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Must-have Children’s Books for any Collection
A talking pig, a friendly spider, five children who live in a surprisingly high-crime area, and of course a toad with an exceptionally nice house – the books we love as children stay with us forever, and when thinking about them it’s impossible not to feel a little warm and nostalgic.
So whichever decade you were born in – from the forties to the eighties - here are just a few of the most iconic and unforgettable children’s books of all time, just waiting to be discovered or rediscovered.
1) Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
This painfully beautiful story is an autobiography of the titular horse and even has the subtitle, ‘translated from the equine’ on the cover. From his childhood growing up on a farm, to pulling cabs in Victorian London, the book follows Beauty through several owners – some good, others not so much - and is beautifully sympathetic to the plight of animals at the time. Tragically Anna Sewell passed away just five months after the book was published and never got to see the impact it had and continues to have on children today.
2) Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
From one-legged villains with parrots on their shoulders to maps marked with an X, Treasure Island pretty much defined how we still imagine pirates. The story itself follows innkeeper’s son Jim Hawkins as he sets out in search of Captain Flint’s hidden treasure, facing everything from rum fuelled fighting, to insatiable greed and of course one of literature’s greatest baddies, Long John Silver, along the way.
3) Shadow the Sheepdog by Enid Blyton
Another classic book with a four-legged hero, this time from the queen of the children’s novel, Enid Blyton. Raised on a farm but sold as a puppy, the super smart sheepdog of the title keeps returning to his original home and is eventually given to farmer’s son, Johnny, who names him Shadow as he never likes to leave his side. Written from Shadow’s point of view, it’s a simple story about one dog’s unconditional love for his owner that’s heart-meltingly well-written and an absolute must for any collection.
4) Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Proving that good things happen to good people, Heidi follows an adorable orphan as she goes to live with her grumpy and hermit-like grandfather in the Swiss Alps, where her unconditional love for him soon melts his heart. You’d also have to have a heart of stone to not be moved by the bit where she helps her disabled friend walk again.
5) The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham
On a slightly different note, this chilling novel from the author of Day of the Triffids remains a classic piece of British science fiction. After a mysterious event renders the entire population of a British village unconscious, children are born to every woman in town. It’s soon clear, however, that these children are far from human, with eerie telepathic powers and a moral ambiguity that makes stopping them easier said than done.
6) Paddington Bear by Michael Bond
Looking for the most loved bear in literature? Look no further than kind and polite Paddington, still as adored now as when he first appeared on bookshelves in the 1950s. Originally from Peru, Paddington is discovered by the Brown family at the station of the same name, sat on his small suitcase with a note asking whoever finds him to ‘please adopt this bear’. They do, and despite his talent for getting into trouble and fierce addiction for marmalade, it’s doubtful that they ever regret the decision.
7) Topsy and Tim by Jean and Gareth Adamson
First published in the 1960s and re-launched again in the noughties, there are more than 130 Topsy and Tim novels, each instalment following the twins as they embark on a new adventure – learning to swim, flying on an aeroplane and visiting the city, the safari park, even Belgium. They’re immensely British, completely charming and frequently still relevant when read to children today.
8) Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
Most of us have a favourite Roald Dahl story – Matilda, the BFG and of course Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with his books selling an incredible 250 million copies worldwide. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator continues the adventures of Charlie Bucket and his family as they travel alongside a borderline-insane chocolate scientist, Willy Wonka, this time into space and beyond.
9) Barbar by Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff
Funny, moving, and at times completely surreal, Barbar the elephant is another of literature’s great animal characters. After witnessing his mother’s death at the hands of poachers, Barbar travels to the big city where a kindly old lady hires him as a teacher. Eventually, he returns to the land of the elephants and after the King dies from eating a poisonous mushroom (we really couldn’t make this up) he is appointed to replace him. They’re wonderfully bonkers, and truly brilliant reads.
10) Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem
This much-loved series of illustrated novels follows life in a magical, miniature village of friendly mice, with each of the original four books set in a different season. Like having Sylvanian families come to life before your eyes, the characters are sweet, funny and resourceful, which perhaps explains why they’ve been entrancing readers for more than thirty years.
Looking for more great children’s novels? Visit Country House Library and see our vast collection stretching from the 19th to the 20th century.
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