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A Compiler’s Notes:
First, here are the criteria used to choose books for this list:
1) By “novels”, what I mean here are books where text predominates over pictures, and generally over 100 pages long. This excludes picture books and easy readers, which deserve their own list, as do non-fiction, poetry and short stories for children.
2) Most of these books were written FOR children. I’ve made exceptions for some books written for adults but now universally considered children’s books. There are many books written for adults that children can and will enjoy, but that goes beyond the scope of this list.
3) I’ve tried to limit this list to books that are memorable, rather than just good reading. Books whose characters and settings and plot elements stay with the reader long after they are finished, and which invite rereading.
 4) I’ve chosen one or several favorites for each author, rather than trying to put together a complete bibliography. Then I’ve divided the books into categories. Some authors have entries under more than one category. I’ve added the original date of publication where known, but many of these have been reprinted. If you find an author whose books you like, I encourage you to seek out other books by that author. Your local library or bookstore can often help with this. I can provide further suggestions on many of these authors.
 Any list of this sort is bound to be subjective, so here are a few words on my personal criteria and preferences. Born in 1951, I’ve been reading and collecting novels written for children since my own childhood. I generally prefer books in the following categories: fantasy, science fiction, adventure, animal stories, mysteries, family stories, and historicals. I tend not to be attracted to contemporary stories of real-life problems, though that’s certainly a valid subject, and you’ll find a few here. An area I’m weak in is authors that have begun their careers since 2000, as I don’t have time to read as many new releases as I used to. As I try new authors and find more books to love (many are on the BOOK REVIEWS page of my blog) I will add them here when I have time.

We all have our favorites, and I’d like to hear about yours. You can email your own recommendations to me, I'll try them when I can, and hopefully this list will continue to grow through regular updates. Happy reading!

Todd Klein


“Peter and Wendy” (1911)
There were several evolutions of this work, which began as a short story, became a very popular play, and then was retold at length in this novel. It tells of a boy who wouldn’t grow up, and London children Wendy, Peter and John, in magical Neverland where all sorts of characters live that provide adventure, especially the villainous pirate, Captain Hook. Even if you know the theatrical or movie versions, you'll find the book well worth reading.

“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” (1900)
“The Marvelous Land of Oz” (1904)
And 13 other Oz titles, as well as other fantasies. Baum broke new ground by creating in Oz a very American fairytale setting. The story of Dorothy’s adventures on the way to the Emerald City with the Tin Man, Scarecrow, and Cowardly Lion differs considerably from the well-known film, but is worth trying, especially for younger readers. The many following adventures continue to capture Oz’s unique magic and colorful characters. Among the non-Oz Baum, “The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus” is especially recommended.

CARROLL, LEWIS (Charles Dodgson)
“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865)
“Through the Looking-Glass” (1871)
These two books by Oxford, England’s shy professor of mathematics and logic were first told to child friends, then lengthened and published. Books for children have never been the same. These outstanding tales work on many different levels. They are fascinating adventures, with eccentric characters, humor, and nightmarish logic that Alice tries her best to puzzle through. To get the most out of the text, look for “The Annotated Alice” edited by Martin Gardner. Less important, but worth searching out: “Sylvie and Bruno” and “Sylvie and Bruno Concluded” as well as the novel in verse, “The Hunting of the Snark”.

COLLODI, CARLO (Carlo Lorenzini)
“The Adventures of Pinocchio” (1883)
Readers familiar with the Disney film will find a lot in the Italian author’s original version that will surprise them. Both Geppetto and his marionette are darker and more complex. Pinocchio is a “bad boy” who takes part willingly in his wild adventures until reaching a moral low point in the belly of a whale, where only his father can save him, and vice versa.

“The Wind in the Willows” (1907)
The adventures of Mole, Rat, Badger and Toad, who are animals that act much like people, takes place in a golden childhood countryside England. Wonderful language, engaging characters and exciting events.

“The Phantom Tollbooth” (1961)
Not since Lewis Carroll has an author found so many ways to entertain the reader at the same time. Milo’s journey through such places as Dictionopolis and Digitopolis is full of ideas, wild characters, and humor.

“The Jungle Book” (1894)
“The Second Jungle Book” (1895)
The boy Mowgli, raised by wolves, and befriended by other animals in the jungles of India, leads a life of wild adventure that every boy will envy, learning their ways and languages and battling his enemy, tiger Shere Khan. Other animal stories are interspersed in the original editions.

“Ben and Me” (1939)
“Rabbit Hill” (1947)
Known first as an illustrator, Lawson began writing his own books with “Ben and Me”, the tale of a mouse that was the real brains behind Benjamin Franklin. Three such tales followed, as well as other kinds of fantasy, usually involving animals. “Rabbit Hill” and sequel “The Tough Winter” are about an engaging group living around Lawson’s home.

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (1950)
“The Magician’s Nephew” (1955)
And the other Chronicles of Narnia (seven books total). Drawing on a combination of classical mythology and Christian symbolism, Lewis created his own world of Narnia that transcends both sources with lovely prose, wonderful characters, and deep magic.

“The Story of Dr. Dolittle” (1922)
“The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle” (1923)
And ten other books featuring the same characters. In the small town of Puddleby, England, a poor doctor becomes a great figure in the animal world when he learns to speak the many animal languages taught him by his parrot, Polynesia. Adventures both humorous and thrilling carry him all over the world, the bottom of the sea, even the moon. Lofting’s one other fantasy in a more traditional vein, “The Twilight of Magic” is also recommended.

“At the Back of the North Wind” (1871)
“The Princess and the Goblin” (1872)
This Scottish writer and friend of Lewis Carroll was a minister, then a full-time writer whose works are filled with mysticism and humanity. Though at times overly sentimental, the magic in his stories still resonates for those willing to give them a chance. The second book has a sequel, “The Princess and Curdie”, and some of his short stories are well worth seeking out, especially “The Golden Key”, “The Light Princess” and “The Wise Woman.”

“The Midnight Folk” (1927)
“The Box of Delights” (1935)
An English poet and novelist, his two connected fantasies are a complex and brilliant blend of magic, mystery, folklore, history, and even a bit of science fiction in the second one. Kay Harker is a resourceful boy who faces real danger and and outwits crafty adult villains with the help of old magic.

“Winnie-the-Pooh” (1926)
“The House at Pooh Corner” (1928)
Inspired by his son and the son’s stuffed animals, these tales of Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and the other animals of the Hundred-acre Wood are full of humor and charm. For older readers, “Once On a Time”, a light-hearted look at the classic fairytale, is also recommended.

NESBIT, E. (Edith)
“The Enchanted Castle” (1907)
“The Five Children and It” (1902)
“Harding’s Luck” (1909)
Nesbit’s many fantasies are notable for several things: the children in them act like real children, the magic in them has real consequences, and the best of them are a blend of humor and seriousness that is hard to match. “Five Children” is the first of three connected books, all excellent. The others are “The Phoenix and the Carpet” and “The Story of the Amulet”.

“The Borrowers” (1952)
And four other books with the same characters. Did you ever wonder where all the small articles you’ve lost have gone? Then your house may have it’s own family of Borrowers living in the cracks and corners. Pod, Homily and Arriety are one such tiny family in an English manor who are led into all sorts of adventures when the daughter, Arriety befriends a human. Look also for Norton’s story of a modern-day witch, “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”, and the fairytale “Are All the Giants Dead?”

SALTEN, FELIX (Siegmund Salzmann)
“Bambi” (1928)
The first of many animal stories by this Austrian author that place lifelike animals that talk in a European natural setting full of dangers, the chief among them, man. Also look for “Bambi’s Children”, “A Forest World” and “Perri”.

“The Hobbit” (1937)
The classic fantasy that set the standard by which everything since has been judged, this tale of quest, adventure, magic and a very formidable dragon is a pleasure in itself, and also serves as the prelude to Tolkien’s masterwork, “The Lord of the Rings”, which can be enjoyed by older children. Tolkien’s few other children’s books are minor but good reading.

“Mary Poppins” (1934)
And three  similar books. The main character seems on the surface a strict, self-important English nanny who arrives to care for the children of the Banks family on Cherry Tree Lane, London, but as the children soon learn, she is much more. She is their entry into all kinds of magic adventure.

“Charlotte’s Web” (1952)
The tale of how the spider Charlotte helps Fern Arable save the life of her pet pig Wilbur by weaving words in her web. Full of many charming animal characters, and realistic farm life. Look also for his “Stuart Little”.

“The Sword In The Stone” (1939)
White brings Arthurian legend to life in this tale of the boy Wart, and his tutor the magician Merlin, who teaches lessons about the mediaeval world using his magic. This stand-alone version was rewritten for inclusion in White’s master retelling of the whole Arthurian legend, “The Once and Future King”, which may interest older readers. Look also for his fantasy, “Mistress Masham’s Repose”.


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