Photo © Richard Cannon
One of the most remarkable qualities children have is their seemingly effortless ability to assimilate information at an incredibly fast pace. Their curiosity and attention is constantly being solicited by teachers, friends, family, television, films, video games, toys... the list is endless! What about books? There is a moment when you pick up a book and read the first few pages and your mind sends a signal to your body that what you are experiencing is profoundly good. Reading, being transported into a story, discovering new worlds, and getting to know different characters and what makes them smile or cry is one of the most enriching gifts to the mind and soul of a person. However, the inherent curiosity and desire to learn that we all have as children can easily be quashed by forcing a child to read a book that he is not ready for. The idea that ALL well-educated children must read ALL the classics is nonsense. They aren't ALL that good! There are some stories that do stand out from the crowd.
This list includes the books that children have loved for generations. Some old, some new. Stories that have become part of our heritage, bound to live on forever. Some were around long before I was a boy others have appeared more recently and, I hope, join them because they are absolutely wonderful! Of course, many more can and will be added but this is a good place to start.
Michael Morpurgo was born in St Albans in 1943 and was educated at Kings School Canterbury and Kings College London.
In 1963 Michael became a teacher, teaching in schools all over the country, until 1975, when he and his wife Clare moved to Devon to set up and run the charity Farms for City Children at Nethercott House. The couple wanted to enable children from inner-cities and urban areas to have the experience of living and working on a family farm, learning where their food came from and gaining an understanding of a farmer’s life. In 1998 the couple were awarded the MBE for their work.
Michael’s first book was published in 1975 and since then he has published over 130 books including War Horse, Private Peaceful and The Butterfly Lion. Animals and children are often at the heart of his stories. Michael was Children’s Laureate from 2003 – 2005. He is a passionate campaigner for children’s literature, the rights of children and for peace. In 2006 he was awarded the OBE for services to children’s literature.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase
by Joan Aiken (Red Fox)
In an old England where dark and mysterious things are occurring Joan Aiken begins this beautiful story of friendship that follows the lives of Bonnie and Sylvia. After the disappearance of Bonnie's parents the young girls are entrusted to the evil Mrs Slighcarp. The bond between Bonnie and Sylvia grows tighter as their new guardian is determined to rob them of their home and drain every ounce of happiness from their lives.
by Louisa May Alcott (OUP)
Set during the American Civil War, this novel follows the lives, loves and troubles of four sisters. As Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy embark on different and sometimes conflicting paths to adulthood the ties that bind the family together never fail to charm the reader. A wonderful story of family drama.
by David Almond (Hodder)
One night Michael makes a mysterious encounter in the broken down garage beside his house, a man that eats blue bottles, spiders webs and has wings while his little sister lies fighting for her life in neonatal intensive care unit.View book record
The Indian in the Cupboard
by Lynne Reid Banks (HarperCollins)
The first of five wonderful books that follow the adventures of Omri and his Iroquois Indian. By locking his plastic American Indian figurine in the medicine cabinet he has just received for his birthday, Omri's new toy springs to life. However having an alive miniature Indian is not as easy and fun as it first seems to be. Lynne Reid Banks' creates a new kind of magic, one that exists alongside an ordinary life and it is utterly enchanting.
by Nina Bawden (Puffin)
The Second World War has forced Carrie and her brother Nick to leave their home and move to Wales. They are put in the care of the dreadful Mr Evans but are lucky enough to make some friends nearby and create a new life for themselves far from the War. A story that deals with the devastating effects of war and the sadness of being separated from what is familiar.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
by L. Frank Baum (Puffin Classics)
Following a violent cyclone, Dorothy and her dog Toto wake to find themselves in the Land of Oz. The falling of their house has killed the Wicked Witch of the East and by doing so has liberated the strange inhabitants of the Land of Oz. In order to return home they must go to the Wizard of Oz. So begins Dorothy and Toto's adventure through unfamiliar and dangerous territory with the help of some unlikely friends.View book record
Five on a Treasure Island
by Enid Blyton (Hodder)
Holidays, four friends, a dog, countless picnics and bottles of ginger beer and an island to themselves! The perfect setting for adventure. Every child's dream!
The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett (Vintage Children’s Classics)
Following the death of both her parents Mary is taken to England to live with her Uncle. She has always been an spoilt child with an attitude to go with it but things are about to change as her curiosity drives her into a forbidden garden. An enchanting story of discoveries and growing up.View book record
by Richmal Crompton (Macmillan)
William is one the most mischievous young characters ever written. Wherever he is you can be sure he will be up to no good. An accurate portrayal of the world through a young feisty boy's eyes. Short, fast paced stories that are absolutely hilarious.
by Roald Dahl (Puffin)
Sophie is unable to sleep one night when she sees an incredibly tall man with huge ears standing outside her window. This terrifying giant slips his arm through her window and into her room to take hold of her and bring her to his home. At first worried for her life, Sophie discovers him to be a kind giant, one who spends his nights walking about the streets to catch children's nightmares and replace them with dreams.View book record
A Christmas Carol
by Charles Dickens (Puffin Classics)
Mr Scrooge does not like Christmas. In fact he doesn't like anything, not even people. However, this Christmas is determined to prove Mr Scrooge wrong as some unlikely visitors come to disrupt his routine. A perfect introduction to Charles Dickens.
by Renée Goscinny and Jean-Jacques Sempé (Phaidon)
Originally written in French, the stories of Nicholas are told from his own point of view. They follow Nicholas through his everyday life, his thoughts on the adults in his life, on what he sees, what he learns at school. This boy is a troublemaker and his tribulations are sure to make readers giggle. A brilliant picture of mischief and wit with wonderful illustrations!
The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame (OUP Children’s Classics)
A sweet tale of friendship between Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger set in the English countryside. The sheer excitement of Toad driving his motorcar is an image that has never left my mind.View book record
A Wizard of Earthsea
by Ursula Le Guin (Puffin)
A superbly constructed fantasy world in which young, fearless and proud Sparrowhawk gradually rises to become a wizard. His journey is far from straight forward and he encounters obstacles in himself as much as in the magical world that surrounds him. The first in the tales of Earthsea introduces us to a rich fantastical world where wizards and cultures alike have distinctive identities.
The Iron Man
by Ted Hughes (Faber Classics)
A beautifully written and poignant story of a mysterious visitor. The Iron man is uncontrollably destructive till the day he meets Hogarth. A young kind-hearted boy, Hogarth is determined to teach his giant metal friend how he should behave if he is to be accepted.View book record
The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawn
by Norman Hunter (Red Fox)
Professor Branestawn is the most ridiculously entertaining inventor you could possibly imagine. He goes about his experiments in a complete muddle and it is no surprise his creations never fail to get him into trouble. Professor Branestawn is hopelessly chaotic and his misfortunes are gripping as they are fun.
Comet in Moominland
by Tove Jansson (Puffin)
The Moomin books are a real treat for the mind and soul. The second in the Moomin series centres around the worrying arrival of a comet. The Moomins are curious characters and in seeking to be better informed they find themselves in all sorts of unexpected sticky situations. These short books are also beautifully illustrated. The image of Tove Jansson's Moomin family and their home will keep you company and make you smile for years to come.
The Saga of Erik the Viking
by Terry Jones (Puffin)
Erik and his loyal companions are off on an expedition to find the 'land where the sun goes down at night'. This is epic adventure is brought to life by Michael Foreman's beautiful illustrations.
Emil and the Detectives
by Erich Kastner (Vintage Children's Classics)
An exciting story of a young boy who is sent to Berlin by his mother to deliver some money to his grandmother. However when the money goes missing Emil must rely on his new friends to help him seek it out.
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
by Judith Kerr (Vintage Children’s Classics)
In 1933 Judith Kerr and her family were forced to leave their home in Berlin. She witnessed the rise of Nazism first hand. Inspired by her own experiences Judith Kerr has written four books following the life of a young girl through to womanhood starting in 1933 right up to the end of the Second World War. This is the first and once you have finished it you will have no choice but to read the others.View book record
by Dick King-Smith (Puffin)
Inspired by his years of being a farmer, Dick King-Smith's stories accurately relate what life is really like on a farm. My favourite of his stories centres around Babe the pig. Babe is not your ordinary pig, he has grown up surrounded by dogs. When his brutal fate becomes clear he is determined to make himself as indispensable to his owners as their dogs. A great story for young readers.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
by C S Lewis (HarperCollins)
Many readers are prejudiced when it comes to the Chronicles of Narnia. The truth is they are not for unexperienced readers, the structure does demand a little more concentration and you do have to read a good few pages to get into it but once you're there you won't be disappointed. The secret world of Narnia is fascinating as it is unsettling.View book record
The Jungle Book
by Rudyard Kipling (Collins Classics)
A wonderful story of a young boy growing up in the jungle. Mowgli has always been well looked after by his adoptive parent wolves. Alas, growing up means Mowgli must learn to defend himself against the increasing threats of the savage world that surrounds him.
by Astrid Lindgren (OUP)
For every child who has ever been burdened by having to stick to the rules. Pippi Longstocking is the ultimate free spirit. With no one to tell her what to do or how to do it she doesn't take long to amaze her neighbours Annika and Tommy.View book record
Winnie the Pooh
by A. A. Milne (Egmont)
Discover the Hundred Acre Wood and the delightful world of Pooh bear and his friends. Inspired by his son's toys, Milne created a world that all children dream of, one where their toys and closest confidants come to life.
The Railway Children
by E. Nesbit (Oxford Children’s Classics)
Separated from their home and Father, Roberta, Peter, Phyllis and their Mother move to a small house in the countryside by a railway. Being away from the excitement of London isn't easy to get used to. In this quiet rural setting the railway provides a unique distraction and opportunity for unexpected encounters.View book record
by Mary Norton (Puffin Modern Classics)
What if you and your family weren't the only ones living to your house? What if there were generations of other families existing alongside you everyday but you had absolutely no idea? And what if the discovery of these neighbours would jeopardise their lives? A truly captivating story and so convincing that you won't see your home in the same way for quite some time.
Tom's Midnight Garden
by Philippa Pearce (OUP)
When Tom's brother falls ill he is sent to stay with his Aunt and Uncle. Unable to go outside and play Tom spends his days wishing for company. When in the middle of the night the clock strikes thirteen Tom cannot help investigating this peculiar habit. As he finds himself travelling back in time all sorts of strange things occur.View book record
Mrs Pepperpot Stories
by Alf Proysen (Red Fox)
Mrs Pepperpot is a very special sort of lady. Without knowing when nor where, she shrinks to the size of a pepper pot. From such a small height curious and unexpected obstacles arise but Mrs Pepperpot's imagination and determination definitely does not match her size. She never ceases to amaze!View book record
Swallows and Amazons
by Arthur Ransome (Vintage Children’s Classics)
A brilliant story for those who enjoy adventures. John, Susan, Titty and Roger sail their boat Swallow to a deserted island for a camping trip. Only they are not the only ones there. Nancy and Peggy have sailed to the island aboard their boat Amazon. After a difficult first encounter the children decide to unite and so marks the beginning of a summer of exciting escapades.View book record
The Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Egmont)
When a pilot crashes in the Sahara desert he is approached by a young boy with blond hair and a long scarf who asks him to draw a sheep. Incapable of producing anything looking remotely like a sheep, the pilot frustratedly draws a box and explains that inside the box is a sheep. Satisfied with the result the Prince and the pilot become friends. An incredibly moving story of friendship and the sharing of wisdom. Important life lessons will be learnt by reading this book.
The Silver Sword
by Ian Seraillier (Vintage Children’s Classics)
A truly powerful and heart-wrenching story set in Poland during the Second World War. As the Balicki family is gradually torn apart we are thrown into the deepest and darkest realities of the War. However even in this devastatingly hopeless situation shines great courage.View book record
by Anna Sewell (Oxford Children’s Classics)
In Anna Sewell's one and only book we follow the life of a magnificent black horse. As he is moved from one place to another Black Beauty describes his different owners and the treatment he receives. Every stage of his life is related with the same clear and sound voice that draws the reader in. Definitely one of the most moving books ever created for children.
by Robert Louis Stevenson (Oxford Children’s Classics)
One of the very best adventures ever written, if not the best. Jim's expeditions come to life with such force. The mission, the island, the pirates, Long John Silver, the world of Treasure Island will captivate confident readers who will devour it over and over again
by Noel Streatfield (Puffin)
This is not another silly story about girls hopping around in pink tutus. The three Fossil sister are full of character and couldn't be more different. Having run out of money they have no choice but to become responsible for themselves. Pauline, Petrova and Posy must develop their skills and perform.
by William Steig (Square Fish)
Dominic, the kind hearted dog, has decided it is time for him to see the world so off he goes on an adventure. Soon after his departure he has the misfortune of crossing paths with the Doomsday Gang. But Dominic is no ordinary dog and comes out of this dangerous encounter victorious. But that is not the end of his troubles with the Doomsday Gang. A fantastic story of adventure and bravery for confident readers.
by P. L. Travers (Essential Modern Classics)
Mary Poppins and the magical world she introduces to the Banks children on Cherry Lane is supreme. She bounces off the page and takes you with her up the chimneys and over the roofs.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
by Mark Twain (Oxford Children’s Classics)
Where there is adventure, there is always Tom Sawyer. As the summer unfolds Tom witnesses countless improbable events, yet this does not satisfy his thirst for adventure.
A Country Child
by Alison Uttley (Jane Nissen Books)
A beautiful and tranquil discovery of the Derbyshire countryside through the eyes of a young girl. A peaceful read with vivid descriptions of nature, objects and common activities in a 19th century household. A true delight for those in need of a bit of inner peace.
The Machine Gunners
by Robert Westall (Macmillan)
Having to live with the constant threat of the German air raids has filled Chas and his friends with anxiety. When a bomber comes down along with a gun and a full stock of ammunition, Chas cannot resist taking it. This is the first step in the boys' mission to defend themselves.View book record