50 Childrens Books That Stand the Test of Time

Encouraging our children to read...
After reading Michael Gove's suggestion that 11 year olds should read the equivalent of a book each week, I got to thinking about our own family "library" (which currently consists mostly of my own vast collection of books).

If I were to start devising a library solely for my children, what would be the 50 books I would include first?

Here follows the books I've chosen in alphabetical order which I'm sure will make a great base for our growing family library. Don't forget to let us know what you think of these choices in the comments!



1. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Bored on a hot afternoon, Alice follows a White Rabbit down a rabbit-hole – without giving a thought about how she might get out. And so she tumbles into Wonderland: where animals answer back, a baby turns into a pig, time stands still at a disorderly tea party, croquet is played with hedgehogs and flamingos, and the Mock Turtle and Gryphon dance the Lobster Quadrille..

2. Animal Farm by George Orwell

When the downtrodden animals of Manor Farm overthrow their master Mr Jones and take over the farm themselves, they imagine it is the beginning of a life of freedom and equality. But gradually a cunning, ruthless √©lite among them, masterminded by the pigs Napoleon and Snowball, starts to take control. Soon the other animals discover that they are not all as equal as they thought, and find themselves hopelessly ensnared as one form of tyranny is replaced with another. Orwell’s chilling ‘fairy story’ is a timeless and devastating satire of idealism betrayed by power and corruption.

3. The BFG by Roald Dahl

The BFG is one of Dahl's most lovable character creations. Whether galloping off with Sophie nestled into the soft skin of his ear to capture dreams as though they were exotic butterflies; speaking his delightful, jumbled, squib-fangled patois; or whizzpopping for the Queen, he leaves an indelible impression of big-heartedness.

4. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

He may be an old standby, but he never lets us down. When in doubt, turn to the story of the cat that transformed a dull, rainy afternoon into a magical and just-messy-enough adventure. There's another, hidden adventure, too: this book really will help children learn to read. With his simple and often single-vowel vocabulary, the good Doctor knew what he was doing: hear it, learn it, read it--laughing all the way. The Cat in The Hat is a must for any child's library.

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

For the first time in a decade, Willy Wonka, the reclusive and eccentric chocolate maker, is opening his doors to the public--well, five members of the public to be exact. The lucky five who find a Golden Ticket in their Wonka chocolate bars will receive a private tour of the factory, given by Mr. Wonka himself. For young Charlie Bucket, this is a dream come true. And, when he finds a dollar bill in the street, he can't help but buy two Wonka's Whipple-Scrumptious Fudgemallow Delights..

6. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Charlotte's Web
The novel tells the story of a pig named Wilbur and his friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. When Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, Charlotte writes messages praising Wilbur (such as "Some Pig") in her web in order to persuade the farmer to let him live.

7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Ebenezer Scrooge is a miserly old skinflint. He hates everyone, especially children. But at Christmas three ghosts come to visit him, scare him into mending his ways, and he finds, as he celebrates with Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and their family, that geniality brings its own reward. 

8. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, is one of the very few sets of books that should be read three times: in childhood, early adulthood, and late in life. In brief, four children travel repeatedly to a world in which they are far more than mere children and everything is far more than it seems. Richly told, populated with fascinating characters, perfectly realized in detail of world and pacing of plot, and profoundly allegorical, the story is infused throughout with the timeless issues of good and evil, faith and hope.

9. The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales

The Brothers Grimm rediscovered a host of fairy tales. Together with their well-known tales of "Rapunzel", "The Goose Girl", "Sleeping Beauty", "Hansel and Gretel" there are darker tales which deserve to be better known.

I would honestly recommend this for older children as little-ones may be a little disturbed (unless parents choose to edit for happier endings!).

10. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Coraline
Shortly after moving into an old house with strange tenants above and below, Coraline discovers a big, carved, brown wooden door at the far corner of the drawing room. And it is locked. Curiosity runs riot in Coraline's mind and she unlocks the door to see what lies behind it.

11. The Dangerous Book for Boys by Con and Hal Iggledon

This quickly became an unexpected treasure of a book in our home (we've even collected all of the smaller related titles). A perfect solution to school holiday boredom, this book offers a glimpse back to the times when TV shows and video games were not available and kids made their own sources of amusement.

Yes, it is aimed at boys (of all ages!), but there's plenty in here for the girls to enjoy too. Or for an all-girl household, consider The Daring Book for Girls...

12. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell

This classic lift-the-flap book has been a favourite with toddlers ever since it was first published in 1982. Now reissued as a sturdy casebound board book, perfect for little hands! 

13. The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross

Dinah Glass moves in with Lloyd and Harvey Hunter and at first does not like them. Soon she discovers that at her new school, the Headmaster is very strange...

Adapted for a popular TV series, I still find the original novel(s) offer a better telling of the tale.

14. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

The Diary of a Young Girl is among the most enduring documents of the 20th century. Anne Frank kept a diary from 1942 to 1944. Initially she wrote it strictly for herself. Then, one day in 1944, a member of the Dutch government in exile announced in a radio broadcast from London that after the war he hoped to collect eyewitness accounts of the suffering of the Dutch people under the German occupation, which could be made available to the public.

15. Eric the Viking by Terry Jones

This is the tale of a Viking warrior by the name of Erik. But Erik is no ordinary Viking. With his trusty band of men he sets sail in search of the land where the sun goes at night – but he finds much more! The Sea Dragon, Dogfighters and giants combine to make his voyage a great saga of thrilling adventures.

16. Fungus the Bogeyman by Allen Ahlberg

Fungus the Bogeyman
Life in Bogeydom is full of snot, smells, slime, scum and other unspeakable things, and Bogeymen live under the ground revelling in allthe nastiness imaginable. Briggs has created a whole new world in this sophisticated cartoon-strip picture book for older children which will entice the most reluctant of readers into books.

17. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Considered by many to be Dicken's finest novel, "Great Expectations" traces the growth of the book's narrator, Philip Pirrip (Pip), from a boy of shallow dreams to a man with depth of character. From its famous dramatic opening on the bleak Kentish marshes, the story abounds with some of Dicken's most memorable characters.

18. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

This is the story of a quick-witted mouse as he encounters a host of predators who seem to think he might make a tasty treat.

As he ventures deeper into the deep dark wood, stumbling across a hungry fox, a not-so-wise owl, and a slimy snake, spinning ever-extraordinary yarns about the scary, scaly gruffalo, he quickly realises that the hungry beast he has been talking of isn't imaginary after all.

19. Harry Potter (Complete Collection) by JK Rowling

You'd have had to be living in a cupboard for the past decade to know nothing of Harry Potter's saga!

I find all of the seven books to be worthy of owning, though many announce The Prisoner of Azkaban to be the most interesting of all.

One thing to note is that the reading standard required increases wit each book, ensuring the earlier titles are appropriate for slightly younger readers.

20. His Dark Materials (Complete Collection) by Philip Pullman

Beginning in Oxford, this trilogy takes Lyra and her animal-daemon Pantalaimon on a dangerous rescue mission to the ice kingdoms of the far north, where she begins to learn about the mysterious particles they call Dust - a substance for which a terrible war between different worlds will be fought.

21. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

The Hobbit
An unassuming and rather plump hobbit, Bilbo Baggins finds himself unwittingly drawn into adventure by a wizard named Gandalf and 13 dwarves bound for the Lonely Mountain, where a dragon named Smaug hordes a stolen treasure.

22. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

In the land of Ingary, where seven league boots and cloaks of invisibility do exist, Sophie Hatter catches the unwelcome attention of the Witch of the Waste and is put under a spell. Deciding she has nothing more to lose, she makes her way to the moving castle that hovers on the hills above Market Chipping. But the castle belongs to the dreaded Wizard Howl whose appetite, they say, is satisfied only by the souls of young girls! 

23. The Iron Man by Ted Hughes

Part modern fairy tale, part science fiction myth, The Iron Man describes the unexpected arrival in England of a mysterious giant "metal man" who wreaks havoc on the countryside by attacking the neighbouring farms and eating all their machinery. A young boy called Hogarth befriends him and he and the extraordinary being end up defending and saving the earth when it is attacked by a fearsome "space-bat-angel-dragon" from outer space.

24. Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

How did the camel get his hump? Why won't cats do as they are told"? Who invented reading and writing? How did an inquisitive little elephant change the lives of elephants everywhere? Kipling's imagined answers to such questions draw on the beast fables he heard as a child in India, as well as on folk traditions he later collected all over the world.

25. Kim by Rudyard Kipling

This novel tells the story of Kimball O'Hara (Kim), who is the orphaned son of a soldier in the Irish regiment stationed in India during the British Raj. It describes Kim's life and adventures from street vagabond, to his adoption by his father's regiment and recruitment into espionage. 

26. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Motherless Sara Crewe was sent home from India to school at Miss Minchin's. Her father was immensely rich and she became 'show pupil' - a little princess. Then her father dies and his wealth disappears, and Sara has to learn to cope with her changed circumstances. Her strong character enables her to fight successfully against her new-found poverty and the scorn of her fellows. 

27. Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Lord of the Flies
A plane crashes on an uninhabited island and the only survivors, a group of schoolboys, assemble on the beach and wait to be rescued. By day they inhabit a land of bright fantastic birds and dark blue seas, but at night their dreams are haunted by the image of a terrifying beast.

28. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot

Cats! Some are sane, some are mad and some are good and some are bad. Meet magical Mr Mistoffelees, sleepy Old Deuteronomy and curious Rum Tum Tugger. But you’ll be lucky to meet Macavity because Macavity’s not there!

Throughout the 1930s, T.S. Eliot composed the now famous poems about Macavity, Old Deuteronomy, Mr Mistoffelees and many other cats, under the name of 'Old Possum'.

29. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

It was Friday night. Mr and Mrs Darling were dining out. Nana had been tied up in the backyard. The poor dog was barking, for she could smell danger. And she was right - this was the night that Peter Pan would take the Darling children on the most breath-taking adventure of their lives, to a place called Neverland, a strange country where the lost boys live and never grow up, a land with mermaids, fairies and pirates - and of course the terrible, evil, Captain Hook.

30. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

When Milo finds an enormous package in his bedroom, he's delighted to have something to relieve his boredom with school. And when he opens it to find -- as the label states -- One Genuine Turnpike Tollbooth, he gets right into his pedal car and sets off through the Tollbooth and away on a magical journey!

31. Pinoccho by Carlo Collodi

Pinocchio
This well-known fairy tale follows the adventures of a mischievous puppet without strings, Pinocchio. Pinocchio is at once a tragicomic character, and a poor, illiterate peasant boy who has few choices in life but usually chooses to shirk his responsibilities. 

32. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Mary Lennox was horrid. Selfish and spoilt, she was sent to stay with her hunchback uncle in Yorkshire. She hated it. But when she finds the way into a secret garden and begins to tend it, a change comes over her and her life. She meets and befriends a local boy, the talented Dickon, and comes across her sickly cousin Colin who had been kept hidden from her. Between them, the three children work astonishing magic in themselves and those around them. 


33. A Series of Unfortunate Events (Complete Collection) by Lemony Snickett

This collection follows the turbulent lives of Violet, Klaus, and Sunny Baudelaire after their parents' death in an arsonous house fire. The children are placed in the custody of their distant cousin Count Olaf, who begins to abuse them and openly plots to embezzle their inheritance.

After the Baudelaires are removed from his care by their parents' estate executor, Arthur Poe, Olaf begins to doggedly hunt the children down, bringing about the serial slaughter and demise of a multitude of characters.

34. The Silver Sword by Iam Serallier

Alone and fending for themselves in a Poland devastated by World War Two, Jan and his three homeless friends cling to the silver sword as a symbol of hope. As they travel through Europe towards Switzerland, where they believe they will be reunited with their parents, they encounter many hardships and dangers.

This extraordinarily moving account of an epic journey gives a remarkable insight into the reality of a Europe laid waste by war.

35. Skellig by David Almond

Michael can feel his sick baby sister's heart beating inside him, and as long as he can feel it he knows she is alive. But as her condition becomes life-threatening and the family faces the nightmare of an operation to save her life, Michael turns to his new friend Mina and the strange being, Skellig, who has been living beneath the crumbling garage at the family's new home. 

36. Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

Sophie's World
When 14-year-old Sophie encounters a mysterious mentor who introduces her to philosophy, mysteries deepen in her own life. Why does she keep getting postcards addressed to another girl? Who is the other girl? And who, for that matter, is Sophie herself? To solve the riddle, she uses her new knowledge of philosophy, but the truth is far stranger than she could have imagined.

37. Stig of the Dump by Clive King

One day, Barney, a solitary little boy, falls into a chalk pit and lands in a sort of cave, where he meets 'somebody with a lot of shaggy hair and two bright black eyes' - whom he names him Stig. And together they enjoy some extraordinary adventures.

38. The Story of Babar by Jean de Brunhoff

The classic first story about literature’s most beloved pachyderm. After his mother is killed by a hunter, Babar avoids capture by escaping to the city, where he is befriended by the kindly Old Lady. He becomes educated and cultured and, upon his return to the great forest, is crowned King of the Elephants.

39. The Story of Tracey Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson

Tracy, as she herself tells us, has had a hard time. She's been fostered a number of times but it's never worked out. Now she dreams of her glamorous mother coming to fetch her and spends her time, when she's not quarrelling with the other children, writing her life story. And then one day, Cam, a real writer, visits the home and after a rocky start, she and Tracy really hit it off. 

40. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Swallows and Amazons
Swallows and Amazons is the wholesome story of four young children, John, Susan, Titty and Roger, who set out in their boat (the Swallow of the title) to an island of adventure. All seems well until they encounter their enemy. At first they are angry at the invasion of their peaceful haven by these Amazon pirates, Nancy and Peggy, who claim ownership of the land. But in time a truce is called and the Swallows and Amazons become firm friends. Camping under open skies, swimming in clear water, fishing, exploring and making discoveries is the stuff of dreams which serves to make this so charming a tale.

41. The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White

The extraordinary story of a boy called Wart -- ignored by everyone except his tutor, Merlyn -- who goes on to become King Arthur. When Merlyn the magician comes to tutor Sir Ector's sons Kay and the Wart, schoolwork suddenly becomes much more fun. After all, who wouldn't enjoy being turned into a fish, or a badger, or a snake? But Merlyn has very particular plans for the Wart.

42. Tom's Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce

When Tom is sent to his aunt's house for the summer he resigns himself to weeks of boredom. Lying awake one night he listens to the grandfather clock in the hall strike every hour. Eleven . . . Twelve . . . Thirteen. Thirteen! Tom rushes down the stairs and opens the back door. There, awaiting him, is a beautiful garden. A garden that shouldn't exist. And there are children in the garden too - are they ghosts? Or is it Tom who is really the ghost . . . 

43. Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

When young Jim Hawkins comes into possession of a treasure map, he finds himself and his companions in a dangerous race with a crew of ruthless pirates to find the treasure. 

44. True Grit by Charles Portis

There is no knowing what lies in a man's heart. On a trip to buy ponies, Frank Ross is killed by one of his own workers. Tom Chaney shoots him down in the street for a horse, $150 cash, and two Californian gold pieces. Ross's unusually mature and single-minded fourteen-year-old daughter Mattie travels to claim his body, and finds that the authorities are doing nothing to find Chaney.

Then she hears of Rooster - a man, she's told, who has grit - and convinces him to join her in a quest into dark, dangerous Indian territory to hunt Chaney down and avenge her father's murder. 

45. The Twits by Roald Dahl

The Twits are a couple that nobody would like to know. They are hairy, dirty, smelly and generally unpleasant. Roald Dahl's characters are possibly the most horrid people you will ever read about. Mr and Mrs Twit spend their days inventing new ways to be be nasty to each other. Each time Mrs Twit does something bad to Mr Twit, he just invents something worse to do to her..

46. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a perennial favourite with children and adults alike. Its imaginative illustration and clever cut-out detail charts the progress of a very hungry caterpillar as he eats his way through the week.

47. We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury

This worthy winner of the Smarties prize in 1989 is a timeless classic that is enjoyed by children of all ages as well as by the adults who are continually asked to read it again and again.

Follow the family's excitement as they wade through the grass, splash through the river and squelch through the mud in search of the bear. What a surprise awaits us all in the cave on the other side of the dark forest!

48. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him 'Wild Thing' and sends him to bed without his supper. That night a forest begins to grow in Max's room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are. Max tames the wild things and crowns himself as their king, and then the wild rumpus begins. But when Max has sent the monsters to bed, and everything is quiet, he starts to feel lonely and realises it is time to sail home to the place where someone loves him best of all...

49. Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories have been loved by generations of children since Pooh, Christopher Robin, Piglet, Rabbit, Owl, Kanga, Roo and Eeyore first made their appearance in 1926. In this first volume we meet all the friends from the Hundred Acre Wood, celebrate Eeyore's birthday, go on an "expotition" to the North Pole and lay a Heffalump trap. Accompanied by E.H. Shepard's original illustrations in colour, this is an ideal book for bedtime stories.

50. The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

Mildred Hubble is the worst witch at Miss Cackle's Academy for Witches - she's always getting her spells wrong. But she manages to get by until she turns Ethel, the teacher's pet, into her deadly enemy...


What do you think?

Have we included any of your favourite books in this list? Have we missed out an important title?

Let us know your thoughts by leaving your comments below.