20 Children’s Books That Are Modern Classics

What we read as children shapes us as we become adults. But what makes a good children’s book? A good children’s book entertains its listeners, gets them to fall in love with its characters, has a sweet ending that makes them go “Aww,” makes them shed some (or a ton) of tears, and maybe even teaches them a lesson or two.

In this day and age, we’re luckily in no shortage of wonderful children’s books. There’s a book out there to satisfy every child of every interest, from the child who loves counting and numbers to the child with a penchant for the zoo. 

If you’re looking for some reading inspiration for children, look no further. We scoured the web for the 20 best children’s books that are basically modern classics. These books may not have been around for decades, but their stories are timeless. 

‘Sam & Dave Dig a Hole’

Stellar children’s book duo Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett do it again with Sam & Dave Dig a Hole. This book follows Sam and Dave (and their adorable dog) who start digging a hole to find “something spectacular.” Adventure and discovery ensue. It’s the perfect book for a little explorer.

‘A Sick Day for Amos McGee’ 

Written by Philip C. Stead, A Sick Day for Amos McGee is an adorable tale of a man named Amos McGee who visits the zoo every day to hang out with his animal friends. But one day he falls ill and can’t make it to the zoo. His animal friends decide “it’s time to return the favor” and pay Amos a sweet visit! This story offers a lesson about friendship and is guaranteed to bring a smile to anyone’s face.

‘Last Stop on Market Street’

The book Last Stop on Market Street won the 2016 Newbery Medal — and for good reason. The sweet story follows a young boy who rides a bus with his grandmother and learns to find beauty in the little, everyday things. It also exposes kids to people that may be from different communities than themselves and allows them to broaden their perspective on what truly can make people happy.

‘Extra Yarn’

This New York Times bestseller follows a young girl who manages to change her community for the better with a little help from her box of magical yarn. The story is incredibly adorable and so are the award-winning illustrations.

‘Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!’

This 2013 children’s book is the first in a series of five books — and to be honest, the entire series is a must-read. With a pigeon as the main character, this series is absolutely hilarious and is bound to lead to laughs. It’s a good place to start for those who’ve never picked up a Mo Willems book. (And then don’t say we didn’t provide a warning that it will be tempting to go to the store to buy all the rest!)

‘The Day the Crayons Quit’

Imagine crayons suddenly boycotting and deciding they want to quit being someone’s handy coloring tools. That’s exactly what happens in the cheeky children’s book The Day the Crayons Quit. Told in a series of hilarious postcards that each color of crayon sends the owner, Duncan, this is one that parents won’t mind reading over and over again.

‘I Want My Hat Back’

Jon Klassen’s book I Want My Hat Back was named the New York Times Best Illustrated Children’s Book of 2011. With stunning artwork, the adorable story follows a bear who lost his beloved hat.

‘Goodnight, Numbers’

Goodnight, Numbers is a bedtime book that’s beautifully illustrated and will help children with their math skills. It’s perfect for a future mathematician and a wonderful addition to the usual bedtime routine book lineup.

‘The Book of Mistakes’

Corinna Luyken’s 2017 book The Book of Mistakes is a must-read for everyone, despite being a children’s book. The book follows an artist and teaches children about learning and growing from their mistakes — an important life lesson that every child (and grown-up) needs.

‘If Animals Kissed Good Night’

Your heart might not be ready for this one! If Animals Kissed Good Night is one of the cutest books we’ve ever read. It plays with the idea that animals kiss good night the way we do, and is sure to end the bedtime routine with a lot of snuggles and a lot of joy.

‘Dragons Love Tacos’

Who doesn’t like tacos? Who doesn’t like dragons? Put them together and you get Dragons Love Tacos, a New York Times bestseller that every child should read. They’ll learn about friendship and laugh along the way while parents will have fun reading this totally silly story about dragons, tacos, and hot sauce.


The 2010 graphic memoir Smile is about author Raina Telgemeier’s childhood as she gets braces and chipped teeth, deals with crushes, and experiences a major earthquake. This book teaches kids that growing up can be awkward but they’ll get through it. It’s a must-read for any older kids as they start to navigate the treacherous minefield known as big kid school.

‘This Is Not My Hat’

Jon Klassen is at it again with his 2012 book This Is Not My Hat. This funny story follows a small fish (who wears a tiny blue hat) and other aquatic characters. This is technically the follow-up to his bestseller I Want My Hat Back and is just as engaging — if not more so.

‘The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend’

How adorable is Beekle? He’s an imaginary friend who is waiting to be chosen by a real child. This 2014 story flips the idea of children having an imaginary friend by telling it from the imaginary friend’s perspective, and we love the unique illustrations. Who knows? Parents may find the children in their lives may have a little Beekle of their own after reading this.

‘Grumpy Monkey’

The 2018 children’s book Grumpy Monkey is equal parts funny and meaningful. Readers follow Jim the chimpanzee as he learns to express his emotions. The book teaches children how to deal with bad feelings rather than suppressing them.

‘The Wonderful Things You Will Be’

This whimsical children’s book by Emily Winfield Martin inspires children to keep dreaming. The book features stunning illustrations and beautiful rhymes that will stay with them long after they’ve grown up. It also makes a lovely graduation gift for a young child. Just try to keep the tears in check.

‘The Book with No Pictures’

Written by actor and comedian B.J. Novak, The Book with No Pictures has no photos or illustrations but is still wildly entertaining and a modern classic. Parents will delight in reading out loud a book that can be read differently each time, and kids will love seeing their parents act silly as they’re “forced” to say silly things such as “Boo Boo Butt.”

‘Llama Llama Red Pajama’

Llama Llama is not a new story — it was written in 2005 by Anna Dewdney. However, this illustrated book is new! With cute illustrations and rhymes, this book will make any child absolutely happy to read. It’s also a perfect bedtime book that illustrates that sometimes little ones just have to be patient waiting for a parent. 

‘Where’s Spot?’

With simple but bright illustrations, Where’s Spot? is fun, heartwarming and a must-have on the bookshelf. The book came out in 2003 but has been revamped since then, and it continues to delight even the smallest child — and the adults that read it while the child is delightfully searching the page for the cute little dog.

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