Below is a list of what I think are the 10 Best Children’s Books. Books don’t ever go out of style, they make fantastic gifts for the holidays, and great birthday gifts as well! These classic novels will delight children and adults alike. I’ve read each and every one of these books and they are fantastic. Alongside each book is my personal mini-review, and below that a plot summary (usually the book jacket) in quotes from amazon.com.
10 Best Children’s Books
The Sign of the Beaver
The boys and I love this book. In fact, we’ve read Sign of the Beaver several times. It’s a fantastic coming of age story about a boy who is left alone in the wild. This wonderful tale effectively models separation, independence, and responsibility for growing youngsters.
“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. When Matt meets Attean, a boy in the Beaver clan, he begins to better understand their way of life and their growing problem in adapting to the white man and the changing frontier. Elizabeth George Speare’s Newbery Honor-winning survival story is filled with wonderful detail about living in the wilderness and the relationships that formed between settlers and natives in the 1700s.”
I first read Island of the Blue Dolphins when I was in fifth grade and it is one of my favorites. I loved reading it to the boys as well. This book is another fantastic coming of age story about independence, self-reliance, and connection. A very worthy read.
“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 kelp 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. It is a romantic adventure filled with drama and heartache, for not only was mere subsistence on so desolate a spot a near miracle, but Karana had to contend with the ferocious pack of wild dogs that had killed her younger brother, constantly guard against the Aleutian sea otter hunters, and maintain a precarious food supply.
More than this, it is an adventure of the spirit that will haunt the reader long after the book has been put down. Karana’s quiet courage, her Indian self-reliance and acceptance of fate, transform what to many would have been a devastating ordeal into an uplifting experience. From loneliness and terror come strength and serenity in this Newbery Medal-winning classic.”
I read Sounder when I was a girl and cried my eyes out during this extremely moving book. I think I may have shed more tears the second time I read it (to the boys). This story is optimal for children in 4th grade and beyond, given its serious (and tragic) content. It is a tale of love, family, connection, sacrifice, and the cruelty of the world.
“Set in the Deep South, this Newberry Medal-winning novel tells the story of the great coon dog, Sounder, and the poor sharecroppers who own him. During the difficult years of the nineteenth century South, an African-American boy and his poor family rarely have enough to eat. Each night, the boy’s father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food and the man grows more desperate by the day.
When food suddenly appears on the table one morning, it seems like a blessing. But the sheriff and his deputies are not far behind. The ever-loyal Sounder remains determined to help the family he loves as hard times bear down on them.
This classic novel shows the courage, love, and faith that bind an African-American family together despite the racism and inhumanity they face. Readers who enjoy timeless dog stories such as Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows will find much to love in Sounder.”
This book is another incredibly moving tear jerker. An adventure story of love, sacrifice, courage, loyalty, and dedication. I cried when I read Where the Red Fern Grows as a child, and again when I read it to the boys. They loved it too.
“Billy, Old Dan and Little Ann — a Boy and His Two Dogs…A loving threesome, they ranged the dark hills and river bottoms of Cherokee country. Old Dan had the brawn, Little Ann had the brains — and Billy had the will to train them to be the finest hunting team in the valley. Glory and victory were coming to them, but sadness waited too. And close by was the strange and wonderful power that’s only found…”
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
I remember my 4th grade teacher, Mr O, reading a chapter of this book to the class everyday after lunch. I could not get enough of it! I read the book again to myself a couple of years later, and loved reading it to the boys. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is a tale of survival, nature, special powers, and community.
“Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with four small children, is faced with a terrible problem. She must move her family to their summer quarters immediately, or face almost certain death. But her youngest son, Timothy, lies ill with pneumonia and must not be moved. Fortunately, she encounters the rats of NIMH, an extraordinary breed of highly intelligent creatures, who come up with a brilliant solution to her dilemma. And Mrs. Frisby in turn renders them a great service.”
Written in 2000, Holes is a newer book, one that the boys introduced to me. We’ve read it many times and it is a fantastic story which demonstrates leadership, strength, dedication, and perseverance.
“Stanley Yelnats is under a curse. A curse that began with his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather and has since followed generations of Yelnatses. Now Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending all day, every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake. But there are an awful lot of holes. It doesn’t take long for Stanley to realize there’s more than character improvement going on at Camp Green Lake. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake? Stanley tries to dig up the truth in this inventive and darkly humorous tale of crime and punishment—and redemption.”
My father bought me this classic book by when I was in 4th grade, the age at which I began to read voraciously. I read Call of the Wild to my children when they were in elementary school. I don’t think it was their favorite, but it will always be one of mine!
“The Call of the Wild, written in 1903, brought Jack London to the world’s attention. It is the story of Buck, part St. Bernard and part Scotch shepherd dog, who shows the strengths of both breeds when he is stolen and sold off as a sled dog in the Yukon during the gold rush. A heartfelt story that appeals to both children and adults, “The Call of the Wild” is a timeless classic.”
My parents read this book to me, and subsequently I read it to myself. Still later, I enjoyed reading Charlotte’s Web to my children. This inspiring story by the acclaimed E.B. White (one of my literary heroes) is a classic tale of friendship and life.
“Some Pig. Humble. Radiant. These are the words in Charlotte’s Web, high up in Zuckerman’s barn. Charlotte’s spiderweb tells of her feelings for a little pig named Wilbur, who simply wants a friend. They also express the love of a girl named Fern, who saved Wilbur’s life when he was born the runt of his litter.
The book contains illustrations by Garth Williams, the acclaimed illustrator of E.B. White’s Stuart Little and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series, among many other books.”
Believe it or not, I had not ever heard of this book during my childhood. My husband is a huge fan of the Grateful Dead, and when we listened to their song, The Wind in the Willows, with our children and they asked us the meaning of the words, we somehow surmised that it was based on a book. We bought that book and read it to the boys over and over. It was, and still is, one of their favorites!
“For more than a century, The Wind in the Willows and its endearing protagonists–Mole, Mr. Toad, Badger, and Ratty–have enchanted children of all ages. Whether the four friends are setting forth on an exciting adventure, engaging in a comic caper, or simply relaxing by the River Thames, their stories are among the most charming in all English literature. This keepsake edition of Kenneth Grahame’s beloved novel features gorgeous art throughout, making it a must-have for every child’s library.”
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
Oh my goodness! I get excited just thinking about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. This fantasy adventure novel is full of magic so creative that it expands the brain and the boundaries of the imagination. This is another book that I read as a child, and then again to my own children. Now that I’m thinking about it, it just might be time to read the Chronicles of Narnia series once again!
“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.”
I’m so happy to share my own 10 Best Children’s Books with you. These books are for elementary school readers on up, so of course some classics for younger children are not listed here. What are the favorite books of your childhood, or of your children? Leave a comment and let me know. I love books, they’re such a big part of my life and I’m curious to get to know you all better by becoming familiar with your favorites too!
Thank you for this list – I am looking forward to reading Island of the Blue Dolphins with my kids!
my daughter read the complete series of Narnia, in 5th grade it’s rated for 7th. We still love it.
I’m getting “Wind in the Willows” for my grandson, and the DVD. Rules are you have to read the book before you can see the show.
Shari from NC says
Thanks so much for sharing these favorites. We took love books, and especially listening to audio books on long car rides (this time of year and during the summer.)
Here are our family favorites (for elementary-aged children and older):
The Pinhoe Egg by Diana Wynne Jones – by far our favorite of the Chrestomanci series. Magical and touching inside a mystery.
Savvy and Scumble by Ingrid Law – fantasy novels in which the heroes clarify their values and find their powers. Very entertaining.
The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards (yes, of The Sound of Music and Mary Poppins) – fantasy in which 3 children find their way through (internal and external) obstacles to follow their dreams. This is one of our all-time favorite books. My daughter’s performance dance group, with kids ages 8 – 18, brought the story to life onstage one year and it was phenomenal.
A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban – a hilarious story about a girl who wants to learn to play the piano and instead gets a programmable electric organ. With poignant vignettes of middle school drama, how music can make you feel, and how a tween adapts to her father’s social anxiety and her mother’s work-a-holic life, this book is a true gem. We have missed highway exits listening to this book! I highly, highly recommend it.
Frindle by Andrew Clements – another one of our all-time favorites! A very clever story about how words get used and eventually added to dictionaries. Of all of Andrew Clements wonderful books, this is our favorite.
Shakespeare’s Secret by Elise Broach – a historical fiction mystery novel that kept us riveted for 5 and a half hours. A very interesting who-dun-it with middle school fitting-in and sibling rivalry issues.
Masterpiece by Elise Broach – a mystery fantasy intersecting the worlds of a human boy and his beetle friend. Also a sweet story about friendship.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick – a wonderfully illustrated historical fiction mystery about a Parisian orphan and clock-keeper in the 1930’s. The illustrations actually build the plot, so please get the physical book in addition to the audio book.
Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay – an entertaining mystery about a quaint and quirky family and their life discoveries.
Cricket in Times Square by George Selden – a classic!
Stuart Little by E.B White – another classic!
Emily Windsnap series by Liz Kessler – a fun, mystery fantasy series about a half-human, half-dolphin girl who finds her way out of unusual situations while staying true to herself.
Philippa Fisher series by Liz Kessler – another fun fantasy series with humans and angels on land.
Dick King-Smith books, including Harry’s Mad, The Merman, The Queen’s Nose, The Water Horse, A Mouse Called Wolf, The Stray, Ace, and Babe. Involving animals of some kind, these endearing stories are feel-good ones. Suited for younger elementary children.
Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Nell – a wonderful book of poetry with beautiful words that evoke images of the colors we see in our world. Best read slowly, aloud, in small bites, with time to digest.
Happy Hanukah and thanks for the many forms in which you enrich our lives. I served your hot apple cider yesterday at our neighborhood holiday party and folks (most of whom had never heard the word Paleo before) really loved it.
Shari from NC
Barb Blythe says
My granddaughters loved Click Clack Moo (Cows who Type). I can’t remember the lady’s name that wrote it (I remember she is an attorney) but it is a rousing tale of barnyard compromise! Cute illustrations, silly and a laugh out loud ending. Good for little ones up to, say, 9 or 10. Happy Holidays Everyone!
Thanks so much for this post Elana- books have been on my mind as gifts this holiday season and this helps. I have a general question about books for younger kids- my almost 3year old loves books but seems bored bya lot of the little kid board books I’ve been reading to her. I’d like to start reading longer more complex ones to her but the ones I know and love (including many of the ones above) are a little too complex. Any suggestions from anyone on books for toddlers that will pique their interest in reading? Short simple chapter books is what I’m thinking but any thoughts welcome….I’m working hard to counter all of te movis and electronics influence she is getting! Thanks a lot and again reLly appreciate this post elana
Jennifer L. says
My near 3-year-old loves The Flower Fairy poems by Cecily Mary Barker. Flicka, Ricka and Dicka by Maj Lindman (it’s a whole series of books) are also popular around here. The Root Children and The Snow Children by Sibylle von Olfers. Anything by Elsa Beskow is great. She is also a big fan of Mr. Putter and Tabby/Henry and Mudge by Cynthia Rylant. Good luck finding something! I taught kindergarten for many years and always tried to find books that were lovely and simple for the children (to counter the fast pace of our current times!).
Shari from NC says
We love(!) the Mr. Putter and Tabby series, as well as the Henry and Mudge series, both by Cynthia Rylant. They are funny and contain illustrations with effervescent emotions.
We also love Patricia Polacco’s books; for younger kids “The Keeping Quilt”, “The Bee Tree”, “Thunder Cake”, and “When Lightening Comes in a Jar.”
And a favorite that introduces continuity of the generations is “My Mother’s Pearls” by Catherine Fruisen.
As your child gets older and begins to understand homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently) and homonyms (words that sound alike, are spelled alike, but have different meanings), I highly recommend the Amelia Bedelia series by Herman Parish.
Elizabeth Tucker says
Oh, Elana, my boys and I have read almost all of these books, they are so wonderful. My youngest, age 13 now, can recite portions of “The WInd in the Willows” by heart. My all-time, favorite books as a child were “Harriet the Spy” and “Johnny Tremain.” We can also highly recommend “Carry On, Mr. Bowditch” and “The Yearling” (which is long and somewhat sophisticated–I just finished reading it out loud to my 13-year-old, we both cried like babies at the end, it’s a wonderful book that won the Pulitzer in 1938). There is an out-of-print book you can get that I highly recommend, too, called “Tyler, WIlkin, and Skee” about three boys in Depression-era Georgia. Thank you for plugging such wonderful books!