I had a Mother who read me the things
That wholesome life to the boy heart brings–
Stories that stir with an upward touch,
Oh, that each mother of boys were such!
You may have tangible wealth untold;
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be–
I had a Mother who read to me.
The Reading Mother by Strickland Gillilan
Our house is full of books. It’s not that we have a lot (that depends on who you ask) but more that they are so loved. As I sit here writing this I can see books in the reading nook, books on the table, books on the couch, books beside the bed, books in the library basket, books on the floor (although they’re not supposed to be) and books on the shelves. We love to read books together. I love to snuggle up with my boys and enter a new world together through the pages of a book.
I have been working with my boys to compile a list of our absolute favourite picture books that we have shared together. I wanted to be able to share the list with others, but I also wanted something that we can look back on as the boys grow up. Maybe even to share one day with my grandchildren (oh my!) Oh my goodness it was a hard task. There are soooo many wonderful books for young children. So how did we chose?
C. S. Lewis wrote that “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” Every book on this list is one that I enjoyed as well. Some of these are books that my husband and I remember fondly from our own childhoods only to discover that they’re even better to read as an adult!
Every book on this list drew the magical, “again?” from my children’s lips as we closed the last page. Many of these I know off by heart from reading them so many times. Some of them my boys know off by heart (even my little one!) I would love to claim this as a list of living books, however that can be quite subjective. I will say that this list contains a lot of living books and I hope you will agree.
Also, a note that, since this is a list of our favourites it’s fairly biased towards Australian literature and, well, trains.
This list is sorted alphabetically by title and I have included links to the Book Depository and Amazon where possible. The links are affiliate links and by purchasing through these you will be directly helping our family’s homeschool fund. Thank you.
Click here to download a printable version of this list – 101 Best Picture Books for Preschoolers
1. Ada Twist Scientist (series) by Andrea Beaty (Amazon). This book and the others in the series Rosie Revere, Engineer (Amazon) and Iggy Peck, Architect (Amazon) encourage little kids to have big dreams. As a gifted child himself, they certainly have struck a chord with my eldest. He loved Ada Twist so much that we bought it so we could stop borrowing it from the library.
2. Alexander’s Outing by Pamela Allen (Amazon). This is a delightful little book about a lost duck in the big world of Sydney and some clever thinking by a young boy. My son particularly enjoyed recognising some of the landmarks in the pictures.
5. Are you my mother? by P.D. Eastman (Amazon). A gorgeous little story about a baby bird looking for its mother. Not only does it include some lovely animals but also a digger and an aeroplane which got my boys very excited.
6. Bamboozled by David Legge (Amazon). This book is a new discovery for my eldest, although I remember it well from my childhood. He has fun trying to find all the odd things in the illustrations.
8. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey (Amazon). This is one of the most Incredible picture books for children of all time. If you haven’t read it yet then put it on reserve at the library, watch a you tube video of it being read aloud or just buy it outright. The story of Little Sal and her mother and Little Bear and his mother picking blueberries on the hill is perfectly told. My eldest son is simply enthralled when I read it to him.
9. Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton (Amazon). Really anything by Sandra Boynton is a great book. She has mastered fun, silly and yet educational first books for little ones. Barnyard Dance (Amazon) is another favourite here.
10. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle (Amazon). This book is a classic and it’s easy to see why. Both of my boys have learnt their colours through this book but more than that, both of them have loved it! It was the first book that my youngest has asked me to read again and again and the first book that we heard him reciting in the car before he could barely talk. “WhatdoIsee?”
11. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkin (Amazon). A funny and silly story about a peddler selling caps that has captured many children’s hearts for generations. My boys are no different, and the sight of monkeys wearing the hats has them giggling.
12. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry (Amazon). This book is perfect for kids. Full of detail and hidden gems. My boys can spend hours pouring over the pictures. Really, anything by Richard Scarry is amazing.
14. Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin (Amazon). This is a hilarious and clever story that gets my 4yo giggling every time. The bargaining that happens between a group of clever farm animals and their farmer even has me chuckling. And those ducks haha.
16. Curious George by H.A Rey (Amazon). How can you go wrong with a monkey who likes to discover new things? Even the new books written and illustrated in the original “style” are quite good (and easier to find). We recently borrowed “Sweet Dreams Curious George” and my son loved that it referenced Chicken Little (we had just read Henny Penny) and a picture that looks remarkably like the Little Engine that Could.
18. Did you take the B from my ook? By Beck & Matt Stanton (Amazon). This book has my 4yo in absolute hysterics. Even more so since he has learnt to read. He loves to read it to us and have us respond in horror that he has lost the B from his words.
19. Dr Seuss’ ABC by Dr Seuss (Amazon). This was the first book that my eldest fell in love with. I know it off my heart and often would tell it to him as we walked along. The rhythm and the beat makes this an enjoyable alphabet book.
20. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet & Allan Ahlberg (Amazon). This is a book where the illustrations really bring it to life. My eldest loves to find the hidden characters of the nursery tales he knows so well.
22. Farmer Schulz’s Ducks by Colin Thiele. A delightful tale set on an Australian farm. When the road next to their farm becomes a busy highway, the ducks must find a safe way to cross the road, with a little help from Farmer Schultz’s daughter.
23. Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld (Amazon). This lovely book says goodnight to all the machines at the construction site. It’s great for before bed, but really, it’s great for any time really, because it has diggers!
24. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (Amazon). This is a classic book that’s been around for generations. It’s supposed to be the perfect bedtime book but we really like to read it and have fun looking for all the things in the picture. It’s great to just stop and look closely at all the details on the page.
25. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss (Amazon). Driving along the road and my eldest sees a train – “A train! A train! A train! A train! Could you, would you, on a train?” To which I answer “I would not, could not, on a train.” If he doesn’t want to try something for dinner, “You do not like them. So you say. Try them! Try them! And you may. Try them and you may, I say.” Safe to say, this book has become part of our family language and that makes it one of the very best books.
26. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd (Amazon). This book and the other books in the series are just wonderful. The repetition, rhythm and rhyme are carried along by delightful characters and clever stories. They are all loved here.
27. Harold and the Purple Crayon By Crockett Johnson (Amazon). The funniest thing about this book is, we borrowed it from the library and it had been drawn all over, by a purple crayon! Some child was clearly inspired. So was our eldest. Purple crayons were always his favourite and I like to think it was because he loved this book. He did eat an entire purple crayon once, so maybe not haha. He’s not a very creative child so any book that he enjoys that encourages creativity is especially valued here.
29. Henny Penny by Paul Galdone (Amazon). The copy that we have of this book is so old, the pages are soft and yellow and tear so easily. But the story is wonderful. Chicken Little or Henny Penny as she is known in Australia running around yelling “the sky is falling!” (I love to get my chicken screech happening). I really love that this book ends with a tasty meal for a sly fox family!
30. Hooray for Fish by Lucy Cousins (Amazon). The first time I saw this book it was being read on Playschool and I thought it was gorgeous. Later on it was gifted to us and I couldn’t have been happier. The colours are simply amazing and my boys enjoy saying hello to the different fish as I read it.
31. Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss (Amazon). Remember when I said that every book on this list I had read again and again to my children. Well, this one is probably the longest book that I have read back to back. But I did it, because my eldest son simply adores it. I enjoy it too, although I do limit him to once a day now.
32. How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World by Marjorie Priceman (Amazon). This is a silly story about travelling the world to gather the ingredients to make an apple pie and, it comes with a recipe!
33. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff (Amazon). If you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to ask for a glass of milk, and then, what’s next? A funny story for kids and one that Mum will get a few extra laughs out of too.
34. I’m Australian Too by Mem Fox. My son enjoyed the little glimpse into different Australian families living in different places around Australia. It’s a more sensitive introduction to the topic of refugees in a real and empathetic way that kids can understand.
36. Katie and the Starry Night (series) by James Mayhew (Amazon). This is a delightful series about Katie exploring some of the most beautiful artworks in the world. The books are loved here and I love that my sons are learning to appreciate truly beautiful art (even if they can never produce it themselves).
37. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle (Amazon). This book was recommended to me by an American friend. We don’t have the book but we have watched a YouTube reading of it many times (this is a fun way to see inside a new book before buying it, or even just for something different to Mum reading). What a fun story about a friendly little blue truck and an important dump truck who learns his lesson after getting stuck in the mud.
38. Little Red Train – Runaway Train by Benedict Blathwayt (part of a series) (Amazon). This book was a lovely discovery on the sales table at our local bookshop. It has wonderful pictures and an enjoyable story about a runaway train and all the people who work together to help Duffy Driver to stop it. It’s about a train so, of course, my boys love it but I quite enjoyed it too. Which is good, because I’ve read it many, many times.
39. The Little Refugee by Anh Do & Suzanne Do (Amazon). I hesitated over including this book. Not because of its value but because it has some fairly confronting content for young children. I include it, however, because I think it is an important story for children to hear and empathise with.
40. Madeline (series) by Ludwig Bemelmans (Amazon). My son loves all things France (so does his Grandma) and so this series is particularly enjoyed. I love how he uses the French words that he has learnt from the books (and I have to try to pronounce!)
41. Magic Beach by Alison Lester (Amazon). What a wonderful book that takes the ordinary events of a day out at the beach and turns them into a magic adventure. We read this book at Poetry Teatime because the writing is just so rich.
42. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (Amazon). Yet again, Robert McCloskey has written a perfect children’s book which has delighted children for generations. This story about a family of ducks on an adventure to find their perfect home is purely magical. I cannot recommend this author highly enough.
44. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel by Virginia Lee Burton (Amazon). A story about a steam shovel who saves the day and finds a special new place in a world of diesel engines is a must for all little boys (and girls)!
45. Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney (Amazon). This book about a flower lady leaves the challenge with children – how are you going to make the world more beautiful? The story is beautiful. The pictures are beautiful. The inspiration is beautiful.
46. A Mouse in the House by Henrietta (Amazon). My husband loved this book as a little boy, and his mother pulled it out recently to read to my boys. Well, now every time we go there, my son wants to go get “the mouse book” to read it again. The photographs are full of clever details and hidden gems and, of course, a little mouse hiding just waiting to be found.
47. Mr Archimedes Bath by Pamela Allen (Amazon). Every child should read this book at least once… and then have a bath! This is one of those rare books that challenges a child to think mathematically, without even realising they’re doing it. And, it’s fun.
48. Mr Chicken goes to Paris by Leigh Hobbs (Amazon). A giant chicken who travels the world? What fun! Mr Chicken is, well, pretty ugly, but the story is amusing as he travels around Paris (or London or Rome). A wonderful geographical story. The French words are enjoyable too! Our book came with a toy Mr Chicken which my son loves to re-enact the stories with.
49. Mulga Bill’s Bicycle by AB Paterson (Amazon). This delightful tale from one of Australia’s most well-known poets is a must for children and adults alike. This story has action, adventure and a big splash! We have an illustrated version which really adds a lot of fun to the already amusing account.
50. My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes by Eve Sutton (Amazon). I said in my introduction that every book on this list was one that I was happy to read over and over again. I lied. Well, sort of. I certainly enjoyed this book with its repetitive rhyming couplets the first time I read it. Even the second time. And the third. But this book was one of those books that our first son brought to us to read at least twenty times a day so, well, let’s just say it spent some periods of time hiding underneath the couch. It really is a wonderful book though, and my son will quote a line from it every now and then when something reminds him of it… like every time our cat hides in a box.
51. Possum Magic by Mem Fox and Julie Vivas (Amazon). I don’t think I need to say anything about this book. Every Australian (and International!) house should have a copy. We have the Possum Magic Cookbook too which is an enjoyable addition.
52. Press Here by Herve Tullet (Amazon). This interactive book is so much fun to read together. My little one calls this book “button” because he knows you have to press the yellow dot to start the magic.
53. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister (Amazon). I remembered loving this book in my childhood but I couldn’t remember what it was about so it was a wonderful trip down memory lane to read it again with my boys. And then we read it again and again.
54. Richard Scarry’s Best Nursery Tales Ever. Richard Scarry and Nursery Tales are a match made in picture book heaven. We have an older version but anything by Richard Scarry is a treasure trove of delight for young children. It certainly is for ours.
55. Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins (Amazon). The illustrations make this book hilarious as the fox following Rosie keeps getting into strife. I love to read this book with a straight face while my eldest erupts in giggles at the pictures.
56. Rustle Up a Rhythm by Rosalind Malam and Sarah Nelisiwe Anderson. The rhythm in this book is so magical and catchy. It draws out the beat of daily life.
57. Shoes from Grandpa by Mem Fox (Amazon). Another Mem Fox winner. She has so many wonderful books it’s hard to pick our favourites but this one definitely warrants a mention. Mem Fox seems to find the perfect balance of story and structure that draws kids it. It’s a great book for getting your kids to finish the phrase.
58. Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges (Amazon). This story has a knight and a dragon! My son was already in love with the story of St George and the Dragon from an Usborne reader when we got this book. The story is a little different but he loves it just the same.
59. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola (Amazon). What a delightful character Strega Nona is (we love the other books about her too). My son loves it when I read this story with an (awful) Italian accent and he walks around afterwards saying “Strrrrega Nona!”
60. Stuck by Oliver Jeffers (Amazon). I love everything by Oliver Jeffers but I think this is my favourite. My sons certainly enjoy it. The little one loves naming all the things that get stuck “Oh no, boat. It’s stuck!” and my big one finds the ending hilarious (and often yells at the book).
63. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt, illustrations by Oliver Jeffers (Amazon). Our eldest son is incredibly literal so this book leaves him dumbfounded, in a good way. It’s such a clever book that really challenges your perspective and inspires creativity.
64. The Giant Jumperee by Julia Donaldson & Helen Oxenbury (Amazon). This is another book that often gets quoted and re-enacted around our house. My eldest loves to hide under the table and yell out “I’m the Giant Jumperee and I will sting you like a bee!” My little one loves it too and will flick through the pages saying “Help! Help!”
65. The Giving Tree by Shil Silverstein (Amazon). I wasn’t sure how my son would respond to this book when I first read it to him as it seems to me to really be aimed at adults. Four readings in a row later, I think he loves it too. And then he kept reading it by himself. He seems to really love the simple story about a boy and a tree while as an adult, I am challenged on a whole other level (consumerism, environmentalism etc).
66. The Great Tasmanian Tiger Hunt by Michael Salmon. Another book where the pictures tell a different story to the words, and this is one which is near and dear to Australian hearts (well, mine at least).
69. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (Amazon). When I was a little girl my Nan had a copy of this book and an audio recording of it on vinyl! It was my favourite. When she passed away I was fortunate enough to inherit her book collection and in it, I found this wonderful little paperback book (and the vinyl!). What a treasure. What makes it even more special is that both of my boys have simply adored it too. My little one will pull every book off the shelf hunting for this little treasure and bring it to me excitedly. It’s still available in the shops and we have gifted it to many special children for birthday presents. One day I hope to get my vinyl record digitised so I can listen to it again.
70. The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (Amazon). A wonderful book about a little house in the country that dreams of living in the big city, until the city comes to her. It’s very charming and poignant.
73. The Magic School Bus inside the Human Body (or really, the whole series) by Joanna Cole (Amazon). We have the books and the DVDs of these because they are incredible. They present scientific experiences to children in a way that simplifies it without dumbing it down and it comes all wrapped up in a fun story.
74. The Man from Snowy River by AB Paterson. This one surprised me. I read it to my son for the first time when he was 3 (during Poetry Teatime) and he adored it. The sound of the words really helps to tell the story even when all the words themselves may not be understood. We downloaded an audio version of it and listened to it in the car (at his regular request) and, without even trying, he was able to join in for quite a bit of it.
77. The Reluctant Dragon by Kenneth Grahame (Amazon). This clever story comes from the writer of The Wind in the Willows. It tells of a kindly, poetry writing, story telling dragon who is forced to meet with the famous dragon-slayer St George. With the help of his little friend, everything works out in the end.
79. The Story about Ping by Marjorie Flack (Amazon). A delightful tale from the Yangtze River and a spirited little duck who loses his way. I was fortunate to find this book at a second hand sale and it has become a treasured book in our collection.
81. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (Amazon). This whole series is really beautiful. Fun and delightful stories with gorgeous illustrations. These have stood the test of time being loved across the generations.
84. The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland (Amazon). This book was my eldest son’s first favourite book. He used to find it on the shelf and start roaring before he could even say “Mummy.” (I remember being jealous of a book!) I know it off by heart. My husband knows it off by heart. Our eldest knows it off by heart. Our little one says “roar!” Our copy is held together with tape. So much tape. We have the whole series of books and particularly love The Very Brave Bear.
85. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (Amazon). I think we have three copies of this book (or at least we did before I had to make room on the shelves for our growing collection). There is a reason it is so popular (and apparently makes a popular gift!) It is a simply delightful story about a little caterpillar on its hungry journey to becoming a beautiful butterfly. The pictures are stunning, as always, from Eric Carle.
86. The Wrong Book by Nick Bland (Amazon). We are big Nick Bland fans here (and he’s Australian too!) After the bear books this one is probably our next favourite. A fun story about a little boy who’s book keeps getting invaded by characters who are in the wrong book. My son tried to convince me that his name was Nicholas Ickle after reading this one, much to my amusement. We also really like King Pig and The Runaway Hug and anything, really, by Nick Bland.
87. There’s a Sea in my Bedroom by Margaret Wild (Amazon). I found this at the library recently and it brought back some of the strongest memories from my childhood, catching me completely by surprise. We borrowed it (of course) and my son absolutely adores it. I think he really resonates with a character who is scared of the sea, especially the sound it makes. We’re now on the hunt for a shell for him so that he can listen to the sea inside it.
88. This is a Ball by Beck Stanton & Matt Stanton (Amazon). The book wins the award for the one that has made us laugh the most. It’s claimed to be a book “that drives kids crazy” and it really does. My son is absolutely hysterical as he tries to correct you as you read. Then, to make it even funnier, he reads it to us and we correct him, which has him laughing so hard he can hardly get the words out.
89. Thomas the Tank Engine Complete Collection (original series) by Rev W. Awdry (Amazon). There’s so many Thomas books, DVDs and merchandise around these days (some of it truly awful) that sometimes we forget the quality and beauty of the original stories penned by the Reverent Awdry for his son. We have a collection similar to this one with all the stories in one book and it’s brilliant.
91. The Tram to Bondi Beach by Libby Hathorn & Julie Vivas (Amazon). A wonderful narrative of a little boy who sells papers as he swings along the sides of the old trams. We read this book soon after visiting a museum of gorgeous restored trams and going for a short ride and so it was extra meaningful for us. It is a doorway into days gone by.
92. Usborne See-Inside Trains by Emily Bone (or any in the series) (Amazon). These non-fiction books are full of wonderful facts and interesting snippets of information. My son loves them. We have How Things Work as well and they both get looked at almost daily.
94. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury (Amazon). I don’t think I need to say any about this book except that we love it as much as everyone else does. There’s a reason it’s so well-known.
95. Where is the Green Sheep? By Mem Fox & Judy Horacek (Amazon). This book has a very special place in my heart because it is the first book that my eldest read to his little brother. Mem Fox, yet again, writes magic that children love.
96. Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker (Amazon). Have you ever seen this book? The pictures are absolutely breathtaking. You can’t help but touch them. My 4yo strokes the page. My 2yo pokes it. The story is lovely and challenging but it is the artwork that puts this book on our favourites list.
97. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (Amazon). It took us a long time to actually read this book because my son was a bit put off by the pictures. But once we read it, he absolutely loved it.
98. Where’s Spot? By Eric Hill (Amazon). Okay, I will admit, I don’t love Spot books, but my boys definitely do. There’s something about discovering what’s under the flap that gets them so excited. Sometimes too excited… most of ours are sticky taped back together. Maybe that’s why I don’t love them that much.
101. Wombat Stew by Marcia K Vaughan and Pamela Lofts (Amazon). Last, but certainly not least comes Wombat Stew. We have a set of Australian Animal mini figurines and my son loves to get his billy and “cook” Wombat Stew while singing “Wombat stew, Wombat stew, Gooey brewy, Yummy chewy, Wombat stew!”
Well, if you made it to the end of the list I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Are any of these your favourites? Do you remember some from your own childhood? Of course, this is our list. Every family’s would be different. I’d love to hear the favourite picture books in your family.
Click here to download a printable version of this list – 101 Best Picture Books for Preschoolers