Nostalgic Reads: 10 Picture Books Gen Z Grew Up With

Calling all 2000s kids! Let’s take a trip down memory lane with these 10 nostalgic picture books that captivated us as children.

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Something about the holiday season makes me extra nostalgic. From looking at old family pictures to reminiscing about that carefree joy and wonder of childhood, I’m always in my feels as the year comes to a close. To lean into that nostalgic spirit this November– which also happens to be National Picture Book month– I compiled 10 iconic books that Gen Z grew up with. Though I’m an ’01 baby, many of these reads were initially published before the 2000s, so all the ’80s and ’90s kids out there will likely find these books very nostalgic as well.

The Mitten by Jan Brett

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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Ah, yes, let’s start out with this absolute winter classic. The snowy forest aesthetic in this book brings me instant comfort. This was one of those books I remember being captivated by during read-a-loud in elementary school. Fun fact: this charming little tale about a little boy’s lost mitten is based on a Ukrainian folktale!

The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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This eye-catching classic prompted many childhood crafts, if my memory serves correctly. I barely remember anything about the plot of this book, but apparently, it’s now deemed a little problematic in its messaging. Oh, well. I don’t want to overanalyze The Rainbow Fish, but leave it be as this hazy, oddly comforting glimpse into my childhood.

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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I vividly remember being read this in art class and doing some sort of follow-up craft involving a big, yellow moon. There are not many children’s books I can think of that involve bats (which are, admittedly, kind of creepy). So, shout out to Stellaluna for teaching me about fruit bats at the tender age of 4, and unknowingly introducing me to the found family trope.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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Goodnight Moon is perhaps the most popular children’s bedtime story of the last 75 years. Originally published in 1947, this simple yet enchanting picture book has been passed from one generation to the next for so many decades! I hope kids today are still encountering this time-honored classic as part of their nighttime ritual.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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Oh boy, this one gets me in my feels. I have no clue if this was a universal experience or not, but when I went to preschool, the teachers made us make our own “kissing hand,” where our mom would kiss this paper cutout and tie it onto a piece of string. During the first few weeks of school, we’d wear them around our necks to help assuage any separation anxiety for kids being away from their parents for the first time. I’m not crying; you’re crying!

Click Clack Moo Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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Now, this may be my personal favorite read because it educated me on the importance of workers’ rights from a very early age! Looking back, this cute little story was so clever, and hilarious, I’d continue to revisit it as an adult. Also, I think this was my very first introduction to understanding what a typewriter was!

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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Another longstanding pillar in the world of children’s picture books is Madeline! Dating back to 1939, this is the oldest book on our list and has sparked a franchise to span the decades. My own childhood copy was pretty beat up as it was long passed on down through the family. I vaguely remember the various adaptations made of the iconic Parisian schoolgirl, but I always preferred the books.

Olivia by Ian Falconer

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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Today’s kids have Peppa, but, for me, the iconic pig figure of my childhood was Olivia! There were so many installments of this picture book series chronicling Olivia’s adventures. Some honorable mentions I’d like to throw out there would be Olivia Saves the Circus and Olivia Forms a Band.

Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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When I tell you I was absolutely obsessed with this book! My poor mother was pushed to the limit by having to read this to me a thousand times over. Mr.Henkes really did take over most of my early childhood reading with his cute little mouse characters – shoutout to Chrysanthemum, which hit the scene around second grade for me.

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Numeroff and Felicia Bond

Nostalgic reads Gen Z grew up with
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Last but certainly not least, we have If You Give a Mouse a Cookie – a truly iconic staple for young readers, which spawned many successive installments like If You Give a Moose a Muffin. This is definitely my ultimate childhood comfort read.

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