101 Children's books, 1840-1975

As promised, here is my personal choice of children's books that you may have missed during childhood but might consider catching up on now. Since it is based on my own reading it has a definite UK bias, and I have ruthlessly limited myself to one book by each author (very difficult, which book by Edith Nesbit is really my favourite?) Nonetheless, you can reasonably assume that, where authors have written more than one book, I am confident in recommending their work, although I must add that Enid Blyton only got in by the skin of her teeth. My choice is largely aimed at the older child, so it doesn't include many the excellent books which children read with pleasure, but were not specifically written for them (for instance, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat) and picture books have been ignored, with one or two exceptions, most notably Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, which ought to be on everyone's reading list. It should be remembered that good illustrations play an important part in children's literature, and some of the books listed below have been illustrated by remarkable artists such as C. Walter Hodges, Charles Keeping and Pauline Baynes; for adult readers I would almost always recommend finding an edition with the original drawings. I've also mostly omitted short stories, choosing only to include a small selection of the most famous. I think the book it hurt most to leave out, because it's so very different from the one by Dodie Smith I chose to include, is The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which ought to be on any list of classic children's books, but if I started listing multiple titles by authors, it would go on for ever. The most notable omission is R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island which is, as far as I am concerned, unreadable, and I think few people now read G.A. Henty's Under Drake's Flag.

The titles below are listed in chronological order and, where a book is one of a series, I have either chosen the first or, occasionally, my own favourite. Readers are bound to find glaring omissions (which may represent authors I should have read, but can't remember, like K.M. Peyton), and I will be delighted to hear about them, and may even be persuaded to add them to the list! Remember that 1975 is the cut-off date, though, which was chosen as the beginning of a period when I was mostly required to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar many times a day! A classic, yes, but not much meat for the hungry adult reader.

Finally, there is information about almost all the authors listed below on Wikipedia and, frequently, information on individual books, so the only links I have included are to my own reviews. Another good site, with bibliographies and cover artwork, is Fantastic Fiction. Either site should offer advice about the order in which series should be read.

[s] denotes at least a sequel or, in many cases, a series; [ss] denotes short stories

First, the two collections I talked about in yesterday's post:
Brothers Grimm, Household Tales (1812) [ss]
Hans Christian Anderson, Fairy Tales (1835) [ss]

Captain Maryatt, Children of the New Forest (1847)
R.M. Ballantyne, Coral Island (1857)
Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies (1863)
Louisa M. Alcott, Little Women (1868) [s]
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871) [s]
George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind (1871)
Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did (1872) [s]
Johanna Spyri, Heidi (1872) [s]
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (1877)
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) [ss]
Andrew Lang, Prince Prigio (1889) [s]
E. Nesbit, Five Children and It (1902) [s]
Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill (1906) [s]
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908)
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908) [s]
Frances Hodgson-Burnett, The Secret Garden (1909)
Walter de la Mare, The Twelve Royal Monkeys (1910)
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan (1911)
Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs (1912)
Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle (1920) [s]
Eleanor Farjeon, Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard (1921) [ss]
Richmal Crompton, Just William (1922) [s]
Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (1922)
A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh (1925) [s]
Henry Williamson, Tarka the Otter (1927)
Erich Kästner, Emil and the Detectives (1929)
Gwynedd Rae, Mostly Mary (1930) [s]
Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons (1930) [s]
Alison Uttley, The Country Child (1931)
Norman Hunter, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm (1933)
P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins (1934)
Enid Bagnold, National Velvet (1935)
John Masefield, The Box of Delights (1935) [s]
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie (1935) [s]
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1936)
Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes (1936) [s]
Elinor Brent-Dyer, The Chalet School and Jo (1936) [s]
Mervyn Peake, Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (1939)
Maria Gleit, Child of China (1939)
Geoffrey Trease, Cue for Treason (1940)
Pamela Brown, The Swish of the Curtain (1941)
Mary Treadgold, We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941)
Margot Pardoe, Bunkle Began It (1942) [s]
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince (1943)
Violet Needham, The Woods of Windri (1944) [s]
Enid Blyton, The Island of Adventure (1944) [s]
James Thurber, The White Deer (1945)
Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse (1946)
T.H. White, Mistress Masham's Repose (1946)
Tove Jansson, Finn Family Moomintroll (1948) [s]
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)
A.F. Tschiffely, A Tale of Two Horses (1949)
Anthony Buckeridge, Jennings Goes to School (1950) [s]
C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56) [s]
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web (1952)
Mary Norton, The Borrowers (1952) [s]
Burgess Drake, The Book of Lyonne (1952)
Monica Edwards, Spirit of Punchbowl Farm (1952) [s]
Lucy M. Boston, The Children of Green Knowe (1954) [s]
Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) [s]
Edward Eager, Half Magic (1954)
William Mayne, A Swarm in May (1955) [s]
Gerald Durrell, The New Noah (1955)
Barbara Sleigh, Carbonel (1955) [s]
Diana Pullein-Thompson, Riding with the Lyntons (1956)
Ian Serraillier, The Silver Sword (1956)
Henry Treece, The Children's Crusade (1958)
Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington (1958)
Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain (1959)
Alan Garner, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) [s]
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)
Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach (1961)
Phillipa Pearce, A Dog So Small (1962)
Madeleine l'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962) [s]
Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1963)
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
Clive King, Stig of the Dump (1963)
John Rowe Townsend, Hell's Edge (1963)
Nicholas Stuart Gray, Grimbold's Other World (1963)
Ian Fleming, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964)
Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) [s]
John Christopher, Tripods (1967) [s]
Roger Lancelyn Green, The Luck of Troy (1967)
Emile Genest, Myths of Ancient Greece and Rome (1967)
Russell Hoban, The Mouse and His Child (1968)
Ted Hughes, The Iron Man (1968)
Victoria Walker, Winter of Enchantment (1969) [s]
Elisabeth Beresford, Vanishing Magic (1970) [s]
Robert C. O'Brien, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971)
Peter Dickinson, The Dancing Bear (1972)
Rumer Godden, The Diddakoi (1972)
Richard Adams, Watership Down (1972)
Penelope Farmer, A Castle of Bone (1972)
Andre Norton, The Crystal Gryphon (1972)
Nina Bawden, Carrie's War (1973)
Helen Cresswell, Lizzie Dripping (1973)
Penelope Lively, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973)
Diana Wynne Jones, The Ogre Downstairs (1974)
Jill Murphy, The Worst Witch (1974)
Robert Westall, The Machine Gunners (1975) [s]



  1. What a wonderful list! As a Canadian I grew up with a lot of British lit. too, especially with those Puffin editions. I've read a lot of the books on your list and if not the exact book then others by the authors. I agree for the most part though I do disagree heartily on a few choices (ie, Jennings and Chalet School, yuck) I was more of a Secret Seven, Famous Five and Trixie Belden girl myself.

    I myself enjoyed reading Treasure Island and though I've never read GA Henty, his books are widely read in the homeschool community world-wide, the books have all been re-published even made into audio CDs too!

    The Water Babies and Peter Pan are two I can't stand but I think you really made good choices with Ballet Shoes and Mistress Masham's Repose (one of my favourite's ever. I love it even more than the Borrowers.)

    Lists like this could go on and on forever couldn't they? There are just so many good old-time authors.

    One I would most emphatically add to your list is Eleanor Frances Lattimore and I'd pick her book "Little Pear" as it is the most famous and also typical of her other books.

  2. I also love so many of the books you've listed here. Dodie Smith, Alison Uttley, Nesbit, Goudge, Eager, Norton...I could go on. I adore Eleanor Farjeon but I have NEVER been able to get my hands on a copy of Martin Pippin! So weird. Glad to see a few Canadian choices there too. :)

  3. You read What Katy did!!! I read both of them and loved them. What a great idea, to list many of the books you loved as a child that you would recommend for other children to read!Wonderful post.
    By the way, I tagged you for a book meme:http://susanflynn.blogspot.com/2008/07/book-meme.html
    it's a fun one and I hope you can do it. Funnily enough part of it covers children's books, too!
    Maybe it's a Canadian thing, since Nicola liked the Secret Seven, Famous Five and Trixie Belden and I mention them in my post tonight,too! Yaay for Puffins!

  4. I love the Wolves of Willoughby Chase! thank you so much for putting it on!! and glad Enid Blyton did scrape in :-) and even Daddy Long Legs (I'm not the only one to have read that!) I loved I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and have to reread that again soon. Some excellent choices there, and some I've never heard of.....really good, thought-provoking post.

  5. What a great resource! I see work by acclaimed children's books illustrator Helen Oxenbury's is appearing in Bayard's Storybox series for September StoryBoxBooks They Also have some great ideas for a rainy day! http://www.storyboxbooks.com/potatoprinting.php

  6. Nicola, I'm interested that you say Henty's books are still read; I liked Under Drake's Flag, despite not liking Treasure Island. Peter Pan and The Water Babies aren't really favourites, so I know what you mean, but I sort of feel a better person for having read them (not morally, just better read!), whereas pretty much everything else I really love (especially Mistress Masham's Repose). I don't know Lattimore at all, so I shall try to rectify that.

    Melanie, I don't have a copy of Martin Pippin either, though it's available at Project Gutenberg. There's a story by Farjeon I've been trying to track down for years, but no-one seems to know it at all. Even my stepmother, who I'm sure read it ti me, denies all knowledge.

    Susan, I loved What Katy Did, and was determined to reform myself like she did. Trouble was, I was disgustingly healthy, so I never managed.

    Book, maybe I should do a post on illustrators, too, but I'm very out of date - on the other hand, people will tell me about new illustrators...okay, new line of research. Watch this space!

  7. I'm just about to print this out and have a really good look at it. Then I'll get back to you!

  8. Very interesting list! Thank you and I'm going to point people over here.
    Martin Pippin was printed as a Puffin, I'm sure, so shouldn't be hard to find.

  9. What a great list. As you can imagine there are others I would have added, especially amongst the school stories that appeared between the wars. However, there is one writer I really do think should be there, if only because I think you would love her work, and that's Antonia Forest. In children's lit circles she's generally thought to be one of the great series' writers and all but two of her books come before your 1975 cut off. There is a school series that begins with Autumn Term and a series set in the sixteenth century. Do try them. She's anything but a run of the mill writer.

  10. callmemadam, thanks!

    TT, I don't think I know Antonia Forest, so I'm off to look her up.

  11. I enthusiastically second the Antonia Forest recommendation!

  12. Charlotte, I plan to read Antonia Forest as soon as I can get my hands on some! I can't imagine how I missed her at the time.

  13. I agree, a wonderful list. Thank you for sharing it. I was a Famous Five fan but sadly read very few books off your list as a child. It's never too late to start though!

  14. This is a wonderful list, and a great resource!


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