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The books we never outgrow

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This week’s Stylist magazine (free outside the tube station, thank you very much) has a very good cover story on the children’s books we never outgrow, complete with rather marvellous illustrations by Quentin Blake. The article fudges a little towards the end, giving a list only of ‘Top 10 Children’s Books’, which is, of course, practically meaningless, but the core idea of un-outgrow-able books is a lovely one.

Stylist includes The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Charlotte’s Web and Matilda in its list (all favourites of mine), and the second Kate saw it lying open on my desk she pounced, conducting the fastest straw poll I believe I have ever seen. Well, I am pleased to say that ours is a suitably eclectic list, spanning most of the twentieth century, picture books and fiction, autobiography and fantasy, blockbuster names and forgotten gems. Helpfully, we’ve had quite a number of visitors this morning, so this is also a more comprehensive collection than it might otherwise have been. And without further ado, here it is – Nosy Crow’s list of the books we never outgrow:

Kirsty chose Autumn Term by Antonia Forest, the first in the Marlow family series of novels, originally published in 1948.

Dom named Going Solo, the second installment of autobiography by Roald Dahl and the sequel to Boy.

Deb initially wanted Charlotte’s Web but, at the time of writing, had settled on The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster and illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

Adrian picked, without a second’s hesitation, The Land of Green Ginger, a choice that caused a lot of blank stares amongst the rest of us. A little Wikipedia-ing later and I now know that it was written in 1936 by Noel Langley, who went on to be one of the (many) responsible for the screenplay of The Wizard of Oz.

Steph, insisting that she didn’t want to go for a picture book, and after much deliberation, has gone for Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women.

Tim Wesson, co-creator with Nikalas Catlow of our very own Mega Mash-Up series, has picked a classic of quite a different sort, Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat.

Kate Shaw fought off stiff competition from Camilla to be the one who gets to name another Roald Dahl, Danny Champion of the World, as their own (personally I always found the novel’s gritty social realism a little disturbing).

Imogen, remarkably unfazed by my ambushing of her the moment she crossed the threshold, selected Janet and Allen Ahlberg’s absolutely wonderful Jolly Christmas Postman.

Despite this being her idea, Kate W simply could not make a final decision, and seemed visibly pained by my insistence that she only be allowed one choice. However, after much cajoling from me and soul-searching from her, she’s plumped for Rumer Godden’s The Dolls’ House.

Kate B, after considerable thought, has picked Snoopy, by Charles M. Schulz.

Camilla, once her first instinct had been nixed by my increasingly dictatorial approach to rules, chose A. A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young.

And, because I’m the one writing this blog, I’m going to allow myself two choices. The first is Susan Varley’s Badger’s Parting Gifts, a criminally overlooked picture book and one of the most moving treatments of grief I have ever read. And the second is Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, from 1876, about which nothing new can be said, but which still seems fresh and exciting and funny to me on every re-reading.

So, there they are! Between Nosy Crow and Stylist, Roald Dahl gets an excellent showing, as does American literature. But what have we missed? What books have you never outgrown?

Here’s what some of @nosycrow’s Twitter followers have said:

@rachelisking: Mine would be Matilda, although I also love Ursula Bear by Sheila Lavelle (sadly no longer in print)

@LizzyCampbell: Mine would have to be Anne of Green Gables

@Girl___Friday: I third Danny! :) Also Narnia.

@Rebecca Berry: I’ll never outgrow Cobwebs and Creepers. It isn’t in print anymore but I loved it!

@superjed79 JED: Pigs Might Fly by Emily Rodda (Aussie author). Awesome.

@musingsofayalib: I would most definitely choose Jon Scieszka’s The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales!

@sharontelfer: Wizard of Earthsea: original and best book about wizard school! Also another vote for the lovely Land of Green Ginger

@Lucy Coats: I’ll never outgrow The Wind in the Willows.P.S. Tell Adrian I used to LOVE the Land of Green Ginger. And Phantom Tollbooth taught me about dodecahedrons!

@macnelliebus: Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books! Sweet, funny, heartful and wise

@kbalzart: The Poky Little Puppy!

@NatashaFarrant1: Anne of Green Gables. Never, ever, ever outgrown. Went to Green Gables last summer and embarrassed children by crying. A lot.

@loops777: Em…where to start?!I NEVER tire of the wonders of Mr Dahl.Hilariously witty. Always a special place for ‘A Little Princess’ too!

@rookibooks: Brambly Hedge series. Kids & i named one of our dog walks after them and we take popcorn for the mice! #kidsbooks #notoutgrown

@SarahTFergusson: Alan Garner’s The Owl Service. Beautiful and scary!

@cathiesue: Caddie Woodlawn

@Discover_Story: Tom’s Midnight Garden haunted me. I’m still hoping to find my real enormous garden.

@utzy: Now We Are Six. Bought my daughter old copy in a bookshop yesterday, and yes she will be six soon

@GilesCroft: The Man Who Was Magic by Paul Gallico. Time for a reprint.

@moongolfer:Agaton Sax

@classygenes: The Phantom Tollbooth! Fab! Still have it on my bookshelf. Who needs 3D when u have Juster’s imagination?

@tomfinnerty: Lovely article, thanks! I’d go for Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones

@KathLangrish: Finn Family Moomintroll. And – well, most of them, really. LOVED The Land of Green Ginger!

@AnabelMarsh: Another vote for Anne of Green Gables. Matthew’s death is a sobfest every time

@georgialeaper: The Jolly Postman, and Minnie&Ginger by Barry Smith http://amzn.to/msSyXK – Timeless lovestory

@Alex_T_SmithThe Tiger who Came to Tea – I’ve always wanted to go to a cafe in my pjs like the girl in the story

@vivlives001: Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

@dansumption: Another vote for Agaton Sax. Also, the Uncle stories.

@rebecsmart: The Swish of the Curtain by Pamela Brown

@JustinSomper: Where the Wild Things Are + Ahlberg’s The Mighty Slide + Charlie and the Chocolate Factory ;-)

@neeshed: my childhood favourite was Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat – just started it with kids and still special

@Gem_Clair: Dogger, Shirley Hughes. (But I can’t talk about it because it still makes me cry!)

@alice_murphy: I also cried in the Book Shop about Michael Rosen’s The Sad Book. And Badger’s Parting Gifts… Among many others!

@janeconsidine: My childhood choice Where the wild things are.

@lesleytspencer: Eight Children and a Truck by Anne Catherina Vestly. Still got my battered copy:)

@Chiddle84: Ooh, the Jolly Postman!

@mightydanzy: The Monster at the end of This Book featuring the furriest, most favorite Muppet, Grover.

@katybeale: The Hobbit!

@Dreamteamsoft: Totally love Danny Champion of the World !

@LondonBessie: Gotta be Teddy Robinson. Just fantastic – funny, sweet, a bit bonkers and totally charming.

@Hilary Foster: The Owl Who Was Afraid Of The Dark; The Dark Is Rising hairs standing up at memory

@stevemaythe1st: Any of Tove Jannson’s Moomin books – wonderful evocative stories & illustrations

@murhilltypist: ‘National Velvet’, ‘The Thirteen Clocks’, and ‘Are you my mother?’: the moving tale of a fledgling and a JCB.

@LuLhullier: In English, all Shel Silverstein books #kidsbookillneveroutgrow

@clarefenn: Mine are Danny Champion of the World and The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe

@julietanne: Hungry Caterpillar, Hairy McClary, The Little White Horse, The Tiger Child

@MissCellany: Beauty: Robin McKinley, Howl’s Moving Castle: Diana Wynne Jones and entire Little House on Prairie saga. And Mog! How could I forget Mog, The Forgetful Cat? (

@FlossieTeacake: YES TO PAMELA BROWN. Have you seen: http://bit.ly/mdNk9C

@bowbrick: ‘Peepo’ by the Ahlbergs. A board book worthy of the Booker. Literally one of my favourite books ever

@le_robertson: Blue Hat, Green Hat by Sandra Boynton. you have to love silly turkeys. ;)

So tell us on Twitter (there’s even a hashtag now, as we’ve only included Twitter nominations from people who sent theirs as a reply) or comment below.

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32 Responses to “The books we never outgrow”

  • I still think fondly of the first book I read on my own, “Badjelly the Witch and Dip The Puppy” by Spike Milligan, and the few things I see a copy of it anywhere, it is still very funny.

  • So hard to narrow it down to one! But mine probably has to be The House at Pooh Corner. So funny, and fantastic characters. Also everything by Noel Streatfeild. And the Jennings books by Anthony Buckeridge. And Just William, of course. Okay, that’s far too many. But it’s just too hard to pick only one…

  • F H-B was a very popular choice in the office and in the magazine, Caroline – though we all named The Secret Garden. Great suggestions – thanks for contributing, everyone, and keep them coming!

  • Ha, Tom, you can’t get me here with your rules… So, Things that I read as a child, and have returned to with my own children are: MCELLIGOT’S POOT by Dr Seuss (I used to read this again and again as a child, I still love reading it), THE HUNGRY CATERPILLAR and WHAT DO PEOPLE DO ALL DAY? by Richard Scarry (who I think was a genius). I also loved DANNY THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD (but Tom wouldn’t let me have it) but haven’t yet read it to my girls. However, the book I kept on returning to as a kid was something called SILVER SNAFFLES by the gloriously named Primrose Cumming, a brilliant, magical pony book. I don’t yet know whether I have outgrown it, because I haven’t read it for about 30 years, but I still have very strong memories of it.

  • PATRICK! I forgot Quentin Blake’s PATRICK! I spent many a happy childhood hour looking at those trees filled with dripping, buttered toast. It is a book that always filled me with joy, and still does.

  • Well, if that’s the game we’re playing, I shan’t hold back here either!

    My honourable mentions are….

    The Mennyms by Sylvia Waugh – the first in an incredible series. It’s layered with cleverness and warmth and subversive, haunting images, which makes it more and more rewarding every time I read it.

    The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl – everything about this is classic Dahl. It’s just amazing.

    Quick, Let’s Get Out Of Here by Michael Rosen. I think Michael Rosen was probably the first poet I ever loved.

  • One of the most memorable books from my childhood was Richard Scarry’s “Funniest Storybook Ever” which I rediscovered with much glee and excitement when my son was little. I don’t think I’ve outgrown it yet :0)

  • I love Badger’s parting Gifts too- but my favourite childhood book is A Country Child by Alison Uttley – has beautiful black and white illustrations. I read the Winter and Christmas chapters every year.

  • Ahh, The Dark is Rising – now you’re talking. Which leads (me, anyway) nicely into The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula le Guin. Sparrowhawk! What a guy! And not forgetting The House at World’s End by Monica Dickens, which created a wonderful world of freedom and imagination. Although it also maintained it was ok not to spell words correctly (it was written in the 70s) which even as a child struck me as All Wrong.

  • Well, I grew up the daughter of the school librarian, so we had books everywhere, and I was allowed to open any and all of them. Of course, Mom was always recommending books, but the ones I just found tucked away between “grown-up” books were the best, because they were the ones that felt like they were really mine.

    John Gardner’s short story collection, Dragon Dragon (and the two subsequent collections) was maybe the first such discovery, back in the living room shelves behind Dad’s chair. It changed the way I thought about telling stories and made me want to be a writer even before I was old enough for Judy Bloom or Paula Danziger. One day, I went back to that corner of the bookshelves and found James Thurber’s Thirteen Clocks. It was a magical corner.

    Also—Rumer Godden shout out—I LOVE The Kitchen Madonna and I’m thrilled to discover it’s been re-released!

  • I agree with you about Badger’s Parting Gifts. One little book I always love to look through is by Rosemary Wells. It is Morris’s Disappearing Bag. My old copy has the original illustrations, not the new ones.
    And I love a Joyce Dunbar/Susan Varley title… Lollopy.

  • I’ll never forget the first time I read Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. We were on holiday and it rained heavily everyday. Looking out of my window I felt the atmosphere of the book perfectly summed up my surroundings-storms,rain,boats and harbours!!! I still re-read this book even as an adult and I never grow tired of it. Magical!

  • I second The Wizard of Earthsea, Kirsty – I recently re-read the whole quartet as part of a semester of fantasy literature and it’s just as incredible as ever. I did think about nominating it before but it becomes harder and harder to call them children’s books the further one gets into the series (Tehanu in particular…)

  • There are so many to choose from and a few that have been mentioned previously, but I think it would have to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and (being naughty!) the sequel Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

    Both provided inspiration to visualise and made me want to create my own stories and artwork.

    My prized possession is a Quentin Blake signed copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory after having the privilege of meeting him at an exhibition of his work at the Harris Museum, Preston.

  • For both my son’s first birthdays I have gone to a bookshop and splurged on books that I loved as a child. These are ones that are read over and over again:

    Mog the Forgetful Cat and The Tiger that Came to Tea by Judith Kerr. I honestly never tire of reading these over and over again.

    Mr Gumpy’s Outing By John Burningham (though my car obsessed younger son prefers Mr Gumpy’s Motor Car)

    Richard Scarry. I had a nursery rhyme one but both boys pore for hours over Cars, Trucks and Things That Go.

    The Hungry Caterpillar of course!

    Father Christmas and Father Christmas Goes on Holiday by Raymond Briggs.

    The Twits by Roald Dahl.

    With two boys I don’t think my obsession with Anne of Green Gables is going to be passed on though.

  • I think mine will forever be Where The Wild Things Are, even as an adult and following a literature degree, it remains on my bookshelf and sometimes I like to have a cup of tea and read through it again.

  • Oh there are so many! I have shelves and shelves of children’s books, some passed to me by my mother, and which I still read and love.

    Favourites include:

    The Anne series – I too made a special trip to PEI just to see the setting of the books!

    Fire & Hemlock and Archer’s Goon by Diana Wynne Jones

    Any Noel Streatfeild book, but especially Ballet Shoes and White Boots

    Lorna Hill’s Sadlers Wells series of ballet books

    I will stop there otherwise I will go on all day….

  • This is a great and amazingly lovely list of books.
    I’m startled that three other people remember the Land of Green Ginger
    I’m delighted to see two mentions of The Thirteen Clocks (which we read at one age and dramatized at another) But who remembers the other books I might have listed – Maggie the Streamlined Taxi and the Ardizzone Tim and Lucy Go to Sea?
    I also can’t resist listing Kidnapped, Kim and the Children of the New Forest.

    Through two generations of children, though, I’d have to say the most robust and never-tired-of would be Dogger, the Tiger who Came to Tea, Where the Wild Things Are and – unmentioned so far – We’re Going on a Bear Hunt. And of course, but only for the second of those generations, The Gruffalo. Oh! And Mr Magnolia!

    Hard to stop.

  • Impossible to stop! The Alfie stories by Shirley Hughes, and truly the best book for babies – Peepo. Hope my children get the chance to compile a list like this when they’re older and hope those are on it.

  • I know the Frog and Toad books have been mentioned already but I’m including them again. Frog and Toad are Friends, the first book in the series, is the first book I remember reading on my own (very proudly).

    Why has no one mentioned Madeline?!

  • SO glad someone else has heard of Agaton Sax and Uncle. Rather disappointed though that Tom hasn’t remembered Milly Molly Mandy which I read to him all the time.

  • Adrian, I loved The Land of Green Ginger too. Our Year 6 teacher read it aloud to the class one term and we all dressed up as characters from The Land of Green Ginger for our Christmas party that year!

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. My Grandmother gave me her old first edition when I was about 11 or 12. I still have it and I will very carefully turn each page every few years when I read it again. I am 50 years old now and I still feel like a member of the Nolan family.

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