Looking for a good book your little one can read? You can’t go wrong with classics that have had children turning page after page for decades.
The 9 most read children’s books in the world are:
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
- Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter)
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)
- Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A. Milne)
- The Hobbit, a.k.a. There and Back Again (J. R. R. Tolkien)
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J. K. Rowling)
- Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)
- The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
I chose and ranked the above books based on the number of copies they’ve sold worldwide to date. I’ll also mention what age category they fall under, give a summary of each book, and explain why your kids should (and shouldn’t) read them below.
*All nine books are available on Amazon.com.
1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
Age Category: 8 years old and above
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 20 million.
Summary: Charlie Bucket has always been curious about Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, which he passes by every day. One day, Wonka announces that he’ll give out five Golden Tickets to five lucky children who’ll get to enter his factory. At first, Charlie doesn’t think he has a fair shot at winning a Golden Ticket since his family is too poor to afford Wonka’s chocolates. But he wins one anyway and has an adventure that changes him forever.
Why Your Child Should Read It: Whether your child has a sweet tooth or not, Roald Dahl’s delightful and imaginative adventure story will leave your young one craving more (no pun intended). If your child likes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, you can introduce them to other Roald Dahl classics like Matilda and The BFG. All three already have film adaptations.
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: Some scenes may frighten your child, so make sure you accompany them while reading Roald Dahl’s best-selling book of all time. Also, the Oompa-Loompas who work for Willy Wonka are racist caricatures. It’s okay to read a book like this to a child, but make sure your young one understands the book’s problematic aspects.
2. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
Age Category: 6 to 8 years old
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 25 million (200,000 copies sold every year)
Summary: Despite what the book cover might suggest, “Charlotte” isn’t the name of the little girl-slash-human protagonist. Instead, it refers to a spider who befriends an eight-year-old girl named Fern Arable. In turn, they befriend a pig named Wilbur, who is about to become the “highlight” of Fern’s uncle’s Christmas dinner. Together, Charlotte and Fern work to save Wilbur from a horrible fate.
Why Your Child Should Read It: No children’s book collection is complete without a story about anthropomorphic animals — that is, animals that have human characteristics to make them more relatable to readers. Speaking of empathy, when your child reads about the fleshed-out motivations of nonhuman characters, they can learn to care about those who are not like them.
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: If you’re not ready to have an honest conversation with your child about what (almost) happens to Wilbur, give Charlotte’s Web a pass. If you believe there’s something iffy about a female spider who (spoiler!) gives up her life for a male pig, maybe the next book on the list is a better choice for your child.
3. The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter)
Age Category: 3 to 5 years old
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 40 million.
Summary: One morning, Mrs. Rabbit warns her four children (Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter) not to go into the McGregors’ garden, lest they get “put in a pie” like their father. All of the children take her warning to heart — except for Peter, who sneaks into the garden to eat lettuce, French beans, radishes, and parsley. Naturally, no naughty deed goes unpunished, and Peter only narrowly escapes Mr. McGregor’s wrath.
Why Your Child Should Read It: The story is short enough to fit a single web page (and your child’s attention span). Like Charlotte’s Web, The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a story about anthropomorphic creatures that teach your child about putting themselves in another’s shoes. It’s also a not-so-subtle cautionary tale about what happens when children disobey the rules their parents impose.
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: You may have to explain what Mrs. Rabbit meant when she said her children’s father got “put in a pie.” Further, everything Peter Rabbit went through to escape Mr. McGregor might prove too frightening for your toddler. Finally, the book might teach your child to obey rules even when they don’t make sense and avoid taking necessary risks.
4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)
Age Category: 0 to 4 years old
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 50 million.
Summary: One day, a ravenous caterpillar is born. He spends the next six days eating everything in sight until he gets a stomach ache. He decides to eat a leaf on the seventh day to make himself feel better before wrapping himself in a cocoon. Eventually, he comes out of the cocoon and transforms into a beautiful butterfly.
Why Your Child Should Read It: Your child can learn about the concept of metamorphosis at an early age (though you’d probably want to save the jargon for when your little one is older). It’s also a terrific way to teach your toddler about the dangers of overeating and why they should always eat their greens.
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: If you’re going to split hairs about the fact that caterpillars emerge from chrysalises and not cocoons, The Very Hungry Caterpillar might make you bristle. You may also agree with Daniel’s Smith sentiment in his Slate article The Very Grouchy Daddy that Carle’s book is patronizing towards its target audience. The idea that you can transform into a beautiful creature by overeating may have unfortunate implications for impressionable kids.
5. Winnie-the-Pooh (A. A. Milne)
Age Category: 4 to 7 years old
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 50 million.
Summary: Winnie-the-Pooh isn’t just one story. Instead, it’s a collection of short stories about the adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood. Most of the stories revolve around Winnie-the-Pooh getting into trouble due to his overwhelming love of honey.
Why Your Child Should Read It: Whether your child has seen the countless Disney adaptations of A. A. Milne’s most famous work, the Winnie-the-Pooh book is an excellent place to start. It’s a funny yet heartwarming work about friendship that your child will remember for years to come. (Ask any adult who grew up reading Winnie-the-Pooh.)
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: You (1) live in China; (2) take offense at Winnie-the-Pooh not wearing any pants; and (3) don’t like the idea that your child is supposed to relate to a bumbling bear who would have kept himself out of trouble if he just took the time to think.
6. The Hobbit, A.K.A. There and Back Again (J. R. R. Tolkien)
Age Category: 8 years old and above
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 100 million.
Summary: Bilbo Baggins has always lived a “respectable” life as a hobbit in The Shire until a wizard named Gandalf the Grey comes along. Somehow, Gandalf convinces Bilbo to become a “burglar” for a company of 13 dwarves. Together, they embark on a journey to retrieve a mountain of treasure guarded by Smaug, a ferocious and cunning dragon.
Why Your Child Should Read It: If you’re a fan of J. R. R. Tolkien’s works, The Hobbit is a great way to pass your fandom to your child. It’s one of the more adult stories on this list, so you and your child can enjoy it together. The Hobbit is longer and more complex than the average children’s book, but it’s worth the ride. If your child likes the book enough, you can “graduate” them to the more intricately-plotted Lord of the Rings trilogy and raise a fantasy fan for life.
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: Some scenes may be too frightening for young children, like the ones with the trolls, spiders, Gollum, and the final battle that kills at least three central characters. Also, the book may entice your child to watch the movie trilogy of the same name, which isn’t as child-friendly and tightly written as the book.
7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J. K. Rowling)
Age Category: 9 to 12 years old
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 120 million.
Summary: Eleven-year-old Harry Potter has only ever lived in Privet Drive, where he suffers under the thumb of his abusive uncle’s family. One day, a giant named Hagrid bursts through his uncle’s door, tells Harry that he is a wizard, and takes him to a school called Hogwarts. There, Harry makes friends and enemies, and learns that he is the only one known to have survived the Killing Curse of a powerful wizard named Voldemort, who is still looking for him.
Why Your Child Should Read It: It’s a book about a young boy who finds out that he is unique in more ways than one. He also goes on magical adventures with magical friends in a magic school. What’s not to like?
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: You may have heard about Rowling’s less-than-palatable stance on members of the trans community. If you believe there’s no separation of the art and the author and you don’t want to patronize someone with Rowling’s politics, you may want to check out other books.
8. Green Eggs and Ham (Dr. Seuss)
Age Category: 4 to 8 years old
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 200 million.
Summary: Sam-I-Am wants Guy-Am-I to eat green eggs and ham really, really bad. Sam follows Guy around and asks him repeatedly if he would eat green eggs and ham under different scenarios. Finally, Guy gives in, and what do you know, green eggs and ham aren’t terrible after all!
Why Your Child Should Read It: Dr. Seuss is a household name as far as children’s books are concerned, and Green Eggs and Ham is his No. 1 bestseller. Green Eggs and Ham showcases Dr. Seuss’ trademark humor and whimsy at its finest, keeping your child turning pages through one simple but somehow compelling question: Will Guy eat the green eggs and ham or not?
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: When you read this book to your child, make sure you tell them that (1) it’s not okay to follow people around asking them to do something they otherwise wouldn’t do; and (2) just because Guy liked green eggs and ham doesn’t mean everything that looks green (e.g., moldy food) is edible.
9. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)
Age Category: All ages
Number of Copies Sold Worldwide to Date: 200 million.
Summary: An aircraft pilot crash-lands in a desert and meets a boy he calls “the little prince.” As it turns out, the prince comes from a planet called B-612, which he left due to a desire to get away from a vain and demanding rose. Along the way, the prince meets several beings who represent various aspects of human nature. At the end of the story, the aircraft pilot reflects on his time with the little prince.
Why Your Child Should Read It: If there’s one book that’s an absolute must-read for children, it’s The Little Prince. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s exquisite fable ages like fine wine: The older you get, the more you appreciate the layers woven throughout the story. Your child can read The Little Prince over and over, and they will come away with a different experience each time.
Why Your Child Shouldn’t Read It: The only reason not to read The Little Prince is if it’s not already part of your book collection. Otherwise, it’s an accessible work that invites you to think about the meaning of life, empathy, and compassion.
- Penguin UK: The 100 best-ever children’s books, as chosen by our readers
- Reader’s Digest: 100 Best Children’s Books of All Time
- Discovery: 125 Best Children’s Books of All Time
- Famous Authors: 10 Best Children’s Books of All Time
- Book Authority: 100 Best-Selling Children’s Books of All Time
- Penn Book Center: Top 31 Best Selling Children’s Books Of All Time Reviews 
- HowStuffWorks: 20 Best-Selling Children’s Books of All Time
- Amreading: Top 20 All-Time Best Selling Children’s Books
- BookTrust: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Biography: Roald Dahl Wrote ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ During the ‘Most Difficult Years of His Life’
- Process History: Innocence Betrayed
- The Conversation: From pygmies to puppets: what to do with Roald Dahl’s enslaved Oompa-Loompas in modern adaptations?
- History News Network: Oh No! The Depressing Truth About the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory Workers
- Roald Dahl: Matilda
- Roald Dahl: The BFG
- BookTrust: Charlotte’s Web
- Britannica: Charlotte’s Web
- Quartz: You can buy the barn that inspired “Charlotte’s Web” for a cool $3.7 million
- TweenTribune: How E.B. White wove “Charlotte’s Web”
- Tor: Let’s Ruin Some Childhoods: Charlotte’s Web
- Goodreads: The Tale of Peter Rabbit: kids books ages 3-5
- Publishers Weekly: Peter Rabbit Turns 100
- American Literature: The Tale of Peter Rabbit
- BBC Culture: The hidden adult themes in Beatrix Potter
- The Guardian: Recommended reads: ages 0-4
- BBC News: Eric Carle: Very Hungry Caterpillar author dies aged 91
- The Prindle Institute for Ethics: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
- Slate: The Very Grouchy Daddy
- Atlas Obscura: The Very Hungry Caterpillar Lied to You As a Child
- The Guardian: Classic children’s library: 4-7
- CBC Books: 90 weird and wonderful facts about Winnie-the-Pooh
- Britannica: Winnie-the-Pooh
- The New York Times: New Books for Younger Readers
- USA Today: Tolkien’s ‘Hobbit’ celebrates 75th anniversary
- Barnes and Noble: When is Your Kid Ready for Harry Potter? A Guide for Getting Started
- Screenrant: The Most Popular Harry Potter Book (According To Sales)
- Forbes: J.K. Rowling Comes Out As A TERF
- USA Today: What’s a TERF and why is ‘Harry Potter’ author J.K. Rowling being called one?
- NBC News: J.K. Rowling doubles down in what some critics call a ‘transphobic manifesto’
- Scholastic: Green Eggs and Ham
- ABC News: Dr. Seuss’ ‘Green Eggs and Ham’ Turns 50
- Dr. Seuss Wiki: Green Eggs and Ham
- The Washington Post: The best-selling Dr. Seuss books of all time
- Goodreads: For what age is this most suitable?
- Britannica: The Little Prince