If there’s anything that I’m an expert in it’s children’s literature. I chalk that up to two things: being raised by an early education specialist extraordinaire, and several years of full-time nanny work. I am a firm believer that everyone can benefit from reading some children’s lit every now and again, and I’m also going to throw it out there and say that our world would be a much kinder and more creative place if people did.
So here’s my list of the top 20 Children’s Books (ages 7-13)
*I’m leaving out some of the more obvious contenders like the Potter series, as well as Narnia.
Be prepared to fall in love with characters who love fantasy as much as you may do. A must-read for any fans of the Narnia series. Keep a box of tissues close at hand.
2. His Dark Materials: Gift Edition including all three novels: Northern Light, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass
Everything that I know of love, I learned from Pullman’s trilogy. I would rank it amongst the best novels for any age group, not just pre-teens. Will + Lyra forever. You will cry and spend a lot of time thinking about what your spirit animal would be. Pardon me, daemon.
3. Where the Red Fern Grows: The Story of Two Dogs and a Boy
I don’t know anyone who has ever read this book without spending the next 3+ days weeping after the end. A dog really is man’s best friend.
4. Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
For the animal activist and mental health advocate in us all.
5. The Book of Three (Chronicles of Prydain)
(Aka the Chronicles of Prydain but no one calls it that). Probably one of the scariest reads for kids out there. Armies of the undead are not typical kids fodder. Loaded with lots of Welsh mythology, and probably the most bad-ass princess in children’s literature. The last novel “The High King” will break your heart on George RR Martin proportions.
6. The Giver
“Utopian” society at its worst. But when Jonas starts to see in colour? Amazing.
7. The BFG
My favourite Roald Dahl novel. I find Sophie to be the most endearing of any of Dahl’s kids and the scene with the Queen is superb. Has anyone else seen the trailer for the new film? I can’t wait.
8. Charlotte’s Web
A spider teaching a pig to read seems unlikely, but here’s another book guaranteed to leave a reader of any age as a quivering mess of emotions.
9. The Ruby in the Smoke
The second time Pullman features on this list. Sally Lockhart is one of the best Victorian London females around. She’s a super sleuth and a business woman and I worshipped her as a kid. But please do me a favour and never watch the BBC adaptation with Matt Smith and Billie Piper. It’s probably one of the worst page to screen adaptations of all times. Never watch.
10. A Wrinkle in Time
Madeline L’Engle’s books single handedly made me want to be good at science. The rest of the books in the series are good, but “Wrinkle” is truly a masterpiece.
11. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Even as an adult, I’ve never stopped fantasising about running away to live in a museum.
12. Little House on the Prairie
Laura Wilder will make you feel torn between wanting to have the kind of free-spirited adventures that she did, and simultaneously make you so grateful that you live in a world with modern conveniences and medicine.
13. Maniac Magee
Spinelli tackles two pretty serious themes: racism and homelessness in a way that is accessible to both kids and adults alike. Again, keep a box of tissues close at hand, and be prepared to fantasise about being the fastest kid around.
14. The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition
They are far more bleak than the candy-coated versions presented by Disney (which I won’t pretend that I don’t enjoy), but there’s something really satisfying about the evil stepsisters getting their eyes pecked out. For the inner sadist in us all.
15. The Little Prince
Another book that I can’t get through without crying. Human nature is a complicated thing.
16. The Secret Garden (Vintage Children’s Classics)
This book gives you an appreciation for creepy old houses, weird family and a love for nature (and gardener boys). It also gives us the immortal line, “Wick!”
17. The Giving Tree
It showed me what true generosity and pure love looks like and has been reducing readers to tears over a tree for years now.
18. The Phantom Tollbooth (Essential Modern Classics)
Who knew that learning about grammar, puns, and idioms could be so fun?
19. Walk Two Moons
A roadtrip that reveals everything a family knows about love, friendship and grief.
20. Where the Sidewalk Ends
The second Silverstein feature on my list; this time instilling a love of naughty and playful poetry in everyone.
What are your favourite kid’s books? Did I miss any of your favourites from this list?