19 Classic Picture Books You Should Still Have On Your Shelf As an Adult
I get it — books are bulky and heavy and hard to move, and as you grow and mature into full-fledged adulthood, the idea of toting around a big box of childhood picture books may sound not only immature, but also really tiring. Plus, try explaining that copy of Hop on Pop to your date who's perusing your bookshelf in the living room while you finish getting ready to go out. But I own Infinite Jest, too, you protest as you run from your bedroom, still trying to zip your dress.
Not so fast, though. The very same books that amused and charmed you in your youth still have plenty to teach their readers, no matter their ages. It’s not just hip nostalgia that makes so-called kids' books still appealing to the older set (although you do look very nice in your Goodnight Moon T-shirt). Rather, these classic stories and the lessons they impart to children are ones that most adults might need a refresher course in... right about now, actually.
Here are 19 classic picture books that you should never, ever let go of — even a salty old grown-up like you can find both some big ideas and major laughs in the books that delighted you as a kid, I promise.
1. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi and Ron Barrett
If nothing else, children's books encourage big, imaginative stories in the most vivid of ways — like the classic story of Chewandswallow, a mythical and magical town that never has to worry about grocery shopping, food storage, or cooking, simply because all of their meals ran from the sky (until they go a little nuts, literally). It's certainly a fun read, but the Barretts's book also comes with a warning that everyone can benefit from remembering: getting things the easy way is not always the best way.
2. Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Need a little help figuring out a seemingly insurmountable problem? Caps for Sale just might be your ticket, as the Slobodkina classic shares the tale of a hat salesman who gets robbed blind by some unexpected baddies: a pack of monkeys. He tries everything to get them to relinquish his wares, but it's only when he tries something off-beat (fine, he gives up) that things work out. It's surprisingly zen.
3. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
There's something about Sendak's work that is able to handle straddle the line between kid-friendly and adult-appealing, and Where the Wild Things Are is the best example of that. Sure, it places a premium on imagination, play, and exploration, but the book also reminds us that the best things in life are sometimes the things that are right in front of us — a lesson we all need to remember, no matter our age.
4. Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Forgotten just how powerful your own imagination and creativity is? Time to turn to Harold.
5. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
There's a reason why so many parents read to their kids at night — it's a heck of a way to lull someone off into dreamland. Goodnight Moon probably helped you settle into bedtime when you were little, and while its ability to overcome even adult insomnia is unproven, it's probably worth a try.
6. Anything by Dr. Seuss
It's hard to go wrong with anything Dr. Seuss, a consummate wordsmith whose works have always taught their readers plenty about fun adventures, frisky spirits, a taste for the finer things in life (like green eggs and ham, of course), politics, and the importance of having a big and imaginative vocabulary. Seuss' books run the gamut — from the inspiration of Oh, the Places You'll Go! to the environmental message of The Lorax — and they're perhaps the most enduring of all classic picture books.
7. Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg
You try convincing yourself that Jumanji isn't actually a very grown-up scary story. You'll lose (but you just might also have some awesome campfire reading on your next trip with pals).
8. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
A hero for any and all times — the eponymous caterpillar is indeed very hungry, but his desire for food is only eclipsed by his desire for a vast array of food and a big nap afterwards. Consider this your brunch spirit animal.
9. The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg
If you're ever jonesing for either a big dose of holiday magic or even a quick trip back to childhood in general, Van Allsburg's Christmas classic is the only option. It's okay if you still cry at the end, too.
10. The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister
The benefits of sharing (hey, it equals caring!) are a familiar theme in kid lit, but that doesn't mean that anyone ever outgrows the power of that message. Having trouble playing fair with roommates? Ticked off at someone at work who always steals your lunch? Feeling too vain about your fresh blowout to pay attention to anything (or anyone) else? Page back through The Rainbow Fish and remember that sharing never goes out of style.
11. Angelina Ballerina by Katharine Holabird and Helen Craig
Come for the classic cheese puns, stay for the lessons about staying true to your dreams.
12. The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd
Running away is never the best answer for anyone, from kids to bunnies to adults, and Wise Brown's fluffy tale makes that plain. Wherever you go, there you are, and if you need a bunny to remind you to face your life (good or bad) head on, that's fine by us.
13. Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram
Just go call your parents and tell them you love them right now, okay?
14. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems
Plenty of kids' books encourage following dreams, no matter how wild they sound, but Willems' incredibly funny Pigeon series dares to do something a bit different: be rational, realistic, and firm about what we can and cannot do. That's probably the most valuable adult lesson of all.
15. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein
Is someone in your life asking too much of you? Are you asking too much of someone in your life? Take a trip down memory lane with the Silverstein tearjerker, and feel free to ponder the meaning of love itself.
16. The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper
There will never be another book that is nearly as motivational as this Piper classic. Had a bad day? You are The Little Engine, and you can do it.
17. Blueberries For Sal by Robert McCloskey
Helpful screed on the benefits of healthy eating or a colorful way to remind people to mind the rules? It could really go either way with Sal, but McCloskey's book has a frisky spirit and unique story that's oddly enduring. Also, if nothing else, this will remind you to get to the farmer's market posthaste.
18. The Poky Little Puppy by Janette Sebring Lowrey
Perhaps the best story about using food as a reward ever penned, The Poky Little Puppy is also, quite amusingly, one hell of a story about not being a selfish jerk. It's a Little Golden Book, but it's also an age-old tale.
19. Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey
Part of being an adult entails finding an adult place to live, but as hard as apartment-hunting and house-shopping may be, it's nothing compared to the trials of the Mallard family. This one will make you appreciative of getting things done the human way, while also reminding you to enjoy the bounty of nature. It's a dual lesson everyone can still benefit from.