Reading list

10 children's classics for big adventures

Whatever your age, books can take on you on the most magical adventures. Some of the best loved and most exciting escapades take place among the pages of children’s classics. Which adventure will you pick first?

Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

With a Jacqueline Wilson-penned sequel and a brand new cover by Nick Sharratt, Nesbit’s classic story of a wish-granting sand fairy is all ready to find a new generation of readers. When siblings Cyril, Anthea, Robert and Jane – and their baby brother – find a sand-fairy in a gravel pit, they think his wish-granting abilities are a dream come true. Of course things aren’t quite as simple as they seem when it comes to having wishes granted… 

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

Anne Shirley, the infamous redheaded orphan, is adopted by Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert – but she is nearly sent back when they realise she’s not the boy they were expecting. Pretty soon though she is at the heart of their small family, as well as the Avonlea community, but it doesn’t stop her from getting up to all kinds of mischief, normally lead astray by her extremely active imagination. A charming, witty story of finding a home, friendship and growing up. 

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

When Mary Lennox’s parents die from a cholera outbreak in India, she is sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her reclusive uncle and his chronically ill child, Colin. Left to her own devices she eventually discovers a secret garden, and through looking after it brings change to the manor and the people who live there. Mary one of the most interesting characters from classic children’s fiction; contrary and spoilt until she learns to trust other people. 

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

The characters in Barrie’s Peter Pan are now the stuff of legend, but it’s best to go back to the original and read them as Barrie first wrote them. From runaway child Peter Pan, to mischievous fairy Tinkerbell, to the nefarious Captain Hook, this story of adventure, mermaids and pirates also has a rather melancholy, thoughtful side to it: what is the price of growing up and finding your own home? 

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

An underrated children’s book, this story has all the hallmarks of a classic: an evil governess called Miss Slighcarp, family secrets and a mystery involving forgers. First published in 1962, it’s the story of cousins Bonnie and Sylvia who live in the grand but secluded Willoughby Chase during an alternate version of the early nineteenth century in which England is overrun with wolves. 

Treasure Island by R. L. Stevenson

Don’t let the Muppet version (as great as it is) throw you off; the original 1883 novel is an epic, dramatic coming-of-age story full of pirates, treasure maps and peril. When Jim Hawkins finds a treasure map in an old pirate’s chest, he ends up as part of a motley crew of pirates sailing the Caribbean to try and find the treasure, led by the archetypal pirate, Long John Silver. Be sure to seek out the 2008 edition with an introduction by Andrew Motion.

Grimm’s Fairy Tales by The Brothers Grimm

Some of the most famous stories of all time are those collected by the Brothers Grimm. Princes, princesses, frogs and beasts all come together in this edition which also includes a recipe to make your own gingerbread. There are happily-ever-afters and some not-so-happily-ever-afters as you discover the original versions of many famous fairy tales. 

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Meet the eccentric characters of the riverbank: meek good-natured Mole, chilled out Ratty, rich and silly Toad of Toad Hall and grandfatherly Badger, and join them on their adventures in the wild wood. The book began life as stories in the letters that Kenneth Grahame sent to his son celebrating friendship and adventure and gradually grew into the stories we know and love today. 

Redwall by Brian Jacques

The first instalment of the epic animal fantasy series, ‘Redwall’, set in Mossflower Woods, tells the story of a young mouse called Matthias who dreams of a life of adventure. But when trouble comes in the form of an evil rat, Cluny the Scourge, Matthias’s bravery is put to the test. This is a truly exciting story about the importance of standing up for the right thing. The good news is that there are twenty-two more Redwall books to explore once you’ve finished this one. 

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

With the discovery of the manuscript of Go Set a Watchman and Lee’s sad death earlier this year, there have been lots of new readers coming to her iconic first novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Packed full of infamous characters including plucky Scout, mysterious Boo Radley and favourite literary father, Atticus Finch, it’s a must-read story of race, class, family and growing up. 

 

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