From The Cat in the Hat to Where the Wild Things Are, there are thousands of old and new stories that we love to share with our children. But which are the US’ most popular kid’s books, films, and characters of all time?
At The Ellie Sparkles Show we’ve analysed Google monthly search data across more than 700 popular books, children’s films and fictional characters to determine which rank as the nation’s favourite. We’ve also surveyed 1,000 parents of 5-8-year-olds across the US to discover how often we read to our children, the amount we spend on books and entertainment per month, the types of stories we choose and the biggest benefits reading has on their learning and development.
Parents are reading to their children an average of six times per week
Taking the time to dive into a book with your child is a great way to support their brain development, encourage them to use their imagination, and strengthen your bond. Our survey reveals that parents in the US are reading to their children an average of six times per week, with one in three reading with them every single day.
Despite most parents reading to their children regularly, 77% wish they could read to their children even more, and 39% have implemented set reading times, highlighting the importance parents place on this quality time.
Other ways parents promote reading are shown, with 61% visiting a library with their child and 55% putting subtitles on when their child is watching a film or TV program. It’s safe to say we are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing the perfect story to read with our child.
We analysed monthly Google search volumes for 388 top-selling and best-rated children’s books for children aged up to 10 years old to determine the US’s top reads.
Dog Man comes out on top as the US’ favourite children’s book. Written by the famous creator of Captain Underpants, Dav Pilkey’s latest book series tells the comedic tale of a canine cop that is half dog and half human.
The 4.15 out of 5 star-rated graphic novel series is Googled 49,500 times on average each month in the US, nearly 600,000 times yearly.
Second place is the New York Times bestseller for the last five years, Wonder. With a powerful message about the importance of kindness and acceptance, it comes as no surprise R.J. Palacio’s story receives an average of 33,100 searches each month in the US.
Despite being released over 150 years ago, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women is the third most popular children’s book, with an average of 27,100 searches on Google each month. Following the lives of four sisters, the novel has recently been transformed into a film starring Emma Watson, Meryl Steep and Timothée Chalamet.
Other books in the top 20 include The Hobbit, The Rainbow Fish, Where the Wild Things Are and Booked.
Most popular children’s movies
With 31% of parents letting their kids watch a movie every day, it’s clear that this type of media is a core part of our children’s lives, learning and development. Because of this, we decided to discover which movies the kids of the states love the most. We looked into the monthly Google search volume across 241 of the highest-rated children’s films suitable for ages 10 and below on IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes.
Despite being released over 15 years ago in 2007, Ratatouille is the number one movie of choice for kids in the US today, with an average of 165,000 monthly Google searches for the term Ratatouille movie, which is almost two million each year. The 8.1 out of 10 rated Disney-Pixar animation follows the story of Remy, a Parisian rat who pursues his passion for cooking with the help of an unlikely friend.
After Ratatouille, The Lego Movie ranks as the next most popular for kids. With a 7.7 out of 10 rating on IMDB, the film is searched for 135,000 times on average each month. Cars, Elf, Madagascar, and Up all rank equally in third with 110,000 average monthly searches each. 2017’s Coco is the newest movie in the top 10, ranking in seventh place with an average of 74,000 Google searches each month, while E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial sits in the ninth position as the oldest, having been released 40 years ago in 1982.
US most beloved characters from children’s stories
Kids’ books, movies, games and comics are jam-packed with lively, colourful characters that are loved by them and across generations. To find out which kids’ story characters are most loved in the US, we looked into Google monthly search data for over 100 popular characters.
If there’s one thing parents can be sure of, kids love superheroes – our ranking proves this. Marvel’s Spiderman comes out as the number one kids’ character in the US, averaging 1,830,000 Google searches each month. Batman, Harley Quinn, and Wonder Woman are other characters in the top 10 that fall into the superhero category.
After Spiderman, SpongeBob SquarePants is the next most popular kids’ character, with his name being searched on Google 1,220,000 times in an average month. Everyone’s favourite young wizard Harry Potter follows in joint second with the same 1,220,000 average monthly searches.
Parents spend $27 on reading materials every month
From buying the next sequel in a gripping book series to paying for your monthly library card, the average parent spends $26.61 on reading materials each month.
Top five States spending the most
Washington, D.C. spends the most each month at $58.88 on average, reaching over $700 yearly ($706.56). California follows in second, spending $15 less each month at £43.88, and Vermont sits in third, spending $43.67.
With the likes of Netflix, Disney Plus and Apple TV becoming staple subscriptions in many family households, our survey reveals parents spend an average of $36.11 each month for these services. The top five states spending the most include:
Parents in Nebraska are paying the most for film and TV services at $70.67 each month, which over a year, is costing them a staggering $848. Vermont and Washington D.C. follow in a close second and third, spending $65.50 and $63.19, respectively.
How do parents choose which books to read with their children?
With so many books to choose from, all offering something unique, we wanted to determine what parents look for when choosing the perfect read with their child.
Stories that include racial diversity are a high priority for parents in the US, with almost seven in 10 (69%) believing it’s important to read books that fall into this category with their kids. As well as racial diversity, 56% of parents agree it’s important to read books including religious diversity, and 48% would like to see their kids reading books that feature gender diversity.
In comparison, 42% encourage reading books that include sexual diversity. Interestingly, 37% of parents read different books to their children based on gender.
As children grow and learn, they are extremely receptive to their surroundings, meaning stories which feature diverse characters in inclusive storylines are great for introducing them to different cultures and lifestyles, teaching them the importance of acceptance from a young age.
In addition, our survey reveals that almost seven in 10 parents (67%) give their children the freedom to choose which books they read, ultimately making the experience even more enjoyable as they begin to explore the stories they enjoy most.
When it comes to choosing between reading real books or using kindles, it appears that technology has not surpassed the ultimate feeling of turning a real page in a book, with 61% opting for a physical version and just 25% using a digital device.
Benefits of reading to children
As well as being a fun activity for children, with 79% of parents saying their child enjoys the time they spend reading, there is also a wide variety of benefits reading can have, from improving language skills to helping your child develop empathy. It can even strengthen your bond with your child and encourage regular quality time with them.
Our survey reveals that more than seven in 10 parents have noticed that reading with their child helps to stimulate their imagination and creativity (73%). In contrast, 46% have noticed it has improved their attention span.
We’ve partnered with Camilla Mazetto, a post-doctoral psychologist at Williamsburg Therapy Group, who has commented on the biggest benefits storytelling with your child can have: The storytelling habit has been shown to benefit children in various areas, touching on cognitive, emotional, and social aspects of development.
It has even been shown to positively impact physiological and psychological functions, increasing oxytocin and positive emotions and decreasing cortisol levels and pain in hospitalised children. Most studies have focused on benefits regarding literacy, and there is strong evidence that storytelling can enrich language experiences, help children improve their vocabulary mastery, and enhance interest in reading and writing.
Storytelling is also very low-cost, simple, and practical. It relies on a complex interaction between language and imagination, creating a state of cognitive and emotional immersion that is profoundly engaging for both the storyteller and the audience.
The benefits of storytelling may change throughout a child’s different developmental stages. For younger kids, it promotes expressive and receptive language development allowing for greater emotional connection with grown-ups. As children get older, storytelling may be used to practice logical and critical thinking and explore values and problem-solving skills. This is possible because stories facilitate the creation of mental simulations that represent social realities.
Such narratives offer a model of the social world through abstraction and simplification that allow for the vicarious learning of social realities through the experience of fictional characters. In other words, stories can help reframe personal experiences by broadening perspectives, deepening emotional processing abilities, and increasing empathy and self-regulation.
Positive role models and messages in children’s entertainment
With children living in a digital age where they can easily access, absorb and imitate behaviours they see in the media, parents need to find positive examples for them to follow – just like our very own Ellie Sparkles. We looked at Common Sense Media reviews to find out the states’ 25 most popular children’s books rank for their positive messaging and positive role models portrayed.
With both metrics scoring out of five, the books Wonder, Booked, and Anne of Green Gables scored five out of five across both factors.
As a heartwarming story of self-love and acceptance, Wonder by R. J. Palacio conveys key messages to kids surrounding the power of our words and how they can make people feel, the beauty of being different, and knowing when to say sorry.
Written entirely in verse through the eyes of 12-year-old football star Nick, Booked by Kwame Alexander teaches children about the ups and downs of life and how to overcome unexpected challenges.
Despite first being published over 100 years ago (1908), L. M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables teaches timeless lessons that are important for every child. Imagination, tenacity, and a commitment to being a good friend are some of the admirable traits of the main character, Anne Shirley.
With many beautiful stories for you and your child to explore, what story will you read with them next?
We surveyed 1,000 parents of children ages 5 to 8 across the US to understand families’ habits regarding reading books and watching movies.
To reveal the most popular children’s stories in the US, we analysed over 700 of the best-rated books and movies in the world according to reputable review sites such as IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes, Goodreads and Publishers Weekly. Based on Common Sense Media’s age rating score, the sample was refined to include only stories suitable for the ages 0-10.
We then analysed Google search trends for each book and movie to reveal the average monthly demand across the US. The terms ‘book’ and ‘movie’ were added to each title’s end to ensure the search intent was for the correct medium.