53 Books You HAVE to Read Before You’re 12

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You’ve got a lot of reading to pack into the wonder years. To make all that page flipping more exciting and meaningful we’ve whittled down the choices to the 53 we think are the most classic, creative, charming and overall bestest. Dig in!

1. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
Travel between universes and go on an adventure that digs into the meaning of family bonding and friendship. Note to sensitive bookworms: The plot can get dark and teems with unsavory characters. Ages 11 and up.


photo: A wrinkle in time digest 2007 by MacMillan Publishers


2. Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
Written by mom Dorothy Kunhardt, this classic lets hands-on tots get interactive with fur, sandpaper, mirrors and more. There’s even an app version for the iPad and iPhone that comes with background music and sound effects. Ages 18 months and up.

3. Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann
It’s your modern fairytale that could have inspired Katy Perry’s entire career. After reading about a girl who turns blushing-red from eating too many pink cupcakes, your princesses and princes will be happy to eat their greens. Filled with bright colors, humor and a surprise at the very end, Pinkalicious is a great energetic read for pink fiends. Ages 5-7.

4. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
“Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy.” It only takes one read for this story of unconditional love to stick with your munchkins forever. Read it before bedtime or have them tackle it on their own. Ages 5-7.


5. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld
Fans of Toy Story and Cars are not going to get enough of this one. Complete with catchy rhymes for smooth read-aloud flow, old-fashioned illustrations and machines with personality, Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site will be sure to cement going to bed as something to look forward to. Ages 1-3+.

6. Chameleon’s Colors by Chisato Tashiro
Chameleon wants to stop changing colors, but Lion, Hippo, Elephant and all the other animals of the jungle would love to change their stripes. But the chaos that ensues with these colorful coats, soon makes Chameleon very grateful with his own skin. Your tiny animals will love the bright colors and patterns, but may not like how the entire jungle chases Chameleon at the end. Ages 4-8.

7. Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Filled with riddles and common-sense nonsense that even we know-it-all adults can’t answer, Alice in Wonderland is a fantastic, laugh-out-loud read-a-long for both parents and children. The original story may leave you tongue tied for explanations, so don’t be afraid to opt for the Disney-fied version. Ages 9+.

8. I Love You Stinky Face by Lisa Mccourt and Cyd Moore
The funny title will catch your eye attention first, but the story of unconditional love will have the funny face-makers in your family doing their own version of “Aww” before they go to sleep. Snugglers with especially active imaginations will get a kick out of the language. Ages 3-7. 

9. The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson
Patience is a rare trait in our youngest ones, and where better to learn it from than the eloquently illustrated The Carrot Seed? Crockett Johnson’s illustrations evoke a calm atmosphere along with the book’s message about delayed gratification. Ages 4-8+. 

10. Llama, Llama, Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Infectious rhymes make this book an ideal and memorial bedtime tale for your sleepers. On top of the amazing artwork and detailed facial expression of the baby llama, Llama, Llama, Red Pajama also teaches kids patience and reassurance that mom is not far away.


11. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale by Mo Willems
With Dad in charge, a trip to the laundromat is blissful fun until Trixie leaves her Knuffle Bunny behind. New Yorkers will especially love the black and white photos of Brooklyn, which are paired with colorful illustrations. Get your mini-me’s favorite toy ready, they’ll be asking for it after the last page. Ages 2-5.

12. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
There’s no sugar coating friendships and mean girls when it comes to Harriet the Spy. When Harriet’s friends find her notebook with all the truthful but awful things about them, Harriet has to find a way to mend her friendships. It’s a lengthy, but great beginner’s read into the world of novels.  Age 9+.

13. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
A boy who won’t grow up is certainly going to catch your active tot’s attention. Grab the original story for your Lost Boy (and Girl) to get the full sense of flying adventure and grave danger. Some moments, like the inaccurate portrayal of Indians and frightening Skull Rock rescue, may need to be explained, but otherwise suitable for ages 8+.

14. Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Got a pre-teen who hates reading? Hand them Harry Potter. Praised for inspiring kids to read, the Harry Potter Series is an entire new world to explore. And thanks to Rowling’s penchant for being extremely detailed, things of the book have become real life  — Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans, anyone? Of course, read the books before watching the movies. Ages 11+.


photo: BrokenSphere via Wikimedia

15. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
For cuddlers who are embarking on their first night alone, Goodnight Moon is start to what they’ll soon demand as “story time.” Everything rhymes in this story as Bunny says goodnight to everything around him. Ages 2-6.

16. Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
By popular children’s author Judy Blume (Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret), Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing is an entertaining read about Peter, a nine-year-old boy, who learns how to get along with his lil brother Fudge. Ages 9+.

17. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Candy lovers who will get a sugar high from all the delectable descriptions in Roald Dahl’s arguably most famous work. When Charlie Bucket gets the most coveted golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, a tasty adventure that’ll stretch kids’ creativity like everlasting gum. Ages 10+.

18. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Who knew a hole puncher was an inspiration to one of the most famous children’s books in the world? Kids will delight in reading (and counting) all the treats that the caterpillar noms through while learning about metamorphosis. Plus, there’s almost nothing as much fun as poking your finger through the holes of each food. Ages 2-6+.



19. The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers
Henry loves books so much he literally eats them to a point where he gets a tummy ache. Jeffers uses snappy dialogue and illustrations so amazing and colorful we’d be tempted to take a bite out of his book too. Ages 3-8.

20. Elephant & Piggie Series by Mo Williams
Pink and grey may become your sidekick’s favorite colors after getting through this early reader series by the kiddie scribe extraordinaire. The comic book style sets it apart from most childrens’ books, with Piggie’s speech in pink and Gerald’s (the elephant) in grey. Ages 3-5.

21. Caps for Sale: A Tale of a Peddler, Some Monkeys and Their Monkey Business by Esphyr Slobodkina
This humorous story of a peddler chasing after mischievous monkeys for his hats will have your teeny rascal holding their stomach in stitches. A twist on the saying, “Monkey see, monkey do,” Caps for Sale is a timeless read-aloud with repetitive sentences that invite listeners to join in. Ages 4-8.

22. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr and Eric Carle
Does your toddler have the makings of an Eye-Spy pro? Designed to help tykes associate colors and meaning to objects, Carle’s memorable illustrations along with Bill Martin Jr.’s sing-song text will really get their search gears kicking. Ages 2-5.


23. Diary of A Wimpy Kids Series by Jeff Kinney
Originally a web series that was brought to life by popular demand, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a fictional middle schooler’s musings of his daily adventures. Just like a kid’s diary, the series’ books are filled with hand-written notes and simple drawings to go along with the text. Ages 8-12.

24. George’s Marvelous Medicine by Roald Dahl
Watch out — your tinkerer’s hands will itch to play with mixing after reading Dahl’s magical and humorous plot. Just remember to tell your mixologists that George’s recipe isn’t real. Ages 7+.

25. Holes by Louis Sachar
Wrong place, wrong time, but nevertheless extremely lucky — Stanley Yelnats IV’s time in Camp Green Lake will have your campers swallowing the book whole. Ages 8-12.

26. Curious George Stories by H. A. Rey and Margret Rey
Munchkins all over relate to Curious George’s inquisitive nature. Where does this go? What does this do? This brave and lovable monkey tackles his imagination while undoubtedly delighting your critters’ own mind. Ages 4-8.


27. Franklin the Turtle Series by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark
Join Franklin the Turtle on his Woodland adventures as he encounters everyday situations like going to school, having a bad day, getting lost and even asking for a pet. Your sport will admire the way Franklin navigates through his problems like a budding adult. Ages 6-7.

28. Dan Gutman Books
Known for the Baseball Card Adventures, My Weird School, the Million Dollar series and countless others, Gutman writes readers that entice the most reluctant readers. Stories run from goofy, non-traditional, off the wall and just plain wacky, which will massively appeal to your cheeky ones. Ages 6-10.

29. Captain Underpants Series by Dav Pilkey
Forget Superman — Captain Underpants is the hero of the day in Dav Pilkey’s hysterical comic series. Tricksters will engulf book after silly book of Captain Underpants versus crazy villain. Rumors of a Dreamworks movie in 2017 are on the horizon too. Ages 8-12.


photo:  Just call me Jason (: via flickr

30. The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone
Staring the most beloved Grover and set in the friendly world of Sesame Street, this picture book is a unique story where Grover asks the reader not to finish the story because there’s a “monster at the end.” The plot twist teaches your page turners the concept of completing a book from beginning to end. Age 3-7.

31. James and The Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
A magical peach takes James and six talking garden bugs on a wildly unforgettable journey from England to New York. The book is slightly frightening and keeps your bookworms on edge, but Dahl keeps the action tame. Just be prepared for a peachy request for the juicy fruit (or pop in the Disney film). Ages 7+.

32. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
With only 338 words and beautiful illustrations, Sendak’s chronicle of Max and the Wild Things will stick with your lil’ king long after they’ve grown out of their tantrums. Reign over curious monsters and find comfort in a bowl of soup with this classic story. Ages 4-8.

33. The Lion, Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Despite not having a single clue what Turkish Delights were, our mouths watered for some right at the beginning of C.S. Lewis’ most famous work. Pick theThe Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe (or start from the beginning of The Chronicles of Narnia with The Magician’s Nephew) for a truly epic tale of good versus evil. There’s magic, talking animals, complex characters and a huge battle at the end. Ages 11+.


photo: Megan Allen via flickr

34. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Mistakenly sent to a farm, imaginative and talkative Anne navigates life as a girl in school and town while bringing life into her brand new home. Age 9+.

35. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Enter the vibrant and mysterious world of The Secret Garden, where orphan Mary is sent to a lonely mansion in Yorkshire and learns about kindness and friendship. Age 8-11.

36. Box Car Children Series by Gertrude Chandler Warner
Independence drives the Alden children on adventures where their moral fiber and family bond is tested. You won’t find a set of siblings more admirable than the Aldens. Ages 7-10.

37. Stone Soup
This folk tale hails from many countries, but the core message of cooperation and kindness remain the same. Read this story while boiling away, it really does make a clever recipe. Ages 4-8.

38. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
These eccentric spoofs on the classic fairytales will make mom, dad and babe laugh together. A naughty narrator, clumsy characters and a smart-aleck tone makes this book perfect for any story time skeptic. Ages 3+.

39. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
Explore a tranquil winter wonderland with Peter, an African-American boy who dons a rather iconic red suit. Keats’ illustrations have a humble and peaceful aura that makes us eager for winter. Ages 3-5.


40. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans
This seven-year-old French girl will have your maestros claiming how much they love their bread, butter and most of all, each other. Madeline’s chic outfits and polite behavior will have you saying, “Oui,” whenever this story is pulled from the shelves. Age 3-8.

41. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson
Read on in anticipation to see how these three baby owls react to their mother’s return from her night flight. Ages 3-7.

42. Skippyjon Jones Series by Judy Schachner
These rhymes and the adorable Skippyjon Jones will steal your kittens’ hearts with plenty of jokes and roll-off-the-tongue language. Ages 5-8.

43. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
There’s statue in Boston Public Garden of McCloskey’s mother duck and her eight ducklings. Your fluffy waddler is going to want to visit the Boston park after seeing all the popular spots on paper. Ages 6-8.


44. Corduroy by Don Freeman
Everyone loves teddy bears, and there’s no furry friend more lovable than Corduroy. This small teddy bear in overalls, waiting to become someone’s best friend, is a classic story for all generations. Ages 3+.

45. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Written using only a variety of 50 words, Green Eggs and Ham is a great pre-reading book that even we enjoy perusing through again and again. The most picky toddlers might even learn a thing or two about trying anything once. Ages 3-7.

46. The Library Lion by Michelle Knudsen and Kevin Hawkes
A lion in the library should cause chaos, but not in this case! This charming story teaches kids to follow the rules but also develop their own judgment on when it’s okay to break them. Ages 4-8.

47. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White and Garth Williams
Many of us can credit Charlotte’s Web for teaching us the words “humble,” “radiant” and “salutations.” Remember to prepare tissues for this story of love, friendship and community. Ages 8-11.


48. Who’s Driving? by Leo Timmers
Figure out who is driving what vehicle! Is it the rabbit, the snake, the pig or any of the other adorable animals that trot through the pages? Timmers’ book is a guessing game and story all in one. Ages 2-5.

49. Olivia the Pig Series by Ian Falconer
Featured on stamps, TV shows and even on an iPad app, Olivia the Pig is one of the most beloved characters of children’s stories. Olivia’s love for life will rub off on even the quietest of kids. Ages 3-5.

50. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams
Also known as How Toys Become Real, Williams’ book is much like the story of Pinnochio, a toy who wants to become real. And this super-soft rabbit’s quest to become real will have your buddy hugging their toys to sleep all night long. Ages 4-8.

51. Frog and Toad  by Arnold Lobel
Sledding in winter to eating ice cream on hot summer days, Frog and Toad are best friends who go on leisurely adventures. These five poignant short stories are an ideal start for new readers. Ages 4-8.


52. Pippi Longstocking Series by Astrid Lindgren
With superhuman strength, Pippi Longstocking’s playful and unpredictable personality will capture your buckaneers’ attention from page to page. Get ready to hear giggles at Pippi’s oddball behavior echoing through your home. Ages 5-8.

53. The Magic Tree House Series by Mary Pope Osborne
Ancient riddles, magic spells and journeys to the past of knights and dinosaurs — The Magic Tree House series is hailed as a great tool to jump start your kiddos into reading. Ages 6-8.

What books are on your kid’s must-read list? Share them in the Comments below! 

— Christal Yuen