Want a List of Great Books in Children’s and Young-Adult Literature? Here Are My 81 Favorites.

I’m a huge fan of children’s literature and young-adult literature. I read these books as a child, and I continue to read them as an adult. In fact, I’m in three—that’s right, three—book groups where we discuss kidlit.

People often ask me for recommendations, so I’ve made a list of my favorite books. I love all these books. Many of these books are towering classics of world literature; some are obscure and out of print.

I chose only books that I love so much that I could carry on a detailed conversation about them without re-reading them—and I eliminated any book written by my sister or a friend. I cheated by listing only one book by an author, even if that author has written many books that belong on the list—say, Elizabeth Enright or C. S. Lewis.

This list is weighted to books that I read in childhood, because I’ve loved those books the longest. But of this list, I will say—every book is a great, great book.

Of course, this list reflects my taste. You’ll perceive that I love magic, and I have a real taste for a strong moral lesson, even when it’s laid on pretty thick (see, e.g., #2, #70).

Now, why eighty-one? Eighty-one turned out to be the natural cut-off point of my enthusiasm. There are hundreds of other books that I love, but not quite as passionately.

You should read all these books yourself, but in case you’re buying them for someone else, I’ve marked the books with “C” for “children,” and “YA” for “young adult.” If a book is out of print, I’ve noted that it’s “OOP.” Usually you can get your hands on the book, anyway.

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Take a look — and let me know what books I’ve missed.  I’d love to get some great new recommendations. What would you add?

Happy reading!

  1. Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. (C) A secret passage, a stint at an orphanage, a journey in disguise—a thrilling book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  2. Louisa May Alcott, Little Women and many other books. (C). A towering classic of world literature. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  3. Hans Christian Andersen, Fairy Tales. (C) These tales seem familiar, but when you actually read them…they’re uncanny and unforgettable. “Thumbelisa” gives me chills. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  4. Robert Arthur, Ghosts and More Ghosts and other books. (C, OOP) I’ve read the stories in this collection countless times. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  5. Natalie Babbit, Tuck Everlasting. (C) A short, beautiful, mysterious book that has the quality of myth. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  6. M. Barrie, Peter Pan. (C) If you’ve only seen the movie, you’ve never experienced Peter Pan. Haunting. Mind-blowing. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  7. Frank Baum, The Wizard of Oz and following books. (C) Again, the movie doesn’t prepare you for the richness of these books. The Nome King! Pyrzqxgll! The magic flower pot! Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  8. Judy Blume, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and many other books. (YA) I’d read this book about ten times before I understood that it’s really about religionAmazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  9. Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied. (YA) Unusual atmosphere for a YA book. A teenager gets pulled into the adult world, with its darker concerns and a mysterious death. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  10. Carol Ryrie Brink, Andy Buckram’s Tin Men and many other books. (C, OOP) I can’t believe this book is out of print. So goodAmazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  11. Betty Brock, The Shades. Ditto. (C, OOP) A perfect book. Hollis learns that if he washes his face in the water of the dolphin fountain in the garden of his aunt’s grand old house, he can talk to the kindly shadows of the people who came into the garden. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  12. Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden and many other books. (C) My fifth-grade teacher told us that she re-read The Secret Garden every year. I’m sure I have, too. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  13. Betsy Byars, The Midnight Fox. (C) Another perfect book. Beautiful, funny, satisfying. Just thinking about this book makes me happy.  Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  14. Peter Cameron, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You. (YA) An eighteen-year-old in Manhattan tries to figure out life. A smart, interesting main character. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  15. Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game. (YA) Dark, exciting, lots of battles, with a great twist at the end (I love a great twist). Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  16. Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and sequel. (C) Like no other books ever. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  17. Kristin Cashore, Graceling and the following books. (YA) Terrific books, including uncanny powers and a fascinating villain. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  18. Ruth Chew, What the Witch Left and many other books. (C) In middle school, I loved the afternoons when my teacher would distribute the Scholastic we’d ordered, and I ordered a lot by Ruth Chew. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  19. Patricia Clapp, Jane-Emily. (YA for scariness) A wonderful story, but beware, it does get very scary. A malevolent child ghost. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  20. Beverly Cleary, Sister of the Bride and many other books. (C) Beverly Cleary! Enough said. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  21. Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games. (YA) A truly thrilling dystopia. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  22. Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising and related books. (C) Newly discovered powers, good vs. evil, the chosen one, deep symbolism. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  23. Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach and many other books. (C) Roald Dahl is one of the most distinctive writers ever. Hilarious, absurd, deliciously twisted. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  24. Ingri and Edgar Parin D’Aulaire, D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths. There’s something about the odd illustrations in this book that made it especially riveting. A great introduction to Greek myths, which every child (and adult) should know. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  25. Edward Eager, Half Magic and many other books. These books had a lot of influence on my writing (I hope). Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  26. Julie Andrews Edwards, Mandy. (C) It’s not fair that on top of everything else, Julie Andrews is also a brilliant writer. An orphan finds a deserted shell cottage in the forest. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  27. Sylvia Louise Engdahl, This Star Shall Abide. (C) Great twist, on another world, with a fascinating civilization. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  28. Elizabeth Enright, The Saturdays and many other books. (C) Each of her books is so good. I can’t find the words to say how much I love them all. (Except, weirdly, Thimble Summer, which was the book that won the Newberry.) Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  29. Eleanor Estes, The Witch Family. (C) A cozy, happy book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  30. Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Understood Betsy. (C) As a child, I loved the single footnote in this book, which made me feel very grown-up; also the meditation on the nature of character. This is a book about courage in an unexpected, non-annoying way. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  31. Rumer Godden, The Greengage Summer and many other books. (YA) So many books by Godden, so good. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  32. John Green, The Fault in Our Stars. (YA) Yes, it sounds so sad, but read it. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  33. Irene Hunt, Up a Road Slowly. (YA) A thoughtful story that unfolds over many years. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  34. Randall Jarrell, The Animal Family. (C) A very quiet and serene book; beautiful illustrations by Maurice Sendak. The first line reads, “Once upon a time, long, long ago, where the forest runs down to the sea, a hunter lived all alone…” Who could resist these enchanting words? Plus, mermaid. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  35. Diana Wynne Jones, Fire and Hemlock and many other books. (C) I discovered Diana Wynne Jones only recently, and raced through a giant stack in a few weeks. Other people might like the Chronicles of Chrestomanci better. Very tough call. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  36. Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. (C) Brilliant. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  37. E. L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and many other books. (C) The first time I went to the Metropolitan Museum, all I cared about was seeing the pieces mentioned in the book. Konigsburg has written so many good books! But I do love this one the very best. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  38. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird. (YA) Yes, it’s as good as you remember. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  39. Ursula Le Guin, A Wizard of Earthsea and many other books. (C) A strange, eerie magical world. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  40. Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time and many other books. (C) Good vs. evil, traveling through space and time, encounters with other worlds, romance. So good. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  41. Lois Lenski, Strawberry Girl. (C) A great heroine, a great story, and an interesting look at a time and place in American history. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  42. C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe and all the Narnia books. (C) Words can’t capture how much I love these books. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  43. Jennie Lindquist, The Golden Name Day and following books. (C, OOP) My family comes from Sweden, so I took special delight in all the Swedish traditions. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  44. Lois Lowry, The Giver. (YA) Powerful. How utopia becomes dystopia. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  45. Betty MacDonald, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and the following books. (C) Brilliantly funny on so many levels. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  46. Robin McKinley, Beauty and many other books. (C) Re-tellings of fairy tales are often disappointing, but this one, a re-telling of “Beauty and the Beast,” is terrific. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  47. Stephanie Meyer, Twilight and the following books. (YA) You either love it—or not. I love. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  48. L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables and following books. (C) I never get enough of Anne. And she’s a rare red-haired character. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  49. O.T. Nelson, The Girl Who Owned a City. (YA) My sister and I share a passion for this book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  50. E. Nesbit, The Railway Children and many other books. (C) So good. Nesbit is best known for her ground-breaking books about magic, but this realistic novel is my favorite of her work. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  51. Joan North, The Whirling Shapes. (C) Supernatural, suspenseful, great characters. A frightening situation, but somehow not frightening, just interesting. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  52. Naomi Novik, His Majesty’s Dragon. (C) This is usually classified as an adult book, but to me, it seems to belong here. “Patrick O’Brian with dragons” may not sound appealing, but I love this book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  53. Robert O’Brien, The Silver Crown and many other books. (Tough to classify. I’d say C, others might argue YA) Or should I have named O’Brien’s Frisby and the Rats of NIMH? So hard to decide. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  54. Scott O’Dell, Island of the Blue Dolphins. (C) Physical survival is a surprisingly common theme in children’s books, and this is one of the best. A girl survives alone on an island off the California coast—for decades. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  55. Edward Ormondroyd, Time at the Top and sequel. (C) Whimsical, delightful time-travel by elevator. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  56. R.J. Palacio, Wonder. (YA) It sounds very sad, but read it anyway. You won’t regret it. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  57. William Pene du Bois, The Twenty-One Balloons. (C) What a story! Balloon flight, a volcano-island government based on unlimited wealth and fine dining. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  58. Elizabeth Marie Pope, The Sherwood Ring. (C) I love books with friendly, loving ghosts, and this is my favorite of all. Plus a healthy dash of Revolutionary War history. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  59. Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials (YA) Brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. Run don’t walk. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  60. Ellen Raskin, The Westing Game. (C) I’ve read it fifty times, and am entranced by the puzzle every time. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  61. Wilson Rawls, Where the Red Fern Grows. (C) A friend told me, “You will shed many sad tears, but you will love it,” and I do. Also, it’s a dog book, if you like dog books. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  62. Gail Rock, The House Without a Christmas Tree and following books. (C) These were made into great TV specials, as well. That’s how I discovered the books. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  63. Mary Rodgers, Freaky Friday.  (YA) A daughter and a mother switch bodies for the day, and hilarity and insight ensue. Crazy fun. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  64. Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park. (YA) A wonderful romance. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  65. J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and the following books. (C) These don’t need a plug. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  66. Kate Seredy, The Good Master and sequel. (C) A wonderful family story. Set in Hungary at the turn of the last century. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  67. William Sleator, House of Stairs. (YA) Scientists perform evil experiments on a bunch of teenagers. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  68. Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. (YA) I bet it’s not what you remember. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  69. Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Black and Blue Magic and many other books. (C) A perfect Perfect! I love this book. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  70. Virginia Sorensen, Miracles on Maple Hill. (C) I do love a cozy book, and boy this is cozy. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  71. Johanna Spyri, Heidi. (C) Not everyone has a taste for so much goat milk and didacticism, but I love it. (Coincidence, there’s goat milk in Miracles on Maple Hill.) Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  72. Mary Stolz, In a Mirror and many other books. (YA) I want to lead the re-discovery of Mary Stolz’s work. Complex, unusual, thought-provoking. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  73. Noel Streatfield, Ballet Shoes and many other Shoes. (C) I love the theme of children-earning-money-for-their-family, and this is one of the best. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  74. Sydney Taylor, All-of-a-Kind Family and following books. (C) More cozy! Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  75. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Ring books. (C) If you like this sort of thing, you’ll love it, and if you don’t like this sort of thing, you’ll stop on page 5. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  76. P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins and the following books. (C) The character of Mary Poppins is more interesting than in the movie. Though don’t get me wrong, I love the movie. (Note, see #26.) Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  77. Gertrude Chandler Warner, The Boxcar Children. (C) Survival and earning money. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  78. Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs. (C) The first epistolary book I ever read. Great twist. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  79. E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web. (C, but very sad) A towering classic of literature. I cried for four days straight after I read it the first time. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  80. T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone. (C) I love the theme of vindication, and this is great vindication. Also, the Arthurian legend re-imagined. Also, people turning into animals. Amazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble
  81. Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House in the Big Woods and all the Little House books. (C) The Little House series is one of the greatest masterpieces in children’s literature. I have no words to describe how much I love, love, love these books. Now is nowAmazon; IndieBound; Barnes & Noble


Other posts you might be interested in . . .

  • Michelle Mach

    Many of my favorites, too! This year I’ve been reading the last 50 years of Newbery award winners (one a week), which has definitely been making me happy. I’d recommend you read Dicey’s Song by Cynthia Voigt. I think Dicey is a rebel and would love to know if you agree.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love Homecoming so will definitely check that out.

    • Jennifer Reniers

      I was just coming by to recommend Homecoming by Cynthia Voigt (the first in the series about Dicey). Such good books! (YA)

      I also would add Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Another book about physical survival.

      Thank you for the great list Gretchen.

      • gretchenrubin

        I loved Hatchet!


        Love Gary Paulsen! Harris and Me is a book that makes me laugh out loud. If you like Hatchet and the other two Brian books, you should definitely read Guts which are Paulsen’s real stories behind the Brian books.

      • Katie

        My family enjoyed listening to Gary Paulsen’s Mr. Tucket series.

  • Jamie Brinkman

    A great book with friendly ghosts is Neil Gaiman’s the Graveyard Book. I read it and also enjoyed listening to the theatrical audio book version. So good!

    • gretchenrubin

      Ah yes, I really liked that book too. Also…is it called The Ocean at the End of the Lane? my favorite book by Gaiman is the adult book AMERICAN GODS.

      • Evs

        No, Ocean at the end of the lane is a different book. The Graveyard Book is about a boy raised by ghosts. I was just about to recommend it! Also The Edge Chronicles by Stewart and Riddell. I can’t put them down and illustrations are fantastic!

  • Nancy

    I’ve read and re-read all John Christopher’s books–The White Mountain trilogy, The Lotus Caves, etc. I have copied your list onto a document and am going to brighten up the winter reading the ones I haven’t read before!

    • gretchenrubin

      Is that the series about the tripods, where people have the tracker under their skin? I’d forgotten about those! Must re-read!

  • Rachael

    I rarely meet people who have read Julie Andrews Edwards so her inclusion on your list was a pleasant surprise! I actually prefer The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles as I love stories about finding entrances to other worlds in ordinary places, but Mandy is delightful too. I’m looking forward to reading the ones on your list I haven’t read yet and re-reading the ones I have. 😀

    • Mickey Gomez

      Love The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles!

    • Imogen_Jericho

      Whangdoodles is the best!

  • Jennifer

    Loads of delights here. I heartily recommend E.C. Spykman’s Terrible, Horrible Edie (and the three sequels, which are OOP although Edie has been reprinted), and Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons series. Both series feature a group of four siblings with loads of freedom (pre-helicopter parenting!) who have wild adventures. They have been a joy to read aloud to my four children.

    • gretchenrubin

      I loved Swallows and Amazons series. Such resourcefulness! Never heard of Spykman’s, will check that out.

    • Jennifer

      Oops — Terrible, Horrible Edie is actually the third in the series, but the first we read.

  • Danielle

    A few of my favorites (not already listed here): “Jenny and the Cat Club” (Averill); “Wolf Boy” (McCleery); “The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs” (Birney). The first two particularly as they are beautifully written. The last is a neat, quirky story about a boy challenged to find the “wonders” in his small MO town.

  • Laurel

    I love so many of these! I would add “The Black Cauldron” series by Lloyd Alexander, and”The Cricket in Times Square” by George Seldon.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love the Cricket in Times Square, and have been meaning to re-read the Lloyd Alexander books for a long time.

  • MaggieRose59

    “Johnny Tremain” by Esther Forbes 1943 (great historical fiction)

    “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell 1877 (forget every lame tv version or movie you’ve ever seen of this, except the 1985 film which was tremendous).

    “The Black Stallion” and series by Walter Farley 1941 (the first one written when he was only 17 years old).

    “Lassie Come Home” by Eric Knight 1940 (NOT your tv Lassie, this is the real deal)

    And the creme de la creme and the finest dog story ever written:

    “Finn the Wolfhound” by A. J. Dawson 1908 (Can’t say enough about this book, read it the first time in fourth grade. I actually have three editions of it in the house “just in case”! And I just found out last week that there is a sequel.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love Johnny Tremain.

      I’ll check out the others.

      Have you read Where the Red Fern Grows? I think it’s your kind of book, given this list.

  • Gretchen S.

    I have 3 boys, so my recent children’s reading all skewed male. Have you read John Fitzgerald’s Great Brain series? Reminiscent of All-of-a-Kind Family, except with lively boys. Also loved Frank Cottrell Boyce’s Cosmic and Framed — so very funny. And also Ralph Moody’s LIttle Britches and The Home Ranch — so fantastic.

    • gretchenrubin

      LOVE the Great Brain, especially Great Brain at the Academy. Boy, I want to go re-read all those books right now. The others I haven’t read, adding ot my list now.

    • Katie

      SO glad you mentioned the Ralph Moody series – my family loved them!!!

  • statmam

    The Wicked Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House by Mary Chase was one of the most memorable books from my childhood: the sinister sisters, the live paintings, the neighborhood time travel, and the mild spookiness was everything I could ask for in a book at that time. Also loved the wholesome fun of the Betsy-Tacy-Tib series by Maud Hart Lovelace.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love Betsy Tacy Tib!

  • Maryalene @ The Mighty Widow

    As a child, I loved Jim Kjelgaard’s books. Something about that combination of dogs and survival/wilderness stories appealed to me. I must have read Desert Dog at least a dozen times; it was my favorite.

  • EKM

    I love your list!! I think you’d also love Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graf (so good that I had to immediately mail copies to my best friend and my sister after I read it) and The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt.

  • Shana Hutchings

    I was so happy to see Jane-Emily on this list. I think I checked it out every week in my school library!

  • Sarah Becker

    My 13 year old son and I love John Grisham’s Kid Lawyer books. I think it’s hard to find engaging stories about today’s world with no magic/fantasy/dystopia around the corner and Grisham does it masterfully.

  • Kyle Givens

    Pretty much everything by Kate DiCamillo is amazing. I also just read The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier and loved it. And The Eddie Dickens Trilogy by Philip Ardagh.

  • Stacy

    I almost burst out crying just seeing Charlotte’s Web on the list!!
    Check out the Walter Farley books that somebody else mentioned. Delightful.
    Also The Outsiders by S.E.Hinton.

  • Heather Crow

    I am so thrilled to see all the OZ books mentioned–I adore the Patchwork Girl of Oz. I would also add Down a Dark Hall by Lois Duncan for supernatural, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George for wilderness/survival and When You Reach me by Rebecca Stead for time travel (the book mentions A Wrinkle in Time), A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry about love and loss and the book Kindred by Octavia Butler is my favourite timeslip novel of all times about a black woman in the 1970s pulled into the past to the American south during slavery–considered an adult book but I read it as a teen and loved it.

    • gretchenrubin

      Great additions! I love the Patchwork Girl.

  • Heather Crow

    Crumbs! How could I also forget Number the Stars by Lois Lowry and Briar Rose by Jane Yolen. Both about Jews in WWII


      Fantastic books! More great WWII books: The Devil’s Arithmetic by Jane Yolen and Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli

  • Julina S

    I’ve been working on the Newberry list (from the top, over the last >decade) – not a bad one in the bunch (so far), and several are already on the list.

    I would second Lloyd Alexander (his others as well – the Westmark trilogy is thought provoking, Vesper Holly is just fun), and add Marguerite Henry (was obsessed w/ her Misty and other horse books in elementary school).

    So fun!

    • Katie

      YES, Marguerite Henry! Besides her Misty series my children and I really loved, King of the Wind: The Story of the Godolphin Arabian and Justin Morgan Had a Horse, among others:)

  • Lee B

    Many of my favourites are in your list. However, along with Susan Cooper’s ‘Dark is Rising’sequence, my absolute favourites were Alan Garner’s ‘Weirdstone of Brisingamen’, ‘Elidor’ and ‘The Owl Service’. Do take a look at them if you don’t already know them, they are a wonderful blend of magic, mythology and 20th Century British childhood. Such a part of my own childhood as the settings were all places I knew well.

  • bo58

    So many of my favorites. I remember reading ‘Island of the Blue Dolphins’ repeatedly in 4th or 5th grade. I made sure my own children read it, but it was a part of their homeschool curriculum reading list anyway. That is how so many of these books and authors came to me. Except the Little House books (I’ve been through 2 sets in my lifetime, read them many many times!) and the Narnia books (I really have no idea how many times I have read these!) They always loved “D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths.’ We also loved ‘The Golden Goblet’ by Eloise Jarvis McGraw. ‘Snow Treasure” by Marie McSwigan, The Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace, and of course Mrs. PiggleWiggle! I may ask my kids (29, 20, and 16) their favorites. I also loved ‘Turn Homeward Hannalee” by Patricia Beatty. ‘Til We Have Faces” C.S.Lewis.(maybe adult, but we read it in school) and ‘A Murder for Her Majesty” I need to make my own list and stop clogging your comments!

  • Lisa

    An Aussie perspective: My favourite is the Tomorrow When The War Began series by John Marsden, set in an outback farming town. I also recently read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett and Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld. All great books.

    • Miss Honey

      Thankyou! Looking for recommendations for my avid 11 year old (and me). While Gretchen’s list is great, it’s very American. Any more Aussie recommendations?

  • annelibera

    Terry Pratchett’s TIffany Aching series – starting with “The Wee Free Men” – must must reads. And Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s The Egypt Game and more, Eva Ibbotson – Journey to the River Sea and way more…

    • gretchenrubin

      Great ones!

  • Julie C.

    I think you’ve been looking at my bookshelves. Many old favorites, especially the All-of-a-Kind Family series, Elizabeth Enright’s Melendy books (as well as Gone Away Lake), Anne of Green Gables, Mandy, The Silver Crown (I remember staying up very late one summer night reading that book, and I haven’t met anyone else who read it), etc. But the books which I read growing up and still keep rereading are the Betsy-Tacy books, by Maud Hart Lovelace. I loved following the girls from their initial friendship at 5 years old (then meeting Tib, to add to the Immortal Trio) to their marriages. Love, friendship, family, being true to oneself, owning up to one’s mistakes, broadening one’s horizons, expanding one’s circles of friends, following one’s passions, and making time for silly fun and laughter — a lot of life lessons in a delightful early 20th century setting.

    • Imogen_Jericho

      There’s nothing quite like the Betsy-Tacy books. I love their honesty and the way the series grows up with the characters. After a lifetime of reading and re-reading them they feel like family members. They are definitely of a kind with many of the books on this list.

  • Melissa Hunting

    Yes, to all of these yes, but also: Watership Down by Richard Adams. I still re-read it every year.

  • Ashley

    Have you read the Gregor The Overlander series? I loved them. If not, I would highly recommend them. Suzanne Collins is the author.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love those!

    • Mickey Gomez

      I read these before The Hunger Games and think they are spectacular.

    • Kate H

      I listened to these on audio and they’re fantastic.

  • Ingrid

    Oh my goodness! We would be best friends! I LOVE so many of these books….so very many. All my very favorites are included…

  • erateach

    While I wholeheartedly agree with many of your selections (and look forward to checking out some of the others), I notice that there are only a smattering of authors of color on this list. Perhaps this community could curate a follow-up list of children’s books by authors of color, to provide a more diverse repertoire of books to recommend to our young readers?

  • Stuart Buck

    I bet anything you’d really like The Mysterious Benedict Society.

    Summary from Amazon:

    “”Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities?”

    “When this peculiar ad appears in the newspaper, dozens of children enroll to take a series of mysterious, mind-bending tests. (And you, dear reader, can test your wits right alongside them.) But in the end just four very special children will succeed. Their challenge: to go on a secret mission that only the most intelligent and resourceful children could complete. To accomplish it they will have to go undercover at the Learning Institute for the Very Enlightened, where the only rule is that there are no rules.

    “As our heroes face physical and mental trials beyond their wildest imaginations, they have no choice but to turn to each other for support. But with their newfound friendship at stake, will they be able to pass the most important test of all?

  • Anne

    It’s interesting for me to read this list because while I also love the physical survival/kids providing theme, I have never quite latched on to magical worlds. So it’s a combination of my favorites and some that I don’t love as much… I was an avid reader my entire childhood, must have read the Beverly Cleary books, the boxcar children and the like 100 times, and started the phantom tollbooth like five different times and never finished it! Haven’t tried again as an adult.

    As a teacher, I will say that this list definitely skews towards the “classics,” which many children will love. As another commenter pointed out, though, there are few authors (or characters) of color on this list. Some of my favorites to read with my (bilingual, all Latino) class are Julia Alvarez’s “Return to sender,” Sandra Cisneros’ “The House on Mango Street,” Gary Soto’s “Baseball in April” and especially Pat Muñoz Ryan’s “Esperanza Rising.”

    Also, based on this list I think you might like Francisco Jimenez’s memoir of his childhood as a migrant farm worker. It is brilliant. It’s called The Circuit (the Spanish version is called Cajas de carton). A true story of children providing for families. I cry reading the last chapter with my class every time. More than one of my students told me it changed reading for them.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve been meaning to read Esperanza Rising – both my daughters loved it. House on Mango Street, too.

  • Kim Reese

    Looking at your list, you’d probably love When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. My boys and I all loved it!

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes, great book!

  • marti

    Thanks for your recos! Jonathan Strange & Mr.Norell by Susanna Clarke is a great book that I highly recommend; furthermore I enjoyed the City of Bones YA-series by Cassandra Clarke very much, and the Lynburn Legacy Trilogy by Sarah Rees Brennan (also YA).

    • gretchenrubin

      Love the other books, but haven’t read the Brennan – will check that out!

  • My favorite Diana Wynne Jones book is actually “Howl’s Moving Castle”. I also loved the Lemony Snicket Baudelaire orphan series & I would second the Mysterious Benedict Society books.

    • gretchenrubin

      I love that book by DWJ!

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  • Kay Vanatta

    Thank you for the list! I recognize some old friends and look forward to making some new ones!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific, happy reading!

  • Mickey Gomez

    I highly recommend The Chronicles of Prydain or the Westmark trilogy by Lloyd Alexander. They make every list I ever make of recommended books (as does The Dark is Rising sequence, which I was so happy to see included in your list!).

    I’d also highly recommend any of the Lemony Snicket books. his most recent series – All the Wrong Questions – is so deftly written. He plays with language in a way that makes his books doubly enjoyable to either read or hear read aloud. Bonus: the audiobooks of a Series of Unfortunate Events are read by Tim Curry.

    Final recommendation: The Abhorson trilogy by Garth Nix. Anything by him, really, but these are fantastic.

    • gretchenrubin

      Love the Abhorson trilogy and have been meaning to re-read The Black Cauldron etc. so many great books!

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  • Kate H

    Oh my goodness, I thought I was the only person in the world who read, much less loved, What the Witch Left. I still reread it every couple years.

    • Kate H

      Also Rumer Godden. I loved A Candle for St. Jude. Noel Streatfeild’s books have a similar vibe.

    • gretchenrubin

      Yes! So good. I love many Ruth Chew books. Great to hear you feel the same way.

  • Pat Loeffler

    An interesting list. I remember reading some of these, but others came “late” for me as I am now 80. Also interesting is that some of these YA books were really best sellers for adult reading when they came out, particularly “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” and “To Kill a Mockingbird”. An interesting omission is “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl”. I know it’s required reading in a lot of schools, and being “required” sometimes makes it seem like a chore to read, but it’s an important book besides giving so much of an idea about what it would have been like to be a teen-ager in that specific time and place. Also, a lighter book that was very important to me as a teen–possibly out of print now: “Seventeenth Summer” by Maureen Daly. Many young girls might be interested in what it was like to be a teen-ager in the early 1940’s, before the sexual revolution and so many other things we take for granted today. It was an award-winner and considered important because it was actually the first novel for teen-age girls, written since “Little Women”.

    • gretchenrubin

      I LOVE the Diary of Anne Frank, but I didn’t include any non-fiction in this list. A must-read, for adults and children. Haunting. I just went to the Anne Frank Museum last summer.

      I haven’t read Seventeenth Summer in years, now adding to my library list.

  • Sarah Elaine

    For anyone who likes the Hunger Games, I would highly recommend the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix. They are a wonderfully crafted dystopia about a world where third children are illegal after years of severe drought and famine. Easily the best series I have ever read!

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  • Jen

    Oh my gosh, don’t forget “the book thief”!!!


    My absolute favorite is The Bronze Bow (a Newbery winner) by Elizabeth George Speare which takes place 2,000 years ago in Palestine during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius.You don’t read many young adult books with that setting.

    More favorites include: Beneath My Mother’s Feet (Pakistan), The Breadwinner (Afghanistan), A Single Shard (Newbery winner 12th century Korea), Bud, Not Buddy (African American author Christopher Paul Curtis jazz/Great Depression), Out of the Dust (heart wrenching story during Great Depression in the Dust Bowl told in poems) and Walk Two Moons (heartwarming about love and loss).

  • Melanie

    OH MY GOSH! Are you there God is about religion??

  • Susan Shaughnessy

    Up a Road Slowly is one of my very favorite books! I loved it as a child and loved it even more as an adult. Thanks for this grand list, Gretchen.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m so happy to hear that you love it as much as I do.

  • Thank you for the list – and “permission” to read children’s lit. I’m in the bittersweet season of my youngest 2 leaving for college and one of the things that makes me sad is not having anyone to read aloud to. It was a revelation when I read about your love of children’s lit. When ‘The War that Saved My Life’ popped up as an option in an online book club I’m in, I reveled in the chance to read it. Then, I lined up all my favorite children’s books to read again myself. Now I can enjoy the story and remember the moment in time I read it with my kids. It’s like a literary scrapbook.

  • Rachael Patten

    I loved so many of these books. I have a few favorites that immediately come to mind:
    -Watership Down by Richard Adams was my childhood favorite. I read it first at seven and several times since. It was the first time I felt absolutely lost in a book.
    -The alchemy of Kay Thompson’s great writing and Hilary Knight’s masterful illustrations in Eloise. The entire series is adorable.
    -All of the Ernest & Celestine books by Gabrielle Vincent. The animated movie version didn’t even get close to the charm of these. It is a shame they are out of print.
    -The Jolly Postman by Janet and Allan Ahlberg. Complete with tiny little envelopes, letters, and cards that are part of the story… too cute.
    I took a wonderful children’s lit class in college and it was SUCH FUN to peruse the children’s section of the library. My favorite book from that time was The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis. The weight of historical events such as the church bombings in Birmingham told through the eyes of children- with both respect for the horror of it, and with remarkable humor. Such a wonderful book.

  • Love this list! My latest YA faves are anything by Sarah Crossan – particularly “One” and “Apple and Rain”. Such interesting and moving novels!

  • Conrad Jeffrey Racicot

    I was sad to see that no novels by William Joyce made this list. I am absolutely in love with his writing style, and how he brings new life to characters we have all grown up knowing.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’ve never read anything by William Joyce! Where should I start?

  • Julina S

    Additional thoughts:

    My 14yr old stepson is a reluctant reader… doesn’t come easy to him, and screens hold his attention much better… AR is honestly kind of a nightmare

    That being said, whoever picked his curriculum in 6th grade a couple of years ago hit it out of the park x2 w/ books that not only appealed to him, but moved him by the end:

    “When Zachary Beaver Came To Town”

    “Crispin” (Newbery winner)-he even asked for the sequels on his own

    More recently, in 8th, they read “Touching Spirit Bear”, and when I offered to put his beat up copy in Goodwil, he asked for it to be repaired instead so he could keep it.

    Jon Sciezka has worked to promote boys reading more, and I suspect my sons teachers have read some of his work

    (Of course, his own “True Story of the Three Little Pigs” & especially “The Stinky Cheese Man” are delightful in their own right)

    • gretchenrubin

      Adding some of these to my library list!