Whether it’s read out loud by a parent, covertly read under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime, or assigned as class reading — children’s books have the ability to capture imaginations, perhaps more than any other genre.
From Max’s wild rumpus to Winnie’s reflections on true friendship; from Captain Nemo’s mysterious “sea monster” to the loveable March family: here are 120 of the best children’s books of all time, sorted into reading age groups.
Let story time begin!
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1. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown (ages 1-3)
Published 75 years ago by the same author who brought us Goodnight Moon, The Runaway Bunny is a board book that talks about the fierce love that a mother has for her child — despite an expert game of hide-and-seek, in which the little bunny keeps running away from his mother. But his mother is never far behind, comfortingly reminding him: “If you run away, I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.”
2. The Mitten by Jan Brett (ages 1-3)
When Nichi drops a mitten one day during a walk in the woods, he has no idea who — or what — his mitten is going to end up hosting! First, a mole finds it and crawls into it. Then a rabbit, and so on and so forth, until a brown bear is trying to squeeze into this warm refuge. Gently humorous and lovingly illustrated, this retelling of an Ukrainian folktale will show you where to seek comfort on a cold winter day.
3. Press Here by Herve Tullet (ages 1-4)
For any child who likes their reading hands-on, this is an interactive children’s book they will enjoy. As its description says: simply press the yellow dot on its cover, follow the instructions within, and wait for the magic to unfold! While the dots multiply, change direction, or expand before your very eyes, you’ll find the very limits of imagination tested and your sense of fun broadened.
4. Snuggle Puppy! by Sandra Boynton (ages 1-4)
Sara Boynton is a popular American cartoonist due to her whimsical illustrations and uncanny sense of fun. And she packs it all into Snuggle Puppy!: a story about a mother dog telling her puppies how much she loves them. In short, it’s a beautiful and joyful love letter from parent to child that deserves to be read out loud.
5. On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman (ages 1-4)
Every child is special, and there’s no book around that will more splendidly convey that message to them than On the Night You Were Born. With magical spreads and touching rhymes, this debut picture book is a story that deserves to be read aloud, for it celebrates the most important person: you.
6. Barnyard Dance! by Sandra Boynton (ages 1-4)
“Stomp your feet! Clap your hands! Everybody ready for a barnyard dance?” This cute cardboard book is sure to delight young children who love animals and dancing, and will be thrilled to see them combined.
7. Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton (ages 1-4)
Farmyard animals are definitely a mainstay of picture books for very young kids. After all, what tot doesn’t love learning all the noises that critters make? Watch out for the early twist when a trio of singing pigs forget what noise they’re supposed to make — and make sure your little one corrects their error!
8. The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood (ages 1-4)
Who naps in the napping house? A dog, a cat, a mouse, and a flea, of course. The rhyming narrative and dusky illustrations detail the slumberful happenings of a family — right up until the sun comes up and the household becomes decidedly more wakeful.
9. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (ages 1-4)
This narrator of this cute, funny “lift-the-flaps” book is just trying to find the perfect pet. Only problem is, the zoo keeps sending him the wrong kinds of animals, from the too-big elephant to the too-scary snake! But don’t worry — the zoo gets their act together in the end.
10. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd (ages 1-4)
A sweet, sleepy classic beloved by kids and parents of all ages, Goodnight Moon takes us through a nighttime ritual of saying goodnight to everything in the “great green room.”
11. Belly Button Book by Sandra Boynton (ages 1-4)
From the author and illustrator of Barnyard Dance comes the equally endearing Belly Button Book, which teaches toddlers all about the wonders of the human (and hippo) navel.
12. My Truck Is Stuck! by Kevin Lewis and Daniel Kirk (ages 2-4)
Kevin Lewis goes straight for the nerve in this classic children’s book, in which the narrator’s truck hits a pothole and gets stuck! Suffice to say, that is indeed rotten luck. So how can the increasing number of people passing by begin to help? Beautifully illustrated by Daniel Lewis, this is sure to be an instant hit for any child who loves automobiles and happy endings.
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13. Corduroy by Don Freeman (ages 2-5)
Another anthropomorphic bear features in this adorable picture book. Corduroy the teddy lives in the toy section of a department store and wants nothing more than a child to take him home. Sadly, when Lisa meets Corduroy, her mother refuses to buy him because he is missing a button on his overalls. This sets Corduroy on an intrepid quest through the store to try and find his button, so that he might be worthy of Lisa and her love.
14. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle (ages 2-5)
Eric Carle’s signature textured, tissue-paper-based artwork bring this simple story about animals to life. With its bright splashes of color and easy-to-read text, Brown Bear is the perfect beginner book for preschoolers and kindergarteners.
15. Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley (ages 2-5)
Big Green Monster may look scary with his yellow eyes, scraggly hair, and sharp teeth, but this book makes it clear that he’s nothing to be afraid of! After telling all the parts of the Big Green Monster to go away, kids will feel empowered to conquer the “monsters” under their own beds.
16. Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney (ages 2-5)
The best picture books are often the simplest. Llama Llama Red Pajama is about a young llama who’s put to bed, but misses his mother (Mama Llama), even though she’s just downstairs. With beautiful illustrations from the author (and a super-catchy rhyme scheme), Dewdney’s book is a steadfast favorite of parents everywhere.
17. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems (ages 2-5)
One of the first in Mo Willems’ renowned series for young readers, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is essentially Fast and Furious for the preschool set. The titular Pigeon — who, as fans will know, is often up to no good — wants nothing more than to drive the bus… which the bus driver has expressly forbidden. It’s up to the reader to keep the pigeon from getting behind that wheel, no matter how much he begs and pleads.
18. A Mother for Choco by Keiko Kasza (ages 2-5)
This sweet story of a little yellow bird searching for his mother (not to be confused with P.D. Eastman’s very similar tale) is sure to make you smile. Choco may not find a mother who looks like him, but he does find one to hug him, kiss him, dance with him, and — perhaps most importantly — give him the family he’s always wanted.
19. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (ages 2-5)
Amazon describes this book as a trailblazer, not least for the first full-color picture book to feature a small hero of color! But that’s not the only reason that The Snowy Day should have a spot on all family bookshelves. The story follows young Peter, who heads out into the city to enjoy freshly fallen snow and all the wonder a white wonderland brings.
20. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr (ages 2-5)
What should a young girl and her mother do when they receive an unexpected house guest — who just so happens to be a tiger? They invite it in for tea, of course! And they proceed to watch in fascination as it moves through their kitchen in an black-striped blur, emptying their cupboards of food. But how this story ends will be up to you to discover.
21. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf (ages 3-5)
A story about the importance of being yourself, The Story of Ferdinand follows Ferdinand the bull, who would rather sit amongst the flowers than butt heads as the other bulls love to do. One day, his peaceful nature is challenged when some bullfighting men from Madrid appear and offer Ferdinand the chance to be a champion bullfighter.
22. Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora (ages 3-5)
How many ways are there to say hello? Well, more than you might think. There’s “hello,” “hola,” “konnichawa” — even “woof!” if you happen to speak Dog! This book will walk you through all sorts of different introductory statements, and, most importantly, it will introduce children to the rich diversity of languages that you can find all throughout America.
23. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell (ages 3-5)
What are three baby owls to do when they wake up in the middle of the dark night to discover that their mother is gone? Well, fret amongst themselves, for one. On a cuteness scale, this heartwarming and tender story gets 5 stars out of 5 stars — and what’s even better than its artwork is its story, which serves as a reminder that mothers will always return.
24. Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly (ages 3-6)
Geraldine is a giraffe who’s new to town — and that’s not even the scariest part. Nope. Geraldine has to go to school, where she has no friends and is clearly the odd one out — whatwith the way she looms heads and feet over the other students. In short, life is hard for a well-meaning giraffe who only wants to fit in! So how can Cassie, another student at school, help? Beautifully told and illustrated by debut author Elizabeth Lilly, this is a heartwarming tale about belonging and being yourself.
25. Albert’s Impossible Toothache by Barbara Williams and Doug Cushman (ages 3-6)
Albert the turtle has a toothache, and his family won’t help him out! They say it’s impossible for turtles to get toothaches, because turtles don’t have teeth — but what they don’t realize is that something else might be bothering Albert. This astute book presents a valuable lesson for parents on the importance of listening to children, even if they don’t always make sense.
26. Duck in the Truck by Jez Alborough (ages 3-6)
Duck is in a pickle: his truck is stuck in the muck! But with the help of his friends, he might just be able to get it out. Fans of Dr. Seuss will rejoice at the lyrical rhymes that detail Duck’s dilemma, and appreciate how the power of teamwork eventually solves it.
27. Families, Families, Families by Suzanne and Max Lang (ages 3-6)
This book about all the possible combinations of moms, dads, kids, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins — as shown by fun portraits of cartoon animals — proves that there’s no wrong way to make a family.
28. Knuffle Bunny by Mo Willems (ages 3-6)
Named after Willems’ real-life daughter, Trixie is a toddler who loves pushing quarters into the machines at the laundromat. But when she accidentally leaves her beloved toy rabbit by the laundry machines, she’s absolutely distraught: how can she tell her dad to go back when she doesn't have the words to do it? The winner of the 2005 Caldecott Medal, this book spawned two further adventures of Trixie and Knuffle Bunny as well as a musical.
29. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr., John Archambault, and Lois Ehlert (ages 3-6)
“Chicka chicka boom boom, will there be enough room?” Designed to help kids recognize letters of the alphabet, this rhyming story recounts an ill-fated race up a coconut tree — with the contestants being none other than A, B, C and all the other letters themselves!
30. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson (ages 3-7)
A mouse walks through the woods, which is already an adventure that’s fraught with danger. For the woods teems with predators, including a fox, an owl, and a snake — just to name a few of the creatures that would gladly see an unsuspecting mouse as a tasty snack.
To escape their jaws, our brave protagonist invents a monstrous gruffalo, who he claims will come and protect him should any harm befall him. So what will happen when the mouse encounters a real gruffalo at the end of his journey? With 13 million copies sold over the world, The Gruffalo deserves a spot on every child’s bookshelf — not to mention it’s one of the few children’s books that has been developed into a play on Broadway!
31. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper (ages 3-7)
Oh boy! A long train must be tugged over a mountain, but the job might be more problematic than it seems. Bigger engines are refusing to pull the train and nothing’s getting done — until the task ultimately falls upon a little engine. And so our locomotive goes puffing up the mountain, repeating its signature phrase, “I think I can.” This is its classic story, one that teaches many a child about determination and defying expectations.
32. The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi (ages 3-7)
Raise your hand if you know the feeling of someone mispronouncing your name. Is your hand up? Then you might want to check out this book 😉 Unhei is a girl who’s just moved to America from Korea — and, like every other child who’s been in her place, she’s anxious about making friends at her new school. Knowing that her name is hard to pronounce, she tells her classmates that she’ll choose a name next week. What follows is a heartwarming story about overcoming cultural and racial differences, and staying true to yourself.
33. The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka (ages 3-7)
A good children’s book should accomplish two things. It needs to: 1) appeal to parents so that they will buy the book in the first place, and 2) appeal to the young minds the story is ultimately for. And, judging by the title alone, this book neatly checks off that second task! As for parents, they will likely be swayed by Scieszka’s fairy-tale-spoofing stories, such as “The Really Ugly Duckling,” and “Little Red Running Shorts.” It’s a true treat for the young and the, well, not-so-young.
34. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams (ages 3-7)
Once a well-loved toy rabbit, the velveteen rabbit is now a worn-out and discarded nursery item. Luckily, a magic fairy is watching out for him and takes the little rabbit to — where else? — Rabbitland! In a Pinocchio-like twist, the velveteen rabbit becomes “real” through the love of a child who finds him there.
35. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (ages 3-7)
Children have loved The Very Hungry Caterpillar for decades now, in part because of its fun cardboard cut-outs that allow the child to visualise the caterpillar eating its way through a lot of food. Of course, adults also enjoy the book for the fantasy that endless eating will allow them to transform into a beautiful butterfly. Simply put, it’s a treat for the whole family!
36. Tomorrow I'll Be Brave by Jessica Hische (ages 3-7)
Typography isn’t just for adults, as Hische proves in this beautifully designed book that is chock-full of comforting reminders to children that everything will be okay. Written in beautifully-crafted hand-lettered, one such message is:
Tomorrow I'll be all the things I tried to be today:
Adventurous, Strong, Smart, Curious, Creative, Confident, & Brave.
And if I wasn't one of them, I know that it's OK.
37. We're Different, We're the Same by Bobbi Kates (ages 3-7)
For many generations, Sesame Street has had an uncanny knack for imparting pearls of wisdom through entertaining storytelling. We’re Different, We’re the Same tells us about the things that we all have in common with each other — even if we look different on the outside. At the end of the day, it’s those commonalities that help us connect. But it’s our differences that make the world such a special place.
38. The Red Balloon by Albert Lamorisse (ages 3-7)
In a twist, this book is actually adapted from the short film of the same name! Both the film and book follow Pascal Lamorisse, a boy who comes across a red balloon on his way to school one morning. He quickly discovers that the balloon has a mind of its own — one bent on having adventures around the city of Paris. As Pascal and his new airy friend set about doing just that, this book portrays their adventures with such beautiful pictures that you’ll find yourself wishing you were a child on a bright Parisian day, too.
39. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (ages 3-7)
One of the biggest unspoken rules of children’s fiction is not to be didactic: young readers want to be engaged and entertained, not preached to. The sole exception to this rule might be Green Eggs and Ham, in which a fussy eater is convinced to move outside his comfort zone and sample a dish of unusually colored eggs and pork.
40. Big Book of the Berenstain Bears by Jan and Stan Berenstain (ages 3-7)
This anthology of exciting, lesson-filled stories about the ever-busy Berenstain Bears contains such classics as The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor and The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room. Kids will learn all about the world, their lives, and their responsibilities through the entertaining antics of Brother and Sister Bear, not to mention the wise words of Mama and Papa.
41. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers (ages 3-7)
When a lost penguin turns up on his doorstep, a young boy decides that the only thing to do is return him home. So off they set on a rowboat to Antarctica, where the boy will discover that what the penguin seeks may not be found at the South Pole. The winner of multiple prestigious awards, Lost and Found was adapted as an animated short in 2008.
42. Love You Forever by Robert Munsch (ages 3-7)
Told over the course of a lifetime, this sweet picture book portrays the evolving relationship between a son and his mother through the lens of a lullaby she sings, promising to always love him. Through the son’s difficult adolescence and into adulthood, she continues to sing the song and carries on her promise. The ending has been known to bring adults to tears, so be prepared with a box of tissues.
43. The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (ages 3-7)
Peter is a mischievous bunny who breaks into Farmer McGregor’s vegetable patch (despite his mother’s warnings) and eats so much produce that he falls into a food coma. When the farmer discovers Peter asleep in his ruined crops, a chase ensues. Will Peter escape in time for tea? Will the farmer be compensated for his loss of livelihood? Despite its now-classic status, publishers in 1901 weren’t keen on Potter’s book — which led to it becoming one of the earliest self-publishing successes.
44. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey (ages 3-7)
The winner of 1942’s Caldecott Medal centers on a pair of ducks who choose to raise their ducklings in a public garden in the center of Boston. Celebrated for its postcard portrayal of Beantown, McCloskey’s book was chosen as the official children’s book of Massachusetts — an accolade few authors can claim!
45. Jamberry by Bruce Degen (ages 3-7)
A boy loves berries. A bear loves rhymes. Together they go on a journey to Berryland, where they can pick fruit, make friends with raspberry rabbits, ice-skate on jelly, and make rhymes all day long! For fanciful young children, certainly nothing could be better than that.
46. Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers (ages 3-7)
In terms of introducing young kids to the wonders of the world, this book is pretty first-rate. Illustrated in his distinctively lush, wholesome style, Jeffers’ book takes its readers on a tour of our planet, from oceans to cities and from the earth to the sky. It’s the sort of book that you can really see children treasuring as they grow up and experience more of the world around them.
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47. Doctor De Soto by William Steig (ages 4-7)
Doctor De Soto is a talented mouse dentist who always treats his patients with as much care as possible. But what happens when a fox arrives to get a bad tooth replaced — and, while under anesthesia, admits that he loves to eat mice? Well, the good doctor and his wife are just going to have to “outfox the fox”... which they do by gluing his mouth clean shut!
48. Curious George by H.A. and Margaret Rey (ages 4-7)
The adventures of mischievous little monkey Curious George commence with this thrilling tale, originally published in 1941. George’s story begins in the jungles of Africa, where the Man in the Yellow Hat captures him in order to bring him to America. However, far from being scared, George is excited — and wastes no time exploring his new surroundings. From trying to fly with seagulls to being arrested for an accidental call to the fire department, George is constantly getting into scrapes! Luckily, the Man in the Yellow Hat is always there to bail him out.
49. I Know a Lot of Things by Ann and Paul Rand (ages 4-7)
A tribute to the insatiable curiosity of children, this classic picture book by Ann Rand (not to be confused with the author of The Fountainhead) is told from the perspective of a self-assured child (“I know when I look in the mirror what I see is me”). Published in 1954, I Know a Lot of Things boasts wonderful modernist illustrations from Paul Rand, a designer who created corporate logos for the likes of UPS and IBM.
50. I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen (ages 4-7)
A brown bear is upset. He’s lost his red hat, and none of the animals in the woods knows where it is — that is, with one exception. This simple, charming, and hilarious picture book by Canadian illustrator Jon Klassen has quickly become a modern favorite, inspiring a number of hat-based follow-ups and even a stage play at London’s National Theatre.
51. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch (ages 4-7)
Numbers don’t lie, and the truth is that this beloved childhood (and feminist) classic has unsurprisingly sold over five million copies since it was published in 1999. Putting a twist on the common fantasy trope wherein a prince saves a princess from a dragon, The Paperbag Princess sees Princess Elizabeth taking justice into her own hands after a dragon destroys her castle and steals her fiancé, Prince Ronald. With all of her belongings in cinders, she dons a paper bag dress and sets out the outwit the dragon. And then comes the next twist… but you’ll have to read the book to discover it for yourself.
52. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg (ages 4-7)
Is there anything more magical than childhood Christmas Eve nights, half-spent trying to sleep so that Christmas morning comes quicker — and the other half spent trying to stay awake to get a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer? But the issue for the young boy in this story is that he’s not sure whether he believes anymore in Santa. Luckily, there’s a steam engine horn slowly growing louder, and the Polar Express is approaching to take him on a wintery journey to the North Pole.
53. The Skin You Live In by Michael Tyler (ages 4-8)
"The skin you have fun in;/the skin that you run in;/the skin that you hop,/skip and jump in the sun in…" With nursery rhyme cadence and vibrant illustrations, The Skin You Live In truly aims to encourage acceptance of all different types of skin — all the while emphasizing that we are more than our skin.
54. Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes by Eric Litwin (ages 4-8)
The book that kicked off the bestselling Pete the Cat series, I Love My White Shoes follows the eponymous character as he walks around wearing a brand-new pair of white shoes. But the forces of nature (including a pile of strawberries and blueberries) have other ideas for him, and his shoes gradually change from white to red to brown! But it’s all groovy, because Pete the Cat doesn’t let many things get him down in this fun series that all children will love.
55. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola (ages 4-8)
Strega Nona is the grandmother that everyone wants to have. She lives in southern Italy, cures people’s illnesses, and can even cook a great bowl of pasta. But when her helper tries to use her magical pasta pot himself one day, the pot overflows, proving that there is such a thing as too much pasta — especially when said pasta gets out of control and nearly buries an entire village. A sticky situation, indeed! Luckily, Strega Nona isn’t a witch doctor for nothing — and she has the tools and wits to save the day.
56. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (ages 4-8)
A child and a tree: the friendship that you probably never accounted for. Yet that’s the central relationship in The Giving Tree, a story about a young boy who grows up spending time with his apple tree, who ages with him. Sad and undoubtedly controversial for the way that it depicts the unconditional nature of “giving,” The Giving Tree is nevertheless an undisputed staple in children’s literature.
57. The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers (ages 4-8)
Grief isn’t a topic that necessarily attracts children like bees to honey, but it’s an essential one. And grief exactly what The Heart and the Bottle sets out to cover: a slim picture book, it nevertheless is one of the best stories about the subject in children’s literature. It never underplays grief or tries to make it less complicated than it is. And it’s sure to touch both children and parents equally as a reminder that there is always the chance of finding joy after loss.
58. The Colors of Us by Karen Katz (ages 4-8)
Lena is seven-years-old and excited to start painting a self-portrait. But who knew that brown could come in so many different shades? A celebration of skin color and diversity, The Colors of Us is a must-read for all young children as it shows positively how we are each beautiful in our own unique ways.
59. The Frog and Toad Treasury by Arnold Lobel (ages 4-8)
This is a compendium of the classic adventures of Frog and Toad, Arnold Lobel’s cherished creations. Though Frog and Toad are, well, a frog and a toad, children everywhere will take to them instantly as they navigate a number of small misunderstandings and everyday situations, from a search for a lost button to a memorable episode where they can’t stop eating cookies. First published in 1970, this series is beloved for more than its simple illustrations: the steadfast love and friendship between Frog and Toad has lit up the lives of millions of readers around the world.
60. The Storm Whale by Benji Davies (ages 4-8)
Davies’ picture book about Noi, a young boy who lives by the sea with his dad and their six cats, is a Moby-Dick for kids. Every morning, Noi watches his dad set out on a fishing book and waits until dark for his return. One night, a storm washes a small whale up unto the shore. Noi visits the whale and begins talking to it, discovering it is a good listener. When the father finally returns and sees this, he realizes he may have been missing something: his son is lonely. Father and son eventually learn to be there for each other — weathering life’s storms side by side.
61. The Ugly Duckling by Hans Christian Andersen (ages 4-8)
One of Anderson’s most famous fairy tales, The Ugly Duckling has a concept that is as simple as it is well-known: a young and “homely” bird is taunted by his peers for his appearance. He takes the teasing on his chin and goes about life his own way, all the while maturing into a beautiful swan — much to the surprise of others. While this premise might seem vain on the surface, people everywhere should read this book to learn about the meaning of true beauty.
62. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (ages 4-8)
Let the wild rumpus start: this beloved book is now 55 years old! And it’s still as captivating as the day it was published. When Max puts on his wolf costume and starts misbehaving, he gets sent to bed without supper. But then… something magical happens. A forest appears in his room — and the adventure begins. Max’s journey to where the wild things are is a timeless one, and today’s children will be just as eager to follow him on his whimsical adventures.
63. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond (ages 4-8)
You could argue that the moral of this story is “no good deed goes unpunished.” A mouse asks a young boy for a cookie. But when he gets that cookie, he then needs a glass of milk, and then a straw, and so on. It’s never too early to teach your kids about the slippery slope — and why you shouldn’t feed mice.
64. A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip and Erin Stead (ages 4-8)
Zookeeper Amos McGee is a busy guy: from playing chess with the elephants to reading stories to the owls, his schedule is simply jam-packed. But what happens when he wakes up with a cold and can’t go to work? Well, his animal friends will just have to come to him instead.
65. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson (ages 4-8)
Kid lit authors are always looking for subjects their readers can relate to. And what do all three-year-old children know about? Crayons, of course! The titular hero of Johnson’s classic book has a crayon that brings anything he draws to life. Thankfully, Harold seems to be a decent artist — if other kids his age had this magical crayon, the world would be filled with misshapen dogs and seriously sub-code houses.
66. Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown (ages 4-8)
For those of you who don’t adhere to traditional norms, you have a new hero in Marisol McDonald. She loves wearing polka dots and stripes together. Mismatched socks? Perfect! Peanut butter and jelly burritos? *Chef’s kiss* When her friends challenge her to dress normally for a day, she quickly finds out that the key to happiness is “to thine own self be true” — a lesson that plenty of kids (and adults) could stand to learn.
67. Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow (ages 4-8)
A young daughter admires her African-American Muslim mother’s collection of beautiful headscarves — and picks her favorite to play dress-up with for a day. Thompkins-Bigelow’s book (with its beautiful illustrations by Ebony Glenn) shines a light on characters that almost never appear in Western picture books, inviting readers into a world glowing with color and culture.
68. Lovely by Jess Hong (ages 4-8)
An ode to positivity and acceptance, this book encourages children to see beauty in everyone. Tall, small, light skin, dark skin, curly hair, straight hair — everything is lovely when you know where to look! If you’re hoping to start a child on right foot when it comes to embracing diversity of race, culture, and sexual orientation, then this is the perfect gift.
69. Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans (ages 4-8)
You know how it goes. “In an old house in Paris that was covered in vines, lived twelve little girls in two straight lines…. The smallest one was Madeline.” Over the years, the plucky French Madline would go across the world on many exotic adventures. But in the first of her books, Madeline has to contend with something a little closer to home: appendicitis!
70. If You Give a Moose a Muffin by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond (ages 4-8)
Oh no! The boy from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie didn’t learn his lesson! When a big ol’ moose pops by for a visit, our hero serves him up a muffin — which triggers another hilarious chain of escalating consequences. If you still can’t get enough of this series, there’s another 14 books waiting for you, including If You Give a Pig a Pancake and If You Give a Dog a Donut. Will the boy never learn? Animals shouldn’t be eating refined carbs!
71. Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love (ages 4-8)
One of the most exciting recent trends in children’s publishing is an improvement in representation; for far too long, the heroes in kids’ books were all cut from almost exactly the same cloth. And speaking of cloth, this book tells the story of a young latinx boy who becomes fixated on creating a fabulous mermaid costume. But what will his beloved abuela make of this new obsession? Words of love and vivid artwork bring this touching tale of imagination and acceptance to life.
72. Bread and Jam For Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban (ages 4-8)
Picky eaters everywhere should relate to Frances the badger, who refuses to eat anything but bread and jam. No matter what time it is, whether she’s at home or school, this meal is her one and only preference. Can her parents crack the code to Frances’ curious culinary condition — or will they be stuck with a daughter eating bread and jam forever?
73. This is How We Do It by Matt Lamothe (ages 5-6)
Lamothe’s colorfully illustrated children’s book follows one day in the lives of seven real children from seven different countries: Italy, Japan, Iran, Indie, Peru, Uganda, and Russia. While each child’s story varies in the details, one fact remains common among all of them: they all love to play and are enriched by the love of their communities.
74. Thunder Boy Jr. by Sherman Alexie (ages 5-6)
Thunder Boy Jr. is the son of Big Thunder. It’s a cool name, sure, but Little Thunder wants his own name — one that signifies something cool about him. So, father and son set out to find Little Thunder the perfect name, showing young readers the power of a father-son bond along the way.
75. The Story of Babar by Jean De Brunhoff (ages 5-8)
The story of an elephant that has enchanted generations has a sad start: young elephant Babar’s mother is killed by a hunter. To escape the same fate, Babar flees to the city where he is befriended and cared for by the kindly Old Lady, who helps him obtain an education. Eventually, at the behest of his cousins Celeste and Arthur, Babar returns to the jungle where he is crowned King of the Elephants.
76. The Jolly Christmas Postman by Allan Ahlberg (ages 5-8)
It’s hard to beat The Grinch Who Stole Christmas as the quintessential Christmas book, but The Jolly Christmas Postman definitely matches it. Combining two wonderful things — fairy tales and the magical holiday of Christmas — it’s about a cheerful postman who receives letters from all sorts of people and creatures, including the Big Bad Wolf, a Wicked Witch, and all the King’s men. A must-read in the Christmas season.
77. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish and Fritz Siebel (ages 5-8)
When Amelia Bedelia goes to work for the Rogers family, she’s ready to do exactly as they say — and she does! But from “drawing” the drapes in a sketchbook to “dressing” the chicken in clothes, her performance doesn’t quiiiite meet the Rogers’ expectations. Luckily, all is forgiven when she makes her signature dish: a mouth-watering lemon meringue pie.
78. Everybody Cooks Rice by Norah Dooley and Peter J. Thornton (ages 5-8)
Carrie is hungry, but her brother isn’t home for dinner yet — so she sets out to find him, knowing he’s probably at one of their neighbors’ houses. Along the way, Carrie discovers the many tasty dishes of her friends’ dinners, united by one simple thing: they all involve rice in some way. This thoughtful story demonstrates a range of different cultural identities and experiences to children and celebrates how small things can bring us all together.
79. Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss (ages 5-8)
Everyone’s favorite friendly elephant gets tricked into looking after an egg while its mother takes a vacation in the sun. But when you weigh a literal ton, nesting on a bird’s egg becomes a slight challenge. Horton proved to be enough of a hit with kids that Dr. Seuss returned to him with 1954’s follow-up, Horton Hears a Who.
80. Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman (ages 5-8)
Knowing that her egg will soon hatch, a mother bird ventures out to get food for her baby. But when the chick emerges with no mother to be found, he decides to leave the nest and look for her — with initially comedic but ultimately heartwarming results.
81. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein (ages 6-8)
It’s impossible not to fall in love with Shel Silverstein’s poetry collections, and Where the Sidewalk Ends is no exception. Inside these charmingly illustrated pages lie stories about a boy who turns into a TV set and a girl who eats a whale, places where shoes fly and sisters are auctioned off, and dentists who take crocodiles as patients.
82. The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden (ages 6-9)
The setting is Times Square. The cast of characters? Chester, a cricket; Mario, a little boy; Tucker, a mouse, and Harry the Cat. In this Newberry award-winning novel, this group of misfits get up to a lot of fun in the Big Apple — and their adventures might even come with unexpected results for an almost bankrupt newsstand!
83. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz (ages 6-9)
We’ve all had days like Alexander’s… well, maybe not quite so terrible. Our long-suffering narrator wakes up with gum in his hair, trips on a skateboard, and drops his sweater in a wet sink — and that’s just on the first page! From there, countless more mishaps befall him, and all he can do is wait for the day to be over. Still, Alexander’s tale remains immensely enjoyable (not least because of his impulse to move to Australia every time something goes wrong).
84. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (ages 6-9)
The Lorax has all of Dr. Seuss’s genius: his inimitable rhymes, his wondrous illustrations, and his genial sense of humor. But there’s something else here that elevates it beyond his other works, and that’s this book’s environmentalist theme. For the Once-ler’s message about the Truffula trees that were cruelly chopped down in Dr. Seuss’s world is tantamount to the swathes of nature in our world — and this book deserves to be read by every child, if just to hear one of the wisest children’s authors out.
85. The Borrowers by Mary Norton (ages 7-10)
Pod and Homily Clock, along with their daughter Arrietty, aren’t exactly “normal.” They’re Borrowers: tiny folk who live in our households without our knowledge. To survive, they “borrow” objects from big people — hence their namesake. Needless to say, the line between big people and Borrowers is very strict… but Arrietty is growing up and is desperate for a friend, which will complicate things. Beautifully adapted into a film by Studio Ghibli in 2010, this book won the 1952 Carnegie Medal and is still a children’s classic today.
Best children's books for ages 8+
86. Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo (ages 7-10)
You won’t find any damsels-in-distress in this book. Funded through a Kickstarter campaign, this heavy tome from writers Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo profiles real-life female role models on every page. The heroines in this book range from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams — with their stories accompanied by gorgeous illustrations from artists from around the world.
87. Karma Khullar's Mustache by Kristi Wientge (ages 7-12)
Female body hair is not usually a topic most kids book will tackle, but if you’re someone like Karma Khullar, it’s something will preoccupy your waking hours. Half-Indian and half-white, young Karma is about to start sixth grade. On top of the usual stresses of starting middle school, she also has to contend with 17 new hairs that have appeared on her upper lip. Kristi Wientge’s debut novel is a warm and funny story that tells a valuable truth about self-acceptance.
88. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (ages 8-11)
11-year-old Harriet is a bit of an outsider. She dreams of being a great writer and, at the suggestion of her nanny, starts following people and writing her observations about them in a notebook. However, when her classmates discover her “spy book,” they’re not too happy to learn what Harriet thinks of them. Often cited as a milestone of American children’s literature, Harriet the Spy continues to delight young readers with its honest and relatable portrayal of a young woman (while never skimping on the exciting hijinks).
89. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (ages 8-12)
A sweet piglet named Wilbur and a clever spider named Charlotte become close friends in this deftly written novel by E.B. White. As little Wilbur grows and wonders what will become of him, Charlotte hatches a plan to save him from the grim fate of the slaughterhouse: she will write messages in her web to convince people that Wilbur is special. A beloved tale of true friendship, Charlotte’s Web remains a bestselling children’s books more than 60 years after its publication.
90. Oh, the Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss (ages 8-12)
Perhaps the most famous children’s book of all time is more than just everyone’s go-to graduation gift! Full of the staples of Dr. Seuss’s works, it’s indeed the ideal pep talk for people of all ages. You’ll find yourself coming for the iconic rhymes and whimsical illustrations, but staying for the deep wisdom that Dr. Seuss imparts. (Not to mention it features one of the most-repeated quotes of all: “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”)
91. Stuart Little by E.B. White (ages 8-12)
Before Charlotte’s Web came Stuart Little. E.B. White, the award-winning author of both novels, described the inspiration for Stuart Little thusly: "Many years ago I went to bed one night in a railway sleeping car, and during the night I dreamed about a tiny boy who acted rather like a rat. That's how the story of Stuart Little got started.”
He went on to create just that: the story of a child who looks like a mouse and must face the world of humans like so. With its iconic illustrations by Garth Williams, Stuart Little is a reminder that size means nothing when you’ve got the determination of a lion.
92. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (ages 8+)
Peter Hatcher doesn’t have it easy. He’s in the fourth grade, which is hard enough, and he has a horrendous 2.5-year-old brother named Fudge. Fudge bites, screams, and throws tantrums — but things really come to a head when he one day swallows Peter’s pet turtle. Now, Peter may be a fourth grade nothing, but he’s simply had enough! Written by Judy Blume, one of the best children’s book authors around, this bestseller is a favorite for its message about family and the lessons learned during the transition from childhood to adolescence.
93. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lingren (ages 8-12)
Meet Pippi Longstocking: one of the most lovable children’s book characters of all time. Now, Pippi is no normal girl — all you need to do is look at her full name for evidence of that (Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Ephraim's Daughter Longstocking). Luckily, you can shorten it to Pippi Longstocking, a truly memorable name in its own right. And that’s not all, as Pippi sets an example for all children: she’s playful, unconventional, never gives up, and has supernatural strength. Her adventures have been translated into 76 languages — and they’re all worth reading.
94. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (ages 8+)
The beloved Ramona series was actually born of Beverly Cleary’s previous Henry Huggins series, where Beezus was one of Henry’s friends and Ramona was only the annoying younger sister (you know the type). But it turned out that Ramona Quimby had too much of a personality. Clearly herself said, “I wrote in “Ramona,” made a few references to her, gave her one brief scene, and felt that was the end of her. Little did I dream, to utilize a trite expression from books of my adolescence, that she would assume control books of her own.”
This series, which begins with Beezus and Ramona, is her time to shine. With humor, spunk, complexity, and plenty of attitude, Ramona Quimby navigates first to fourth grade. It’s a fun-filled world from Ramona’s point of view (even though it admittedly has a lot of grown-ups), and you can depend on Cleary, one of the most decorated children’s authors of all time, to give all of it her expert touch.
95. A Bear Called Paddington by Michael Bond (ages 8+)
The first installment of the much-loved Paddington books, A Bear Called Paddington traces the origins of the eponymous character. Left on a London train platform with a note that reads “Please look after this bear,” Paddington is discovered and adopted by the well-to-do Brown family. And while having a bear in the house certainly presents, shall we say, unique challenges, the Browns are always there to help Paddington out of trouble.
96. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (ages 8+)
This heart-wrenching tale of imagination, friendship, and loss has been a staple of children’s literature for over 40 years. It begins with Jess Aarons, a fifth-grade athlete, getting beaten in a footrace by new girl Leslie Burke. After his jealousy subsides, he realizes how much he and Leslie have in common, and they become friends — eventually creating the magical, imaginary kingdom of Terabithia in the woods. But when tragedy strikes, Jess must grapple with his grief alone… and try to preserve Terabithia, even when it seems impossible to stay hopeful.
97. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (ages 8+)
Young Charlie Bucket has always heard stories of Willy Wonka’s mysterious chocolate factory, which has been closed to the public for years. When he miraculously wins the chance to visit the factory, along with four other kids, Charlie has no idea what’s in store for him — a whirlwind adventure that involves a treacherous chocolate river, a child-teleporting TV set, and a collection of small, strange factory workers who sing mocking songs at Charlie and his compatriots.
98. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (ages 8+)
When ten-year-old Opal moves to Florida with her father, a reserved preacher whom she describes as “like a turtle in his shell,” she feels completely alone. That is, until she adopts Winn-Dixie, a scruffy but spirited dog whom she christens after the supermarket where they meet. Winn-Dixie helps Opal bond with her father and break the ice with the townsfolk — a wide cast of characters including a hippie pet store owner and a librarian with a fascinating family history, brought to life by DiCamillo’s highly evocative prose.
99. Holes by Louis Sachar (ages 8+)
After being falsely accused of stealing shoes, 14-year-old Stanley Yelnats is sent to a juvenile corrections center called Camp Green Lake, where he and his fellow delinquents are forced to dig seemingly pointless holes in the ground. Alternating between present day and the 19th century, the story digs (!) into the history of the region, revealing interconnected stories that touch on serious social themes.
100. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (ages 8+)
Madeleine L’Engle’s landmark children’s fantasy book follows young Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, along with their neighbor Calvin, as they travel through multiple universes in search of the Murrys’ lost father. Along the way they encounter many extraordinary creatures and things, and must eventually take their place in an intergalactic conflict of good versus evil. A Wrinkle in Time is great for kids transitioning from shorter books to longer novels, especially if they have a robust imagination.
101. James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl (ages 8+)
If Harry Potter didn’t get whisked off to wizard school, he might have settled for escaping from his evil aunt and uncle inside an enormous piece of fruit. Indeed, that’s just what happens to the hero in Roald Dahl’s first full-length children’s novel. Once inside this giant floating peach, James befriends its insect inhabitants, and together they all chart a course for adventure across the seas.
102. Matilda by Roald Dahl (ages 8+)
In children’s literature, precocious kids are rarely appreciated by their parents. Nowhere is this truer than in Roald Dahl’s landmark novel about a genius girl who uses her brilliance (and other singular talents) to get back at them. From the vain and negligent Mr. and Mrs. Wormwood to the cruel, hammer-throwing headmistress of her school, Matilda’s foes had better watch out.
103. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Florence and Richard Atwater (ages 8+)
Forget the Jim Carrey film of the same name (lord knows popular culture already has) and pick up the original 1938 novel for kids! Mr. Popper is a man of modest means who adopts a penguin that he keeps in his icebox. But as we all learned from the Morgan Freeman documentary, penguins are not solitary creatures. This leads to Popper getting another penguin which — he should have guessed — leads only to more penguins!
104. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder (ages 8+)
Before the hit TV show, author Laura Ingalls Wilder captured the imagination of the American public with her autobiographical Little House novels. In this second book covering her childhood, the Ingalls family leave their home in Wisconsin and head to Kansas in a covered wagon. But they soon find that life on the prairie is not all milk and honey…
105. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (ages 9+)
This acclaimed coming-of-age tale follows Margaret Simon, a preteen girl struggling with faith, friendship, and of course, her awkward adolescence. After moving from New York City to suburban Farbrook, New Jersey, Margaret begins addressing God as she ruminates on how to handle various issues in her life — and decide what kind of person she wants to be.
106. The Fox and the Star by Coralie Bickford-Smith (ages 8+)
When you’re traveling through the woods, you’ll quickly realize that it’s not all bad if you have company. That’s exactly the kind of situation that Fox finds himself in: though he’s deep in the forest, he has his friend Star’s light to guide him through the worst of it. That is, until Star suddenly disappears, leaving Fox in the dark. This is the story of his journey to find his missing companion, and you’ll find yourself cheering for him as he ventures into unexplored territory, all for the sake of friendship.
107. The Giver by Lois Lowry (ages 10+)
It wouldn’t be an over-exaggeration to say that The Giver is one of the most influential novels of the 21st-century. When children turn twelve in the peaceful community of The Giver, they are assigned jobs for life. Yet young Jonas receives a mysterious role, one that might change the way he views his world. And what he actually does about it might tear apart his beloved hometown — forever.
In The Giver, Lois Lowry crafts a stunningly disturbing dystopian world that forces us to think about the consequences of conformity and contentment. By turn thoughtful, thrilling, and frightening, The Giver is a perennial classic about humanity for children (and, indeed, people) of all ages.
108. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (ages 8+)
Unanimously beloved and universally acclaimed, The Little Prince has a special place in the hearts of everyone — children and adults alike. And it’s pretty simple to see why from the first page from this slender book, which depicts a drawing and asks whether or not you see a hat or an elephant hidden inside a boa constrictor. Trust us: you won’t look back once you’ve seen the world through the eyes of the little prince.
109. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (ages 10+)
Lions, witches, talking fauns — what more could you ask for? Written by a grandmaster of fantasy, C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe kicks off an absolutely incredible fantasy series for children. Though it’s noticeably allegorical, Narnia is nevertheless a world of wonder that teases and stretches the imagination. So if you or your children haven’t read the series yet, it might be time to step into the wardrobe.
110. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (ages 8+)
Young orphan Mary Lennox is not pressed for space, but she lacks a place she can call her own. Living in her uncle’s 100-room mansion on the Yorkshire Moors, she constantly faces locked doors — and her uncle is woefully absent. One day, she stumbles across a secret garden, surrounded by gates. With the help of two new companions, Mary finds a way into the garden, and becomes determined to bring it back to life.
111. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (ages 8+)
Raymond Brigg’s story of a young boy and a magical snowman who comes to life one evening is an absolute classic. The animated adaptation is shown without fail every Christmas, and it (as well as the original picture book) continues to delight generation after generation of kids. Be warned, though: the ending never fails to pack an emotional punch!
112. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pene du Bois (ages 8+)
After 40 years as a high school math teacher, Professor William Waterman Sherman decides it’s time to break from routine! Of course, he decides to do it in a grand fashion: flying across the Pacific Ocean. During his expedition, he ends up landing in Krakatoa, an unthinkably wealthy and eccentric place where all the inhabitants seem to hold an intense fascination for hot air balloons.
113. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson (ages 8+)
One of the most famous children’s adventure books ever published, Treasure Island is a rip-roaring ride from the moment young Jim Hawkins meets the sinister Blind Pew at the Admiral Benbow Inn — right up until the climactic battle for treasure on the titular island. The lure of far-off places, treasure maps with an X to mark the spot, and dangerous adventures set against palm trees and sapphire seas are sure to capture any middle schooler’s imagination.
114. Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (ages 8+)
Who really needs convincing to read Winnie-the-Pooh? From beloved characters like Piglet, Owl, Kango, Roo, Tigger, Eyeore — and, of course, Winnie himself — and touching quotes like, “If there ever comes a day when we can’t be together, keep me in your heart, I’ll stay there forever” — it’s a classic that can be passed down from bookshelf to bookshelf.
115. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (ages 9+)
Despite what the title says, the March family is fierce and loving — and not to mention, loveable. The March family consists of Meg, Beth, Jo, and Amy, who all support their mother while their father is away during the New England Civil War. While sisterly adventures and many moments of love are shared, there are also hardships and the trials and tribulations of growing up. Alcott captures both in her timeless novel about family.
Best children's books for ages 11+
116. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (ages 12+)
One of the most iconic redhead heroines of all time (right up there with Pippi Longstocking) begins her story in this brilliant novel. Eleven-year-old Anne Shirley is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and is determined to prove herself a worthy daughter and citizen of Avonlea. Anne’s distinct personality and imagination soon brighten the whole town, and despite her many misadventures (such as accidentally dyeing her hair green), she also makes great friends and matures into a thoughtful young woman and teacher by the end of the book.
117. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (ages 11+)
Ah, where the magic all began. Allegedly written in a coffee shop in Edinburgh, J.K. Rowling’s debut novel would spark off one of the most popular series of all time — one that transcends age, gender, and culture. You probably don’t need a synopsis, but here’s one just in case: a boy living under his aunt and uncle’s staircase is whisked away to a school for wizards, where he discovers that he’s a celebrity. As a baby, he survived an attack from a Dark Lord, which — as he’ll soon learn — has put him in the crosshairs of some unsavory sorts, to say the least.
118. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (ages 11+)
While the movie adaptation (and one pale orc in particular) might be a little frightening for children or young adult readers, Tolkien’s tale packs less Hollywood punch and more heartwarming adventure. It follows Bilbo Baggins, of course, who enjoy creature comforts in his little hobbit-hole. But everything changes when the wizard Gandalf arrives at his door one day, and invites him to join a company of thirteen dwarves on a quest to reclaim treasure — and their home — from the dangerous dragon Smaug.
119. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit (ages 11+)
If you could live forever, would you? This is the decision that young Winnie Foster must ponder when she comes across a secret spring on her family’s land — a spring that is said to bring immortality to those drink from it. It’s a decision that becomes that much harder when she meets and becomes very close the Tuck family, who have all drank from the spring. Will she join them? And will she be able to keep their secret amongst pressure from those who seek to profit from the spring?
120. Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne (ages 12+)
While many adventure books take place on the choppy seas, this one takes place under them. When Professor Aronnax, his servant Conseil, and a Canadian harpooner call Ned Land set out to capture a sea monster, they end up becoming captive themselves — by the very thing that they were hunting. However, they soon find out that the sea monster is actually a submarine commanded by the strange Captain Nemo. So begins a thrilling journey from the lost city of Atlantis to the South Pole!