Books, like friends, have the potential to change our lives. They can shape who we are and what we love, and this is especially true of children. This is obvious enough to any lover of books, but don’t take my word for it. The formative effect of reading on children is well documented, not only in terms of improving vocabulary and academic achievement, but also with regards to fostering brain connectivity and developing what academics call “theory of mind,” which basically means the capacity to understand that others are people too.
The importance of learning to love books, however, often leads people into the position that any book is good, so long as it “gets the kids to read.” I understand where such arguments come from, especially when such efforts are undertaken in underprivileged communities where parents, for one reason or another, will not be able to foster a child’s love of reading. That said, it can be a great gift to children when parents are active in guiding them through the world of books, helping form their moral, intellectual, and aesthetic senses in a way that will raise their sights above the literary junk food served up by popular culture (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, I’m looking at you), pointing them towards what is truly good and beautiful in life.
Many parents want to be intentional about fostering a love of books in their children, but sifting the wheat from the chaff can be overwhelming. As a contribution to the cause, therefore, I’d like to offer the list below as a “Childhood Reading Plan,” something akin to the lifetime reading lists one often finds for adults, but aimed at kids five to ten years old. Before getting to the list, I should note that it assumes that children will have already developed a taste for good books in earlier childhood with quality nursery rhymes, fables, picture books and more, and that they are ready to tackle more demanding (but fun!) material (I may, in the future, create a list for kids ages 0-5). I should also mention that I don’t think of the list as definitive or exhaustive, but rather as a set of good suggestions based on my own experiences with my children. I am only including works that I can personally vouch for and that have value even for adults, since I firmly believe that a good children’s book should be able to be enjoyed by readers of all ages. Finally, I know there are many more works to discover, so please feel free to add your own recommendations in the comments. As I eventually read the books you suggest, I may add them to the list in the future.
The Childhood Reading Plan (Ages 5 – 10)
(NB: I’ve tried to arrange the following recommendations in a more or less logical order starting with books more appropriate for younger kids, but don’t be too strict about it and use your own judgement. Also, note that while many of these books may be beyond the ability of children to read by themselves, they are great for reading out loud or enjoying in an audio book format. If you decide to purchase any of these books through Amazon, you can support Dappled Things while doing so by buying them through our Amazon Smile account.)
Catholic Bible for Children, illustrated by Tony Wolff
This is a beautifully illustrated and surprisingly complete children’s Bible. I’ve been reading it aloud to my four-year-old and he absolutely loves it, but it can also bear reading by older kids. It will leave kids with a pretty descent grasp of the main thrust of the Old and New Testaments, and will provide good opportunities for discussion. Note that while the editors keep this Bible at a PG rating, so to speak, the edition includes many stories in which we see how God can work through sinful men and women to accomplish his purposes in the world, so it is important to help kids unpack what they are reading, rather than just assuming that because a character in the Bible does something, that it is necessarily a good model to follow.
The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
Having grown up only knowing Disney’s sugary version of Winnie the Pooh, it was a surprise and a delight to discover the original. A. A. Milne’s wit can hardly be matched by any book for this age group. I enjoyed, in particular, discovering the real Eeyore, who is very far from Disney’s mopey, cutesy character, and comes off rather hilariously as a sort of hardened, would-be cynic who rather plainly longs for others’ care and attention. Here he is in an exchange with Pooh during a chapter about how everyone has forgotten Eeyore’s birthday:
“Good morning, Eeyore,” said Pooh.
“Good morning, Pooh Bear,” said Eeyore gloomily. “If it is a good morning,” he said. “Which I doubt,” said he.
“Why, what’s the matter?”
“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing. We can’t all, and some of us don’t. That’s all there is to it.”
“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.
“Gaiety. Song-and-dance. Here we go round the mulberry bush.”
“Oh!” said Pooh. He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”
“Bon-hommy,” went on Eeyore gloomily. “French word meaning bonhommy,” he explained. “I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”
I particularly recommend the dramatized audio version of the book, which features a full cast (including Judi Dench) and is simply fantastic.
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths by Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire
For this age group, this is the definitive book of Greek myths. Published in 1962, it has not been surpassed yet. Along with the Bible, Greek myths are a cultural treasure that is essential for understanding a lot of Western art, literature, and culture in general, plus the stories and characters are so compelling and interesting that they will almost certainly set a fuse in your child’s imagination. From the Amazon description: “In print for over fifty years, D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths has introduced generations to Greek mythology—and continues to enthrall young readers. Here are the greats of ancient Greece—gods and goddesses, heroes and monsters—as freshly described in words and pictures as if they were alive today.” It’s worth noting that if your child enjoys this book, there is also an excellent D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths.
A Classic Children’s Poetry Anthology
I struggled to pick a single, definitive volume to recommend, but I’ve decided to give up on that mission and suggest various options to consider. By now, I’m assuming that children would already have been introduced to classic nursery rhymes like those found in The Real Mother Goose and are now ready for something more meaty. In that case, consider getting a copy of the Oxford Book of Poetry for Children complied by Edward Blishen or the Oxford Book of Children’s Verse edited by Iona and Peter Opie. Unfortunately, you will probably have to get these books second-hand (shouldn’t be too hard to find online), but you will be rewarded with anthologies that are at once approachable and challenging, making delightful, child-friendly selections from great poets going back hundreds (or in some cases thousands) of years. I have the Opie collection in my own library and love it, but I am hoping to get the Blishen anthology soon because, in addition to the poems, it has the virtue of its illustrations (which is always a selling point for little ones). For younger readers, A Child’s Book of Poems, illustrated by Gyo Fujikawa, is also a magnificent choice (Fujikawa also illustrated A Child’s Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson, which a friend I consulted strongly recommends). Get one of these or get them all; you really can’t go wrong.
Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl
This was the first real children’s novel that my daughter read on her own, and she absolutely loved it. From the publisher’s description: “Someone’s been stealing from the three meanest farmers around, and they know the identity of the thief—it’s Fantastic Mr. Fox! Working alone they could never catch him; but now fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox—Mr. Fox would rather die than surrender. Only the most fantastic plan can save him now.”
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
This classic about a boy whose wildest dream comes true really needs no introduction. It’s imaginative and heart-warming and all sorts of fascinating. My daughter loved it and so should pretty much any kid. Through the various characters involved, it also happens to make a strong contrast in between virtue and vice in hilarious and unexpected ways. There are, of course, many other favorites by Roald Dahl such as Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, and more, which are definitely worth your child’s time (I would note that the latter two include parents or guardians who serve as rather vicious antagonists, so that may be worth discussing with your children).
The Book of Dragons by E. Nesbit
Edith Nesbit was an English author and poet who wrote many books for children, and this is one of her best. It is witty, imaginative, and full of adventure. I read it to my daughter when she was four, and now that she can read for herself she still finds it very exciting. The book is a collection of tales rather than a single story, all centered around the topic of dragons, but each quite different from the last. It’s worth noting that there’s a free version of it on Kindle.
Mary Poppins series by P. L. Travers
Here’s another series that Disney has wedded to its brand and transformed in the process, and while I actually like their Mary Poppins much better than their Winnie-the-Pooh, there’s really no substitute for the original. There is less song-and-dance but more fantasy and more compelling characters, especially the magical nanny at the center of it all. I should note that so far, we have only read the first two books, but we definitely intend to read the rest. Also, as I side note, I have a pet theory that Mary Poppins exists within the same universe as Harry Potter.
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
A well-known and beloved classic about a powerful and unexpected friendship. It should be in every child’s library. If you don’t know about this one, what rock have you been living under? Here’s a description from Amazon: “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.”
Cautionary Tales & Other Verses by Hilaire Belloc
Hilaire Belloc is famous for books such as Europe and the Faith and How the Reformation Happened, but he also wrote some marvelous children’s verse, including Cautionary Tales, the Bad Child’s Book of Beasts, and More Beasts for Worse Children. With regards to Cautionary Tales in particular, it is probably wise to make sure children read the author’s disclaimer, where he makes it plain these are fanciful stories, for the narrative poems that follow feature titles like “Jim, who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a lion” or “Henry King, who chewed bits of string and was early cut off in dreadful agonies.” Modern sensibilities will probably be ruffled by these stories in which very minor failings have disproportionately dreadful consequences, but that’s precisely the fun of it, especially when Belloc includes a story where exactly the opposite happens: “Algernon, who played with a loaded gun, and, on missing his sister, was reprimanded by his father.” If this sort of humor is just not your cup of tea, feel free to skip the stories in favor of the Book of Beasts, which feature short, whimsical poems about a variety of animals. The edition published by the Folio Society, which includes all the poems, is gorgeous but expensive (I was lucky to get a second-hand copy), so you may prefer getting separate paperback copies from Amazon (you can also find websites that have the poems for free online).
Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
Pippi, whose father was lost at sea (and who, she insists, found his way to an island and now rules over a tribe of cannibals), is a red-haired girl with superhuman strength who lives alone except for her horse and monkey. She has little education but a lot of good sense, and the air of a character from a tall tale except somehow less distant. Reading about Pippi is like feeling that you might become best friends with a Paul Bunyan or a Pecos Bill.
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM by Robert C. O’Brien
I loved this book as a child when my teacher read it out loud to us during fourth grade, and I was not disappointed when I returned to it with my children. Somewhere between a traditional fable and a science fiction novel, it is an unforgettable story full of mystery and excitement. From the Amazon description: “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.”
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
While admittedly at times I find this fantasy adventure in the Kingdom of Wisdom a bit too didactic and on-the-nose, its delightful humor and imagination win through in the end, making it a worthy addition to this list. From the Amazon description: “For Milo, everything’s a bore. When a tollbooth mysteriously appears in his room, he drives through only because he’s got nothing better to do. But on the other side, things seem different. Milo visits the Island of Conclusions (you get there by jumping), learns about time from a ticking watchdog named Tock, and even embarks on a quest to rescue Rhyme and Reason! Somewhere along the way, Milo realizes something astonishing. Life is far from dull. In fact, it’s exciting beyond his wildest dreams. . . .”
Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
Another among many excellent children’s books by E. Nesbit, this one features a family with five children that moves to the country, whereupon they encounter a Psammead, an ancient sand fairly, who grudgingly grants them one wish a day, yet always making sure the wish is twisted in some way that is sure to result in unexpected adventures. Beautifully written, delightful, and challenging in just the right ways for this age group.
Tales from the Perilous Realm by J.R.R. Tolkien
This is an excellent introduction to Tolkien for a young reader, the most child-friendly of which is perhaps Roverandom, the story of a little dog who gets turned into a toy by an angry wizard. From the Amazon description: “Never before published in a single volume, Tolkien’s four novellas (Farmer Giles of Ham, Leaf by Niggle, Smith of Wootton Major, and Roverandom) and one book of poems (The Adventures of Tom Bombadil) are gathered together for the first time, in a fully illustrated volume. . . . The book is the perfect opportunity for fans of Middle-earth to enjoy some of Tolkien’s often overlooked yet most creative storytelling. With dragons and sand sorcerers, sea monsters and hobbits, knights and dwarves, this collection contains all the classic elements for Tolkien buffs of all ages.”
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
In an age were it is almost a requirement that every main character be morally ambiguous, Sara Crewe, the young heroine of this novel, is a breath of fresh air. Far from coming off as some insufferable little-miss-perfect, through the struggles she undergoes Sara shines as an inspiring and attractive model of virtue. From the Amazon description: “Alone in a new country, wealthy Sara Crewe tries to settle in and make friends at boarding school. But when she learns that she’ll never see her beloved father gain, her life is turned upside down. Transformed from princess to pauper, she must swap dancing lessons and luxury for hard work and a room in the attic.” This book is probably a good one to read together with your child and talk about Sara’s struggles and how she deals with challenges she encounters. Having an adult’s help with all the Frances Hodgson Burnett books might also be a good idea simply because the book was published in 1905 and the diction could be somewhat unfamiliar to modern children who haven’t already been reading older books.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Due to several adaptations for the screen, this is perhaps the most famous of Burnett’s novels. From the Amazon description: “When orphaned Mary Lennox comes to live at her uncle’s great house on the Yorkshire Moors, she finds it full of secrets. The mansion has nearly one hundred rooms, and her uncle keeps himself locked up. And at night, she hears the sound of crying down one of the long corridors. The gardens surrounding the large property are Mary’s only escape. Then, Mary discovers a secret garden, surrounded by walls and locked with a missing key. With the help of two unexpected companions, Mary discovers a way in—and becomes determined to bring the garden back to life.” Actually, that description makes it sound kind of boring, but the truth is that the garden is really the scene of a family’s near destruction, and, in the end, it’s rebirth. Let’s leave it at that so I don’t give too much away.
Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
During the author’s lifetime, Little Lord Fauntleroy was more popular than The Secret Garden. Even if it is less so now, it well deserves inclusion in this list. It features similar themes to the other two novels, in which children find themselves without their parents in a set of challenging circumstances that test their moral mettle. In this case, the ultimate contrast is between inner nobility and the superficial kind that comes with hereditary titles.
Lives of the Saints series by Mary Fabian Windeatt
Let’s be frank: most saint books for children are nearly unreadable. Most of them are just collections of kitschy portraits next to boring identifying information such as “Saint [So-and-So] was born in [such-and-such] town in Europe in the year [this-or-that]. He served the [poor/sick/forgotten] and is the patron saint of [something].” What a way to suck the life out of the most truly alive human beings in history! Enter the Mary Fabyan Windeatt series. While the cover art could be dramatically improved (are you listening, TAN Books?), Windeatt is a wonderful storyteller who keeps children engaged and gives these lives the treatment they deserve. If you have $155 lying around, you can get the full twenty-book set all at once, or else make like the rest of us and buy them one by one.
The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder
I won’t even try to compete with Fr. Michael Rennier in writing about the Little House series. Do yourself a favor and read his hilarious posts about how this book series ruined his life. Suffice it to say that I couldn’t way for my life to be ruined in a similar way, so when a relative got my daughter the whole nine-book boxed set, I was enthusiastic about having her start on the series. She has absolutely loved them and now often talks to me about “Laura” as if she were discussing a beloved, flesh-and-blood friend of the family. A quote I love from Michael’s article: “It seems to me that, in these stories, children are drawn to an example of life that is inarguably more human, a world of family and friends who raise barns for each other and attend dances together, where the whole town dresses up and attends Church as a community. No one is at home watching television alone. Every person has a place and a contribution to make for the success of the family. No one would dispute that such a world is a harder place to make a living. When this world collides with the one we currently inhabit, one or the other must be ruined. I tend to opt for what I already have, but perhaps the way we live now is not all that great?”
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Without doubt, one of the pinnacles of English-language children’s literature. The world of Narnia and the character of Aslan are simply unforgettable. It also doesn’t hurt that the books touch on deep philosophical or theological ideas, or rather prepare the way for them, in a manner that is exciting, delightful, and approachable for children. These are books that really grow with the readers and can yield new insights and pleasures as one returns to them at different stages in life.
Asterix series by Rene Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit that growing up, I got a significant amount of my ideas about the ancient world from reading the Asterix series about a fictional Gaulish village during Roman times that, aided by a magical potion that gives its inhabitants superhuman strength, resists the Roman occupation time and again. The books follow a strict formula yet are all the more enjoyable for it. Practically every one of the 37 books involves Asterix and his friend Obelix setting off on some adventure to save the day, beating up a Roman legion or two along the way, and finally returning to a triumphant bonfire dinner where the heroes eat roasted wild boar and the town’s bard is tied up and muffled to save the party from his horrible singing. While the authors are not shy about taking liberties with history, the stories often take place in the midst of real historical events or at least historical settings involving characters such as Julius Cesar, with the heroes sometimes shaping history from behind the scenes. Don’t look for much depth behind these stories, but are nonetheless rollicking good fun.
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
For a book written in 1872, this seminal work of fantasy is very approachable even for twenty-first century children. According to my daughter, her second grade class has loved it. George MacDonald was a tremendous influence on writers like C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H Auden, and Madeline L’Engle, among many others. He was a man of deep thought and deep faith, whose works, without falling into the trap of becoming cheaply didactic, nevertheless nourish the moral imagination. G.K. Chesterton stated that the book had “made a difference to my whole existence.” Highly recommended.
The Princess and Curdie by George MacDonald
If your child enjoyed The Princess and the Goblin, then continue with its sequel, The Princess and Curdie. Having finished, you may want to dig further into the MacDonald cannon with books like The Light Princess and The Golden Key. Phantastes, which C.S. Lewis cites as one of the greatest influences in his life, is in my view more demanding and should be saved for older readers.
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
Part of me lives in Tolkien’s Middle Earth, so nothing I can say about The Hobbit is unbiased. When my daughter was born, I started counting the days until she was six, when I decided I would read her the book for the first time. I finally did last year and it was well worth the wait. If you are not familiar with Tolkien’s work or perhaps put off by the sometimes excessive fandom, all I can tell you is that no work of fiction has ever affected me as deeply as The Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit is a necessary preparation for reading that work later on. While The Hobbit is much more a children’s book than Tolkien’s great epic, it is a delightful introduction to his intricately crafted world, a world that Tolkien endowed with its own fully-functioning languages, cultures, history, and mythology (a mythology within a mythology, as it were). Yes, Tolkien is full of adventure, excitement, and so on, but in my case what I will always owe to Tolkien is that his world pierced me with a longing for beauty and goodness that has shaped my life ever since.
Alice In Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll
I can’t overstate how much my daughter loves these books. She has read them countless times, and when I told her I was putting this list together, these were the first works she mentioned. You can usually find the two together in a single edition, though there are also some very well-produced hardcover versions such as The Annotated Alice (which is really meant for adults). Carroll has a gift for the absurd, but never in a way that demeans or disturbs, and the book is filled with flashes of unexpected wisdom.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I’ve hesitated to include The Little Prince because it has always seemed to me not so much a book for children as a book about childhood. In many ways, it’s a book about the wisdom of childhood that too many adults have forgotten, and perhaps in that sense it is good that children read it, that as they grow up they may cherish and preserve that spirit within themselves. Still, aspects like its bitter-sweet ending seem to me like something more fitting for adult readers. At the time of putting this reading list together, I haven’t introduced my children to it yet, but I do know that the book is well-loved by young readers the world over and that it is a good and beautiful work that people should encounter sooner or later.
The Story of the World by Susan Wise Bauer
Is there any way to get a young child excited about reading a survey of world history? Look no further than Bauer’s The Story of the World, a series that covers civilizations across the world, including their traditional mythologies, and weaves them into magnificent stories that will keep a child wanting more. My daughter has read the first volume for school and wants to get all the others. That said, so far I have only looked at that first book so I can’t vouch for her treatment of subjects beyond ancient times, but it’s an auspicious beginning. Obviously, this is not a scholarly work so it should not be judged by that metric, but it is an excellent introduction to get kids excited about learning history.
Redwall by Brian Jacques
A mouse order of friars. An evil rat warlord called Cluny the Scourge. A young mouse who longs to be a hero. What’s not to love? Redwall is the first book of a long and hugely popular series, which includes other titles like Mossflower, Matimeo, and more. I would note that some of the books in the series feature more violence than I would like for younger children. Since at present I am only familiar with a few of the books in the series, I’ll limit my recommendation to Redwall itself.
Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
I’ve placed Peter Pan towards the end of the list for two main reasons. First, its diction can be quite demanding for a child (though, surprisingly, the marvelous audio-book version read by Jim Dale makes it much more approachable). Secondly, at times the way Barrie presents what he considers the carefree, almost innocent cruelty of children can sometimes be quite shocking (think of a little boy talking about killing robbers without a thought that such a punishment might be a bit draconian). I read this to my daughter when she was about four and found myself wanting to skip over certain parts, such as well the narrator mentions, as if talking about a game of hide-and-seek, how Peter and the Lost Boys would go about killing pirates whenever they could. Of course, this is all part of the absurdist, fantastic, and dangerous world of Neverland, but try explaining that to very young children and see how far you get. Anyhow, for the right age group, this is really a gem of a book, full of adventure, imagination, and wisdom, that could never be replaced by Disney’s animated version.
The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann Wyss
As of writing, my daughter has not yet gotten to this classic, but I look forward to reading it with her. The book brings together the thrill of adventures in the great unknown with the comforts of home and family. A strength of the book is that as the family’s adventures unfold, the virtues are gently and attractively modeled for young readers. Note that as a book first published in 1812, the language is old-fashioned and therefore slightly challenging but still approachable. From the Amazon description: “Following a wild and raging storm, the Swiss family Robinson are stranded at sea. But the thundering waves have swept them off to a tropical island, where a new life awaits them. Their ship is laden with supplies and the island is packed with treasures, so they soon adapt and discover new dangers and delights every day . . .”
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
This classic tale of buccaneers and buried gold really needs no introduction. It’s an exciting story with a brave young boy as protagonist and a charismatic, compelling antagonist. It’s over a hundred years old so the language can be challenging, but if you’re child has been keeping up with this list, by the time he or she gets to it that should not be much of a problem (which, by the way, is one of the virtues of reading through this list). Anyhow, it well deserves inclusion in any collection of essential childhood reading.
The Wind In the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
This is a well-known classic with movie adaptations and even its own ride at Disneyland, but don’t let its being commercialized scare you away from the original. It all starts when Mole, an eternal homebody, suddenly gets the urge to explore the world beyond his tidy little burrow, and soon finds himself getting into large and small adventures with a rat, a badger, and an arrogant, impetuous toad with a heart of gold. The characters are quite charming and their various adventures are both varied and delightful. Several editions are beautifully produced; I especially recommend the hardcover one illustrated by David Roberts, which is stunning. All that said, I should note that the language can be a bit elevated for modern children, so I’d recommend to either read it with your child or save this one for children who are already strong readers.
The Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle
I had not read A Wrinkle in Time since middle school, until I finally read it again this year after my daughter got the boxed set as a Christmas present. While I have not yet read the rest of the series and therefore can only really vouch for the first one, rereading that first book was eye-opening, even downright exciting. I don’t think I’ve encountered any other children’s book that so seamlessly explores the wonder of Christianity with a love for the scientific exploration of God’s creation. While modern culture wars have almost conditioned us to pit science and faith against each other, in A Wrinkle in Time the two come together as what they really are, different windows into a single, wondrous reality. There need to be more children’s books that do that, but this is a great start.
The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé
I read the entire Tintin collection of graphic novels back in fifth grade, and have returned to them countless times ever since. They never fail to delight. The characters are unforgettable and extremely quotable–you’re likely to find their sayings becoming part of your lexicon, especially if the whole family reads the books. While they now sell them in smaller hardcover versions that include three stories per book, I recommend getting the paperbacks that come in the original, larger size. Tintin is famous the world over, and yet its has always seemed to me that he really ought to be more famous than he is in the United States. The twenty-three books in the series (not counting some early works) are all full of adventure and humor, and well worth your child’s time.
Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson
There are so many great Calvin and Hobbes collections that you cannot go wrong with any of them. The books really grow with you, and while as a child you may finds Calvin’s mischievous antics hilarious, as an teenager and then as an adult you will begin to appreciate depths that as a younger reader you had never suspected. While I made sure to explain to my seven-year-old that Calvin was not an example to be followed, there is just something fundamentally sane about Watterson’s work.
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende
Growing up as a fan of the iconic 1984 movie adaptation, I didn’t find out that The Neverending Story was actually a book until relatively recently. What a find it was! It’s an unforgettable story, imbued with wisdom about the crucial role of stories and the imagination in our lives. It is also rather brilliant in the way it draws the reader into the world of the book, adding layers within layers that can make readers wonder whether perhaps their own story isn’t also in a book being read by someone else. One unique thing about the novel is that in order to accomplish the aforementioned effect, the book really progresses beyond what one might consider a natural climax (where the movie version ends), and becomes an entirely new adventure in which the focus switches from Atreyu to Bastian (who at first was only the reader of the story), and who faces the dark-side of the imagination in the form of temptations like escapism and hubris. I would say it’s one worth listening to as an audio book and discussing with the kids.