The 20 best children’s books ever – what the voters say

5. The Hobbit (text and illustrations by JRR Tolkien, 1937)

The classic fantasy novel The Hobbit is set in Middle Earth and follows the journey of hobbit protagonist Bilbo Baggins, wizard Gandalf and 13 dwarves. During their periodic quest to reclaim the Dwarves’ home and treasure, they encounter conflict and danger, and Bilbo reaches a new level of maturity and wisdom. Bilbo Baggins is, says British illustrator Jim Kay, “an unlikely little protagonist in a wonderfully realized world” – the novel is “still a joy to read, and it ratchets along at a delightful pace”. Children’s author and broadcaster Chris Smith credits The Hobbit with leading him into a whole new world of reading: “Not only is this a great story for kids, it’s the ultimate entry book because it opens the vast world of [sequel] Lord of the Rings. When my teacher read this book to us in Year Nine, I was amazed and embarked on a reading journey that is still going strong, and still feels unexpected 40 years later. perfect fairy tale for young and old. Tolkien captured magic with this one”.

6. Northern Lights (Philip Pullman, 1995)

The first of the His Dark Materials trilogy, the powerful Northern Lights is set in a parallel universe dominated by the Magisterium, where Lyra Belacqua – accompanied by her “daemon” – travels to the Arctic in search of her missing friend Roger and her imprisoned uncle Lord Asriel, who has been experimenting with a mysterious substance, “Dust”. Pam Dix, chairman of IBBY UK, recalls how the novel “blew up in the children’s fiction world. Bringing together a multitude of concepts in a format that is more than fantasy, more than historical fiction, a new form”. Lisa Sainsbury from the University of Roehampton says: “When Philip Pullman invented demons and created a world for them, he conjured up one of the powerful metaphors of children’s literature. Northern Lights (and His Dark Materials) provides the means to unravel the mysteries of childhood. and growing up, and depicts these experiences through a bold expression of girlhood. Northern Lights makes childhood important long after we’ve moved on to realms beyond.” Writer and journalist Beverley D’Silva praises the novel as “life-changing, cosmic storytelling”.

7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (text by CS Lewis; illustrations by Pauline Baynes, 1950)

CS Lewis’ fantasy novel is the first – and the most celebrated – of seven novels in the Chronicles of Narnia. Narnia, a land of talking animals and mythical creatures ruled by the evil White Witch, is the setting that four English schoolchildren find themselves in, having journeyed there through a wardrobe in the mansion where they are staying. Their adventures lead them to the lion Aslan. “With the publication of this book, we learned that we could enter another world through the back of a wardrobe, and that our world would never be the same again,” says US-based author Ellen Kushner. While American author Christopher Paolini writes, “Step through this door into a new world… Isn’t that the basis of so many stories? Lewis captured that feeling perfectly, and his characters are vivid and memorable, like the land of Narnia. As with all the great stories, the ending is a bit bittersweet and leaves you wanting more.” The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is “simply a beautiful book”, says Tine Nielsen of Babel-Bridge Literary Agency, Denmark, “with so many compelling characters, so many layers and so many memories that will stay with you for the rest of your life”.

8. Winnie-the-Pooh (text by AA Milne; illustrations by EH Shepard, 1926)

Set in the fictional Hundred Acre Wood, the beloved Winnie-the-Pooh follows the adventures of the anthropomorphic bear Pooh and his friends Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Rabbit, Kanga and Roo. The sequel is The House at Pooh Garden. “An unforgettable story of friendship,” is how Theresa Rogers, professor of education at the University of British Columbia, Canada, describes it. “Winnie the Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet and the rest influence characters that young readers carry with them throughout their lives (as I do).” Katrin Lilija, editor-in-chief of Lestrarklefinn, Iceland, also has fond memories of reading the book growing up: “Winnie the Pooh is a book I enjoyed as a child with my father. childhood, along with some memorable solutions and misunderstandings he and the other animals in the Hundred Acre Wood make. The Story of Pooh is a book I read to my children.” British author MG Leonard is also a fan: “The humour [and] the perfectly observed idiosyncrasies of each character in these gentle tales of growing up are unsurpassed. I read these stories, then read these stories, and then went on to read them to my own children.”

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