The most popular children's books published in the 1960s introduced children to delightful new characters, historical events, and stories that would come to stand the test of time. From the illustrations to the radicalness of some of the subjects they tackled, many of the best books of the 1960s managed to invoke elements of the era while still introducing timeless themes.
Best Picture Books Published in the 1960s
Some of the best picture books of the 1960s will be familiar to adults, seniors, and young kids today. Many of these books have been bestsellers for decades and were written by popular children's authors.
Author/Illustrator Don Freeman created one of the most iconic teddy bear characters in his 1968 book Corduroy. In the story an adorable stuffed bear loses a button from his outfit and ventures out into the department store to find it so he can be loved by a child. Readers Digest compiled a list of the Best Children's Books Ever Written and included Corduroy as a top choice. Freeman wrote several more books featuring Corduroy and 50 years after its original publication, actress Viola Davis penned a new book for the character called Corduroy Takes a Bow.
The Snowy Day
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats follows Peter as he explores the world around him on a snowy day. While the story and illustrations delight children and won a Caldecott Medal in 1963, even more important is its status as one of the first children's books to feature an African-American main character, changing the way children looked at books and at themselves. Time Magazine lists this story in their 100 Best Children's Books of All Time.
The Giving Tree
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein has celebrated over 50 years as a best-selling book for children and adults. The book tells the story of a boy and his favorite tree as they both grow and change. Its message of giving and love mirrored the attitude of many during the 1960s, while its simple text and illustrations make it easy for kids to read and enjoy. Time Magazine, USA Today, and Publisher's Weekly all list The Giving Tree in their top children's book lists.
Best Chapter Books Published in the 1960s
The best chapter books of the 1960s introduce kids to a variety of genres, from Madeleine L'Engle's science fiction to Irene Hunt's historical fiction. They also include novels by authors who have become favorites of children and young adults, such as Beverly Cleary and Roald Dahl and most have won a Newberry Medal or Honor.
To Be a Slave
To Be a Slave, by Julius Lester, may not have remained one of the most popular children's books, but it still stands out because of its content. This book featured accounts of actual slaves combined with paintings and additional text to help children really gain an understanding of slavery. It won a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award and won the 1969 Newberry Honor.
A Wrinkle in Time
A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle, helped make science fiction more accessible to children. This book follows the Murry family, particularly the daughter, Meg, as they search for Meg's father who disappeared while working with tesseracts (wrinkles in time). It won the Newbery Medal in 1963 and is the first in The Time Quintet. In 2018 the book was turned into a major motion picture.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Beloved author Roald Dahl brought to life every child's fantasy with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, published in 1964. Charlies' family is impoverished, but that doesn't stop him from winning the chance of a lifetime to tour the mysteries chocolate factory owned by Willy Wonka in this story that the BBC lists this as one of the greatest children's books. The book has been turned into two movies, one featuring famed actor Gene Wilder and the other featuring famed actor Johnny Depp.
The Mouse and the Motorcycle
The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary tells the story of Ralph, a mouse always looking for an adventure. This delightful tale was named an ALA Notable Book, has been listed as one of School Library Journal's Top 100 Children's Novels, and even inspired a short film. Cleary earned a Children's Literature Legacy Award in 1975 for her contributions to writing for kids.
The Egypt Game
Published in 1967, The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder introduced a modern-mystery to kids. April Hall and Melanie Ross become friends over their shared love for imagination and ancient Egyptian history and form a club where they transfer an abandoned lot into an ancient Egyptian world. The book won a Newbery Honor Award in 1968.
The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton was published in 1967 and defined a generation of revolution and rebellion, introducing kids to two rival gangs, the Greasers and the Socs. Today, the book which was named an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and numerous other awards, has helped boys get into reading and taught "outsiders" lessons about life. The book was turned into a film and a television series.
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Island of the Blue Dolphins, by Scott O'Dell, tells an inspiring and empowering story of a girl who was stranded on an island off the coast of California and had to learn to survive. The book won numerous awards, including the Newbery Medal in 1961, was named one of School Library Journal's Books that Shaped the Century, and was turned into a major film.
The Jazz Man
The Jazz Man by Mary Hays Weik tells the story of nine-year-old Zeke, a boy living a difficult life in Harlem. Zeke finds comfort in the music played by the Jazz Man that drifts across the courtyard. The book won a Newbery Award in 1967 and has become a staple in many elementary and middle schools, particularly those serving low-income or diverse student populations.
Across Five Aprils
Published in 1964, Across Five Aprils by Irene Hunt takes place during the Civil War. The Newbery Award-winning novel has been praised for its historical accuracy as it follows the Creighton family and their struggle to survive during the war. It was published during the era of the Vietnam War and many teachers made comparisons between the stories of those involved in both wars.
The Cricket in Times Square
The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden was published in 1960 and named a Newbery Honor Book in 1961. Chester, a cricket from Connecticut, finds himself in New York City, where he must make friends and learn to navigate life in the big city.
Best Dr. Seuss Books Published in the 1960s
In 1980 author Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known by his pen name Dr. Seuss, received the Children's Literature Legacy Award given to an author or illustrator who has demonstrated a substantial contribution to children's literature. There are many famous Dr. Seuss books, but these are his best from the 1960s and all can be found in the top 50 of Publisher's Weekly's All-Time Best-Selling Children's Books list.
Green Eggs and Ham
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss has been quoted by kids for over 50 years and has also become Dr. Seuss' best-selling picture book. Written on a bet, the book tells the story of Sam-I-Am as he attempts to convince an unnamed character to eat green eggs and ham, using less than 50 different words. It's Dr. Seuss's only book published in the 1960s to make the top 25 of School Library Journal's Top 100 Picture Books poll.
One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
Sitting at number 13 on the Publisher's Weekly list, One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish was a hit published in 1960 by Random House. Jay and Kay show readers all the wacky pets and animals they know in this rhyming beginner book that's available in board book, hardcover, and even ebook formats today. Kids who love these fun fish can ride a One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish themed ride at Universal Studios Orlando Islands of Adventure theme park in the Seuss Landing section.
Hop on Pop: The Simplest Seuss for Youngest Use
Hop on Pop is a collection of really short poems by Dr. Seuss published in 1963 and meant to help kids with basic phonics. Based on domestic sales, this zany beginner book lands at number 16 on the Publisher's Weekly best-sellers list. Former First Lady, Laura Bush, listed Hop on Pop as one of her favorite lap-reading or bedtime reading books for young children.
Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book
Published in 1963, Dr. Seuss's ABC book is similar to Hop on Pop, except it introduces the alphabet instead of phonics. Two dogs serve as the main characters and introduce readers to a variety of creatures whose names start with each letter of the alphabet. This simple book ranks 18th on the Publisher's Weekly list of kid's best-sellers and you can purchase the board book version suitable for babies and toddlers. Young readers can also buy the interactive Dr. Seuss's ABC app, which is a Parent's Choice Golden Award Winner.
Best Eric Carle Books Published in the 1960s
Eric Carle was the 2003 recipient of the Children's Literature Legacy Award. His work is so loved he even has his own museum in Massachusetts called The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. His decades-long career began in the 1960s when he illustrated a now famous book by Bill Martin, Jr.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Written by Bill Martin, Jr., the classic book Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?was illustrated by Eric Carle and published in 1967. USA Today ranks Brown Bear at number 8 on their list of the 10 Best Children's Books. The book introduces young readers to a variety of colors and creatures as you find out what each animal or person sees. There are three spin-offs created by Martin and Carle called Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?, Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See?, and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle, has become a staple in elementary schools. Not only does the book teach the kids about how a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, it also delights them with its colorful illustrations, and a lesson about overeating. Published in 1969, the classic book sits at number 20 on Publisher's Weekly's best-sellers list, is number 8 in Amazon's Best-Selling Children's Books, and was listed at number 2 on School Library Journal's Best Board Books Poll.
Best Maurice Sendak Books Published in the 1960s
Beloved children's author Maurice Sendak has won the Hans Christian Andersen Award for Illustration in 1970, a Children's Literature Legacy Award in 1983, and his most famous book Where the Wild Things Are earned him a Caldecott Medal in 1964.
Where the Wild Things Are
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak may be one of the most notable children's books to come out in the 1960s. Not only did it win a Caldecott Medal in 1964, it also inspired a motion picture movie and an opera. For decades, kids have come to relate to the main character, Max, as he travels to a fantasy world to become king of the wild things after being sent to bed without supper. This classic picture book ranks on most lists for children's books including USA Today's Top 10 Best-Selling Children's Books and Time Magazine 100 Best Children's books of all time.
A Kiss for Little Bear
A Kiss for Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minarik also features illustrations by award-winning illustrator Maurice Sendak. It's easy-to-read text makes it a perfect choice for beginning readers and was even named one of the The New York Times's Best Illustrated Children's Books of the Year in 1968. Part of the larger Little Bear series, the book tells the story of Little Bear, his grandmother, and the confusion that results as his grandmother tries to send him a kiss.
Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present
Author Charlotte Zolotow wrote Mr. Rabbit and the Lovely Present which was illustrated by Maurice Sendak and published in 1962. This adorable story about a rabbit and a little girl working together to find the perfect present for her mom won a Caldecott honor in 1963.
Best Leo Lionni Books Published in the 1960s
While Leo Lionni might not be a household name, he has earned a place next to all the other great author/illustrators of this time. With four Caldecott Honors under his belt, Lionni earned three in the 1960s alone. He was also the winner of the 1984 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal.
Swimmy was a Caldecott Medal Honor book and ALA Notable Book in 1964. While the book focuses on Swimmy, the only black fish in a school of red fish, the subtle message is about groups of people together, learning to embrace differences and overcome dangers as one, much like many of the social movements during the 1960s.
Frederick by Leo Lionni introduces kids to an adorable mouse who spends his time daydreaming while the other mice spend time gathering food for the winter. This book, which was a Caldecott Medal honor book in 1968, also discussed important philosophical and political issues at the time, such as the value of work and the concepts of socialism and collectivism.
Best P.D. Eastman Books Published in the 1960s
Philip Dey Eastman, writing under the name P.D. Eastman, was a colleague of Theodor Geisel, also known as Dr. Seuss. Many of his books have a similar whimsical writing and illustrating style to Dr. Seuss, but they are also distinct. While Eastman didn't pen as many children's books as some of the other great author/illustrators of the 1960s, a few of his books gained notoriety that has spanned decades.
Go, Dog, Go!
Read all about a cast of wild and colorful cartoon pooches in Go, Dog, Go!published in 1961. This Beginner Book edited by Dr. Seuss lands at number 34 on the Publisher's Weekly best-selling children's book list and rests in the School Library Journal's Top 100 Picture Books. Both the board book and standard book versions have been translated into Spanish.
Are You My Mother?
If you're a parent or a teacher, chances are you've read Are You My Mother?, which was published in 1960. In this classic story, a baby bird approaches a bunch of different animals in an attempt to find its mother. Publisher's Weekly ranks this fun book at number 24 on their list of best-selling children's books of all time.
Classic Children's Books From the 1960s
What makes children's books great is their ability to transcend time to connect with children throughout multiple generations. The majority of these most popular children's books from the 1960s continue to find a place in classrooms, libraries, and on children's bookshelves today. Many have received updated covers and descriptions to appeal to a modern audience, but the characters, stories, and even images remain the same, still managing to reach children as well as they did in the 1960s.