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Posted by Kate, April 5, 2010

“Twenty Best Children’s Books”

Yesterday, the Sunday Telegraph ran a Children’s Special books supplement, including an interview with Francesca Simon and a big old piece by Anne Bilson on the fact that children/teenagers have always been fascinated by horror and the macabre, whether it’s Hansel and Gretel, Dahl’s The Witches, the Harry Potter series or the recent crop of vampires.

In Kate’s house, though, it was the attempt by Lucinda Everett to come up with the “Twenty Greatest Children’s Books Ever” that really got the discussion going.

Here’s Lucinda Everett’s list:

  1. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
  2. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
  3. The Harry Potter series, JK Rowling (Cheat! She has to choose one!)
  4. The His Dark Materials trilogy, Philip Pullman (Cheat again!)
  5. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
  6. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
  7. The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
  8. Babar, Jean de Brunhoff
  9. Treasure Island, RL Stevenson
  10. The Railway Children, E Nesbit
  11. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome
  12. Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne
  13. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  14. The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler
  15. Peter Pan and Wendy, JM Barrie
  16. Watership Down, Richard Adams
  17. The Story of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
  18. The Tiger who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr
  19. The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter
  20. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak

Kate thought this was a pretty good list, if a bit skewed to older children, a tiny bit short on laughs, a bit over-heavy on the classics, and a bit too UK – but she recognises that twenty is hardly any books at all! Where was Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown? Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell? Where’s Spot? by Eric Hill? Dogger, by Shirley Hughes? Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss? Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg? The Snowman by Raymond Briggs? We’re going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury? Where were books by Malorie Blackman, Michael Morpurgo, Robert Westall, Philip Reeve and Lauren Child? And where were classics in translation (other than Babar)? What about Pippi Longstocking? Emil and the Detectives? The Little Prince? Asterix? Tintin?

Among Kate’s personal favourites that didn’t make Lucinda Everett’s cut were The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, The Owl Service by Alan Garner, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, My Naughty Little Sister stories by Dorothy Edwards, Millions by Frank Cottrell Boyce and something by Philippa Pearce – probably A Dog So Small. Oh, and utterly off-piste Alfonzo Bonzo by Andrew Davies. And if we’re going as old as Watership Down, what about I Capture the Castle, Lord of the Flies, Catcher in the Rye, Junk, The Hitchhiker’s Guide the the Galaxy and – yes – Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging?

In the course of discussion, the criteria moved about a lot: do you want a list that represents the canon of children’s literature for the last century or so; a list that reflects what YOU thought was great as a child; or a list that you think would appeal to a child reader (boy? girl?) of two, or seven, or twelve, today? It’s all, in the end, too personal to come up with a definitive list, but it’s fun to try.

Here’s a nine year-old’s list:

  1. The Diddakoi, Rumer Godden
  2. Holes, Louis Sacher
  3. Chinese Cinderella, Adeline Yen Mah
  4. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling
  5. The Dolls’ House, Rumer Godden
  6. Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, Rick Riordan
  7. The Twins at St Clare’s, Enid Blyton
  8. The Endless Steppe, Esther Hautzig
  9. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit, Judith Kerr
  10. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
  11. The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban
  12. Ballet Shoes, Noel Streatfield
  13. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
  14. Why the Whales Came, Michael Morpurgo
  15. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
  16. Journey to Jo’burg, Beverley Naidoo
  17. The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo
  18. The Giant Under the Snow, John Gordon
  19. The Railway Children, E Nesbit
  20. The Mozart Question, Michael Morpurgo

Here’s an eleven year-old’s list:

  1. The Neverending Story, Michael Ende
  2. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke
  3. The Mouse and His Child, Russell Hoban
  4. A Long Way from Verona, Jane Gardham
  5. The Diary of Anne Frank, Anne Frank
  6. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, JK Rowling
  7. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan
  8. Coraline, Neil Gaiman
  9. The Thief Lord, Cornelia Funke
  10. King of Shadows, Susan Cooper
  11. A Gathering Light, Jennifer Donnelly
  12. Noughts and Crosses, Malory Blackman
  13. Cosmic, Frank Cottrell Boyce
  14. Howl’s Moving Castle, Diana Wynne Jones
  15. You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum, Andy Stanton
  16. Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
  17. Anne of Green Gables, L M Montgomery
  18. Little Women, Louisa M Alcott
  19. Here Lies Arthur, Philip Reeve
  20. I, Coriander, Sally Gardner

What’s your list? Send it in as a comment on this post. We’d really like to know.

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