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Top 50 classic books every child should read!

By Deborah Maclaren on 7th April 2020

The definition of a classic book is a long and hotly debated topic. All exemplary, all noteworthy, but dependant on who you ask, you’ll receive a wide range of answers. However, there are some tenets that the classics all have in common.

In classic literature, a work is usually considered to be a representation of the period in which it was written and it merits lasting recognition, one that deserves re-reading five times, and picking up again five years even 100 years after its publication. In other words, a recently-published book is not a classic. While the term "modern classic" may apply to books written after World War II, they need longevity to achieve the designation of a simple "classic."

Here at LoveReading4Kids we have decided to create a list of classic books, all published in the 19th and 20th centuries before all children in the UK were born. So, all of these 50 books were first published before January 1st 2000. 

Starting with the adventures of Alice in 1865, it’s incredible how many wonderful books were written more than 150 years ago! We’ve selected seven books from the 1800s including Little Women, the much-loved and totally topical read, still thoroughly applicable for modern readers and Treasure Island, the classic swashbuckling story of pirates, buried treasure and shipwreck.

The start of the 20th century brings with it the treasured classic fantasy The Wizard of Oz, shortly followed by the introduction of the mischievous little rabbit Peter, whose legacy is still delighting children and adults alike today.

In 1908 Kenneth Grahame introduces us to life on the riverbank and adventures messing about in boats with close friends Mole, Rat, Toad and Badger. And we must remember the feisty and much-loved Anne of Green Gables: this list just wouldn’t be complete without her.

One of the best-loved stories in children’s literature, the ever-magical Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden graces us with her presence in 1911.

The 1920s was a decade of brilliance introducing us to our darling Pooh, the rare gift that is Tarka the Otter and of course The Velveteen Rabbit, the lyrically told story of the importance of make-believe for children.

Another prolific decade, the ‘30s delivers the ever-readable classic story Swallows and Amazons, the masterpiece that is Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes and we are first introduced to Middle-Earth and the treasured adventures of Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit.

The 1940s first transports us to the Enchanted Wood and we meet Moonface, Silky and the Saucepan Man and we fall in love with Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree. It also gifts us Animal Farm, the allegorical novella and brilliant satire on the corrupting influence of power which is widely thought of as one of the greatest books of the 20th century. And we can’t forget the freckled, super-strong and mischievous Pippi brought to us by Astrid Lindgren and still loved by millions of children today.

Narnia is born to us in the ‘50s and we are captivated by the story of the four Pevensie children and their adventures in the mystical world. This was joined by the charming and wonderful world of Pod, Homily and Arrietty and their “human beans” in Mary Norton’s The Borrowers.

The 1960s was an incredible decade of brilliance with many seminal children’s books published for the first time. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. With huge thanks to Roald Dahl we first meet Charlie Bucket and are fascinated by his fantastical adventures in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. And of course we are brought The Iron Man, one of the most dramatic and exciting stories of all time. The classic modern fairy story takes on the huge theme of how the world can be saved.

From the 1970s, Richard Adam’s Watership Down is a book that resonates as vividly today as it did nearly half a century ago. Nina Bawden’s Carrie’s War is a very touching utterly convincing book about three wartime evacuees billeted to Wales. And we cannot forget the 1982 Michael Morpurgo tender story of Joey, a farm horse caught up in the horrors of war which is a classic story of animal courage and bravery.

In the ‘90s, we are introduced to the courageous Lyra and her animal daemon Pan in the first book in Philip Pullman’s magnificent trilogy, the Northern Lights. JK Rowling also bursts onto the scene with her suitcase full of stories about Harry Potter. Louis Sachar gives us his wholly original and brilliantly plotted, Holes which is a funny and poignant story about surviving. And we end with the best-selling Series of Unfortunate Events from Lemony Snicket.

Wow, phew, enjoy…and do let us know in the comments if you think we’ve missed any corkers. There were others we would have liked to include..but 50 was our limit! Rules are rules ;-)

Comments (2)

Christine B - 18th April 2020

Fantastic list! Great to be reminded of the classics of my youth. Need to revisit them & then recommend to ‘new’ readers.

Smit N - 17th April 2020

An amazing list !!

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