Books For Children That You Absolutely Must Read

children books

The art of reading is declining amongst younger generations. This reality is a tragedy. Sadly, parents have played a major role in raising children who dislike reading. Why? Because parents no longer read out loud. They don’t bring in the picture books. They don’t pack bookshelves with young readers, classic fairy tales, short stories, and books on every animal under the sun. Furthermore, parents generally stop reading themselves. And without a home culture of literature and story, children rarely take it upon themselves to take up a book and crack open its pages.

C. S. Lewis (surprise, surprise!) wrote profusely on the topics of literature, reading, and literary people. In his book, An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis eloquently articulates the beauty and necessity of literature in a person’s life. He writes,

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realize the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk with an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison. My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough. I will see what others have invented. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. I regret that the brutes cannot write books. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.

C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism, 1961

We read to enlarge ourselves. We read to see through others’ eyes.

Books are windows through which we enter new worlds, experience new events, empathize with new characters, live new stories. We transcend our present as we immerse ourselves in books that, in the end, grow us by forming our worldview, character, and emotional intelligence.

The object we call a book is not the real book, but its potential, like a musical score or seed. It exists fully only in the act of being read; and its real home is inside the head of the reader, where the symphony resounds, the seed germinates. A book is a heart that only beats in the chest of another.

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

This is why I believe reading must start from an early age.

I could go further into the reasons why everyone should read, why parents should read to their kids, why children should read to themselves. But I’ll step off my soapbox and let you read the masters on these topics: Lewis, Tolkien, Kafka, Solnit. Instead, I will help you get started with a list of books that you should read to your children, read to make up for your parents not reading to you, or pat yourself on the back because your parents/you did read these books when you were young.

Adam of the Road

children's books adam of the road

Set in Medieval England, Adam of the Road follows the story of a young boy whose father is minstrel. After losing his dog and his father, Adam embarks on a series of adventures and misfortunes that leads him all the way to Oxford College. Definitely a story the whole family will love!

Aesop’s Fables

children's books aesop's fables

From The Fox and the Grapes to The Cat and the Mice, these fables are a fun, simple way to introduce children to the world of literature. Credited to an Ancient Greek slave, Aesop, the short tales take the humble, everyday things to teach great truths. And the language! The poetic flow, the haiku-like brevity, stir up an appreciation for the written word in any reader.

The Borrowers

children's books the borrowers

A tiny family that makes furniture out of matchboxes and artwork out of postage stamps. These are the Borrowers, the inhabitants under the kitchen floor. And Arrietty, the daughter, is bound and determined to meet the human boy up above, despite her parents’ forbidding. The five books in this series by Mary Norton will entrance the entire family as you catch a glimpse into the everyday escapades of an itty-bitty mama, papa, and child.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

children's books carry on mr. bowditch

Jean Lee Latham weaves together a beautiful children’s biography of Nathaniel Bowditch, a sailor and mathematician who lived from 1773 to 1838. From the son of a cooper to the author of the foundational comprehensive work in navigation, The American Practical Navigator, Nathaniel Bowditch lived a fascinating life full of adventure and learning that will entrance readers at every age.

Charlotte’s Web

children's books charlotte's web

A beloved novel by E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web relates the story of a young farm pig named Wilbur and his friendship with the barn spider who lives above his pen. The spider, Charlotte, guides Wilbur through the turbulent experiences of growing up and coming of age. It is a beautiful story told in beautiful prose. Read this aloud to enjoy the rhythm and poetic style of the narrative.

The Chronicles of Narnia

children's books chronicles of narnia

Perhaps the most classic of classic children’s fiction, The Chronicles of Narnia have shaped adult and children’s fantasy literature since their publication between 1950 and 1956. Filled with magical wardrobes, mythical creatures, talking animals, “fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles” — yes, The Princess Bride description is perfect for Narnia as well. This enchanting series will transport the whole family into the fictional realm of Narnia and leave everyone changed for the better.

Dawn

children's books dawn

Eleanor H. Porter is most well-known for her novel, Pollyanna (which appears further on in this list), but she wrote several other books that explore similar themes of family, optimism, joy in suffering, love, and coming of age. One of these is Dawn, the story of a young painter named Keith Burton who becomes blind. A heartrending read with engrossing characters that everyone will love!

Dr. Seuss

children's books dr. seuss

No list of children’s books is complete without mention of Dr. Seuss. In 1936, thirty-two year-old Theodor Seuss Geisel listened to the rhythm of the ship’s engines he was traveling on to Europe. A story popped into his head that grew into And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Rejected by forty-three publishers, Dr. Seuss would have given up. Fortunately, a friend offered to publish the book, launching the brilliant career of a beloved children’s book author. And, oh, the places we go when thumbing through his pages!

The Giving Tree

children's books the giving tree

“Once there was a tree … and she loved a little boy.”

So begins a story of unforgettable perception, beautifully written and illustrated by the gifted and versatile Shel Silverstein.

Every day the boy would come to the tree to eat her apples, swing from her branches, or slide down her trunk…and the tree was happy. But as the boy grew older he began to want more from the tree, and the tree gave and gave and gave.

This is a tender story, touched with sadness, aglow with consolation. Shel Silverstein has created a moving parable for readers of all ages that offers an affecting interpretation of the gift of giving and a serene acceptance of another’s capacity to love in return. 

Heidi

children's books heidi

The author of this beloved children’s tale is Johanna Spyri, who lived her entire life in the Switzerland countryside. Heidi, a young orphan girl, comes to live with her grandfather, a queer old man who lives alone in an alpine cottage far from any village. While her life has been far from easy, Heidi will experience more suffering and heartache throughout the story, but she finds a few true friends along the way. Spyri’s novel has been adapted for the screen since 1920, from American productions to a Japanese cartoon series. This book is definitely a must-have for young readers!

Johnny Tremain

children's books johnny remain

Written by Esther Forbes (Paul Revere and the World He Lived In), Johnny Tremain narrates the life of a young silversmith apprentice during the American Revolution.

Ephraim Lapham, the master craftsman Johnny is apprenticing under, warns his young charge that pride goes before a fall. But, like many 14-year-old boys, Johnny disregards the advice until he must learn his lesson the hard way.

Set in the time leading up to and during the Revolution, Johnny Tremain is an engrossing book for readers of all ages.

Just David

children's books just david

No children’s booklist is complete without mention of Eleanor H. Porter. Just David is her 1916’s children’s novel that skyrocketed to bestseller in cities across the United States. In July of 1916, the book became the second bestselling novel.

After losing his father, a young boy, David, must learn to live with others; and teach the villagers how to live and love as well. A heartwarming story, Just David deserves a place of endearment on the bookshelf.

Kate DiCamillo

children's books kate dicamillo

Yes, yes, I know this is the second time I’ve mentioned an author rather than a specific book. But truly, Kate DiCamillo is a master storyteller. From The Tale of Despereaux to Raymie Nightingale to The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, DiCamillo entrances readers with her fictional worlds of mice, men, and rabbits. I definitely recommend cuddling up by the fireside with a warm cup of cocoa when you crack open the pages of her books.

Little Women

books little women

Little Women is a touching coming-of-age novel as four young girls learn and grow during the 1860s. With their father away at war, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy, and their darling Marmee, must make do at home. Filled with the love of family, Little Women shares the ups and downs of relationships, the hardships of wartime, the difficulties of growing up and maturing. This is a fantastic read for all ages — especially if you are looking for a book that everyone can relate to and one that inspires you to be grateful for the little things of life.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins

books mr. popper's penguins

In some ways, Mr. Popper’s Penguins reminds me of 101 Dalmatians. A poor house painter and his family become the recipients of an unusual gift — a penguin named Captain Cook. When Captain Cook mates with a female from the zoo, one penguin quickly becomes twelve. What follows is a harum-scarum adventure from one end of the globe to the other. This book will keep everyone in the family on their toes!

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH

books mrs. frisby

Written by Robert O’Brien in 1971, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH tells the tale (or should I say tail?) of a widowed mouse, Mrs. Frisby, and her dire dilemma. Mrs. Frisby learns she must move her family to their summer home immediately, but a seriously ill son makes matters difficult. Thankfully, she meets the rats of NIMH, who come up with a brilliant solution to the problem.

An award-winning children’s book with lovely illustrations, this is sure to be an intriguing read at any age.

Old Yeller

books old yeller

I almost don’t want to recommend this book … make sure you have a box (or boxes) of tissues nearby. Old Yeller is a definite tearjerker. A recipient of the Newbury Honor award, Old Yeller explores the poignant and unforgettable bond between a young boy and the stray dog who becomes his loyal friend. Love, loyalty, small town life, summer, fishing, rabies — Fred Gipson pulls out all the stops in this classic story. Play the audiobook, crack open the pages, and discover that a dog truly is a man’s best friend.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit

books peter rabbit

No childhood is complete without Beatrix Potter and the classic misadventures of Peter Rabbit. Complete with beautiful illustrations from the author herself, the book follows the mischievous little rabbit as he ventures into the dangerous, forbidden gardens of Mr. McGregor. The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a good way to wile away the drive time and bond with your family.

Now, we’ve gone through several books and I have a much longer list. But, in order to give you time to pick up some of these children’s stories, let’s pause here and resume the book list next month. Happy reading!


Comment below with the books you have read, are currently reading, or want to read from this list! Share your childhood favorites and stories you think everyone should read!

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