmer’s Special Day where all the other elephants and jungle animals paint themselves in the brightest colours and patterns to celebrate Elmer.
Meanwhile, Elmer paints himself grey to be “normal” for the day. The underlying message of accepting people no matter what they look like is very important and wonderfully illustrated (literally!) through this children’s series. These are books that on the surface seem like fun children’s stories but adults will spot the important message.
Elmer stories are very short and the language is simple. Children should be able to read an Elmer book by themselves from the age of 5 but they’re perfect for reading aloud and showing the beautiful images to for 3+. The first Elmer book was published way back in 1968 but there are still new editions coming out today!
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch is a wonderful picture book written by Ronda Armitage and illustrated by David Armitage. It’s suitable for children aged 3-6 years old. The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch is part of a series about Mr. and Mrs. Grinling, the caretakers of a lighthouse.
It’s unclear where the lighthouse is, but I always think of it being in the southwest of the UK, perhaps Devon or Cornwall, as it’s set in a spectacular craggy bay.
The Lighthouse Keeper’s Lunch is such a favourite because both the story and the illustrations are brilliant. Mr. Grinling loves his food and this story sees Mrs. Grinling send his lunch in a basket down a zip wire from their cottage into the lighthouse.
Unfortunately, the picnic basket gets raided by cheeky seagulls en route, so Mr. and Mrs. Grinling have to devise a cunning plan to stop the seagulls.
It’s a charming, unusual storyline. Adults and children alike love the fantastic illustrations, particularly of the mouth-watering food, the sweet little cottage on the cliff and the sparkling blue water of the bay. Reading it, you almost feel as if you’re on holiday yourself. Not bad for a book aimed at such young children!
by Clare from www.epicroadrides.com
The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper is a classic children’s book I happily read over and over again as a child. Now, I happily read it over and over again to my children. I started reading this book to them as babies and at 3 years old, it still captures their attention.
At first, the kids just loved looking at the colorful photos, then they began pointing out familiar objects (train, doll, bear, etc) and are now at a stage where they can follow along with the entire story.
As a parent, I love that the book teaches optimism and hard work in a form that kids can follow along easily. When my son was recently hesitant to try something, I referenced the little blue engine and he started saying “I think I can, I think I can”. Well, after trying a few times he proudly did it. A book that is fun for kids but also teaches a good lesson is always a win.
by Matilda from thetravelsisters.com
As a prior elementary teacher, few things are more important than daily reading to my kids, even from day 1! As worldwide travelers, I just love bringing in global topics in our reading materials or anything that encourages travel and exploration. This is exactly why I love Penguin’s Big Adventure by Salina Yoon.
We love how Penguin sets off an adventure, despite a few moments of uncertainty, loneliness, and even fear. We talk about how rewarding trying new things can be; whether that is traveling to the North Pole (like Penguin), making new friends (again, just like Penguin), or even something as simple as trying a new food!
We started reading this book at just a few months old, but it is just one of those classics that never gets old, despite my children’s ages! I am proud that I am raising a child who wants to explore the world. What better way to incorporate travel in our daily lives than through books!
If you also are an explorer by nature, here are 19 more books that inspire young travelers.
by LeAnna Brown from WellTraveledNebraskan.com
Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg is a delightful pop-up board book that encourages creativity in children (and adults!) This short book, aimed at kids from the age of 3, is filled with bright, colourful pages of lift-the-flaps, bends, windows and cut-outs.
The book demonstrates to kids that it’s okay to make mistakes! In fact, readers are encouraged to see ‘a mistake’ as an opportunity and starting point ‘to make something beautiful’.
Whether it’s a tear, a spill, a smear or a smudge… everything has potential. A tear in a sheet becomes a crocodile’s mouth, a stain from a coffee mug becomes a frog’s home and a scrunched up piece of paper gets turned into the body of a sheep.
I’ve lost count of the number of times my daughter has read this book. We particularly love the fact that Beautiful Oops! encourages a growth mindset in children – it has become a firm favourite in our collection of inspiring art books for kids!
by Gillian from The Little Den
Books for 4 year olds and older
A beloved picture book for nearly 50 years now, Dr. Seuss’ timeless classic The Lorax is an excellent way to introduce children to the idea of environmental stewardship. Presented in the author’s trademark clever rhyming patterns, the book boasts beautifully vivid illustrations that truly bring the tale to life.
The story is told from the perspective of the Once-ler, who recounts the effects exploitation of natural resources had on a formerly pristine ecosystem. There are great lessons in quotes from The Lorax, such as “Speak for the trees” and “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better- it’s not!”
Dr. Seuss’ smart, playful style makes complex concepts such as the downsides of rampant consumerism and the importance of conservation more interesting and palatable for even young children.
And even though he created the book way back in 1971, it remains arguably the greatest conservation classic in all of children’s literature.
by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett from Green Global Travel
What’s your family’s most loved picture book? Did our list include your favourites? Comment below with the picture books you think should be on the list!
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