The 20 greatest children’s books ever, according to The Telegraph
Some are time-worn classics, some more recently embraced. Lucinda Everett selects the stories that resonate with the young decade after decade. We think that it is a great list and have added some of our favourites immediately afterwards.
- The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Far from fading with time, Kenneth Grahame’s classic tale of fantasy has attracted a growing audience in each generation. Rat, Mole, Badger and the preposterous Mr Toad, have brought delight to many through the years with their odd adventures on and by the river, and at the imposing residence of Toad Hall.
- The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien
The Lord of the Rings is a magnificent achievement, an epic tale of friendship, love and heroism. This book set down the benchmark for all fantasy novels to come, without it the world would be a poorer place. Perfection is a very difficult goal to achieve, the Lord of the Rings comes as close to it as is maybe possible. Readers will be left with dreams of living in their very own hobbit hole and the journey that the Fellowship undertakes will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Tolkien’s narrative is breath-taking and his beautiful descriptions of Middle-earth are a joy to behold.
- The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Harry Potter is an ordinary boy who lives in a cupboard under the stairs at his Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon’s house, which he thinks is normal for someone like him who’s parents have been killed in a ‘car crash’. He is bullied by them and his fat, spoilt cousin Dudley, and lives a very unremarkable life with only the odd hiccup (like his hair growing back overnight!) to cause him much to think about. That is until an owl turns up with a letter addressed to Harry and all hell breaks loose! He is literally rescued by a world where nothing is as it seems and magic lessons are the order of the day. Read and find out how Harry discovers his true heritage at Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, the reason behind his parents mysterious death, who is out to kill him, and how he uncovers the most amazing secret of all time, the fabled Philosopher’s Stone! All this and muggles too. Now, what are they?
- His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy astounded the literary world, reaping high praise from adults as well as children. The final book in the trilogy, The Amber Spyglass, was published to great literary acclaim, earning Pullman a place on the longlist for the prestigious Booker Prize and pushing the trilogy toward cult fiction status for both children and adults.
- The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by CS Lewis
Lucy steps into the Professor’s wardrobe – but steps out again into a snowy forest. She’s stumbled upon the magical world of Narnia, a land of unicorns, centaurs, fauns … and the wicked White Witch, who terrorises all. Lucy soon realises that Narnia, and in particular Aslan, the great Lion, need her help if the country’s creatures are ever going to be free again.
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
A much-loved classic, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has won over millions of readers with its vivid and colourful collage illustrations and its deceptively simply, hopeful story. With its die-cut pages and finger-sized holes to explore, this is a richly satisfying book for children.
- The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
When Joe, Beth and Frannie move to a new home, an Enchanted Wood is on their doorstep. And when they discover the Faraway Tree, that is the beginning of many magical adventures! Join them and their friends Moonface, Saucepan Man and Silky the fairy as they discover which new land is at the top of the Faraway Tree. Will it be the Land of Spells, the Land of Treats, or the Land of Do-As-You-Please? There’ll be adventures waiting for them, whatever happens; funny, magical adventures that will delight children again and again.
- Babar by Jean de Brunhoff
"If you love elephants, you will love Babar and Celeste," writes A. A. Milne in his preface to "The Story of Babar". "And if you have never loved elephants, you will love them now."
- Treasure Island by RL Stevenson
‘Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest-Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum!’ Treasure Island is a tale of pirates and villains, maps, treasure and shipwreck. When young Jim Hawkins finds a packet in Captain Flint’s sea chest, he could not know that the map inside it would lead him to unimaginable treasure. Shipping as cabin boy on the Hispaniola, he sails with Squire Trelawney, Captain Smollett, Dr Livesey, the sinister Long John Silver and a frightening crew to Treasure Island. There, mutiny, murder and mayhem lead to a thrilling climax.
- The Railway Children by E Nesbit
When Father goes away with two strangers one evening, the lives of Roberta, Peter and Phyllis are shattered. They and their mother have to move from their comfortable London home to go and live in a simple country cottage, where Mother writes books to make ends meet. However, they soon come to love the railway that runs near their cottage, and they make a habit of waving to the Old Gentleman who rides on it. They befriend the porter, Perks, and through him learn railway lore and much else. They have many adventures, and when they save a train from disaster, they are helped by the Old Gentleman to solve the mystery of their father’s disappearance.
- Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome
Arthur Ransome was a prolific writer of children’s books. Born in Leeds in 1884, it was his father, a nature-loving history professor, who inspired his love of the outdoors and nurtured a passion for fishing. As a child he enjoyed active, outdoor holidays: sailing, camping and exploring the countryside. He used many of these holiday settings for his children’s stories, notably the much loved Swallows and Amazons, a book that sits comfortably in the category of "timeless classic" and remains one of his most popular titles for young people.
- Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
AA Milne’s first stories about Winnie-the-Pooh, the most famous bear in the world, were published eighty years ago. Discover what happens when Pooh goes visiting and Piglet meets a Heffalump, not forgetting when Eeyore loses his tail and Pooh finds one!
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie Bucket finds a Golden Ticket which wins him a whole day at Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory in this captivating favourite by Roald Dahl.
- The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
The Gruffalo certainly lives up to its reputation as a classic read for both children and parents. The fantasy story captures the imagination of pre-schoolers as it takes them on a journey with mouse as he strolls through the wood and meets the beast himself, the Gruffalo. As the mouse revisits inhabitants of the wood with the Gruffalo, the mouse successfully convinces the beast that he, the mouse, is the scariest creature in the wood.
- Peter and Wendy (Peter Pan) by JM Barrie
Peter Pan, the “boy who would not grow up,” originally appeared as a baby living a magical life among birds and fairies in J.M. Barrie’s sequence of stories, Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. His later role as flying boy hero was brought to the stage by Barrie in the beloved play Peter Pan, which opened in 1904 and became the novel Peter and Wendy in 1911. In a narrative filled with vivid characters, epic battles, pirates, fairies, and fantastic imagination, Peter Pan’s adventures capture the spirit of childhood—and of rebellion against the role of adulthood in conventional society.
- Watership Down by Richard Adams
Fiver could sense danger. Something terrible was going to happen to the warren – he felt sure of it. So did his brother Hazel, for Fiver’s sixth sense was never wrong. They had to leave immediately, and they had to persuade the other rabbits to join them. And so begins a long and perilous journey of a small band of rabbits in search of a safe home. Fiver’s vision finally leads them to Watership Down, but here they face their most difficult challenge of all…Published in 1972, "Watership Down" is an epic journey, a stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival against the odds.
- The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson
‘I’m Tracy Beaker. This is a book all about me. I’d read it if I were you. It’s the most incredible dynamic heart-rending story. Honest.’ Tracy is ten years old. She lives in a Children’s Home but would like a real home one day, with a real family. Meet Tracy, follow her story and share her hopes for the future in this beautifully observed, touching and often very funny tale, all told in Tracy’s own words.
- The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
This book has enduring charm and young children will delight in the preposterous notion of a tiger creating mayhem in the house.
- The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
The Tale of Peter Rabbit was first published by Frederick Warne in 1902 and endures as Beatrix Potter’s most popular and well-loved tale. It tells the story of a very mischievous rabbit and the trouble he encounters in Mr McGregor’s vegetable garden!
- Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Maurice Sendak’s children’s picture book has become an acknowledged classic. A winner of the Caldecott Medal for the Most Distinguished Picture Book of the Year in 1964, Where the Wild Things Are is a timeless masterpiece that can be enjoyed equally by children and grown-ups.
So there ends The Telegraph’s collection of the 20 greatest children’s books ever. Fantasy Book Review would like to suggest 5 more titles that we believe worthy of appearing in such a list:
- The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
Mankind must put a stop to the dreadful destruction caused by the Iron Man. A trap is set for him, but he cannot be kept down. Then, when a terrible monster from outer space threatens to lay waste to the planet, it is the Iron Man who finds a way to save the world.
- The Spook’s series by Joseph Delaney
A wonderful and terrifying series by a new writer about a young boy training to be an exorcist. Thomas Ward is the seventh son of a seventh son and has been apprenticed to the local Spook. The job is hard, the Spook is distant and many apprentices have failed before Thomas. Somehow Thomas must learn how to exorcise ghosts, contain witches and bind boggarts. But when he is tricked into freeing Mother Malkin, the most evil witch in the County, the horror begins…
- The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver
Thousands of years ago the land is one dark forest. Its people are hunter-gatherers. They know every tree and herb and they know how to survive in a time of enchantment and powerful magic. Until an ambitious and malevolent force conjures a demon: a demon so evil that it can be contained only in the body of a ferocious bear that will slay everything it sees, a demon determined to destroy the world. Only one boy can stop it – 12 year old Torak, who has seen his father murdered by the bear. With his dying breath, Torak’s father tells his son of the burden that is his. He must lead the bear to the mountain of the World Spirit and beg that spirit’s help to overcome it. Torak is an unwilling hero. He is scared and trusts no one. His only companion is a wolf cub only three moons old, whom he seems to understand better than any human. Theirs is a terrifying quest in a world of wolves, tree spirits and Hidden People, a world in which trusting a friend means risking your life.
- The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean
When Pepper Roux was born his aunt foretold that he would not live past 14 years of age. Throughout his childhood his parents haven’t bothered with him much, knowing that his life would be short-lived. So when Pepper wakes up on his 14th birthday he knows this will be the day that he’ll die. But as the day wears on, and Pepper finds himself still alive, he decides to set off to sea in an attempt to try and avoid death for as long as possible. As time goes on Pepper steps into many roles and personas and has numerous outrageous adventures. But can he stay one step ahead of death? Or will fate catch up with him? And, if he does live, which of his many lives will he choose to adopt? This riot of a story is a wonderful adventure, and Pepper is an unforgettable character who stays with you long after his story has been told.
- The Edge Chronicles by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
The Edge Chronicles is a young-adult fantasy novel series by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell. It consists three trilogies and three additional books. Originally published in the United Kingdom, this bestseller series has since been published in the United States, Canada and Australia as well. To date, more than two million copies of the novels have been sold.