When we are asked our opinion on what are the best books for children to read, like every question, we bring our own experiences directly to bear. I was one of 5 children, born in 1970 and grew up without a TV in the house (except for a brief, glorious and mysterious period that coincided with the 1978 football world cup!) and of course there was no internet, no smart phones, no social media etc. I did spend a lot of time outdoors (we lived on a small farm in Suffolk) but I also spent a considerable amount of my time reading. There were a lot of books in the house, we visited the library every Friday and my Uncle Ron (who lived next door) was always lending me books or buying new ones. My (fairly consistent) top 5 books that are nominally for children or young people all stem from my experience of reading, or re-reading them across the ages of 7-16. Some of them we had BBC dramatisations of on vinyl and when I re-read Wind in the Willows or Watership Down today, I can sometimes still hear the voices of the actors on those ancient records.
That top 5 would be:
- Watership Down (Richard Adams) – I don’t really consider it a children’s book anymore hut I do read it to my own children and still appreciate the beauty of the language and the brilliantly conveyed emotions of the characters.
- The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien) – I am an unashamed Tolkien fan and did my dissertation on Lord of the Rings and still admire the immersive world that he created. The Hobbit has a lighter touch and more humour.
- The Wind in The Willows (Kenneth Grahame) – Grahame didn’t write much but this classic has stood the test of time, with an engaging cast of characters and wonderfully evocative writing about the English countryside.
- The Eagle of the Ninth (Rosemary Sutcliffe) – Rosemary Sutcliffe wrote a range of brilliant books for children and young people and this is my favourite from her canon. A well-researched and wonderfully written adventure about Roman Britain, a family’s honour and a young man’s determination to win it back. I had forgotten until recently that it is actually the first part of a trilogy that spans the Roman occupation of Britain and beyond – well worth digging out.
- The Dark is Rising (Susan Cooper) – Part of a sequence of 5 novels, this depicts a struggle between good and evil based upon Arthurian legend and Celtic myths. Spooky and engaging at the same time, best read in daylight!
As a parent of 4 children (current ages ranging from 9-16) I have been introduced through them to a more modern range of authors and books and would heartily recommend anything by Julia Donaldson, Piers Torday, Philip Pullman, Cressida Cowell and JK Rowling. I then realise that I haven’t even mentioned Roald Dahl or the Narnia Chronicles!
For other people’s thoughts on the best children’s books please see:
- The 100 best children’s books (Timeout) or
- 30 best children’s books: From Artemis Fowl to The Jungle Book (Independent) or
- 100 best children’s books (BookTrust) for a breakdown by age.
I am sure you will have your own list of preferences too. Happy reading!