My Favourite Children’s Books (In Honour of World Book Day)

My Favourite Childrens Books

If you are a librarian, primary school teacher, author or parent of a young child you’ll already know that today is World Book Day! If you fit into none of the above categories and this event has passed you by, well, now you know. But, as much as trying to fashion a Harry Potter costume out of two pipe cleaners, an old curtain and a few paper clips seems to be a rite of passage for parents (not being one, I can’t confirm or deny this), let’s all please remember that World Book Day is not ALL about the costumes.

Shocked silence.

I know. I said it.

Surprise, surprise, it should actually be about the books. And in honour of World Book Day, I’ve taken a trip down memory lane to pick out some of my favourite children’s books. I still have many of them in a box in the attic (or on my bookshelf!) and hopefully, one day, I’ll be able to share them with my children. If, that is, they want to read them.

And for all those parents who completely forget that their child was supposed to go to school dressed as their favourite character today, DON’T PANIC. Because many of our favourite children’s characters from our favourite children’s books are dressed as, well, children. So just smile when asked who your child is representing and say they’re Lyra Belacqua, Charlie Bucket, one of the four Pevensie children or any one of a host of kids from Enid Blyton’s books. (There are plenty to choose from.)

Surely the magic of children’s books is that our young people can relate to the characters? Characters who are a similar age to them and who have similar experiences. In the world of their imagination, they too can fight Dementors, be crowned King of Narnia or accidentally sail across the North Sea.

So, rather than spending a tenner on a costume that will be worn once and discarded, why not buy your child a book? And not a book you want them to read, but a book they want to read. Let them discover the books that they’ll remember for years to come.

As for me, here are a few of my favourite childhood books – what modern classics would your children add to the list?

I can still remember a good number of the rhymes from this classic book featuring nursery rhyme characters. It’s a bit like attempting to fully recite Bohemian Rhapsody or American Pie – you don’t think you know all the words, but once you start, they just keep tripping off your tongue.

It’s beautifully illustrated and great for playing “I spy” (like an easier version of Where’s Wally). I don’t remember many books from my early years but Each Peach Pear Plumis one I’ll never forget.

I know, if this was a list of the top children’s books, then The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe would be the sole C.S. Lewis book on this page. But this is a list of my favourite children’s books, which means that The Horse and His Boy boots that well-known tale right out of the window.

It is quite possible that the main reason that this was my favourite of all C.S. Lewis’s books is because two of the main characters and talking horses. And it’s fair to say that as a child, I was pretty mad about horses. But it also has two cool protagonists, lots of battles and fighting, and a great plot.

From horses to ballet… Ballet Shoes has had a rebrand and the current cover is a far cry from the old hardback edition I read and re-read as a child. I’m quite glad I did have that version, as I suspect if I had been faced with the pink girly cover of today’s book I may never have read it. (I was never really a fan of pink and deliberately sabotaged my ballet classes by doing ‘policeman’s toes’ rather than ‘pointy toes’.) Which would have been a shame.

You see, the reason that Ballet Shoes is such a great story is not because of the dancing. In fact, one of the three sisters is quite anti-ballet (yes, Petrova, I loved you the best!). It’s a great story because it’s about three adopted sisters, struggling with poverty, who want to make their mark on the world. And they do, in very different ways. It’s about having a dream and about what it takes to make that dream come true. Is there any more powerful theme for a book to have?

This was by far the hardest book to pick for this list. There are SO MANY Enid Blyton books and they are SO GOOD. It was almost impossible to choose. But while I loved almost all of her books, the Adventure Series was by far my favourite.

Why? Because the adventures are bigger and more real than any of the other series. They fight bad guys, have to survive in lost valleys and uncover dastardly plots. And, as a kid, I wanted to do that stuff too! (I still love exploring remote places but I’ll pass on the bad guys.) Plus, there was a talkative parrot. I loved all the books in the series, and quite frankly, I’ve just tossed a coin between The Valley of Adventure and The Mountain of Adventure to come up with one for this list.

You’ve probably got an idea by now of which character in Little Women I related to most… Jo the tomboy of course. And I’ll bet most of you adults reading this loved Jo the best, too. Am I right? (No offence Meg, Beth and Amy.) 

Little Women was the first book that I can remember making me cry, and for that, it will always have a special place in my heart. Like Ballet Shoes, it’s a book about sisterhood, dreams and facing challenges. Like all great books, it will make you laugh and cry.

I know, you’re expecting to see Swallows And Amazons, right? And that is a great book, but We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea is better! John, Susan, Titty and Roger aren’t just pottering about on Lake District lakes or the Norfolk Broads. They’re battling the waves and storms of the North Sea!

As you’ve probably gathered, I liked adventure books…

There are many children’s books about life in the Second World War. I have read and enjoyed most of them, but When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is a well-thumbed favourite.

It’s the first in Judith Kerr’s series of autobiographical novels. I’m not really a fan of autobiographies, but this is most definitely a children’s book first and foremost and a fascinating insight into the escape of one family from Germany in the 1930s.

And, because I couldn’t really choose between the two, I also have to mention I Am David, another classic wartime children’s book.

When I read this book, it was called Northern Lights. It now seems to be called The Golden Compass (which, admittedly, fits better with the series branding). Either way, it’s a great book and not just for children.

I’m not sure what I love more: the kick-ass heroine, Lyra, the fantastical plot, or Pantalaimon and the notion of dæmons. But really, it’s the full package, and while I may not have understood some of the more subtler undertones of Pullman’s work as a child, it adds an additional layer to the books as an adult.

I recently returned to this fabulous world when I read La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume 1, and it was just as captivating as I remembered.

I debated including Z for Zachariah in this list. Because, while I enjoy the book and have read it several times, it’s not one of my absolute favourites. But I’ve added it in because of how it’s influenced my writing and how I think about stories.

Z for Zachariah was one of the first post-apocalyptic books I read. It made me think about how I’d survive the end of the world and how a major disaster would change the world. It was also (*spoiler alert!*) the first book I can remember reading that didn’t have a classic happy ending. Which did leave me slightly disappointed, but also taught me that an ending doesn’t have to be happy to be satisfactory.

Last year, I watched the film version of this book, and… okay, let’s just not go there. It was well acted but there were SO many things wrong with it that I’m not sure where to begin.

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