The Top Ten Among New York’s Favorite Books

The beloved, innovative, award-winning children’s story “The Snowy Day” – written and illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats—is the most checked out book in The New York Public Library’s 125-year history. A team of experts at the Library analyzed a series of factors to compile – for the first time ever – the 10 books that have been borrowed most since The New York Public Library was founded in 1895. The release of the list –as well as a limited-edition library card and MetroCard featuring artwork from The Snowy Day – launch a year-long celebration of The New York Public Library’s 125th anniversary.

The year will focus on appreciating and reaffirming the Library’s values of trust, inclusion, respect, and free and open access to information and knowledge, as well as its unique role supporting a true love of reading. The celebration will include special author talks, book lists, public programs, the much-anticipated reopening of the system’s completely renovated central circulating library, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Library, and the opening of the Polonsky Exhibition of The New York Public Library Treasures, a permanent, free exhibition showcasing items from the Library’s robust research collections.

Credit: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.

To develop the list of most checked out books, the Library evaluated a series of key factors –including historic checkout and circulation data (for all formats, including e-books), overall trends, current events, popularity, length of time in print, and presence in the Library catalog.

The full list:

  1. The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats / 485,583 checkouts
  2. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss / 469,650 checkouts
  3. 1984 by George Orwell / 441,770 checkouts
  4. Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak / 436,016 checkouts
  5. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee / 422,912 checkouts
  6. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White / 337,948 checkouts
  7. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury / 316,404 checkouts
  8. How To Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie / 284,524 checkouts
  9. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling / 231,022 checkouts
  10. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle / 189,550 checkouts


Credit: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.

The list also includes an honorable mention: children’s book Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, which would have been among the system’s top checkouts if not for an odd piece of history: extremely influential New York Public Library children’s librarian Anne Carroll Moore disliked the story so much when it was published in 1947 that the Library didn’t carry it … until 1972.

“For 125 years, the Library has uniquely sparked, supported, and fostered a true love of reading in the people of New York City and beyond,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. “ Among our many roles, we look to connect people with the stories that capture their imaginations, take them places, stay with them over time, encourage them to keep turning pages, and greatly impact and shape their lives. The books on this list have transcended generations and, much like the Library itself, are as relevant today as they were when they first arrived. This list tells us something about New Yorkers over the last 125 years – what moves them, what excites them, what stands the test of time. It’s a perfect way to kick off our celebration of the Library’s 125th anniversary … and it’s just the beginning.”

Credit: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.

The Snowy Day

The Snowy Day, in print and in the Library’s catalog continuously since 1962, is a charming, beautifully-illustrated tale of a child enjoying the simple magic that snow brings to his city. It is one of the Library’s top circulated books every year (across all neighborhoods). Andrew Medlar, director of the Library’s BookOps selection team and one of the experts who helped compile the list, attributes the book’s success to its universal appeal, its fame (being a Caldecott winner and one of the earliest examples of diversity in children’s books), its wide availability in other languages, and its many years in print.

“At the end of the day, though, it’s all about the story, and it is absolutely brilliantly told,” Medlar said. “It is such a relatable story, and pure magic for kids and adults alike. It’s on people’s radar screens, they remember when they first heard it, and they want to share that experience with their kids. And the artwork is just gorgeous.”

Credit: Jonathan Blanc / NYPL.

To celebrate the top checkout, all 92 New York Public Library locations are offering a special, limited-edition The Snowy Day library card beginning today (existing cardholders can move their accounts to the new card for a $1 donation). And a special edition MTA MetroCard will be available this week in the following 10 stations across the five boroughs:

Additionally, branches will hold special storytime and craft programming around The Snowy Day in January and February.

“For The Snowy Day to be recognized as the most checked out book in the history of The New York Public Library would have been for Ezra Jack Keats, as it is for us at the EJK Foundation, the highest honor he could ever receive,” said Deborah Pope, executive director of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation. “As a young boy, Ezra found a safe haven and inspiration in the public library. Part of his legacy has been to extend the welcome of public libraries by creating books that reflect the diverse faces of the children who use the library. The popularity of children’s books on this top ten list shows that literacy and the love of reading is a high priority for all of us in New York City’s and we, along with the beloved NYPL, are happy to help achieve this goal.”

Key Factors

According to Medlar, there are several key criteria that seem to influence whether a book is a top checkout:

  • Length: The shorter the book, the more turnover, or circulation (this is why children’s books are often amongst the most circulated). The adult books on the list tend to be shorter, such as 1984 and To Kill A Mockingbird
  • Length of time in print: Clearly, the longer a story is in print, the longer the public has to check it out. The oldest book on the list is Dale Carnegie’s ultimate self-help book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, which has been in print continuously since 1936. The newest book is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which came out in the United States in 1998 and was only able to crack this list because it was an absolute phenomenon.
  • Languages available: In a city like New York City, the more languages offered means more checkouts.
  • Universal appeal: The more a story appeals to a wide variety of tastes, the more checkouts it will receive.
  • Current events: Particularly with adult books, what is happening in the world greatly impacts checkouts. 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 see spikes in circulation depending on what’s happening in the world, and have currently seen increased popularity due to the rise of dystopian fiction, particularly in teen books.
  • School: If a book has been on school lists for many decades, it is more likely to be a top checkout.
  • Awards and acknowledgment: Awards generate awareness and excitement, which also generate checkouts. Several of the books on the list are Caldecott winners, for example.


The Library’s 125th Anniversary

The New York Public Library was founded on May 23, 1895, with the goal of making knowledge, information, and opportunity available to all New Yorkers, regardless of background or circumstance. Former New York governor Samuel J. Tilden left the bulk of his fortune to “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.” With that funding, the two prominent private libraries in New York at the time – the Astor and Lenox libraries – were merged to create The New York Public Library.

In April 1901, a resolution passed by the New York State Legislature empowered the City of New York to acquire sites for “free branch public libraries for circulation with reading rooms and other necessary accommodations,” and one year later, a contract was signed between New York City, The New York Public Library, and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie in which Carnegie agreed to donate buildings to be used as public libraries, and the City agreed to pay for their maintenance and operations. The dream was that all New Yorkers would have access to free public library service “promoting the education and enjoyment of the people and of making good citizens,” according to a letter from NYPL President John Shaw Billings to Carnegie in 1902.

Today, The New York Public Library system – serving the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island – has 92 locations, including world-class research libraries, and sees over 16 million visits per year. It continues to aspire to its original mission, not just offering books and other materials as always, but offering e-books via its own reading app SimplyE, paid databases, ESOL and citizenship classes, technology training, job search assistance, workforce development, financial literacy courses, and much more.

“The New York Public Library has for well over a century supported and strengthened New Yorkers, our democratic foundation, and our world, offering all people the tools they want and need to become their best selves, and productive members of our civic society,” said New York Public Library President Anthony W. Marx. “This mission and our core values of truth, trust, respect, inclusion, learning, opportunity and democracy are more important today than ever before, as they are under threat around the globe. So even as we celebrate this year – and we certainly will celebrate—we should acknowledge the importance of institutions like public libraries to our nation and world, and pledge to ensure that they are supported now and for generations to come.”

“Congratulations to The New York Public Library on its 125th anniversary,” said New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. “Libraries are the heart and soul of our communities, centers for learning, and access points for all kinds of critical services. I am proud that this year the City Council secured a historic $33 million to support our city’s library systems. I personally got a lot of joy seeing the list of the most checked out books of the last 125 years. Charlotte’s Web and The Cat in The Hat were my favorites as a child, and it thrills me to no end to know that children are still enjoying these books. Connecting us through the classics is what libraries are all about.”


Other Information You Might Be Interested in:

On the website of the New York Public Library you can find more information on their program celebrating their 125th anniversary.

Here are more details about the Top 10 books.

On YouTube you can find the “The Snowy Day” as an animated film based on the original illustrations.