Do you remember being a child, curled up on the couch reading, the story sending you on a journey unlike any you’ve been on before? The books on this list have expanded young minds for generations. What are some of your favorite stories you read as a kid?
Classic Children’s Books That Are Still Popular Today
Dr. Seuss: The Cat in the Hat (1957)
Dr. Seuss is an author whose books have found a home on arguably every kid’s bookshelf. Although he has countless classic stories, The Cat in the Hat may be his most well known. Sally and Conrad welcome a mysterious cat with a red bow tie and a red and white hat into their house and help him wreak havoc while their parents are away. Upon publication, the book found immediate critical acclaim and catapulted Dr. Seuss into a household name.
Other popular stories: Green Eggs and Ham, The Lorax
Antoine de Saint-Exupery: The Little Prince (1943)
A lonely prince leaves his home planet and his beloved rose to travel through space, eventually landing on earth and meeting the narrator, who is an aircraft pilot stuck in the desert after crashing his plane. The Little Prince has been translated into 301 languages and dialects, making it the most translated book ever released. It not only is Saint-Exupery’s most famous work but is one of the best-selling books ever published.
Roald Dahl: James and the Giant Peach (1961)
James, an orphan who lives with his two abusive aunts after his parents are eaten by an escaped rhinoceros, meets a mysterious man who gives him magical crystals. He accidentally spills them on the ground, which causes a nearby peach tree to grow a single peach the size of a house. James runs away from his aunts, traveling on the peach, and meets magical insects on his journey. The book became a stop-motion film in 1996, and although many of Dahl’s stories have been made into movies, James and the Giant Peach is popular enough to also have become a musical in 2010.
Other popular stories: Matilda, The Witches, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
E.B. White: Charlotte’s Web (1952)
When poor little pig Wilbur is in danger of being slaughtered, his barn spider friend Charlotte writes messages with her web to praise him so that the famer will keep him alive. Although initially a children’s story, the love for the book is also shared by adults, as there are mature aspects presented, especially the theme of death. As of 2000, it was the best-selling children’s paperback of all time, and as of 2010, the New York Public Library listed it as the sixth most borrowed book in the library’s history.
A.A. Milne: Winnie-the- Pooh (1926)
Although the beloved bear and his friends in the Hundred Acre Wood can be seen in four volumes of books as well as movies and tv shows, Winnie-the-Pooh, from 1926, is what started it all. The first volume is made up of some of the most popular stories, like Pooh getting stuck in Rabbit’s door, Pooh and Piglet setting out to find Eeyore’s missing tail, and Piglet being trapped at home due to a flood. Disney now owns the Winnie the Pooh franchise, releasing a movie as recently as 2011, eighty-five years after the characters’ debut.
C.S. Lewis: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950)
The Chronicles of Narnia series is made up of seven novels, but this is the first published and best known, as well as the most widely held in libraries. The majority of the story takes place in the magical world of Narnia, a land of talking animals and mystical creatures, all ruled by the evil White Witch. During a wartime evacuation, four children are relocated to a large country house, where they are able to visit Narnia through a wardrobe in a spare room. Although the book is now much adored, it wasn’t as popular when it was first published, as most children’s stories at the time were more realistic and less fantastical.
Beatrix Potter: The Tale of Peter Rabbit (1902)
Peter Rabbit’s widowed mother tells him and his siblings to stay out of Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden because he put their father in a pie, and although his brothers and sisters listen, Peter, the mischievous one, just can’t help himself. Mr. McGregor finds him, and a chase ensues. The classic story was inspired by Potter’s childhood pet rabbit named Peter Piper. The book was originally printed in the United Kingdom, but the publisher sadly failed to copyright it in the United States, leading Potter to receive no royalties. She wrote thirty children’s books, including a few others featuring rabbits.
Michael Bond: A Bear Called Paddington (1958)
Bond wrote more than twenty books about Paddington Bear, who was based on a stuffed animal he saw on the shelf of a store at London’s Paddington Station. The first story introduces Paddington, who is found at the train station by the Brown family when they see him sitting on a suitcase with a note attached that reads “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” The loveable bear has arrived as a stowaway from “Darkest Peru” and is most known for his love of marmalade. The popularity of the stories and the bear itself inspired several television shows, holiday specials, and movies.
Shel Silverstein: Where the Sidewalk Ends (1974)
Where The Sidewalk Ends isn’t actually a novel – it’s a book of poetry – but it has shaped countless childhoods nonetheless. Although the poems address many child concerns and imaginary, fanciful images, the book was banned in many libraries due to its profanity and subject matter. A 30th anniversary edition was released in 2004, and there are also two audio editions (from 1983 and 2000, respectively) available. Silverstein’s books have been translated into more than thirty languages and have sold over 20 million copies. He also wrote songs that have been recorded and popularized by a wide range of musicians, including Johnny Cash, The Irish Rovers, and Dr. Hook & The Medicine Show.
Other popular stories: A Light in the Attic, The Giving Tree
Lucy Maud Montgomery: Anne of Green Gables (1908)
This novel was published in 1908 but takes place in the late 19th century. Thirteen-year-old orphan Anne Shirley is mistakenly sent to two siblings, Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, who thought they were adopting a boy to help maintain their farm at Green Gables. Marilla at first says she wants to send Anne back to the orphanage, but Matthew encourages her to let her stay, and the farm becomes Anne’s first real home. Montgomery wrote numerous sequels, but the original is the most widely known and is taught to students around the world in at least 36 languages. Upon original publication, the book quickly became a best seller, and has since sold 50 million copies worldwide.
Norton Juster: The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)
A young boy named Milo receives a mysterious package containing a small tollbooth and a map and decides to drive through it in his toy car, transporting him to the Kingdom of Wisdom. He meets two loyal companions, a dog named Tock and the Humbug, and they go on a journey to rescue the kingdom’s two exiled princesses, named Rhyme and Reason, from the Castle in the Air. The book received rave reviews when it was first released and was eventually adapted into a film, an opera, and a play.
Maurice Sendak: Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
Where the Wild Things Are is memorable for young readers, even though it isn’t actually a novel – it’s a 40-page picture book with only 338 words. A young boy named Max, who dresses in a wolf costume, causes so much trouble at home that he is sent to bed without supper. His bedroom begins to transform into a jungle, and he sails to an island inhabited by beasts. He becomes king of the Wild Things, but eventually feels lonely and returns home. Back at his house, a hot supper is waiting for him. Although many authors write sequels to their famous books, Sendak refused, saying the idea would be boring. A live-action film version was released in 2009, and Sendak served as one of the producers. He died just three years later, in 2012.
Lewis Carroll: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)
It’s amazing that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is one hundred and fifty-five years old and is still being read today by both children and adults alike! A young girl named Alice falls into a rabbit hole and ends up in a fantasy world populated by bizarre and peculiar characters, like the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat, the Hatter, and the Caterpillar. The story was immensely popular when it was released, and notable avid first readers of the book were Queen Victoria and a young Oscar Wilde. Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson, wrote a sequel six years later, titled Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There, and the 1951 Disney film version, which is one of the most well-known adaptations of the story, combined both books. However, the earliest movie version was a twelve-minute British silent film from 1908.
Madeline L’Engle: A Wrinkle in Time (1962)
This literary award-winning book features Meg Murry, Charles Wallace Murry, and Calvin O’Keefe, as they embark on a journey through space and time, and through various universes, to save the Murrys’ father. As they travel, they grow from young children into adolescents and deal with love, spirituality, and sense of purpose. The novel is the first in the Time Quintet series. It was rejected by over 26 publishers, as it wasn’t clear if the story was catered more towards children or adults. And, it was uncommon to have a female protagonist in a science fiction story. When L’Engle did finally find a publisher, it became a beloved novel that has never gone out of print since its release.
L. Frank Baum: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (now known as The Wizard of Oz) (1900)
We all know the tale: a young farm girl named Dorothy travels to the magical land of Oz after she and her dog Toto are swept away from their Kansas home by a tornado. There she meets the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, and the Tinman, who help her track down the wizard to send her home, all while being chased by the evil Wicked Witch of the West. The book series has been translated into over fifty languages, and Baum found so much success with the story that he wrote thirteen follow-up novels, creating a franchise that lives on, especially due to the 1939 film adaptation that is still popular today.