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The Ultimate List of Must-read Children’s Books

the ultimate list of must-read children's books

The Ultimate List of Must-read Children's Books

Many moons ago, I got to thinking that there were probably quite a lot of great children’s books that I had never read. But how to narrow it down? Which ones were the best? Which were the ‘must-reads’ that I shouldn’t possibly miss? So I set about looking for a list of the best children’s books EVER.

But the more I searched the depths of the internet, the more lists I found. And, naturally, they all had a slightly different take on which books were must-reads. American lists varied greatly from British ones. Some included picture books/younger children’s fiction, some didn’t. Some included non-fiction. Some included young adult literature. In short, each list was quite different, and I was no clearer about which one I should use.

One List to Rule Them All

So in frustration, and because I’m a massive geek, I decided to compile all the information into one big list. I included all the books chosen by 11 different lists, both British and American. These were:

The School Library Journal, 2012
The New York Public Library, 2013
The Telegraph, 2015
The Sunday Times, 2015
Time, 2015
Booktrust, 2021
Penguin, 2021
Lovereading, 2021
Time Out, 2022
Reader’s Digest 2023
The BBC, 2023

And my one big list was BIG. It ended up at a whopping 719 books! It just goes to show how much variation there was between the lists and how difficult it is for anyone to agree on a list of ‘must-reads’. I had read only 18% (129 books), which left 590 books. I clearly needed a way to narrow down the selection. So, in keeping with the vintage nature of the blog, I eliminated anything written post 1989. I also took out non-fiction and picture books, which I may tackle another time. This leaves a much more manageable list of 212. Of these, I have read 64 (or 30%), which makes me feel much better, though it still leaves me with 148 books to work my way through.

There was a total of 162 different authors, 27 of them appearing on the list more than once. Unsurprisingly, the clear winner with ten books on the list, was Roald Dahl. The second most popular author had six. The oldest book (which I’m ashamed to say I had never heard of) was compiled somewhere between the 3rd and 5th centuries. The majority (116) were published between 1950 and 1989 and there were 66 from between 1900 and 1949.

Order! Order!

But which were considered the cream of the crop? Which appeared on the most lists? After some spreadsheet wizardry, I ranked all the books according to how many lists they appeared on. Amazingly, only one book appeared on every single one... but I’m not going to reveal which one just yet – I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for the next blog post. Feel free to have a guess though!

Where several books had appeared on the same number of lists, the order was determined first by the number of books the author had on the list, then by whether the book had been awarded or nominated for the Newbery or Carnegie prizes – as these are often considered the top prizes in children’s fiction in the USA and UK. Finally, they were ranked by the date the book was published, because I figured that the longer a book had remained popular, the higher it deserved to be. I told you I was a massive geek!

The Ultimate List of Must-read Children's Books
So many books! Which ones made the list?

The result of all this cutting and pasting is The Ultimate List of Must-Read Children’s Books. Really, you need look no further when it comes to which classic children's books you should definitely read. I will be making my way (slowly) through the ones I've missed – it would be lovely if you would like to read along with me, or let me know what you thought of the books you've read.

Join me in for the next installment, when I will be revealing the top ten... Can you guess which books made it?


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