Essential Books For Children

I want to start a conversation about what readers think are the books that no child should be without. I’m building a library for Superfast Baby, and here are my 10 must haves for boys and 10 must haves for girls:

1. The Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
2. A House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs
3. Don’t Care High by Gordon Korman
4. The Dark is Rising Sequence by Susan Cooper
5. The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis
6. The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
7. The Temeraire books by Naomi Novik
8. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
9. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury
10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster


1. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
2. Half Magic and its sequels by Edward Eager
3. A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels by Madeleine L’Engle
4. From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by El Konigsburg
5. The Anastasia Krupnik books by Lois Lowry
6. The Little House on the Prairie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder
7. The Anne of Green Gables books by LM Montgomery
8. When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr
9. The Ramona books by Beverly Cleary
10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Of course, I think most of these books can easily cross genders. Really this is just an excuse to list 20 kids/YA books that I love.

This morning’s work read was a delightfully creepy YA book.

26 thoughts on “Essential Books For Children”

  1. Zilpha Keatley Snyder!! – especially The Egypt Game and The Headless Cupid – I loved her books! And, as a boy, – I loooved From The Mixed up Files and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – it’s still one of my favorites. Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH was also a big favorite. I also liked Jules Verne a lot – great adventures – Sherlock Holmes, and Winnie the Pooh.

  2. Nice list!

    I would put Roald Dahl in there for either gender, and I would suggest Hating Alison Ashley for the girls, and perhaps some Enid Blyton too.

  3. Bridge to Terebithia, by Katherine Paterson. It’s funny and beautiful and sad, one of the most moving things I have ever read.

  4. Charlotte’s Web (and other EB White like Trumpet of the Swan), Roald Dahl, Katherine Paterson–yes!

    I have never heard of Hating Alison Ashley or Enid Blyton–thanks for the recs!

    Looking forward to your list, Ian–

  5. That’s strange, I thought everyone had Enid Blyton injected into them at birth. Not that it’s a bad thing not to have heard of her. The Faraway Tree, Noddy, the Famous Five – she’s written a library! I just looked her up on wikepedia and apparently she’s the fifth most popular author in the world, and her works have been translated more often than Shakespeare’s. Maybe (translations aside) her popularity is confined to England and the colonies… She’s very, very English, and a little twee. Gotta love the magical sweets at the Faraway tree, though.

    Staying on the food theme, what about The Very Hungry Caterpillar? Superfast baby might be ready for that one a bit sooner than the others…

  6. i love this conversation topic! i just might have to pick it up on my own book blog because i have a lot to say on the topic!

    i’m familiar with most of the books on both of your lists, and i think you’ve got a good start for Superfast Baby’s library. whether baby is male or female, i’d include all 20 books! my daughters have read – and loved – almost everything on your “boys” list, and my 8-year-old nephew is a huge fan of Ramona. BTW my own personal favorite Konigsburg as a third-grader was Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth.

    like meli, i’d recommend The Very Hungry Caterpillar (by Eric Carle) for Superfast Baby’s early library. i’d also add Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (illustrated by Lois Ehlert), Good Night, Gorilla (by Peggy Rathman), and The Going to Bed Book (by Sandra Boynton). those are all “must haves” and they come in “board book” format too – no pages to rip, and even a bit chewable. 🙂

  7. Ooh,Charlotte’s Web – of course – I read it over and over.
    And Emile The Detective, and Encyclopedia Brown!!!

  8. Sadly, when babies first arrive, they don’t give a fig about books. They do like the sound of your voice however, so read a book of yours out loud that you enjoy, that is well written and has a nice flow to it (to calm baby).
    This may be one of your last chances to do some of your own uninterrupted reading. A person filters their life through the last book they read, so my advise is to pick one that is insanely positive and makes you feel good about God, life and the human spirit, to keep a new mom in a good frame of mind.

    Oh, and after Baby is more aware, get a bunch of first word photograph books (the best ones I’ve found are by Priddy Books). I think it is only fair to get baby familiar with reality before introducing them to someone else’s interpretation of reality (illustration), don’t you?

  9. I don’t have any specific recommendations but I’ve just posted a few lists of books for kids you may be interested in looking through.

  10. Fabulous recommendations!! Thanks & feel free to keep ’em coming!

    I’ve put a bunch of classic board books on my baby registry, plus my best friend is handing down the books her kids have outgrown.

    I really hope that the baby catches my love of books.

  11. I agree with anything for children by E.B. White…

    What about The Black Stallion and the rest of Farley’s horse books!?

    A Book of Nonsense or anything else by Edward Lear.

  12. I love Tamora Pierce books. If you are reading Harry Potter, then please look at any of the basic quartets. ‘Wild Magic’ still seems to have the best beginning of a story, maybe ever. That sequence, ‘The Immortals’ is for a little older reader. The ‘Magic Circle’, ‘Protector of the Small’, and ‘Song of the Lioness’ sequences are great fun and well written. The single novel ‘Beka Cooper’ is great. The characters of most of these start at about age 10, Beka about age 16, ‘Wild Magic’ about 14. Great reading, all.

  13. My idea of a home library is books that get used again. And again. My mother only has one to four books in the house, the one she is reading, and those she has finished by not given away and those she plans to read next.

    I, on the other hand, have five bookshelves, not counting the two for horses and programming – and boxes and piles, etc. And I have very few books I have read only once. Many fewer that I didn’t finish.

    I looked at the ALA lists, and they seem .. socially relevant. I can see these as a ‘must read’ list, but other than the toddler lists, I can’t see many of the titles getting used again. And the lists were grossly short of references, those things we need to keep handy. Such as dictionary, Bible or other faith-related materials – I also have a couple hymnals. I have some programming books, The Encyclopedia of the Horse, How To Be Your Own Veterinarian (Sometimes), and some Recorder and piano (for the melody lines) music books.

    Like you said, I could see borrowing most of those books, but I didn’t see that many that would warrant re-reading enough to buy them. And I think buying books and reading them only once sends a disturbing message to your children, about values, about books, and about the difference between clutter and possessions.

    Meng Weng Wong began years ago, I think while still in college. I stumbled on his student ‘books that made me Meng’ once, ten years ago. One of the books really impressed me, ‘Hope For The Flowers’ (Trina Paulas). That wasn’t on the ALA list, nor my favorites C D B and the sequel C D C by Steig. They had none of the Robin McKinley classics (Hero and the Crown, The Blue Sword, Beauty, Deerskin), and left out the Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey, and Mercedes Lackey YA action adventure books. They had at least one book from 1940, yet ignored the ground-breaking YA speculative fiction from Andre Norton. They picked up Bradbury (The Illustrated Man) and skipped Robert Heinlein’s “Have Space Suit, Will Travel” and “Door Into Summer”.

    I didn’t see “Curious George”, I didn’t see Jim Kjelgaard’s “Big Red” or “Rufus the Red Tailed Hawk”.

    Perhaps theu limited their lists to what is available today in print. Which makes their list a bit of curious effort, since the chance that all the titles will be in print four (4) months from now is slim. And the lists will get steadily more obsolete. Which sends an interesting message to parents, thinking they need to buy their kids these particular books, if the parents want to be *good* parents.

    I think I would like to see a breakdown of books checked out more than once by the same person. Books checked out more than twice, over a period greater than a year, would appear to be worth noting. Books checked out a bunch of times could just be an uninteresting class project or popular movie tie-in.

    Not that I have any strong feelings, lol!

  14. These are great choices, but why the girls/boys lists separations? I love(d) several of the books on the boys’ list and my son and husband love(d) several on the girls’ list.

  15. I think I separated them just so I could have two “top 10” lists 🙂

    The division has roughly to do with the genders of the protagonists. I think all of the boys’ books have crossover appeal. I’m not sure that boys could get into Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie,, though–they’re too girly even for some girls!

  16. I did a search to see if you had reviewed Dark is Rising and found this post. I’ve been meaning to read this book for years and now that I am, I’m having trouble getting into it.

    I find it slow and a bit cumbersome, actually, especially the dialogue. A lot of description/action is told via the dialogue and I find that annoying. Also, the description (via dialogue and otherwise) isn’t clear. I have a hard time visualizing the setting/scenery/action in my mind. I’m not fond of her writing style.

    I”m going to give it another 100 pages and see if I feel any different about it. My expectation was so high for this book and I’m finding myself disappointed.

  17. Well, I was actually reading the first book “Over Sea, Under Stone” and I didn’t even realize it. I had checked the book out of the library and it was huge – 700 pages. I thought, Wow, what a long children’s book. Then I realized when I was about 170 pages in, that the tome included ALL the books in the series.

    It wasn’t obvious at first, because it was just called The Dark is Rising. I didn’t know that the series was called the 2nd book’s title. I thought the table of contents at the beginning was a list of sections in the book.

    In any case – the first book didn’t engage me all that much. I will continue with Dark is Rising and see if it gets any better.

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