20 Children’s Books That Everyone Should Read

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.

20 children's books

1.Bridge to Terabithia

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. 

folded books

What are your favourite kid’s books? Did I miss any of your favourites from this list?

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  • So many wonderful books that I remember from my childhood. Great list!

  • I read 2, 14, 15:) and of course the Narnia and HP series but I wasn’t really a child then anymore:)

  • There’s a new BFG film coming out?! Aaaargh!! Excitement!! The BFG was always my facourite Roald Dahl book!
    I agree with so many on this list, and would also add Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer as it’s one of my all-time favourite books, and Black Beauty by Anna Sewell because that was the first book that ever made me cry.

    • “Black Beauty” always makes me cry too. I’ve never read “Charlotte Sometimes” so I’ll have to immediately add it to my list. You must go and watch the new “BFG” trailer! xx

  • Yes, yes and YES! So many of these I love, and even a few I haven’t read yet – not to worry, I’ll fix that! Seriously so excited for the BFG film….I’ll be first in line to see it! xx

    • The trailer looks amazing! I think I’m more excited about it than “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” xx

  • Angie SilverSpoon

    I literally read every single Roald Dahl book when I was little, my childhood favourite!

    • Dahl is so lovely! Do you have a favourite? xx

      • Angie SilverSpoon

        Matilda is my favourite of all time but I also love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

  • 15/20 – the joys of avid reading plus ten years of teaching! Love reading other people’s recommendations!

  • I’ve only read His Dark Materials from this list :O x

  • Oh my goodness! I’ love these! You are right on point!

  • This is a great list! The Little Prince and The BFG are among my favorites as well. So imaginative and full of adventures! xx

  • Great list! I tend to keep an eye on the Costa Children’s Book Award and other such awards to discover new children’s books. Some of them are astounding. I’d recommend Jason Wallace’s Out of Shadows.

  • Hannah Sundae

    I’ve always wanted to read the Philip Pullman books but never new which order to read them in! I’ve never hears of The Chronicles of Prydain but the title instantly caught my eye because I’m Welsh, it’s definitely one I’ll have to look out for πŸ™‚

    • The Pullman books are wonderful! I’d recommend them to everyone! Half the names in Prydian I still can’t pronounce but that just lent to it’s aura when I was a kid πŸ˜‰ xx

  • Great list!! I am saving this for when my daughters start reading. I’ve read a lot of these but had forgotten some!!! xo

    • What do you think you are most excited to read to your daughter? xx

      • Bridge to Terabithia and a Wrinkle in Time! As well as the Philip Pullman books. I also can’t wait to read Harry Potter to them someday πŸ˜‰

  • Ahhh love this! I just recently read a number of these with some of my students. I think my favorite is Number the Stars by Lois Lowry– courage, friendship, and hope in the face of Nazi Germany… good stuff.

    • Number the Stars is wonderful! Plus it’s such a manageable length for kids yet still really hard hitting! x

  • I have proudly read almost every single one! I was obsessed with the Little House on the Prairie books

    • Whoop whoop! Well done! I loved all the Little House books, but in all honesty, I didn’t like when Laura got married ;/ xx

  • GB

    I’m totally impressed you were able to come up with a list of 20. Walk Two Moons was always my favorite! Sal Tree Hiddle was so rad. Also remember when we had to read that Sharon Chreech book about sailing in 6th grade and had those awkward reading groups where someone was called the navigator and they had to come up with questions? These are the things that shaped or youth

    • Sal is one of the best narrators ever. Love her. And I had totally blanked out “The Wanderer” until you mentioned it. Didn’t Ms Fish make us do some weird move-like-waves stuff during workshops? I distinctly remember Colin being the most local during all those talks. I don’t remember loving The Wanderer, but I don’t remember hating it. Remember “When the Legends Die”. Is that the year we read “Stargirl”? I have so many weird memories from juniper/green chile pod times! xx

  • I’ve read a few. Maybe I’ve read a few more than I think. I have this thing about forgetting things I’ve read. Things need to go through my brain quite a few times before they stick…

    • That sounds like it could be a plot of a book. Like “Eternal Sunshine” but not as emo. xx

  • It’s not sad that I’m currently topping my Kindle up with these, right? Big Kids are allowed, right?

  • Wow a great list! I’m a fan of children’s literature – especially that good children’s literature can often be enjoyed even as adults! I read His Dark Materials when I was quite young and I know I loved it but I think I should give it another read because there are definitely things I didn’t get when I read them at 11!x

    • You should definitely look at them again – I know you’ll love His Dark Materials even more now! xx

  • I STILL talk about Where the Red Fern Grows regularly. It was the first book to make me cry, and it was definitely one of the first books I remember reading. One of my favourite Madeleine L’Engle books was A Ring of Endless Light. There was a really bad Disney Channel Original Movie about it, but the book was epic. So many of these books are absolutely gorgeous. I am more of a fantasy/romance children’s book reader myself – I don’t often like crying in movies or books, don’t know why. So some of my favourites are Ella Enchanted (LOVE THIS), Treasure Island, the Peter and the Starcatcher series, and of course Peter Pan.

    • Ohh Ella Enchanted was so good. I loved that book too. I wasn’t as much of a fan of the movie. I loved a Ring of Endless Light as well, but I’m glad that I missed the Disney film by the sound of things πŸ˜‰ xx

      • Haha yea I wasn’t a big fan of the Ella Enchanted movie either. My high school friend and I even vowed to remake it if either us ever became filmmakers/actresses. (Still working on it!)

  • When I lived at home in college my brothers were quite young and I always enjoyed reading to them from my Shel Silverstein before bed, such a great way for children to fall in love with poetry.

    • Shel is the best! I read some to Sam the other day because he had never heard of him. The Giving Tree still makes me weep, and I love the ink illustrations in Where The Sidewalk Ends, especially! xx