According to a new study, the hallowed practice of bedtime reading is falling by the wayside — and that some quarter of a million children in the UK do not own a single book. This is a terrible shame, as regular bedtime stories have been shown to increase children’s performance in school, and are also awesome and can help create strong lifetime bonds, both with literature and with parents. So, from the peanut gallery of those who loved being read to (and still wouldn’t say no to a bedtime story): 50 books that every parent should read to their child. For the purposes of this list, we’re only considering books aimed primarily at children under 10 (according to the School Library Journal), which means you won’t find outstanding children’s chapter books like The Hobbit, A Wrinkle in Time, Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, or C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia here, nor will you find mention of your favorite bespectacled wizard — the idea being that these are books kids are more likely to read for themselves, without your pesky interference. Of course, many parents will want to read these aloud as well, but with any luck, your kids will be sneaking the book open and reading ahead long after you’ve gone to bed. We’ve also limited ourselves, for sanity’s sake, to one book per author. And finally, though these are, in Flavorwire’s estimation, 50 books every parent should read to their child, they are not the only 50 — so add any personal favorites in the comments!
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
Where the Wild Things Are is Sendak’s most famous — and also was most recently read aloud to this writer by a college professor, who held it up as a classic example of a quest narrative — so it will stand for all of his wonderful works. Outside Over There and In the Night Kitchen are also not to be missed.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths, Ingri d’Aulaire and Edgar Parin d’Aulaire
Greek myths: a solid base for any literary education, and a must for a long future of thinking about story. The D’Aulaires’ version is the best.
The Paper Bag Princess, Robert N. Munsch
A stellar badass princess tale for kids. Yes, Princess Elizabeth may be wearing a paper bag, but she outsmarts a dragon and gets out of marrying that lame prince. A heroine to cherish.
Corduroy, Don Freeman
For every kid who’s ever wanted to live in the department store, and for everyone who’s ever fallen in love with a slightly imperfect bear.
Harold and the Purple Crayon, Crockett Johnson
One of the best arguments for letting your imagination run wild that your kid will ever hear.
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears, Verna Aardema
This Caldecott-winning adaptation of an African fable may just teach you a thing or two — and it’ll do it with the kind of lovely, elegant illustrations that seem to become rarer by the day.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
Your kid will eat it up.
Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
But of course: the undisputed king of classic bedtime stories.
The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
You and your child might both be in tears by the end of this one, but in a way this book, about giving everything to someone you love, can only really be read properly by a parent to a child.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Judith Viorst
Because everybody has them. Even in Australia.
The Snowy Day, Ezra Jack Keats
A lovely, quiet classic about wonder and the joy of new snow. Suitable for any time of year.
Caps for Sale, Esphyr Slobodkina
A charming adaptation of an old folk tale, subtitled “A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business.” Enough said.
Madeline, Ludwig Bemelmans
A classic story about the bravest little girl you’ll ever meet, and sure to inspire budding Francophiles.
The Story of Ferdinand, Munro Leaf
One of the bestselling children’s books of all time, and with good reason — who doesn’t identify with the bull who’d rather hang out and smell the flowers than engage in all of that excessive fighting? A sweet classic.
Strega Nona, Tomie dePaola
A coy and clever story of an Italian potion mistress and her magical pasta pot. For budding fabulists and brewmasters alike.
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters, John Steptoe
A gorgeous retelling of a traditional Zimbabwean folk tale that has become a modern essential.
The Cat in the Hat, Dr. Seuss
Again, just a stand-in for the entire Seuss canon, which are all more or less must-reads for children and the creatures that love them.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
Beatrix Potter’s tale of the mischievous, rambunctious Peter Rabbit hightailing it out of Mr. MacGregor’s garden is over 110 years old, and still delights.
Make Way for Ducklings, Robert McCloskey
A simple story of a family of ducks enhanced by knockout illustrations. Of particular interest to Boston-dwellers.
Stone Soup, Marcia Brown
A trickster tale based on an old French fable in which soldiers wring some delicious soup out of some peasants, this book is delightful, filled with wit and wonder.
The Rough-Face Girl, Rafe Martin
A wonderful and affecting retelling of the Cinderella story set in an Algonquin Indian village.
The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, Jon Scieszka
If you hope to raise snarky, sassy children, here’s how: undercut every fairy tale they’ve ever heard with Scieszka’s weird, wonderful picture book. Just give them a talking to before loosing them back into the wild.
Frog and Toad are Friends, Arnold Lobel
The preeminent odd couple of children’s literature makes for funny, sweet reading.
Clifford the Big Red Dog, Norman Bridwell
When it comes to dogs, the bigger the better. Another classic to grow on.
The Story of Babar, Jean De Brunhoff
The wonderful (and oh-so-French) story of an orphaned elephant making it in the big city — and we mean making it: he’s eventually made King of the Elephants. Elegant and delightful.
Lon Po Po, Ed Young
This version of the Red Riding Hood story from China is one of the most beautiful you’ll ever read, both in word and picture.
This Is Not My Hat, Jon Klassen
Klassen is the new superstar of picture books, and his stories are just as whimsical and irreverent as his illustrations. This one won the 2013 Caldecott Medal, so you can feel like you’re on the cutting edge to boot.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick
Part novel, part picture book, completely gorgeous, and featuring one of the most charming mini miscreants of recent memory. Read it before you let your kids watch the film.
The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
The stately, classic story of four friends — Rat, Mole, Badger and Toad — in the English countryside, that, despite the fact that it was written over a hundred years ago, never seems to get old.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
The Little Prince is aimed for slightly older children, but it makes the cut for how delightful it is to read at all ages — you might actually want to repeat this one over and over.
The Hundred Dresses, Eleanor Estes
A lovely book that has the added bonus of curing mean girls.
Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, Virginia Lee Burton
Maybe it’s just us, but there’s something kind of amazing about a children’s book published in 1939 that features a guy and his semi-anthropomorphized lady steam shovel. Plus, you get to learn about all the parts of a steam shovel.
The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum
If you can imagine it, the books are even better than the movie.
Winnie-the-Pooh, A.A. Milne
Well, what’s a childhood without Pooh?
Little Bear, Else Holmelund Minarik
The first of five simple stories meant to remind your kids how much you love them. Plus: illustrations by Maurice Sendak.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, William Steig
William Steig is another author whose entire catalog should probably be read to your child at one time or another. This one, which won the Caldecott Medal, concerns a donkey who accidentally turns himself into a rock.
The Big Orange Splot, Daniel Pinkwater
Let’s face it: kids who read Daniel Pinkwater just turn out better (and weirder) than kids who don’t. Give yours a head start with the story of Mr. Plumbean, who bucks the social norms of his neighborhood and paints his house to look like his dreams.
The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, Paul Goble
In this gorgeous, Caldecott Medal-winning book, a Native American girl is swept away, both literally and metaphorically, by the horses she loves. For children and grownups whose passions run high.
My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannett
Elmer Elevator rescues a baby dragon and wins the day with the help of two dozen pink lollipops, some rubber bands, chewing gum, and a fine-toothed comb in this weird, quirky and often hilarious classic.
The Sweetest Fig, Chris Van Allsburg
Every one of Chris Van Allsburg’s gorgeous books is worth a read (and there’s an adorable four-legged Easter egg hiding in each one — see if you can spot him), but this gem, in which a snooty dentist gets his just desserts, is a particular favorite.
Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White
One of the most beloved — and most devastating — children’s books of all time from an undisputed master of the written word.
The BFG, Roald Dahl
Anything by Roald Dahl, really, although if your kid is old enough to grasp the brilliance, they’ll soon be reading the rest of the canon (maybe minus the dirty stuff, shh) on their own.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Judy Blume
Ditto Judy Blume, but here’s a good place to start.
The Happy Hocky Family, Lane Smith
Count on Lane Smith for a hilarious, completely meta children’s book that mocks as it entertains. Just a sample: “I have a balloon. Do you have a balloon? I have a balloon. My balloon is red. If you had a balloon, what color would it be? My balloon is red. POP! I have a string. Do you have a string? I have a string.”
The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
Tears for the whole family.
Curious George, H.A. Rey
Childhood just wouldn’t be the same without the questionable example of the naughtiest little monkey in town, now coming up on his 75th birthday and still kicking.
Tikki Tikki Tembo, Arlene Mosel
Now this is one of those books that just begs to be read aloud. Sure, this classic retelling of a Chinese folktale is fine to read, but it’s really better with someone (that’d be you) chanting “Tikki tikki tembo-no sa rembo-chari bari ruchi-pip peri pembo” with gusto.
Amazing Grace, Mary Hoffman
An inspiring lesson from one kid who can’t get enough stories to another: you can be anything you want, even a gender-swapped Peter Pan. After all, who wouldn’t want to be Peter?
Zen Shorts, Jon J. Muth
Don’t you want your children to be a little more Zen? Yes, you do. Especially with such lovely painted illustrations, sure to facilitate dreams and reflection, whether the Zen principles hit home or not.
The Three Pigs, David Wiesner
Wiesner is a modern treasure, and this Caldecott Medal-winning book turns a familiar tale on its head. Heck, it even turns the institution of the picture book on its head, while still managing to tell a good story.