Classic Children's Literature · Lists

Children’s Classics: Suggestion List

Classic Children's Literature Reading Challenge January 2013The Classic Children’s Literature Challenge is almost here, and while I’m sure most participants already have their books picked out, I believe I promised a suggestion list for those still looking for something. I had to restrain myself a bit as I love list making, and there are so many good books to chose from, but I did try to include quite a few well-known and not-so-well-known selections. I was also pleasantly surprised to find that quite a few are (relative to native English-speakers) translated stories–we adults sometimes fret and fuss over reading in translation: too much, not enough, is it the “right” translation, is a translation too “clunky” to bother with–but when we are children they just sneak up on us and we didn’t even know it happened! (Unfortunately, I am unable to recommend good translations for any of these titles.)  I do beg for a little forgiveness on your part, as I added quite a few comments to the titles. I haven’t read everything on the list, and some books have the coating of nostalgia attached, so I can’t completely vouch for the merit of all titles. The list is in approximate chronological order by original publication date.

  1. Tales of Mother Goose – Charles Perrault (France) – A collection of fairy tales even older than those of the more famous Grimm brothers; some are original to Perrault while others are based on folktales or stories from France and Italy. They include some of the most famous fairy tales such as “Sleeping Beauty” and “Little Red Riding Hood,” and were probably originally intended for an adult audience.
  2. Grimm’s Fairy Tales – Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Germany) – The best known collectors of fairy tales, although their original interest was in a scholarly preservation of oral stories.
  3. The Swiss Family Robinson – Johann David Wyss (Switzerland) – My mom read this to my brother and I when we were little – all I recall of it is that it introduced to me the fascinating idea of tree-top living.
  4. Fairy Tales – Alexander Pushkin (Russia) – As best I can tell, the best-known Russian fairy-tales.
  5. Fairy Tales – Hans Christian Anderson (Denmark) – If you only know “The Little Mermaid” from the Disney movie, Anderson’s original will be quite the surprise. And this is only one of the well over 100 stories which he wrote.
  6. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass – Lewis Carroll (England) – I don’t know if I’ll ever understand the Alice books, but they are certainly fascinating.
  7. Eight Cousins – Louisa May Alcott (U.S.) – An alternative to the better known Little Women, its sequel is Rose in Bloom.
  8. Black Beauty – Anna Sewell (England) – Probably the best-known horse story ever written, it has been very influential
  9. Heidi – Johanna Spyri (Switzerland) – One of many hand-me-down books I read when I was little, but all I remember are Heidi, her grandfather, and a goat. Or two.
  10. Pinocchio – Carlo Collodi (Italy) – I’ve heard tell that Collodi’s Pinocchio and Disney’s are rather different. True or not, if you visit Collodi’s hometown of Florence, Italy, you can find Pinocchio figurines all over the place.
  11. The Happy Prince and Other Tales – Oscar Wilde (Ireland) – I was surprised a few years back to learn that the short story “The Selfish Giant,” which I remember from childhood, was by none other than Wilde.
  12. The Blue Fairy Book – Andrew Lang (Scotland) – I devoured the Andrew Lang fairy books when I was in fourth and fifth grades; they contain fairy tales from all over the world. This was the first.
  13. The Jungle Book – Rudyard Kipling (England) – I’ve read just enough of this to know that the Disney movie is only a portion of the original. I find chapter 9, “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi” unforgettable.
  14. Seven Little Australians – Ethel Turner (Australia) – I discovered this title while researching suggestions – it has apparently remained popular for over 100 years.
  15. The Reluctant Dragon – Kenneth Grahame (England) – I perhaps have Grahame to blame for my fondness for dragons.
  16. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – L. Frank Baum (U.S.) – The first of a fourteen book series. I actually preferred Ozma of Oz when I was little, but the first book is the best introduction to Baum’s Oz.
  17. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm – Kate Douglas Wiggin (U.S.) – I was surprised by the similarities to the later Anne of Green Gables, but found Rebecca adorable on her own merits. (I read this last year.)
  18. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie (Scotland) – The play came first, but Barrie adopted his own play into a novel a few years later.
  19. The Railway Children – E. Nesbit (England) – I haven’t read any Nesbit, but have seen her highly recommended.
  20. A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (England) – One of my absolute favorites from childhood. I loved Sara’s powers of imagination.
  21. Emily of New Moon – L.M. Montgomery (Canada) – You may know the more famous Anne of Green Gables, but have you tried the Emily books? This is the first in a series of three.
  22. Pollyanna – Eleanor H. Porter (U.S.) – Although I’ve seen the 1960 movie several times, I forgot that it was based on a book until I started researching children’s classics.
  23. Winnie-the-Pooh – A.A. Milne (England) – It’s been so long since I’ve read this I have no memory of it. But if we’re to be consistent, I have to say I imagine it differs from the Disney version!
  24. The Adventures of Tintin (various titles, although some are post 1960) – Hergé (Belgium) – Fun adventure stories in comic-book form – the three which were adapted into the 2011 movie are The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure.
  25. Little House in the Big Woods  – Laura Ingalls Wilder (U.S.) – This entire series is a long-standing favorite of mine. Little House in the Big Woods is the first, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.
  26. Mary Poppins – P.L. Travers (England) – I’ve never read the Travers series, but I would love to know how this compares to the well-known movie.
  27. The Hobbit – J.R.R. Tolkien (England) – A long-standing favorite of mine. It just had its 75th birthday, and with part 1 of the movie in theaters, if you don’t know the original, there’s never been a better time to start. (I posted on this recently.)
  28. The Little Prince – Saint-Exupéry (France) – Probably the best-known French title I’ve come across (at least in the U.S.) – I’ve had a copy for years but have yet to read it!
  29. Five on a Treasure Island – Enid Blyton (England) – An author I’ve heard of but never tried.
  30. Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren (Sweden) – I’ve seen mixed opinions on this title, but it is probably the best-known Swedish title in the U.S.
  31. The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily – Dino Buzzati (Italy) – I discovered this title while researching the list–it’s only be recently translated into English, but if the author sounds familiar, he’s best known for the grown-up novel The Tartar Steppe.
  32. Misty of Chincoteague – Marguerite Henry (U.S.) – I was never horse-obsessed, but for some reason I read quite a few horse books. Henry won the Newbery Medal for the later King of the Wind, but this title is the one I remember. (And it did get a Newbery Honor.)
  33. The Little White Horse – Elizabeth Goudge (England) – I’ve yet to read Goudge, but I’ve seen her highly recommended on blogs.
  34. Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White (U.S.) – My favorite White, The Trumpet of the Swan, falls outside the date range for the event, but all of his books are wonderful.
  35. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis (Ireland) – The first and most famous of the series of seven books. Some advocate a chronological reading of the series (starting with The Magician’s Nephew), but I prefer the order they were originally published. And with its wintery setting, this one is perfect for January!
  36. The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Elizabeth George Speare (U.S.) – My favorite book/author when I was in 5th grade.

Other places to look for ideas include the Newbery Medal Winner and Honor books (given out by the American Library Association, list HERE) and for picture books, Caldecott Medal Winner and Honor books (ALA also, list HERE). Also, many of the authors listed about wrote several books for children, while I mostly limited myself to one apiece for the list.

There were also some suggestions in the comments of the introductory post:

  • Sylvie and Bruno – Lewis Carroll (England)
  • The Call of the Wild and White Fang – Jack London (U.S.)
  • The Wizard of the Emerald City – Alexander Melentyevich Volkov (Soviet Union)

Please feel free to add more ideas in the comments below and I will add them in!

From the comments:

  • Emil and the Detectives – Erich Kästner (Germany)
  • Arenel has put together a nice list of Russian-language books HERE, complete with her thoughts and comments. The quick summary:
    • Krylov, Ivan Andreyevich: fables
    • Pogorelsky, AntonyBlack Hen, or Living Underground (1829)
    • Pushkin, Alexander SergeyevichThe Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda (1830), The Tale of Tsar Saltan (1831), The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish (1833), The Tale of the Dead Princess (1833), The Tale of the Golden Cockerel (1834)
    • Yershov, Pyotr PavlovichThe Little Humpbacked Horse (1834)
    • Tolstoy, Lev NikolayevichChildhood (1852)
    • Aksakov, Sergey TimofeyevichThe Scarlet Flower (1858)
    • Olesha, Yury KarlovichThree Fat Men (1924)
    • Kassil, Lev AbramovichThe Black Book and Schwambrania (1933)
    • Kataev, Valentin PetrovichA White Sail Gleams (1936)
    • Gaidar, ArkadyThe Blue Cup (1936), Chuk and Gek (1939), Timur and his Gang (1940), stories
    • Lagin, Lazar YosifovychThe Old Genie Hottabych (1937)
    • Bazhov, PavelThe Malachite Casket (1939), The Mistress of the Copper Mountain, tales
    • Volkov, Alexander MelentyevichThe Wizard of the Emerald City (1939) (plus the rest of the Magic Land series: Urfin Jus and his Wooden Soldiers (1963), The Seven Underground Kings (1964), The Fiery God of the Marrans (1968), The Yellow Fog (1970), The Secret of the Abandoned Castle (1982))
    • Rybakov, AnatolyThe Dirk (1948), The Bronze Bird (1956)
    • Gubarev, Vitali Georgievich: Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (1951)

      Nosov, Nikolay Nikolaevich: The Adventures of Dunno and his Friends (1954) (plus the rest of the series: Dunno in Sun City (1958), Dunno on the Moon (1966))

  • Carnegie Medal Winners (UK prize for Children’s Literature)
  • Hans Christian Anderson Award for Writing (International Award–given to author based on the body of their work)
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11 thoughts on “Children’s Classics: Suggestion List

  1. Very nice list, I thought of another non-English possibility:

    A long-lasting German favorite is Emil and the Detectives (1929) by Erich Kästner. A number of English-language film versions have been made. Kästner also wrote the novel that is the basis of The Parent Trap!

    1. Thank you. You know, I almost included Emil and the Detectives, but I know so little about it, I shied away. I had no idea that The Parent Trap was based on a novel, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

  2. I wish I could have helped with some Spanish children’s classics, and although I could not think of any at that time, I’m constantly trying to remember childhood favourites.

    Happy 2013, Amanda and special thanks for being the top commenter at Books and Reviews. It means the world to me.

    1. I found one series that fit in the time frame–the Celia books by Elena Fortún–but I’m not sure if they’ve been translated into English or not (if they have, they aren’t readily available), so I didn’t include them here. Don’t worry about not coming up with anything! If it’s out there, eventually one of us will find it.

      A very happy 2013 to you as well. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my comments!

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