20 Best-Selling Children’s Books of All Time

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Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Image courtesy of Random House

20 Best-Selling Children's Books of All Time

Authors come and go, while others, especially those who scribe for children, withstand the yellowing of the folios. For generations, Dr. Seuss, Beatrix Potter and E.B. White have delighted parents and kids with their timeless tomes. No home library would be worth is shelf space without a mischievous cat in a hat, a lovable spider or a furry rabbit whose moniker is Peter.

While Seuss, White and Potter have been stalwarts on the best-selling list for generations, something wonderful, some would say magical, happened in the 1990s. A down-on-her-luck British writer, J.K. Rowling, waved a magic wand and changed children's literature forever. She introduced us to a boy wizard in "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." Seven books later, Rowling became one of best-selling authors on this or any other planet, as Hogwarts, Muggle and Quidditch nuzzled their way into our cultural lexicon.

Rowling's success blew holes in the all-time children's best-seller list. The magazine, Publishers Weekly, was the last to catalog the best children's books in 2001. That was long before Rowling's last volume in 2007, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours, eclipsing in one day the all-time children's best-seller, "The Poky Little Puppy", first published in 1942 [sources: Forbes; Random House].

By 2011, Rowling had sold 450 million or so Harry Potter books [source: ABC News]. We say "or so" because trying to corral the sales figure of a book is like trying to capture a Golden Snitch during a round of Quidditch. In fact, by the time you finish reading this sentence, a few hundred more Harry Potters and Cat in the Hats have been sold.

Go to the next page and thumb through the 20 best-selling children's books of all time incorporating the sales figures for, shall we say his name? Harry Potter. No doubt you might have favorite, or two.

Island of the Blue Dolphins

Image courtesy of Random House

20: "Island of the Blue Dolphins"

Author: Scott O'Dell

Copies Sold: 6.6 million

Hardcover

The Children's Literature Association named "Island of Blue Dolphins" one of the 10 best American children's books. The story is based on the life of a 12-year-old Native American girl, Karana, who jumped ship to be with her younger brother abandoned on an island. When the brother dies, Karana learns to survive finding inner strength and serenity.

Where the Red Fern Grows

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19: "Where the Red Fern Grows"

Author: Wilson Rawls

CopiesSold: 6.7

Paperback

Like the book's main character, Billy, author Wilson Rawls loved to spend time out in the woods as a child. Although he really didn't read a book until high school, Rawls began to write when he was older. At one point, he threw all his stories away, only to write them again at the behest of his wife.

Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing

Image courtesy of Random House

18: "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing"

Author: Judy Blume

Copies Sold: 7.1 million

Paperback

Judy Blume was first inspired to write "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" after reading a newspaper article about a toddler who swallowed a tiny pet turtle. Blume originally wrote the manuscript, which she titled, "Peter, Fudge and Dribble", as a picture book. An editor urged Blume to pen a much longer story. Blume created Peter Hatcher, his family and an incorrigible 2-year-old brother nicknamed Fudge. "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing" was Blume's first "Fudge" book.

The Cat in the Hat

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17: "The Cat in the Hat"

Author: Dr. Seuss

Copies Sold: 7.2 million

Hardcover

Millions of Johnnies and Janes have learned to read because of Dr. Seuss and a silly cat in a hat. In the 1950s, many believed that children's books were boring. Such literature, they lamented, did not engage children. That was until Dr. Seuss, a.k.a., Theodor Geisel, penned "The Cat in the Hat," about a mischievous feline that visits a brother and sister alone in a house on a rainy day. Although it wasn't his first book, Seuss knew it would be special. "We've got a possibility of making a tremendous noise in the noisy discussion of why Johnny can't read," Seuss said prior to publication.

Scuffy the Tugboat

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16: "Scuffy the Tugboat"

Author: Gertrude Crampton

Copies Sold: 7.3 million

Hardcover

Thomas Wolfe once said that we can never go home again. Obviously, he never meant Scuffy the Tugboat. Scuffy was "meant for bigger things" and sailing in a bathtub was not one of them. With the help of the man in the polka dot tie, Scuffy sails down the wide-open river, seeing all the world has to offer, which is not always good. Scuffy soon realizes he doesn't mind the bathtub. "This is the place for a red-painted tug boat," says Scuffy back home. "And this is the life for me."

The Saggy Baggy Elephant

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15: "The Saggy Baggy Elephant"

Author: Kathryn and Byron Jackson

Copies Sold: 7.4 million

Hardcover

Sookie (not to be confused with Charlene Harris's vampire-loving Sookie Stackhouse) is like most elephants. He has a long nose and wrinkled skin -- go figure. But when a not-so-nice parrot makes fun of Sookie's appearance, the elephant becomes extremely self-conscious, until he meets others just like him. Written in 1947, "The Saggy Baggy Elephant" still resonates today in this image-conscious world.

Pat the Bunny

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14: "Pat the Bunny"

Author: Dorothy Kunhardt

Copies Sold: 7.5

Hardcover

Long before she wrote the story of Pat the Bunny, Dorothy Kunhardt was a well-respected children's author. Yet, she always believed books were more than just ink on paper. When she wrote "Pat the Bunny" for her 3-year-old daughter, Edith, Kunhardt incorporated many interactive "touch and feel" elements.

Love You Forever

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13: "Love You Forever"

Author: Robert Munsch

Hardcover/Paperback Sold: 7.9 million

Robert Munsch used to work in a daycare and learned quickly that he could get the kids to stop yammering during naptime by telling a story. "Love You Forever" has been used by millions of parents as a way to lull their children to sleep. Thank you, Robert Munsch.

Green Eggs and Ham

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12: "Green Eggs and Ham"

Author: Dr. Seuss

Copies Sold: 8.1 million

Hardcover

"Green Eggs and Ham" is Dr. Seuss's most popular book, selling more than 8 million copies since 1960. Seuss uses only 50 simple words as Sam-I-Am tries to convince a grumpy sourpuss that green eggs and ham are delightful to eat.

Tootle

Image courtesy of Random House

11: "Tootle"

Author: Gertrude Crampton

Copies Sold: 8.5 million

Hardcover

Tootle is a baby locomotive who wants to become the Flyer on the New York to Chicago route. Before such a thing could happen, Tootle has to go to school and learn how to stay on the track. It's tough going, since Tootle likes to chase butterflies, pick flowers and race horses.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

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10: "The Tale of Peter Rabbit"

Author: Beatrix Potter

CopiesSold: 9.3 million

Hardcover

First published in 1902, Beatrix Potter not only wrote this classic story about the disobedient young Peter, but illustrated it as well. Potter taught herself how to paint and draw using her pet mice, birds, lizards and snake as models.

The Outsiders

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9: "The Outsiders"

Author: S.E. Hinton

Copies Sold: 9.6 million

Paperback

Written by a teen for teens, "The Outsiders" is a coming-of-age book penned by S.E. Hinton in the 1960s. The book's characters, particularly its narrator, Ponyboy Curtis, all struggle with teen angst and conflicting emotions.

Charlotte's Web

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8: "Charlotte's Web"

Author: E.B. White

Hardcover/Paperback Sold: 11.3 million

Who can forget the pig that becomes famous with the help of his friend Charlotte and a barnyard menagerie? Writing did not come easy to E.B. White, who penned this classic tale along with another, "Stuart Little." Yet, he kept at it, and in 1971, White was awarded the National Medal for Literature.

The Poky Little Puppy

Image courtesy of Random House

7: "The Poky Little Puppy"

Author: Jannette Sebring Lowery

Copies Sold: 14.8 million

Hardcover

Before you know who and the Sorcerer's Stone came along, "The Poky Little Puppy", written by Jannette Sebring Lowery and illustrated by Gustaff Tenggren, held the honor of being the best-selling children's book of all time. "The Poky Little Puppy" was one of the original 12 Little Golden Books.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

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6: "The Very Hungry Caterpillar"

Author: Eric Carle

Copies Sold: 35 million

Eric Carle knows what we know: Caterpillars are ravenous. So it's not exactly news that "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" will chow down on anything it sees, including plums, pickles, Swiss cheese and salami. Of course, the lives of caterpillars are short lived; after all, they turn into butterflies. But this hungry guy has been eating his fill since 1969.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Image courtesy of Scholastic

5: "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"

Author: J.K. Rowling

Hardcover/Paperback Sold: 44 million

We're not going to spoil the ending if you haven't read the last Harry Potter title, in which Harry confronts He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. When it went on sale in 2007, the book sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours [source: Forbes].

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

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4: "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban; Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

Author: J.K. Rowling

Hardcover/Paperback Sold: 55 million

The third, fourth and fifth installments of the Harry Potter saga are tied for the third best-selling books of all time. Harry Potter's magic transformed Rowling from a mother on public assistance to one of the richest people in the world.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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3: "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets"

Author: J.K. Rowling

Hardcover/Paperback Sold: 60 million

In the second installment of the Harry Potter series, our favorite boy wizard returns to Hogwarts after an awful summer with the Dursleys. Upon his return, Harry is thrilled that he can suddenly speak Parseltongue, the language snakes. Of course that doesn't compare to the fact that someone is turning Hogwarts' students into stone.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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2: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"

Author: J.K. Rowling

Hardcover/Paperback Sold: 65 million

The sixth book in the series focuses on the split in the Wizardring world as the war with the evil Lord Voldemort begins. Harry, along with Dumbledore, feverishly tries to unmask the complex story of Tom Riddle, the boy who becomes the evil Lord.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

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1: "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone"

Author: J.K. Rowling

Hardcover/Paperback Sold: 107 million

Published in 1997, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" was Rowling's first book about the bespectacled wizard and his friends. Just before his 11th birthday, Harry, who lives with his horrible aunt and uncle, receives a letter (carried by an owl) inviting him to attend Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Currently, Sorcerer's Stone is the sixth best-selling book of all time, just behind "The Book of Mormon" by Joseph Smith. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lots More Information

Related ArticlesMore Great LinksSources
  • ABC News. "Rowling Looking into Harry Potter E-Books." April 4, 2011. (Nov. 29, 2011). http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory?id=13292040
  • Forbes.com. "The Celebrity 100: #9 J.K. Rowling." June 11, 2008. (Nov. 28, 2011). http://www.forbes.com/lists/2008/53/celebrities08_JK-Rowling_CRTT.html
  • Griese, Noel L. "The Bible vs. Mao: A "Best Guess of the Top 25 Bestselling Books of All Time." Publishing Perspective. Sept. 7, 2010. (Nov. 29, 2011). http://publishingperspectives.com/2010/09/top-25-bestselling-books-of-all-time/
  • Harper Collins. "Charlotte's Web." (Nov. 29, 2011) http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com/harperchildrens/kids/gamesandcontests/features/charlottesweb/default.aspx
  • Huffington Post. "The 15 Biggest Bestsellers EVER After the Bible." May 25, 2011. (Nov. 29, 2011). http://www.randomhouse.com/golden/patthebunny/story.html
  • JudyBlume.com. "Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing." (Dec. 1, 2010). http://www.judyblume.com/books/fudge/tales.php
  • Nel, Philip. "The Annotated Cat: Under the Hats of Seuss and His Cats." Random House. 2007.
  • Publishers Weekly. "All-Time Bestselling Children's Books. Dec. 17, 2001. (Nov. 28, 2011). http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/print/20011217/31866-all-time-bestselling-children-s-books-.html
  • Random House. "The Story of Pat the Bunny." (Nov. 30, 2011). http://www.randomhouse.com/golden/patthebunny/story.html
  • RobertMunsch.com. "All About Robert Munsch." (Dec. 1, 2011). http://robertmunsch.com/about
  • Scholastic. "Harry Potter." (Nov. 29, 2011). http://harrypotter.scholastic.com/