Best Books for Children Under 10

Last Thursday, the BBC released a poll of book critics from all around the world that rated the all time top 21 best books for children under 10. The list includes picture books for toddlers and chapter books for middle grade readers. It is a fascinating list and I actually respect the order they came up with.

As a father of three, and (surprise!) a former young person myself, I have read many of the titles listed. Of course, these books are famous and I suppose most people have. Here are the first 10:

  1. Charlotte’s Web, EB White
  2. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis
  3. Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
  4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
  5. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
  6. The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  7. Winnie-the-Pooh, AA Milne
  8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
  9. A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. LeGuin
  10. A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle
Best books for children under 10

Alice in Wonderland from the 1907 edition, illustrated by Arthur Rackham.

Considering that works like Phillip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials and Ursula K. LeGuin’s, A Wizard of Earthsea made the list, I must say it is surprising that Harry Potter was nowhere to be found on the full list of 21. Also interesting that not a single book by Dr. Seuss made the cut. Seriously? Neither The Cat in the Hat nor How the Grinch Stole Christmas? Yet one look at the list and you can see how rough and tumble the competition is. And though it may be too recent a publication to have made this list, I suspect Neal Gaiman’s Coraline is going to be one for the ages.

Roald Dahl is the only author to appear on the list more than once. He made it for Matilda at #16 and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at #8. The oldest book on the list is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, first published in 1865. The newest title on the list is His Dark Materials. The first volume of Pullman’s trilogy (The Golden Compass) was published in 1995, the last in 2000.

As mentioned in a previous post, I am a fanatical admirer of LeGuin, so I was pleased to see her make the top 10. The only living author to do so, I might add. Finally, I find it funny that they stretched to 21 titles. I suspect they did it just so they could include the book that was placed in that last slot, J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Hobbit.

See the full article in the British publication, Telegraph.

Do you have a favorite children’s book you think should have made the list? Is there one that made the list that you think should not have? Leave a comment through the link at the top of this post and let me know!

  • Never having been a young girl – nor parent of a young girl – some of those books seem very gender-specific and inappropriate for boys. Of course, some that I liked might be of little interest to girls.

    Winnie The Pooh and Where The Wild Things Are seem like books one reads to their children, not books for children to read. I was going to insert a snarky comment about Goodnight Moon not being included, but then I saw that it’s on the list at #20. Since they are including books read to children, several Dr. Seuss books really should be contenders. Also, Curious George.

    I couldn’t really stomach the first Philip Pullman book and didn’t recommend it to my son. Love the way they crammed the whole trilogy in one slot of their list. How much do you think the publisher had to pay for that placement?

    Back on the subject of great books for children under 10 to read. Here are some suggestions, grouped by author

    Rudyard Kipling – Rikki Tikki Tavi,The Jungle Book
    T.H. White – The Sword in the Stone
    Jules Verne – 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in 80 Days
    Robert Louis Stevenson – Treasure Island (and maybe Jekyll & Hyde)
    Alexander Dumas – The Three Musketeers

    • Those are all awesome book suggestions. Lists are so subjective, it is hard to come up with absolutes, but I will say that Treasure Island probably is one. I would feel the same way about The Three Musketeers, but I wonder if that is an age thing, since this is for readers under the age of 10. In the end, I think it is bold and maybe a little weird to do one list that encompasses an admittedly excellent picture book like Where the Wild Things Are and The Golden Compass or A Wizard of Earthsea.

    • I have to chime in here and say that there is NO SUCH THING as a book inappropriate for any gender. It’s like that flow chart regarding gender and toys, the main question: Do you operate the toy with your genitalia? If no, then the toy is appropriate for any gender. If yes, the toy is not for children. Some books might be better for different ages (not children), but gender should not be a factor on what is or is not inappropriate regarding books. I will allow that some types of books seem to attract the majority of one gender or another, and that is ok. Some of that is brought on my society’s gender conditioning, and some of that is pure taste preferences. That latter being the better deal.

      I love The Three Musketeers and would put it on a top list of adult books, but there is no way it is for kids under 10. 🙂

  • Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz series is missing. So is Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Both deserve a spot in this list.

    • Wow. It is amazing the things that seem so obvious and that I didn’t think about – of course, The Wizard of Oz! Meanwhile, I didn’t even know that Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs was a book before it was a movie. 🙂

  • Was just thinking last night that I’d like to reread “Harold and the Purple Crayon” and “The Little Prince.” Nice piece, David!

  • His Dark Materials should not be on the list. It is way too heavy and complicated for a child under 10!

    Dr. Seuss is a huge omission! Coraline should definitely be there or The Graveyard Book. Neil Gaiman is brilliant.

    Duncan commented that the books are girl oriented (to which I disagree), but they are super white! I know the list came from the U.K., but there is no diversity in the list at all.

    • I completely agree about His Dark Materials. I love it, but it is an odd inclusion for this list. Also I agree about the diversity. What is a little embarrassing is that I can’t think of any books that bring diversity to a reader aged 10 or younger that would go on a list of the top 21 children’s books of all time. There has to be one or more out there, but I can’t think of it. Ouch. For older children I can think of titles, but not for younger ones. Does anyone have any suggestions?

      PS – I looked online and found this link to an article from The Guardian, also a British paper, that gives a top 50 of best culturally diverse books for children.

      • Esperanza Rising is the first book to come to my mind, but I can’t think of many for young children either. Many of these books are newer and so it might take some time for them to get onto a greatest-of-all-time list.

        • I suspect that if there is a filter for Best Children’s Books Ever that requires they be older or widely known it is going to take some time for books with cultural diversity to make it onto the list. Older is a dopey requirement, though I do think these critics have applied it. However, “widely known” doesn’t seem so unreasonable to me. Part of what makes a book great in my mind is that many people have been touched by it. I realize a book can be wonderful even if not a single soul ever reads it, but I don’t think it should be on this list.

          • The problem with “widely known” is that most multicultural books seem to be published by small presses. And they’re harder to market or they get white-washed covers and then white-washed movies if they get that far. So their reach is generally smaller.

      • Keep in mind I have not read these yet. But I know they are well respected award winners and taught in some schools. Maybe The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros, Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis, 9th Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes. I’d say, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, but it’s for teens. So the picture book, Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin. Or Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai.

        I love PragmaticMom’s list of lists for Multicultural Books for Children particularly her Top 50 List.

        The problem is, it’s not fair to judge these books on not being widespread because they are not equitably brought to the forefront of bookstores and schools like books with white protagonists.

        • Excellent suggestions. Thank you, Denise! Re the list, I guess I have conflated “greatest” children’s books with “best” children’s books. The greatest children’s books should not only be superb reads, but must be iconic–stories that have moved a generation (or more than one generation). The list of best books could very well include books with smaller distributions.

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