The Best ABC Picture Books
No home library is complete without at least a few alphabet books. It’s a natural place to start with babies, and it’s incredibly useful practice for early readers as well. So whether you intended it or not, you have most likely accumulated several ABC books by now. But, have you found any entertaining ones?
The trick is, if your plan is to capture the imagination of children long enough to be memorable, you’re going to have step it up way past your run-of-the-mill A is for apple, B is for ball. There are thousands of basic alphabet books out there, but you only live once people! Reading time is precious - who has time to waste it on something like that?
Lucky for all of us, there is actually an abundance of incredibly creative alphabet books as well. Many extremely talented artists have taken it upon themselves to teach our kids the basic building blocks of reading in the most entertaining way possible. Think of it like the ultimate challenge for an author and illustrator - how interesting can I make the alphabet? Well, as it turns out, very!
The books on this list are definitely memorable. They wouldn’t be on this list if they didn’t live up to our lofty expectations and the high bar we set for all the books we recommend. One of the basic pieces of criteria for making one of our lists is that they must be some of our favorite books, period.
If you look close I’m sure you’ll notice that these books pretty much run the gamut of themes we love. There’s a healthy dose of nostalgia, quite a bit of fantasy, lots of creative quirkiness, and a few artists even managed to make the alphabet scary. What more could we ask for? I’m certain you’ll find something you and your children will love on this list - and hopefully you’ll come back and enjoy them like us for many years to come.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links. Clicking on those links will lead you to view the books’ listings on Amazon.com.
15. Max’s ABC
Written and Illustrated by Rosemary Wells
This alphabet book has Max and Ruby, and that’s pretty much all I need to know. If you need to know more than that for some reason, maybe the fact that Max gets ants in his pants will suffice.
Max isn’t exactly known for being the neatest and cleanest little rabbit - and in this story his messy eating gets him in trouble with some hungry ants. All of Ruby’s plans for getting rid of the ants are executed in vain. Hands down the best illustration in the book is Max giving the ants the evil eye when he realizes they’re enjoying the bath that was meant to get rid of them.
Written by Mary Elting & Michael Folsom and Illustrated by Jack Kent
Jack Kent was the author and illustrator of one of my favorite childhood books - There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon. He has a distinct style, so I have a soft spot for Q is for Duck as well. Even our son was able to point out the illustrator was the same as There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon based on the pictures alone.
This is an alphabet book that’s perfect for our 6-year-old son - because it’s a challenge. Each page introduces something like a riddle: B is for dog. Why? Because dogs bark. D is for moles. Why? Because moles dig. It’s very clever, and a lot of fun. And if you stop to think about what children are doing in their head to play along, you’ll realize it’s actually fantastic practice - and far more engaging than your standard ABC book.
Written and Illustrated by Greg Paprocki
This book is a good example of how far a good theme can get you. And you know what a sucker I am for Halloween and scary things. B is for Boo is illustrated in a style that made me think it was a classic from the 50’s or 60’s when I first saw it - but it actually came out in 2017.
The choices made for each and every letter are spot on. I particularly like R is for Raven and I is for Ichabod Crane. Every page is full of beautiful detail. It feels like each illustration could have been plucked from its own picture book complete with its own characters and story. And the whole thing definitely gets me in the Halloween spirit. I’ll look for any excuse I can to read a Halloween book anytime of year, and practicing the ABCs with our little one should work!
12. The ABCs of D&D
Written by Ivan Van Norman and Illustrated by Caleb Cleveland
Written for families with a love for fantasy and roleplaying - The ABCs of D&D is a passion project that really turned out great. Fantasy themes have always been a favorite in my life. Whether it’s a book, a movie, or a board game - fantasy stories with swords and sorcery have always captured my imagination. And now I love sharing those things with my own kids.
One of the things I like about The ABCs of D&D so much is that at its core it’s a celebration of playing and using your imagination. Playing with your kids and nurturing their creativity are two pillars of Dad Suggests, so it’s no surprise we like this book so much. After reading it, don’t be surprised if your kids are inspired to go do some roleplaying of their own.
11. On Market Street
Written by Arnold Lobel and Illustrated by Anita Lobel
On Market Street is a Caldecott Honor book that I remember from my childhood. It’s one of those books I vividly remember our school’s librarian sharing with us. It’s written by the famous author of Frog & Toad - but the reason it’s so famous is the creative illustrations by Anita Lobel.
Lobel is said to have been inspired by seventeenth-century French trade engravings for her illustrations, and they are definitely the highlight of the book. A boy is shopping on Market Street to find presents for a friend, but there’s something very peculiar about the shopkeepers. All of the vendors on the street are composed of their wares. It’s just as strange as it sounds, but the images are beautiful and very creative. This is definitely a case of something from my childhood I’m happy to share with the little ones.
Written and Illustrated by Dr. Seuss
I think it’s safe to say Dr. Seuss isn’t going to just give us A is for apple and B is for ball. Try this on for size:
feathers on a
What’s a Fiffer-feffer-feff you say? Exactly. Dr. Seuss is the best. He’s the king of imagination. He plays around with the absurd and reminds kids it’s okay to be silly. This classic is everything you could ever hope an ABC book from Dr. Seuss would be - non-stop creativity and pure wackiness.
Written by Anna Dewdney & Reed Duncan and Illustrated by Claudia Boldt
Animalicious is a brand new picture book that endeared itself to us very quickly. The word quirky in the tagline is a perfect choice. It’s a great way to describe the cute illustrations and the entire character of the book. This is a collection of imaginary animals - all built through the magic of puns. And, if your kids are anything like mine, that’s a surefire recipe for pure love right there.
Our 6-year-old is a gigantic fan of puns - so it’s no wonder Animalicious is such a hit in our house. The puns are actually very clever too. Some are even so clever they’re over the head of our 6-year-old - and we need to take the opportunity to explain some new vocabulary. And, for what it’s worth, my personal favorite animals are the Vanatee and the Polar Bare.
Written by Raj Haldar and Illustrated by Maria Beddia
If you’re anything like me, the title of this book is all you need to know. How hilarious is that? And, yes, it’s exactly what you imagine it is - an alphabet book of words with silent letters. The Worst Alphabet Book Ever - I’m giggling right now at the thought of confusing kids everywhere.
But, while silent letters are hilarious and confusing, this book is actually a great introduction to the concept for early readers and a good learning opportunity. There are a lot of new words to learn in this book and definitely some new spellings to explore. But, like I said, weren’t you sold after the title?
Written and Illustrated by Maurice Sendak
It’s Maurice Sendak for crying out loud! This book is fantastic. It came out shortly before his legendary Where the Wild Things Are, and about the same time as another lesser-known favorite - Pierre. I have to admit that a very large part of the appeal of this book is that it was made by Maurice Sendak and I love his illustrations - but I don’t want to undersell his clever concept either.
He took a very simple idea of making the family in this book an alligator family - and he just ran with it. Every single page is funny because they’re alligators. Other than that, their behavior is quite mundane - and that’s the whole joke. Alligators making macaroni, alligators throwing tantrums, alligators doing the dishes - the charm is simple and effective.
Written by Alethea Kontis and Illustrated by Bob Kolar
This book really makes me laugh - and I suppose I can’t say the same thing for every kids book that claims to be funny. A good sense of humor is important, so I really appreciate it when the humor in a picture book is high quality. If the humor is legit, it really makes a picture book stand out.
In AlphaOops! , Z decides that he doesn’t want to be last anymore. He wants to be first in the alphabet for once - and then chaos ensues. Even after agreeing to start from the end, letters keep interrupting the recitation of the alphabet to voice their grievances - and that’s where the best of the humor comes in. P complains that some letters will still be stuck in the middle regardless of which end they start on. H wants to be in the same spot she’s used to. V tries to sneak in an extra turn and the impatient Z drags him off stage angrily. “Ooh, V is for violence”, remarks a shocked G. The dialogue is really witty and it makes this one special.
Written by Audrey Wood and Illustrated by Bruce Wood
Written by the author of some of my very favorite picture books of all time - The Napping House, King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub, and Heckedy Peg - Alphabet Mystery has some great credentials behind it. Educationally speaking, I think it’s great that the focus of the story is the lowercase letters - but the highlight is definitely the adventure they go on.
Little x is missing, and the rest of the letters go to find him. He ran away for a very natural reason - he doesn’t get enough love and attention. Charlie, their owner, barely ever uses the letter x. The rest of the alphabet finds him in a spooky castle owned by a monster, and he’s living a sad life playing a song on a xylophone to put the monster to sleep. The letters need to think of a way to convince him to return home, and the solution they come up with turns out to be surprisingly sweet and touching.
Written and Illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
This is a very special work of art by a remarkable artist - Oliver Jeffers. It’s a book to be treasured. The detail is remarkable and noteworthy - everything from the endpapers to the cover stand out to me as a special book that brings me joy. The art, the creativity, the tiny snippets of dialogue - it’s all pure genius.
The concept is this: “The letters of our alphabet work tirelessly to make words that in turn makes stories, but what if there was a story FOR each of the letters instead?” Each letter of the alphabet inspires a very short story. For me it’s a lot like reading through a compilation of poetry by Shel Silverstein. Jeffers’ imagination and wit is on full display and it’s an absolute delight. Keep an eye out for the investigative duo of the owl and the octopus - they’re my favorite.
Written and Illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
It’s Chris Van Allsburg, people, and somehow he delivers exactly the kind of ABC book you would expect from the master of the mysterious and ominous in children’s literature. Who else but Chris Van Allsburg could come up with an alphabet book featuring the letters of the alphabet facing a gruesome fate one by one. It’s creative, it’s dark, it’s mysterious, and it’s beautiful illustrated. It’s very Chris Van Allsburg and I love it.
Throughout his works, Chris Van Allsburg repeatedly displays a very specific special power. He has the power to leave the reader filling in the blanks. He perfected this power of his with The Mysteries of Harris Burdick - a wonderful picture book consisting entirely of ominous, imaginative pictures and short story starters. And The Z Was Zapped reminds me a lot of that very same concept. Through his illustrations and his carefully chosen words, he presents a mystery with a feeling of great depth to it. And we could sit there for minutes on each image imagining what happened.
Written by Neil Gaiman and Illustrated by Gris Grimly
I’m very fond of what Neil Gaiman has to say about why we like to be scared. According to him, being scared by things like books and movies is like building up an immunity to the things that scare us. It’s a way for us to explore what haunts us in a safe environment, and it’s ultimately a good reminder that we are, in fact, safe and have things pretty good.
I grew up devouring scary literature - and I absolutely love sharing spooky things with my kids. So it’s honestly no surprise that the #2 book on this list is a very, very creepy alphabet. The Dangerous Alphabet is a beautifully written poem by Neil Gaiman, all by itself it would be enough to send a shiver down your spine. But, with the addition of Gris Grimly’s artwork - holy smokes - this is a frightening book. The images are incredibly imaginative - and for me they perfectly flirt with the line of too scary for my kids without crossing over it.
Written by Sara O’Leary and Illustrated by Jacob Grant
Sara O’Leary is the author of some of our favorite children’s books ever written - This is Sadie and A Family, Is a Family, Is a Family. She often writes about themes that are important to us and that we love to share with our children. She promotes creativity and imagination and empathy. When we heard that she was releasing an ABC book, we knew it wouldn’t just be your run-of-the-mill ABC book.
And when we started to see early peeks at the beautiful art from illustrator Jacob Grant, our suspicions were confirmed - this was going to be a very special alphabet book. The collaboration here is spectacular. O’Leary chose the perfect animal for each letter - and she applies the most perfectly obscure little tidbit of information about each one. At the same time, Grant’s quirky illustrations (full of the most soothing and pleasing colors) bring them to marvelous life.
And the beauty about these little tidbits of information is that they strike a perfect balance between absurdly silly and wonderfully heartfelt. More often than not, your kids will find themselves in these humorously-specific descriptions - and they’ll be legitimized. All of their quirks are embraced and stated very matter-of-factly. Recognizing the characteristics in these animals can build up self-esteem and encourage us to be ourselves. They are the special things that make us who we are.
Every preschool and kindergarten classroom in the world should use the pages of this book as their alphabet banner that lines their room.
If you enjoyed this list, you might also like The Best Picture Books About Colors.
What’s your family’s favorite ABC book? Do you have a favorite from your childhood? Let us know in the comments!