Best Children’s Books of All Time: Lessons on love, life & magic.

sendak
“There is no such thing as fantasy unrelated to reality.” ~ Maurice Sendak 
Looking back upon my girlhood self,  what I can recall most was my hunger for imagination — so, naturally, books became my food. 

Books were made from the same substance of dreams, I was sure. They were clouds of creation and color, with moods and creatures and characters to adore. They were companions and friends with worn out pages that mimicked hands, reaching out for mine. Whether I was happy or sad, courageous or afraid, I’d take comfort in knowing I could step back in, anywhere, in any place, at any time.

Hence, there is magic in children’s books, and I’ve been chasing that magic ever since.

One may think that reading children’s books as an adult is rubbish, yet it’s quite the opposite. Leaving such wise books to childhood is actually a mistake, because when you don’t revisit your children’s book, you forget some of the deep existential truths residing in the words.

Picking up a children’s book is also like seeing an old friend — both hold up a mirror so you can see yourself as you are: the same. Yes, you’re the same as you’ve always been, dear child: a being shaped of wonder and dreams, wandering about, bright-eyed and in love with this world.

“Your head is a living forest filled with songbirds.” ~ e.e. cummings

Here are a few classics, forever untouched by the hands of time.

 

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“If you are kind to helpless things,
you don’t need a Wishing Tree to make things come true.”
~ The Wishing Tree by William Faulker

***

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“Here is my secret. It is very simple:
It is only with the heart that once can see rightly;
what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
~ The little Prince, by Antoine De Saint-Exupery

***

the_twits

“A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams, and you will always look lovely.”
The Twits by Road Dahl

***

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~ Unknown book by Dr. Seuss

***

charlottes-web_1

“‘Why did you do all this for me?’ he asked. ‘I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.’
You have been my friend,’ replied Charlotte. ‘That in itself is a tremendous thing.”
~ Charlotte’s Webb by  E.B. White

***

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“In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun.
You find the fun, and the job’s a game.”
~ Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

***

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“And it’s no use to go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

***

where_the_wild_things_are

“And Max, the king of all wild things,
was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him, best of all.”
~ Where the Wild Things are by Marice Sendak

***

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“‘Sometimes,’ said Pooh,
‘the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.'”
Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

*** 

The_giving_tree_img2

“‘I don’t need very much now.’ said the boy.
Just a quiet place to sit and rest. I am very tired.’
‘Well’ said the tree, straightening herself up as much as she could.
‘Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, boy, sit down and rest.’
And the tree was happy.”
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

***

 VelveteenRabbit2

“‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily or heave sharp edges or have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real, you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
~ The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

***

images

“Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.
If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”
Through The Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

*** 

rainbow-fish

“The Rainbow Fish shared his scales left and right.
And the more he gave away, the more delighted he became.
When the water around him filled with glimmering scales,
he at last felt at home among the other fish.”
~ The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister

***

ww-denslow-illustration-4

“‘You have plenty of courage, I am sure,’ answered Oz. ‘All you need is confidence in yourself.
There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger.
The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid, and that kind of courage you have in plenty.”
~ The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by Frank Baum

***

pooh_river_embroidery1

“Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over
to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you,
you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”
~ Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

***

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Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shell Silverstein

***

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“The moment where you doubt you can fly,
you cease for ever being able to do it.”
~ Peter and Wendy by Lewis Carroll

***

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~ Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne

***

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“You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know.
You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go,
So be sure when you step.
Step with great tact
and remember that life’s
a great balancing act.
Just never forget to be dexterous and deft
And never mix up your right with your left.”
~ Oh The Places You’ll Go by Dr. Seuss

***

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~ A visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by William Blake

***

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~ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

***

poohandpiglet
“Piglet siddled up to Pooh from behind. ‘Pooh?’ he whispered.
‘Yes, Piglet?’
‘Nothing,’ said Piglet, taking Pooh’s hand.
‘I just wanted to be sure of you.’
Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne

***

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~ Guess how much I love you by Sam McBratney

So maybe the next time we go browsing though a bookstore in search of some sweet soul comfort we should bypass the endless self-help sections and make a beeline to the corner, where the children’s books reside.

It’s much sweeter there.

*Photo source.

*****

Got any other book recommendations for little or grown-up children?
Drop them in the comments.

 

{P.S. You’ve just been born.}

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Victoria Erickson
Victoria is a grounded idealist who's been writing the world awake since she was a child, as she was born starry eyed, and eating poetry. Based in Austin TX, she splits her time between writing for herself and others, working as a freelance writer, creative coach and editor for businesses, and also sharing her passion for fierce wellness as a Reiki practicioner, massage therapist, and esthetician. Above all else, she believes in innate wildness, intuitive body intelligence, the power of sensitivity, the connection economy, and this immensely gorgeous planet we all inhabit. You can book a healing appointment with her (she specializes in Reiki & deep neck-work) or simply connect with her and her musings and offerings on Facebook, FB writer's page, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. You can also sign up for her Wild and Well Creative Notes for Wondrous and Inspired Living.

66 Comments

  • Michael L commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    Such wonderful words. Some of my favorite books from my childhood, and certainly my favorites to share with my three children. Another wonderful children’s book, that I did not discover until an adult, is “Old Turtle” by Douglas Wood. I found this book long before I had children to share it with, but loved it none the less.
    • Victoria Erickson
      Victoria Erickson commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
      Thank you Michael! I will have to check out “Old Turtle”… I already love the sound of it. :)
  • Judy commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    This is sooo uplifting and wonderful…thank you!
  • Lucie commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    All those books stay in people’s hearts forever. Thank you for a lovely reminder!! :-)
  • Tracy commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    Oh, Victoria! I should have known you’d be the one who’d shared this delight. Love it!
  • Mamaste
    Mamaste commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    This is beautiful Victoria, and would be a loving thoughtful gift for a new mom and/or dad. When you become a parent, these books become ingrained in your soul. Thank you. xoxo ~Mamaste
    • Victoria Erickson
      Victoria Erickson commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
      Mamaste you always instantly come up with awesome ideas, thank you! I’d love to give it as gifts to parents along with the books. xoxo
  • Kelly commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    I loved this! It’s so beautiful and was a perfect thing for me to read before my long work day :)
  • Carolyn Riker
    Carolyn Riker commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    Melt me Victoria! As an elementary teacher, a reader from birth (wink)…an escape artist through words…THIS, is another keepsake to pass along to others in search of finding the key to words and stories. Thank you! xoxo
    • Victoria Erickson
      Victoria Erickson commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
      You’re a soul sister Carolyn! Thank you for the sweet words. YOU are amazing. xoxo.
  • sam pelly commented on July 3, 2013 Reply
    Just perfect……thank you!
  • Sandra commented on July 4, 2013 Reply
    Wow Vicki!!!! Love,love, love all these beautiful inspirational messages!!!! You need to write cards for Hallmark!!!
  • Susie commented on July 4, 2013 Reply
    Love love love…memories!
  • Ashok commented on July 4, 2013 Reply
    <3. Lovely compilation. Thanks for putting a smile on my face.
  • RKB commented on July 12, 2013 Reply
    Please look at the wonderful book – Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor. One of my favorite books to read to my little ones. Oh, another book is Hello, Crow by Jeff Daniel Marion. You list above has a lot of my favorites too. Thanks!
    • Victoria Erickson
      Victoria Erickson commented on August 12, 2013 Reply
      I would love to take a look at these! Thank you for the magical recommendations!
  • christinedelaney1 commented on July 13, 2013 Reply
    Great article. I couldn’t agree more that the very best children’s books impart gems of knowledge for each age group; some of these only to be appreciated once you reach adulthood. I read aloud to my children every day, from when they were babies to when we were all taking turns being the reader, well into their adolescence They became early, voracious readers themselves. My 23 year old daughter and I still read our favorite parts of Pooh aloud, laughing so hysterically sometimes we can barely utter the words. Oh I could easily add 20 books to your list. I must mention A Cricket in Times Square by George Selden, Stuart Little by EB White and Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. I think in the crush of media assault on children, classics such as these for the slightly older child are being buried and forgotten. What a loss for this generation!
    • Victoria Erickson
      Victoria Erickson commented on August 12, 2013 Reply
      Christine, thank you for these suggestions, and your inspiring comment! I fully agree with your take on these wonderful books. xxx
  • Tricia commented on August 10, 2013 Reply
    Thank you so much. I took a class on Children’s Literature in college, and began to incorporate excerpts from children’s books in my sermons early on in my ministry. One of my all time favorite books, the first I checked out of a Bookmobile was “Fog Magic” by Julia Sauer. I also enjoyed “The Earthsea Trilogy” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Ten there was the “Wind in the Willows” by Kenneth Grahame, and anything by Stephen Kellogg.
    • Victoria Erickson
      Victoria Erickson commented on August 12, 2013 Reply
      Tricia that sounds like an amazing class. I will take a look at these books. Thank you! xx
  • Frank Hardin commented on August 30, 2013 Reply
    Are we sure that “Peter and Wendy” was penned by Lewis Carroll? Wouldn’t that be J. M. Barrie?
  • Anna commented on September 1, 2013 Reply
    Thank you for this! No wonder I loved Winnie the Pooh as a kid. I actually still do. Glad I’m still a kid. Inside )
  • carolie commented on September 1, 2013 Reply
    Lovely list! Not quite sure the Mary Poppins quote is from the book rather than the movie, and Peter Pan and Wendy is by J. M. Barrie, not Lewis Carroll. I’d add James and the Giant Peach by Rhoald Dahl and The Little Princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett and the Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis and The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper.
  • montessoricarrie commented on September 24, 2013 Reply
    “When I grow up, I too will go to faraway places, and when I grow old, I too will live beside the sea.” “That is all very well little Alice,” said her grandfather, “but there is a third thing you must do.” “What is that?” asked Alice. “You must do something to make the world more beautiful,” said her grandfather. ~Miss Rumphuis by Barbara Cooney
  • nutshell commented on November 7, 2013 Reply
    Did ‘Janosch’ ever make it into the English-speaking world? That’s lovely too. :-)
  • mary Lynn Ripa Wakim commented on November 8, 2013 Reply
    Thank you for making my heart smile! Without books I wouldn’t have survived (giggle)! These have all been some of the cherished favorites in our home for three generations. I remember as a child loving them, then reading them to my own children and now to my granddaughter! Other favorites~ Ferdinand the Bull by Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frazier
  • Heather commented on November 20, 2013 Reply
    This is lovely! I might add Neil Gaiman’s “Instructions” to the list as well. Chock full of brilliant advice. :-)
  • Chrystabel commented on December 15, 2013 Reply
    I grew up in a reading family, and was read to and read with even further back than my conscious memory can tell. I was gifted books from many obscure authors from all over the world, which my father always read to me. A lot of Canadian authors (Seeing as I AM Canadian) that nobody’s ever heard of. There was a book called On The Edge of the Eastern Ocean that had a lesson about the destructiveness of human greed, and the adventures of a small, but brave puffin. (A type of water bird found on the Atlantic Coast of Canada). I don’t remember the author. The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch is also an early memory of mine. Very good relationship advice, but I didn’t realize it until AFTER I dated a “Ronald” character! A lot of Munsch’s books have grown-up life issues placed in a child’s-eye-view, a little bit imaginary, a little bit silly. So much that in reading it with your child, maybe changing the voices for the different characters, you might not even notice it. There are MANY more titles and authors I could add, but these are the two that came first to my mind. I do think I’ll drag that dusty box out of Grandma’s basement and rediscover the treasures of my childhood. Thank you for reminding me!
  • Lenny commented on December 16, 2013 Reply
    Thank you so much for this inspiring compilation of childhood literary treasures! I warmly recommend and would like to add the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren – she has created some amazing characters and stories; Pippi Longstocking, Emil i Lonneberga, Ronja Rovardotter and the Lionheart Brothers. Thank you again!
  • Lynn Mahar commented on December 18, 2013 Reply
    I just read The Secret Garden for the first time by Frances Hodgeson Burnett.I think I can consider it one of the best metaphysical books I’ve ever read. I loved it.
  • jessefawn commented on December 20, 2013 Reply
    “Could be Worse” by James Stevenson is one of my favorites. Also “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey. I collect children’s books both for the wisdom and the art, and it helps me connect with the little kid still inside me. I think exposing kids to classic and modern kids books does more to foster a sense of esthetics and art appreciation than dragging them to museums. My earliest memories of reading books with my parents are the colors; the deep blues and browns of Maurice Sendak, the engraving lines of John Tenniel, the exquisite watercolors of Brian Froud…
  • Michael L commented on December 20, 2013 Reply
    I just love returning to this post and re-reading the excerpts from these books. All of these books have meant so much to me – and now to my children with whom they have been shared. There is nothing like reading to open the mind and free the soul, and these books all have the ability to do both for kids of all ages. Thank you for taking the time to write this piece.
  • Wagner Miranda commented on December 20, 2013 Reply
    Simply fantastic, and the list just reminds us of how much there is to discover from this fantastic universe. Thanks for sharing. =)
  • Sabrina commented on December 20, 2013 Reply
    Love it! I always make sure to spend an hour a week, at the picture book section in my school’s library.
  • David commented on December 21, 2013 Reply
    Some of my favorites, as a boy growing up, were Big Red and Outlaw Red by Jim Kjelgaard.
    • Victoria Erickson commented on February 17, 2014 Reply
      David, yes, I adore both of those! Thanks for the reminders :)
  • Noah Crowe commented on January 21, 2014 Reply
    Thank you Victoria, actually some of these made me tear up a little. Love your list. I’d add one more, an oft-overlooked gem called “A Kiss For Little Bear.” Maurice Sendak’s drawings mischevious the text in a great way. You are great, thank you!
  • Seamstress Guild commented on February 16, 2014 Reply
    I didn’t read every single comment, so I apologize for any duplication, but a few titles that got me through my childhood were “A Wrinkle in Time,” “Harriet the Spy,” and the Prydain series by Lloyd Alexander. They set the standard for the “grownup” books I would cherish later.
  • Anne Mullen commented on February 17, 2014 Reply
    Wonderful to be reminded of all these great books. I would add My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett, and Paddle to the Sea by Holling Clancy Hollings, which has spectacular illustrations.
  • Frederic Ericksen commented on February 17, 2014 Reply
    I loved these books! Such simpler, magical times when my imagination would run rampant, with no social click to bring me down. Learning and exploring new things with no negativity or competition. Wondrous things! Magical things! I still feel this way when finding interesting subjects I’ve forgotten about, or learning something new about thing I thought I knew. I can NEVER know enough, or know EVERYTHING. Here is a quote from one of my favorite authors, David Deutsch, from his book “The Fabric of Reality”: “I remember being told, when I was a small child, that in ancient times it was still possible for every learned person to know EVERYTHING THAT WAS KNOWN. I was also told that nowadays so much is known that no one could conceivably learn more than a tiny fraction of it, even in a long life time. The latter proposition surprised and disappointed me. In fact, I refused to believe it. I did not know how to justify my disbelief. But I knew I did not want things to be like that, and I envied the ancient scholars. It was not that I wanted to memorize all the facts that were listed in the world’s encyclopaedias: on the contrary, I hated memorizing facts. That is not the sense in which I expected it to be possible to know everything that was known. It would not have disappointed me to be told that more publications appear every day than anyone could read in a lifetime, or that there are 600,000 known species of beetle. I had no wish to track the fall of every sparrow. Nor did I imagine that an ancient scholar who supposedly knew everything that was known would have known everything of that sort. I had in mind a more discriminating idea of what should count as being known. By “known”, I meant “UNDERSTOOD”. I was hooked by David Deutsch as soon as I read these opening lines. You see, that’s what it’s really about. UNDERSTANDING. All the stupid posturing and negativity and criticism, and smart ass remarks when discussing things that one wants to make sense of is the bane of society. It is the unacceptance by negative people to understand this concept, and find fault with this train of thought that will be the root of the fall of the human race, and the human race will fall, and the earth as we know it will end, and they will wonder at this, and marvel that for as much as we, as a society have collectively learned, no one cared to understand that that is how it will end. By not caring to understand one another. By thinking that no one needs to know everything, and dismissing the ones who want to understand as mentally deformed because they don’t go along with the masses, and hide like hermits in their dwellings to avoid the obnoxious individual who claims to know everything, only to use this as a control device to beat the learned into submission. That is what drives us apart. That is what starts wars. That is what is wrong with organized religion. “I am right, You are wrong, You are wrong, I am right”. Listen to yourself, listen to others. Debate. Philosophize. Does anyone with a high school education even know what philosophy is? It is not an answer. It is the question, and the pursuit of the solution. That is what creates a community. Not the immortal who finally beat his foe into submission. Ok. I’m done. Good night, and may we all UNDERSTAND that we CAN live happily ever after:)
  • Frozen Sonia commented on February 17, 2014 Reply
    Beautiful collection. My heart already feels illuminated with many rainbows upon reading this. Thank you
    • Victoria Erickson commented on February 17, 2014 Reply
      Frozen Sonia, this may be the best comment I’ve ever received. Thank you <3
  • Firestar commented on February 18, 2014 Reply
    I would suggest the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.
  • Kate commented on March 30, 2014 Reply
    *Shel Silverstein… both the image and text are wrong.
    • Kate commented on March 30, 2014 Reply
      I mean in the second reference… it’s correct in the first one.
  • Toverwolf commented on April 20, 2014 Reply
    Ronja the Robber’s daughter by Astrid Lindgren is an amazing book. one of many great things in it is when her father tells her to be careful to not fall into the abyss. She then makes a point of climbing down all the time to learn all the foot and handholds,, because how else can you make sure you don’t fall? Love that book and never read a more feisty, loving girl character (When I was a girl)
  • Marie Wallace commented on May 11, 2014 Reply
    For those of us who experienced that childhood escape, what you say about childrens books is so very true, and what an influence they had. I’m revisiting some of mine at the moment, it’s astonishing, and like coming home. When you reread them as adults..you remember who you were as a child… Here’s two of mine: Tom and the Waterbabies & The Voyages of Dr Dolittle. I’m also going to get some I dont know from your list…thanks so much for the resource Victoria, and love your work…long may you continue x
  • Teresa commented on May 11, 2014 Reply
    Such great books! plus Momma Do You Love Me and On the Day You Were Born. Such lovely words in these books
  • Amy Steinmetz commented on June 3, 2014 Reply
    Wonderful list! My daughter and I also love “The Big Orange Splot”. by Daniel Manus Pinkwater.
  • Scott Rubsam commented on August 17, 2014 Reply
    Thank you so much. I have read children’s books all my life and continue to do so at 62 years old. The quote alone from “Charlotte’s Web” made me sob. I would add “Missing May” by Cynthia Rylant and anything by Patricia MacLachlan. If anybody interested in children’s books, you have to read MacLachland and Rylant. Both terrific writers who pierce your heart. Scott Rubsam
  • janey lake commented on January 7, 2015 Reply
    As an avid reader and a Montessorian, I am always on the lookout for wonderful books for children. Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, was delightful. Also The Beautiful Oops! wish I could remember the author. Janey Lake The Great Puba of Elm Forest
  • brandy cary commented on April 21, 2015 Reply
    I was always very fond of Love You Forever growing up… i dont remember the author, but anyone who has read it that i know has fallen in love with the story.
  • Erin Watson commented on April 21, 2015 Reply
    ” Charlie the Tramp ” and “When the Sky is like Lace” …these books had a profound impact on my three children and myself as well…. Thank you Erin
  • Elizabeth Price commented on April 22, 2015 Reply
    Most empowering thing I have read or written in a very long time. Thank you for this.
  • Elizabeth Price commented on April 22, 2015 Reply
    Most empowering thing I have read or written in a very long time. Thank you for this. You helped me find joy and inspiration.
  • Rhiannon commented on June 21, 2015 Reply
    Oh, all the “Wee Free Men” books by Sir Terry Pratchett – except the last one; that’s a bit too adult for children ’til they’re about 16, I think. I love those rollicking, rip-roaring stories for the fun-yet-serious tone that they have! Oh, and the secret garden by frances hodgson burnett, and Jane eyre (charlotte bronte). Those were my favourites a s a child, and still are the books I love most – bar one or two- now. :D

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