The 11 Greatest Children’s Books – BBC

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Carly here!

Growing up, my dad loved to read my siblings and I books. The busyness of every day life often got in the way, but we went away on summer vacation each year and it was those evenings that he would consistently sit down and read aloud a few chapters. Now that my girls are past the Dr. Seuss years (thank goodness- I never understood the appeal of those), I enjoy reading aloud my own favorites from my childhood. Which is why lists such as this one compiled by BBC – “the 11 greatest children’s books” ranked by dozens of critics from around the world – is so interesting to me. I am headed straight to the library to pay my fines and check out some books.


 The 11 Greatest Children’s Books

What are the greatest children’s books ever? In search of a collective critical assessment, BBC Culture’s Jane Ciabattari polled dozens of critics around the world, including NPR’s Maureen Corrigan; Nicolette Jones, children’s books editor of the Sunday Times; Nicole Lamy of the Boston Globe; Time magazine’s books editor Lev Grossman; Daniel Hahn, author of the new Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature; and Beirut-based critic Rayyan Al-Shawaf. We asked each to name the best children’s books (for ages 10 and under) ever published in English. The critics named 151. Some of the choices may surprise you. A few books you might think would be contenders to top the poll didn’t even make the top 20. (For a full list of the runners-up visit our Twitter feed @BBC_Culture.) The titles that follow appeared over and again from the critics we polled and will continue to inspire children for many years to come. (Credit: Getty Images)

11. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie (1935)

Wilder’s nine classic frontier novels were inspired by her own 19th Century childhood. She was raised in a pioneer family, and traveled through the Midwest by covered wagon. Wilder writes with authentic detail of a little girl living “in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little gray house made of logs” with her parents, two sisters and their dog, Jack. “As far as a man could go to the north in a day, or a week, or a whole month, there was nothing but woods. There were no houses.” Wilder’s accounts have made daily life on the frontier vivid for generations. (Credit: Harper)

10. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle In Time (1962)

Meg Murry’s father, a time traveling physicist, has disappeared. One night she, her precocious younger brother Charles Wallace and her mother – “a scientist and a beauty as well” – have an unexpected visitor. “Wild nights are my glory,” the strange Mrs Whatsit tells them. “I just got blown off course.” She refers to a tesseract, a fifth dimension that allows travel through time and space. With her brother and a high school friend, Calvin, Meg sets out across the universe to find her father. Their confrontation with IT, the disembodied conformist intelligence that casts a shadow over the universe, is a noirish Cold War touch. L’Engle’s Newbery Award-winning book was an early foray into science fiction for younger readers, inspired in part by Einstein’s theory of relativity. Meg was a first in literature: a nerdy girl whose intelligence was matched by her powerful love for her family. (Credit: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

9. Ursula K Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea (1968)

A young boy known as Sparrowhawk saves his village with a smattering of magic he learned from his aunt, a local witch. Apprenticed to the mage Ogion the Silent, and renamed Ged, he begins his training as a sorcerer. Le Guin’s exploration of the consequences of Ged’s misfires and temptations while at a school for wizards, his struggles with dragons and his inner demons, reshaped fantasy storytelling’s concepts of good and evil. Gradually, Ged gains wisdom as he faces his challenges. “He knew now, and the knowledge was hard, that his task had never been to undo what he had done, but to finish what he had begun.” “To me Le Guin’s story is about learning your craft as a writer, the long and painful struggle for mastery of both your art and yourself, written in astounding prose,” says Amanda Craig, author and reviewer for the New Statesman and the Daily Telegraph. (Credit: Parnassus Press)

8. Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (1964)

The critics’ poll nominated five of Roald Dahl’s children’s books – the most by any author. Poet and book critic Tess Taylor calls his work “rollicking, funny, scary, humane and magical.” New York Times columnist Carmela Ciuraru says, “It seems impossible to choose just one favourite by Dahl, arguably the greatest children’s book author of all time, but he is at his most delightful, imaginative and mischievous in this 1964 classic.” Dahl’s most popular among the five nominated is the story of Charlie Bucket, his Grandpa Joe, the Oompa-Loompas and the five golden tickets that take Charlie inside the factory of Willy Wonka, “the most amazing, the most fantastic, the most extraordinary chocolate maker the world has ever seen!” “Something crazy is going to happen now, Charlie thought. But he wasn’t frightened. He wasn’t even nervous. He was just terrifically excited.” (Credit: Penguin Books)

7. AA Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh (1926)

Milne named the characters in his classic children’s book after his own son Christopher Robin, his cuddly teddy bear, his stuffed animals Piglet, Tigger, the donkey Eeyore and others. Christopher and Pooh wander through the Hundred Acre Wood not unlike the forest near Milne’s home in East Sussex. His first adventure sends him up a tree buzzing with bees, singing a little song to himself: “Isn’t it funny how a bear likes honey…” And the adventures continue, narrated with sweet grace by a father who includes his son and his son’s world in every new plot twist. A playwright and contributor to Punch, Milne will be forever known as the creator of the perfect read-aloud nursery tale. (Credit: Dutton Books)

6. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince (1943)

This parable, written and illustrated by an aviator disappeared with his plane in 1944, encapsulates the meaning of life in an encounter between a pilot who crash lands in the Sahara and a young prince visiting from a small planet. “It is only with one’s heart that one can see clearly,” Saint-Exupéry writes, in one of dozens of illuminating life lessons. “What is essential is invisible to the eye.”

“Discovered in childhood, this story of leaving home brings the hope and promise of a world opening up to the little prince,” says Shelf Awareness children’s editor Jennifer M Brown. “As we return to the book at later points in our lives, we experience the story from the pilot’s point of view, sadder yet richer, and heartened because we are not alone on life’s journey.” (Credit: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

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