Children – 50 Books Every Kid Should Read

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FORGET ALL THOSE STUFFY LISTS OF CLASSICS—IF YOU WANT TO KICK-START A CHILD’S LIFETIME LOVE OF BOOKS, CHECK OUT OUR ROUNDUP OF MUST-READS

KEY E = E-book C = CD A = Audible

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

TITLE AUTHOR DESCRIPTION PRIZE-WINNER? MOVIE OR TV ADAPTATION? AVAILABLE ON
AGES 3-5 Madeline 1939 Ludwig Bemelmans The spunky, much-loved, yellow-hatted Parisian schoolgirl has her appendix removed. C A
Green Eggs and Ham 1960 Dr. Seuss The try-it-you-may-like-it relentlessness of Sam-I-am makes this book a cherished favorite. E C A
Where the Wild Things Are 1963 Maurice Sendak Sendak’s small hero faces a recognizable swirl of childhood impulses—rage, fantasy, mischievousness. C A
Bread and Jam for Frances 1964 Russell Hoban This classic tackles a little badger’s finicky palate with whimsy and empathy. C
Strega Nona 1975 Tomie dePaola A cautionary tale about disobeying orders—especially those of an Italian granny with a magic pasta pot. A
The Polar Express 1985 Chris Van Allsburg The thrill of Christmas brims from every page of Van Allsburg’s nostalgic take. E C A
The Mitten 1989 Jan Brett A Ukrainian folktale adaptation wrings unexpected humor from woodland creatures’ adventures. E C
Library Lion 2006 Michelle Knudsen A quirky story about a book-loving beast who learns that sometimes rules are meant to be broken. C
The Lion & the Mouse 2009 Jerry Pinkney This retelling of Aesop’s fable makes a powerful case for random acts of kindness. C A
AGES 6-8 The Story of Babar 1931 Jean de Brunhoff An uplifting yarn—an orphan becomes the King of the Elephants!—that doesn’t sugarcoat life’s realities. C A
Charlotte’s Web 1952 E.B. White A cultural touchstone of American childhood about friendship and loss. Some pig, and some book. C A
The Ramona series 1955—99 Beverly Cleary By turns hilarious and poignant, these eight books set the standard for realistic children’s fiction. E C A
A Bear Called Paddington 1958 Michael Bond Darkest Peru’s cuddliest exile offers an important lesson: The extraordinary lurks beneath the ordinary. E C A
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble 1969 William Steig Be careful what you wish for! That’s the message that hits home in this charming donkey’s tale. C A
Tar Beach 1991 Faith Ringgold It weaves together memoir, African-American history, and magic realism to encourage dreaming.
The Magic Tree House series 1992—2014 Mary Pope Osborne Shhh! Don’t tell your kids these books—blending history and fantasy—are educational. E C A
The Arrival 2007 Shaun Tan A graphic novel about the upheaval of immigration told through fabulous pencil-drawn art.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid 2007 Jeff Kinney This “novel in cartoons” gives young readers a peek at the hazards and indignities of middle school. E C A
AGES 9-11 The Black Stallion 1941 Walter Farley In this timeless adventure, a shipwrecked boy tames a wild horse, unleashing both their potentials. E A
All-of-a-Kind-Family 1951 Sydney Taylor No book delivers a more affirming message about family than this turn-of-the-century drama. E C A
The Borrowers 1952 Mary Norton Kids will see themselves in the Lilliputians of the title—tiny, ingenious, vulnerable. E C
Island of the Blue Dolphins 1960 Scott O’Dell A wilderness survival odyssey that celebrates discovering resilience in solitude and strength in sadness. E C A
James and the Giant Peach 1961 Roald Dahl A resourceful orphan finds friendship on a journey with magical insects. E C A
The Phantom Tollbooth 1961 Norton Juster This adventure quietly endorses erudition—it’s a manifesto on wisdom being cool. E C A
Where the Red Fern Grows 1961 Wilson Rawls An inspiring paean to childhood freedom and outdoor life about a boy and his dogs. E C A
D’Aulaires’ Book of Greek Myths 1962 Ingrid & Edgar D’Aulaire Mesmerizing artwork and storytelling turn this book about the Greek gods into great entertainment. C A
Harriet the Spy 1964 Louise Fitzhugh A classic tale of espionage teaches kids the perils of brutal honesty—and also that “different” is okay. E C A
From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler 1967 E.L. Konigsburg A sister-brother duo run away and hide inside New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. E C A
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret. 1970 Judy Blume Tackling both puberty and religious consciousness, this is a sensitive portrayal of preteen angst. E C A
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry 1976 Mildred D. Taylor This unflinching historical novel shows how dignity overcomes hatred and courage combats despair. E C A
The Adventures of Captain Underpants 1997 Dav Pilkey Toilet humor and “laffs” abound in this illustrated book with road-tested appeal for reluctant readers. E
Holes 1998 Louis Sachar A surreal mash-up of mystery and humor at a juvenile correctional camp—serious and seriously funny. E C A
Bud, Not Buddy 1999 Christopher Paul Curtis Hope and good humor hit the road with a plucky orphan in search of his jazz-musician dad. E C A
A Series of Unfortunate Events 1999—2006 Lemony Snicket The darkly funny mock-gothic series resists providing easy answers to its messy mysteries. E C A
The Tale of Despereaux 2004 Kate DiCamillo An underdog story about three nonconformists that’s wry, suspenseful, and heartbreaking. E C A
One Crazy Summer 2010 Rita Williams-Garcia A kid’s-eye view of the Black Power movement that examines the bonds of sisterhood and family. E A
Wonder 2012 R.J. Palacio It takes on issues such as bullying and disabilities while instilling hope in our flawed humanity. E C A
AGES 12+ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe 1950 C.S. Lewis This fantasy strikes a universal theme: every child’s capacity for greatness. E C A
A Wrinkle in Time 1962 Madeleine L’Engle Not just an exhilarating space-travel fantasy but also a time-honored outlier of girl-friendly sci-fi. E C A
The Outsiders 1967 S.E. Hinton Passed among readers like a secret handshake, it’s packed with gangs, class warfare, and bromance. E C A
Bridge to Terabithia 1977 Katherine Paterson This heartrending classic about friendship and loss is literary practice for real-life tragedy. E C A
The Giver 1993 Lois Lowry The road to dystopia is paved with good intentions. Lowry’s world is colorless, her book is anything but. E C A
The Harry Potter series 1997—2007 J.K. Rowling Harry grew up never knowing he was special. These books teach all kids they are. E C
Monster 1999 Walter Dean Myers This novel about a Harlem teen on trial for murder shows how life can hinge on just one bad choice. E C A
Esperanza Rising 2000 Pam Muñoz Ryan Political unrest and cultural turmoil upend this Mexican-American reverse-Cinderella tale. E C A
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2001 Ann Brashares High school BFFs share thrift-store jeans, a metaphor for another shared experience: growing up. E C A
The Book Thief 2005 Markus Zusak The Nazi-era-set story presents reading as a survival mechanism—a lifeline to hope. E C A
The Hunger Games 2008 Suzanne Collins Endlessly determined Katniss Everdeen is a woman warrior without equal in pop culture. E C A
Smile 2010 Raina Telgemeier A graphic memoir/dental drama that captures teens’ struggles with identity and appearance. E
The Fault in Our Stars 2012 John Green An unsentimental cancer romance with a message: Even if your days are numbered, make them count. E C A

PRIZES CITED: THE BOSTON GLOBE-HORN, THE CALDECOTT, THE CORETTA SCOTT KING, THE MICHAEL L. PRINTZ, THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD, THE NEWBERY ACTUALLY, SINCE WE INCLUDED

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