Story at a glance

  • The most checked out book at the New York Public Library is "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats, which has been checked out nearly 500,000 times.
  • For its 125th anniversary, the New York Public Library made a list of the top 10 books to be checked out from their libraries.
  • Many of the books are children's books, which the library says usually do well because they are shorter.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is the second largest in the country and the third largest in the world — a true testament to Benjamin Franklin's idea of a public good. Since being founded in 1895, millions of books have been checked out from their now 88 neighborhood branches, and most of them more than once. Celebrating its 125th anniversary, the NYPL has compiled a list of the 10 books most checked out over the years. 

The books have some things in common: All of them were written in the last century and have been critically acclaimed. In addition, the NYPL found that the length of the book, languages it was available in and whether they were on school reading lists were all good indicators of whether a book would be checked out often. 

Have you read these popular books?

  1. "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle — 189,550 checkouts

This children’s book is certainly short, which means it's usually returned quickly, allowing for more circulation. The NYPL says that librarians and teachers often recommend the book for kids learning to read because it is interactive and features bright, colorful artwork. It’s also been in print since 1969, allowing borrowers more than 50 years to get their hands on it. 

  1. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" by J.K. Rowling — 231,022 checkouts

The first novel of the Harry Potter series is the youngest on the list, but give it time — it’ll catch up. The bestseller that spawned a movie franchise, theme park and thousands of devoted fans is a phenomenon. The NYPL says they expect the book to move up on the list, and other books in the series to join it. 

  1. "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie — 284,524 checkouts

Published in 1936, the oldest book on the list has been called one of the most influential in the country’s history by the New York Times and Library of Congress. A pioneer of the self-help book genre, the NYPL says its circulation has peaked, but it is a difficult legacy to beat. 

  1. "Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury — 316,404 checkouts

A staple of high school reading lists, this 1953 novel about destroying books is also relatively short. One of the most popular titles each year, the NYPL says the recent popularity of dystopian fiction has also given it a boost in numbers — as well as loyal fans who check it out more than once. 

  1. "Charlotte's Web" by E.B. White — 337,948 checkouts

This relatively short novel has one winning feature: It’s for everyone. Simple enough to be accessible to younger readers yet profound enough to carry meaning for adults, the story is relatable above all else. Perhaps that's why it is one of the best-selling children's paperbacks of all time, according to Publishers Weekly, and an easy qualifier for this list. 

  1. "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee — 422,912 checkouts

There’s arguably no greater award in literature than the Pulitzer Prize, which puts this award-winning novel in the top half of this list. A constant on school reading lists, it’s relatively short and addresses perennial societal themes, all reasons that it’s been checked out so many times. The NYPL says the book known as “America’s novel” also benefits from cultural peer pressure to read it. Have you?

  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak - 436,016 checkouts

A favorite for parents and children alike, this fun and well-illustrated story is an exercise in imagination that has won a Caldecott medal and even been turned into a film. Short and timeless, the NYPL says the children’s book from 1963 is often praised for creatively sharing how children cope with their emotions. Perhaps adults can take a page out of that book too. 

  1. "1984" by George Orwell — 441,770 checkouts

The dystopian themes in this futuristic novel resonated around the world even before the genre gained mainstream popularity (see "The Hunger Games"). More than half a century later, it’s often featured on high school reading lists, although a little too heavy for younger readers. The NYPL says that changes in the sociopolitical climate of the country have also given the book relevance over the decades. 

  1. "The Cat in the Hat" by Dr. Seuss — 469,650 checkouts

The Doctor is always in, and this one is on any number of bestseller lists. A children's classic that has seen a number of film and stage iterations, the children's book was written to address early childhood literacy and has become a household fixture. With 236 rhyming words, it’s short and sweet, and the NYPL says it’s always in demand. 

1. "The Snowy Day" by Ezra Jack Keats — 485,583 checkouts

No surprise here — the top bestseller is a class children’s book with universal appeal and a Caldecott award to boot. One of the earliest examples of diversity in children’s books, the well-illustrated story is available in multiple languages and resonates with people from every neighborhood in New York, according to the NYPL. And who can resist the magic of a snowy day with a good book?

Published on Jan 17, 2020