INSIDE: 50 Great Books for Kids that Every Home Should Have
A book list is a complex organism. It seems like it should be easy enough: select the best books within a defined category.
While defining the category might be simple, defining the word great…well, that’s another animal altogether.
Who, after all, gets to be the deciding voice? (And, we state for the record that we have no aims to being that one deciding voice. We’re one voice offering some gentle guidance.)
How Do You Define a Classic?
When it comes to books, there are layers of consideration. Case in point: the word classic. Most people who are filling their libraries with books will acknowledge some effort to choose books they can call classic.
But much like the word great, the word classic isn’t so easy to nail down. In fact, it’s an ill-defined term that often encompasses what we feel more than what we can describe.
Mark Twain once quipped that a “classic” is…
A book which people praise and don’t read.
We tend to recognize a classic when we encounter one, but we can’t always work backwards to determine how we arrived at that recognition.
What’s more, having acquired a classic is satisfying enough in the moment. Perhaps we like the magic involved? That’s no help when it comes to making future choices at relevant moments. And when it comes to choosing a book, having someone say, “Just focus on the classics” is no help at all.
How to Assemble an Amazing Book List?
As a result, assembling a good book list presents challenges.
The primary challenge was to balance the variety of excellent books out there with a numerical limit. Anyone can assemble an endless list. A helpful book list, however, has some limitations.
We limited the number to 50 and sought books that ranged across reading levels. From books that are read to pre-readers, to books that strong readers can enjoy for themselves. There are books that recognize the variety of reading levels within age groups. At the same time, all of these books can be read aloud and enjoyed as a family.
Keep in mind that this list doesn’t include every book we could recommend. There are shades of recommendations that we’ll address in future posts. We know that some of the books on this list won’t be for every child or every family. We know that there are plenty of other wonderful books, and we’d love to suggest them for specific reading preferences.
There are certainly more books for younger pre-readers that we can discuss later on. There are also great books for older readers that we’d love to share.
So stick around, and we’ll tell you about them!
Where to Start?
We have to start somewhere. And we’re starting here. We’ve begun with tried-and-true favorites, and included the books that we know — from immediate experience — are popular with children as varied in personality and tastes as children can be.
So we humbly present this list of 50 great books that every family should have. It’s possible that some will object to the selections and the first question from others might be “But what about…?” We accept this. We appreciate dialogue, after all.
You may believe us when we say that we gave this list some consideration. It was, at first, longer. Some books consciously didn’t make the cut. We reviewed; we discussed; we trimmed. A list of 50 was the limit. Some choices were favored, but we felt others had just enough edge on them.
More to the point, we’re not aiming for a perfect list: rather a starting place.
Reading is a Basic Tool
A good number of the books on the list have stood the test of time with readers. Any newer publications on the list have been included because they already have that hard-to-define essence of being a classic — and it would be unfortunate to leave them out just because they’re not yet old enough to be considered vintage.
Many of these books will be familiar to you. In fact, you might find yourself on a trip down memory lane and recall a book that you loved as a child but had since forgotten about. You might also make a new discovery of a book that will become a classic in your own family.
No matter what, you will find a selection of books that will connect with children of many ages, interests, and reading skills.
A book list is indeed a complex organism, but the goal is ultimately to inspire and encourage a healthy love for reading. As Joseph Addison said,
Reading is a basic tool in the living of a good life.
Let us help you get your children started on that good life. Without further ado, here’s the list:
No book has captured the magic and sense of possibility of the first snowfall better than The Snowy Day. Universal in its appeal, the story has become a favorite of millions, as it reveals a child's wonder at a new world, and the hope of capturing and keeping that wonder forever.More info →
"Robert McCloskey's unusual and stunning pictures have long been a delight for their fun as well as their spirit of place."—The Horn Book Mrs. Mallard was sure that the pond in the Boston Public Gardens would be a perfect place for her and her eight ducklings to live. The problem was how to get them there through the busy streets of Boston.More info →
The Tale of Peter Rabbit is the original classic by Beatrix Potter and was first published by Frederick Warne in 1902. It endures as Beatrix Potter's most popular and well-loved tale. It tells the story of a very mischievous rabbit and the trouble he encounters in Mr McGregor's vegetable garden!More info →
Three soldiers came marching down the road towards a French village. The peasants seeing them coming, suddenly became very busy, for soldiers are often hungry. So all the food was hidden under mattresses or in barns. There followed a battle of wits, with the soldiers equal to the occasion.More info →
One night Max puts on his wolf suit and makes mischief of one kind and another, so his mother calls him 'Wild Thing' and sends him to bed without his supper. That night a forest begins to grow in Max's room and an ocean rushes by with a boat to take Max to the place where the wild things are.More info →
Poetry & Other Collections
This has been our family's go-to book for poetry for two generations. Over 700 classic and modern poems written by poets from William Shakespeare to J. R. R. Tolkien, Emily Dickinson to Langston Hughes, and covering a range of favorite topics—pets, playtime, family, nature, and nonsense—ensure that there’s a poem to please every child.More info →
Inspired by William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience, this delightful collection of poetry for children brings to life Blake’s imaginary inn and its unusual guests.More info →
Here is a delightful look at childhood, written by master poet and storyteller Robert Louis Stevenson. In this collection of sixty-six poems, Stevenson recalls the joys of his childhood, from sailing boats down a river, to waiting for the lamplighter, to sailing off to foreign lands in his imagination.More info →
James Herriot’s Treasury for Children: Warm and Joyful Tales by the Author of All Creatures Great and Small
Technically, there are no talking animal protagonists in this collection of stories from country veterinarian James Herriot, but these short stories are a delight to read aloud. They might even make you want to move to Yorkshire, England.More info →
Although he faces responsibility bravely, thirteen-year-old Matt is more than a little apprehensive when his father leaves him alone to guard their new cabin in the wilderness. When a renegade white stranger steals his gun, Matt realizes he has no way to shoot game or to protect himself.More info →
Little House in the Big Woods takes place in 1871 and introduces us to four-year-old Laura, who lives in a log cabin on the edge of the Big Woods of Wisconsin. She shares the cabin with her Pa, her Ma, her sisters Mary and Carrie, and their lovable dog, Jack.More info →
This beloved Newbery Medal–winning book is the first of five books in Patricia MacLachlan's chapter book series about the Witting family. Set in the late nineteenth century and told from young Anna's point of view, Sarah, Plain and Tall tells the story of how Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton comes from Maine to the prairie to answer Papa's advertisement for a wife and mother.More info →
In the year 1754, the stillness of Charlestown, New Hampshire, is shattered by the terrifying cries of an Indian raid. Young Miriam Willard, on a day that had promised new happiness, finds herself instead a captive on a forest trail, caught up in the ebb and flow of the French and Indian War.More info →
This classic tale continues to enchant readers of all ages! From the moment Mary Poppins arrives at Number Seventeen Cherry-Tree Lane, everyday life at the Banks house is forever changed. It all starts when Mary Poppins is blown by the east wind onto the doorstep of the Banks house.More info →
Far off the coast of California looms a harsh rock known as the island of San Nicholas. Dolphins flash in the blue waters around it, sea otter play in the vast kep beds, and sea elephants loll on the stony beaches. Here, in the early 1800s, according to history, an Indian girl spent eighteen years alone, and this beautifully written novel is her story.More info →
Four adventurous siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie—step through a wardrobe door and into the land of Narnia, a land frozen in eternal winter and enslaved by the power of the White Witch. But when almost all hope is lost, the return of the Great Lion, Aslan, signals a great change . . . and a great sacrifice.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the second book in C. S. Lewis's classic fantasy series, which has been drawing readers of all ages into a magical land with unforgettable characters for over sixty years. This is a stand-alone read, but if you would like to explore more of the Narnian realm, pick up The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia.More info →
Caddie Woodlawn is a real adventurer. She'd rather hunt than sew and plow than bake, and tries to beat her brother's dares every chance she gets. Caddie is friends with Indians, who scare most of the neighbors -- neighbors who, like her mother and sisters, don't understand her at all.More info →
“Fifteen men on a dead man’s chest— Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!” For sheer storytelling delight and pure adventure, Treasure Island has never been surpassed. From young Jim Hawkins’s first encounter with the sinister beggar Pew to the climactic battle with the most memorable villain in literature, Long John Silver, this novel has fired readers’ imaginations for generations.More info →
Johnny Tremain, winner of the 1944 Newbery Medal, is one of the finest historical novels ever written for children. As compelling today as it was seventy years ago, to read this riveting novel is to live through the defining events leading up to the American Revolutionary War.More info →
The book recounts Anne's adventures in making a home: the country school where she quickly excels in her studies; her friendship with Diana Barry (her best or "bosom friend" as Anne fondly calls her); her budding literary ambitions; and her rivalry with classmate Gilbert Blythe, who teases her about her red hair.More info →
Sixteen-year-old Kit Tyler is marked by suspicion and disapproval from the moment she arrives on the unfamiliar shores of colonial Connecticut in 1687. Alone and desperate, she has been forced to leave her beloved home on the island of Barbados and join a family she has never met.More info →
One of our top recommendations for older kids wanting to learn more about the Holocaust. As the German troops begin their campaign to "relocate" all the Jews of Denmark, Annemarie Johansen’s family takes in Annemarie’s best friend, Ellen Rosen, and conceals her as part of the family. Through the eyes of ten-year-old Annemarie, we watch as the Danish Resistance smuggles almost the entire Jewish population of Denmark, nearly seven thousand people, across the sea to Sweden.More info →
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne is a classic novel filled with wonder and adventure. The story begins when London native Phileas Fogg attempts to win a wager by attempting to travel around the world in 80 days. Fogg accompanied by his newly hired valet, Jean Passepartout, sets off on his adventure on October 2, 1872.More info →
Louisa May Alcott's classic tale of four sisters in a deluxe hardcover edition, with beautiful cover illustrations by Anna Bond, the artist behind world-renowned stationery brand Rifle Paper Co. Grown-up Meg, tomboyish Jo, timid Beth, and precocious Amy. The four March sisters couldn't be more different.More info →
See the world in a whole new way! Acclaimed illustrator Julia Rothman combines art and science in this exciting and educational guide to the structure, function, and personality of the natural world. Explore the anatomy of a jellyfish, the inside of a volcano, monarch butterfly migration, how sunsets work, and much more. An excellent book for nature journaling.More info →
A first introduction to the natural world that looks at the myriad ways in which plants and animals have adapted to give themselves the best chance of survival. Natural World explores and explains why living things look and behave the way they do in a series of visually compelling information charts.More info →
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