15 Award-Winning Children’s Books That Deserve Their Recognition

Stories of friendship, self-love, and lost hats.

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All you have to do is a quick Google search to know that there is no shortage of kids' books out there, but how can you be sure which ones are the best? The easiest way to narrow down the list of options is to look specifically for award-winning children’s books because these stories really stand out. Sure, there are plenty of great kids' books without awards, too, but they’re a lot harder to distinguish from the rest.

There are a handful of different awards a children’s book may win such as the John Newbery Medal, the Caldecott Medal (or Honor), the Coretta Scott King Award, the Sibert Medal, the Pura Belpré Award, and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, to name a few. These are just the major award-winning children’s books, too, because there are hundreds of prestigious lists and recognitions that can also help separate the best books from the many other great ones that are released every year. Thankfully, these award-winning children’s books are usually pretty easy to identify because they often feature some kind of graphic or medallion on the cover to indicate which award(s) they’ve won.

Still, clicking through a bunch of books trying to locate a little graphic on a cover can be tedious, so to help you out I’ve gathered a list of some of the best award-winning children’s books out there. Whether you’re looking for something heart-warming, silly, or with a good life-lesson, you’ll find it here.

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A Mom & Daughter On A Rainy Day

Me & Mama, a Scott King Honor Book and a Caldecott Award winner, is a story that celebrates the sweet relationship between a mom and her daughter. The book takes place on a rainy day when a little girl follows her mom around wherever she goes, never wanting to separate from her for even a minute. Even though this story is technically a children’s book, it’s also one a lot of moms will surely love, especially if they also happen to have a little mini shadow of their own who has no concept of personal space when it comes to their mama.


Can You Measure A Song?

Inch by Inch is a Caldecott Honor Book and was named Best Illustrated Book by the New York Times, so it’s not only a good story but it’s also full of beautiful illustrations. The book is about a little inchworm who loves to tell anyone who will listen how he can measure pretty much anything. Truth be told, he might be slightly overconfident about his measuring skills, because when a bird comes along and wants to eat the worm for breakfast, she tells him that the only way he can change her mind is by measuring the song she sings. How will he get out of this mess?


An Imaginary Friend On A Mission

Meet Beekle, he’s just your average, everyday imaginary friend who was born on a magical island far away (which is where all imaginary friends are born, in case you didn’t already know). Beekle watches as real kids choose imaginary friends from the island, and he continues to be overlooked. Eventually, he takes things into his own hands and makes his way to a big city as he searches for, and ultimately finds, his real-life match. The story of Beekle is creative, fun, and adorable, and the illustrations throughout the book are simply incredible, so it’s no wonder why the book was given a Caldecott Medal.


Moving Forward With Courage

The Day You Begin is a winner of the Jane Adams Peace Association Award, a #1 New York Times bestseller, and it was featured on the Netflix series Bookmarks: Celebrating Black Voices. Suffice to say, it’s a really good book. The story follows a few different characters, all of whom feel nervous, alone, or different for one reason or another, as they enter into new situations. Each kid finds the courage to move forward, even though they feel like an outsider, and ultimately discover that other people will be happy to welcome them and even celebrate the very differences that made them so nervous in the first place.


Everyone Is Important

This book won a Caldecott Medal way, way back in 1947, but the story as beloved today as it ever ways. The Little Island is written by Leonard Weisgard and Margaret Wise Brown, who also authored Goodnight Moon, and tells the story of a small island sitting in the middle of a giant ocean, and a sweet little kitten who visits from time to time. As the story unfolds, readers will watch time pass and see all of the same changes the island sees over time. After reading the book, kids will see that everyone is important in this world, and even the smallest person can make a big difference.


A Bear & His Lost Hat

If you’re looking for a critically-acclaimed, award-winning children’s book, then look no further than I Want My Hat Back. It’s a winner of the E.B. White Read-Aloud Award, is a #1 New York Times bestseller, and was named a Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Book, the 2011 Best Children’s Book of the Year by Publisher’s Weekly, and the 2011 Best Illustrated Children’s Book of the Year by the New York Times Book Review. The story follows a bear as he searches for his lost hat, asking every animal he comes across if they’ve seen it. It may not seem like a very exciting tale, but thanks to the illustrations, readers are in on a silly joke long before the bear realizes what’s going on, and kids absolutely love it.


The Story Of A Very Old Coat

Winner of the 2000 Caldecott Medal, Joseph Had a Little Overcoat is not only a fun story for kids to read, but also features an interactive element, too. The book follows Joseph who has a very old overcoat, which is full of holes. Eventually, it becomes too shabby to wear so he turns it into a jacket. But, the holes keep coming, so Joseph has to keep turning the fabric into something else. What makes this little adventure all the more fun is that the pages in the book also feature little holes that kids can use to help them guess what Joseph will turn his overcoat into next.


A Beloved Classic

The Rainbow Fish follows a little fish in the ocean, but, as readers learn, this isn’t just an average, everyday fish, it’s “the most beautiful fish in the entire ocean.” Unlike ordinary fish, this one has gorgeous, sparkly scales in various shades of beautiful colors. The fish could keep all of his beauty to himself, but instead, he shares it with his friends and feels immense joy in doing so.

This book is full of gorgeous artwork and has won a handful of awards including the Christopher Award, The Bologna Book Fair Critici In Erba Prize, the American Booksellers Abby Award, and the IRA-CBC Children’s Choice award. It’s also a Wall Street Journal bestseller and a #1 Publishers Weekly bestseller.


The Beauty Of The World Outside

Named a Caldecott Honor Book in 2020, Outside In is a gorgeously illustrated book that reminds readers of the importance and significance of the outside world. Each page is written in a rhythmic language that explains the natural connection we all have with nature, even when we’re sitting inside. This connection can be seen through the beams of sunlight shining through the windows, the sweet bonds we have with our pets, the natural ingredients that make up the food we eat, and the shadows of trees cast in our rooms as the sun set for the day. The book is simple but beautiful, and definitely one worth adding to your child’s library.


There Is Beauty In Everything

Last Stop On Market Street is the winner of a 2016 Newbery Medal, a 2016 Caldecott Honor Book, a 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book, a #1 New York Times bestseller, and a New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2015. And that is just scratching the surface of the many, many awards and recognitions for this children’s book.

The story follows CJ as he rides the bus home with his grandma after church. It’s what they do every week, but CJ is starting to wonder why they don’t have a car or some of the other luxuries that his friends do. CJ starts to ask his grandma tough questions, and she answers each one flawlessly, showing him the beauty of the experience the two of them have on the bus every week. It’s truly a book that belongs in every child’s library.


A Silly Story About A Volunteer Pigeon

Another Caldecott Honor Book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! is an adorable and hilarious book by Mo Willems (who is also the author behind the Elephant and Piggie books). It’s about a little pigeon who selflessly volunteers to drive the bus when its usual driver steps down to take a break, but of course, pigeons shouldn’t drive, right? As the book goes on, the pigeon pleads with the reader to let him drive the bus, and kids will absolutely love responding to those pleas as the pigeon inches closer and closer to his own temper tantrum. It’s funny, sweet, and will have your little kid giggling with the turn of every page.


What’s In A Name?

A lot of thought was put into Alma’s name, but she is desperate to know more. So, she goes to her dad and asks him to tell her more about her names, all six of them, because she isn’t just Alma, she’s Alma Sofia Esperanza José Pura Candela. Throughout the book, Alma and How She Got Her Name, the little girl learns about her heritage and the origins of her many names. This sweet story was named a 2019 Caldecott Honor Book and is a fun way for grown-ups to get their kids interested in the stories of their own names and their family’s history.


Giving Back To The Community

Extra Yarn is a Caldecott Honor Book, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Award winner, and a New York Times bestseller. It follows a little girl, Annabelle, who knits herself a sweater and discovers she has a lot of extra yarn leftover once she’s done. Instead of knitting more clothes for herself, she decides to give back to the community, in a bit of a hilarious way. Throughout the story, Annabelle uses her extra yarn to knit sweaters for everyone and everything in her neighborhood including a pickup truck, a birdhouse, a church, and every animal she can find. The silly adventure will have readers wondering, will Annabelle ever run out of yarn?


On Being Yourself

After spending the day at the pool, Julián’s world is transformed on the subway ride home when he sees three women dressed up as gorgeous mermaids. When he gets home, he can’t stop thinking about them, their outfits, and how happy they seemed to be. So, he decides to make his own mermaid costume to match them using one of his Abuela’s curtains for his dress and tail and fern stems for a headdress (which he snatched from Abuela’s planter). Julián Is A Mermaid is a 2019 Stonewall Book Award winner and a wonderful story about a boy who feels most like himself when he’s dressed fantastically like a mermaid.


A Girl & Her Dog

A 2017 Pura Belpré Award winner, Juana & Lucas isn’t a traditional picture book, but rather a beginner-reader chapter book (that’s still filled with pictures). The story follows a little Colombian girl, Juana, and her best friend, her pup Lucas. The book takes place in Juana’s hometown of Bogotá, and readers will find themselves relating to her and her love of drawing, eating, and reading and her dislike for math problems, and her itchy school uniform. The one thing Juana really doesn’t like, though, is learning how to speak English, but now she finds out that she has to do it if she wants to be able to join her grandparents on a special trip they have planned.

Sure, there are plenty of incredible kids books out there that haven’t won awards quite yet, but you really can’t go wrong filling your little one’s home library with some award-winning children’s books like these.

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