Best books according to adults? or Best Books for Children?

There’s been a great deal of discussion around the ten (or 11 or 21) best children’s books of all time recently.  You can see some discussion here, here and here.

childrens books

Now recently, I came upon this lot, in a cupboard in my mother’s house. These books were mine (see how many Puffins there were) and it doesn’t include all the books that I’d previously plundered and brought to my grown up books shelves. So if you add in the rest of the Narnias, the Joan Aikens, the Moomins, the Case of the Silver Egg, Stig of the Dump and plenty of random others, it’s heading for about 50 books that I owned, and HUNG ON TO.

Then – Add in all the fantastic books that have come since…

How can there possibly be only ten?  Well it’s obvious that there can’t.  Any more than there can be the 10 best paintings of all time – who do you throw out – Michelangelo, or Rothko? Or the 10 best films, or the 10 best songs.

If I had to rescue the 10 best children’s books from a burning library I’d burn with it. And anyway what makes a book the best?  Some of the classics are really hard work – some of them, some children, simply can’t relate to now.  They don’t all actually want to read Little Women, or Little House on the Prairie – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory still stands up really well, but it may not in 10 years.

So they might have been the best children’s books of 1950 – 1980 but they aren’t the best children’s books of now. It’s impossible. It’s silly. And it stops parents searching outside the carefully selected box.

It’s like my husband’s book club which is trying to read only ‘Good’ books and has come unstuck with some almost unreadable Nobel prize winning books.

I think it all needs to be more random, more instinctive.  Who bought me ‘The Cave Twins’ by Lucy Fitch Perkins? Or the Chesterfield Gold by Roger Pilkington? Someone who wasn’t checking things off a list as both books seem forgotten now.  Who bought the first Moomin book for us? I’m guessing it was someone who liked the covers.  Who threw the first Dr Syn book at me? Not a person looking at high brow fiction that’s for sure.


But all these books made me, built me into a reader, a writer, a critic.

So can we stop having to have 10 best? Even 20 Best?  Even 100 best?

Can’t we just have books that children want to read?


7 thoughts on “Best books according to adults? or Best Books for Children?

  1. Caroline Smith

    Wonderful, sensible argument!
    The lady who set up the Heart of Hawick Children’s Book Awards insisted that it be for NEW novelists, so that children could see that there was more out there than the ‘best-sellers’ and be forced to try the unknown – and what a wealth we uncovered (including of course, yourself!)
    And thank you also for reminding me of a few old favourites – eg ‘The Cave Twins’, for now my seven-year old grand-daughter is an avid reader, I am gradually seeking out hidden gems for her. Sort of a bibliophile’s equivalent of laying down a cellar of fine wines!
    Best wishes!

    1. Fleur Hitchcock Post author

      Thank you Caroline. Good to hear that some of my old favorites might have a future although I fear that they’re out of print. The Tintin books should be on there too, but were in a different bookshelf – and I can’t stress enough how much I love Joan Aiken’s books.

  2. Caroline Smith

    My daughter and I both loved the Joan Aitken books! I read them again along with her,(she’s 38 now) and she hopes to read them again when Elspeth is a bit bigger. How lovely it is to pass on this pleasure.

  3. ReadItDaddy

    Articles like those “Top Ten Best Children’s Books” (written by adults for other adults) always make me cringe inwardly, and always sound exactly like someone’s just put “top ten children’s books” into Google and averaged-out the first 10 results. Horrible.

    I swear, I’ll burst something if I see one more “All Time Forever and Ever greatest historical List of Children’s Books” that features stuff like David Walliams or whatever other ‘flavour of the month’ author is paying decent ad revenues (respectfully DW, love your books but “best of all time?” Not even close)

    Don’t so much mind seeing blogger, author and illustrator recommendations though as they often throw in books we’ve absolutely never heard of but really want to find out more about.

    A couple of other observations though: 1) There’s nothing wrong with having at least one or two Roald Dahl books in any all time top ten children’s books. They are that good, they do deserve to be there, and not just because they’re incredibly well known. Raving about obscure books is great but don’t end up sounding like the bearded hipsters who only like music or bands if no one else has ever heard of them and 2) The recent “100 Great Children’s Picture Books” by Martin Salisbury is the sort of historical list we want to see more of. Martin’s choices aren’t drawn from overly familiar sources, nor purposely obscure but the books are stunning and it’s easy to see how they have influenced other authors and illustrators and inspired would-be book folk to bring their own stories to light.

    Ace article Fleur!

  4. Fleur Hitchcock Post author

    Thank you and will look at Martin Salisbury’s list with interest – but I think my point is that the books don’t have to be ‘great’. Lot’s of imperfectly formed books have fragments that chime with a child. It could be a character, a scene or the tone – and those books are in danger of disappearing into the ether because we narrow and narrow the choices. A librarian or a bookseller can shove children in the direction of the outer reaches – and this is part of the problem with Amazon – and really the outer reaches need to be reached in order to evolve a child’s critical perceptions. At no point would I recommend any of the obscure books that I read as a child – but I would say that something of them rubbed off on me and helped me form my own personal reading journey.


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