Some absolute classics among this very well compiled list:
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.
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.
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.
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 BEST OF THE REST