The Telegraph’s Best Children’s Book of All Time




Some absolute classics among this very well compiled list:

Watership Down

Richard Adams (1972)

The full-scale novel about rabbits finding their promised land has the magic of prophecy, idyllic Hampshire locations and the structure of the Aeneid. Adams enjoys parading his scholarship, and this is a lively introduction to brainy books.

The Hobbit

J R R Tolkien (1937)

Here we meet the characters who will make The Lord of the Rings happen, and on a pre-Peter Jackson scale. If anything, Gollum is even more chilling here, because we see him through the eyes of a hobbit – seldom the calmest of travellers.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

C S Lewis (1950)

Welcome to the magical land of Narnia, where the White Witch reigns over a snow-girt land peopled by fawns, talking beavers and people eager to put their trust in four kids from Finchley. The Christian allusions come later, but for now this is pure narrative magic.

Charlotte’s Web

E B White (1952)

The New Yorker writer cherished for his elegance of style gives us an altruistic spider with exquisite manners, and a pig to make her proud. There are intimations of mortality, but a plot of fame and legacy thumbs its nose at the inevitable.

The Little Prince

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943)

The Little Prince falls to Earth to meet the author, who has crashed his plane. His quizzical, wise stories of other planets (most of which are inhabited by solitary monomaniacs) lead to the daftest of all – our own.

Pippi Longstocking

Astrid Lindgren (1945)

It’s quite something to live as an orphan with just a horse and a monkey for companions. The heroine has a chutzpah that makes her sound at her most adult when she’s flouting adult conventions, especially at teatime.

Emil and the Detectives

Erich Kästner (1929)

When Emil is robbed of his mother’s hard-earned savings (that were never likely to stretch far), he has help from a scratch squad of child detectives from Berlin. However much this sounds like the best child’s game ever, the real world is seldom far away.

James and the Giant Peach

Roald Dahl (1961)

One of Dahl’s earliest, best, and most fully developed tales. There is no attempt to make the giant insects or articulate clouds seem natural: this is a world of wonder, more marvellous than Wonka’s, even.

Winnie the Pooh

A A Milne (1926)

Characters begin days by visiting one another, and end up shifting houses, learning to fly or surviving floods.

A Little Princess

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1905)

Sara has a privileged background but is now living as a Cinderella figure; and she plays at being a princess. But her response shows that being a princess is less a social ranking than a state of mind.

The Just So Stories

Rudyard Kipling (1902)

How did the leopard get his spots? How was the alphabet made? Why are elephant’s trunks so long? Kipling is the model of the patient parent in the face of constant questions. And who cares about evolution? This is much more fun.

A Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Jules Verne (1864)

Verne uses all the tricks that make Anthony Horowitz so successful – the action-packed chapters that end at just the right time and the sense of deepening mystery – but also a knack for convincing us that there really might be creatures down there.

The Wind in the Willows

Kenneth Grahame (1908)

The idyllic, stylised account of life on the river, with anxious glimpses beyond it, is a masterclass in character-driven comedy – alongside the arriviste Toad is the petit bourgeois Mole, and Rat, the gentleman of leisure.

The Doll People

Ann M Martin and Laura Godwin (2000)

The dolls in your dolls’ house might look inanimate to you, but you clearly have no idea of what they get up to at night. They’re casing the joint, tracking lost relatives and dodging that cruel fate – PDS (Permanent Doll State).

The Child that Books Built

Francis Spufford (2002)

Although this book isn’t written for children, the more reflective might enjoy it as a guide on how to grow into reading; and it’s a wonderfully eloquent take on how growing up happens unexpectedly.


The Sword in the Stone

T H White (1938)

The Secret Garden

Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911)

Stig of the Dump

Clive King (1963)


Johanna Spyri (1880)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

J K Rowling (1997)

How the Whale Became

Ted Hughes (1963)

The Velveteen Rabbit

Margery Williams (1922)

The Phantom Tollbooth

Norton Juster (1961)

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat Rhymes

Dave Shelton (2012)

The Little White Horse

Elizabeth Goudge (1946)


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One Response to “The Telegraph’s Best Children’s Book of All Time”

  1. John Tapscott Says:

    A great selection of children’s literature here. I had a literature poor childhood. I had aunts, a godmother, and a babysitter who all gave me books for Christmas and birthdays, including one or two from the above list, but most of the above books were not written when I was a child. Why was I literature poor? I loathed books and reading. Though I learned to read before going to school I was more attracted to outdoors activities. I remember one summer’s day, lying face down, on the grass and staring into the water of the mill pond. There were newts, water boatmen, sticklebacks, water scorpions, dragonfly nymphs and a host of other wildlife in that pond. I didn’t know about grass mites and since I had no shirt on I soon found our about them.

    I have made up for my early lack of literary knowledge since. As a teacher I have read many of the above books to children over the years.

    “The Secret Garden” and “The Wind in the Willows” were favourites of mine. I also read Rudyard Kipling, and C.S. Lewis to children. All the books that were given to me as a child I eventually read as an adult, and passed some of them on to my students.

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