Ten Books Every Child Should Read

As part of the celebrations for our 40th anniversary, we revised our long-running Ten of the Best feature and asked leading children’s authors to choose the books they consider essential reading. Our thanks to James Mayhew for this selection.


There will always children who find their way into reading through pictures. I was one of them! Long before I learned to read, I would sit in the school library and fall into the world in the illustrations. Comprehending the world around us, and allowing words to create images in our minds requires a finely tuned level of visual literacy, so I make no apology for focussing on books that children should read the pictures in. Many favourite books are out of print, so I’ve tried to feature books currently available. I also sought a mix of old favourites and exciting new discoveries.

The Story of Ferdinand

Munro Leaf and Robert Lawson, Faber & Faber, 978-0571335961, £6.99 pbk

‘Once upon a time in Spain’– so begins this jewel of a book, with its tale of gentleness triumphant. A wonderful fable in which a tender, natured bull,

sweet- who prefers

sniffing flowers to fighting, refuses to be what everyone

expects. I love that he stays true to himself, and so achieves real happiness. Powerful themes of pacifism and acceptance. Even in black and white, the exquisite line drawings dazzle and delight, and somehow capture the glare of an Andalusian landscape, as well as the expressions of Ferdinand. They are indelibly etched on my memory.

Where the Wild Things Are

Maurice Sendak, Red Fox, 978-0099408390, £6.99 pbk

Probably the most obvious book on my list, but still deserving all the acclaim. Sendak really sees through a child’s eyes, both story and image. The expanding design of the pages and the wonderful

freedom of childhood imagination, with the unforgettable, iconic, funny-scary Wild Things, is ultimately embraced in a tale of forgiveness: we never seen the mother, but her unconditional love for Max is patiently waiting throughout, and provides the beautiful, perfect, ending.

8 Books for Keeps No.245 November 2020

Saturday Oge Mora, Little Brown, 978-0316431279, £12.99 hbk

How do you turn things around when everything goes wrong? Instead of the usual middle class, suburban, white family, we have an ordinary, modern, hardworking, black mum, living in an apartment, and her little girl.

Bold, beautiful illustrations give a

jaunty air to this tale of a Saturday – the one day of the week they can be together – when one plan after another falls through, as is so often the case in real life. Important concepts about expectations and handling disappointment, are wrapped up in the luscious, collaged pictures. I fell in love with this book.

Oi! Get Off Our Train John Burningham, Red Fox,

978-0099853404, £7.99 pbk

As topical today as ever,

this eco-fable

mingles dream-fantasy with reality in a thought provoking, yet simple way. Noah-like, a boy travels through

the night on his toy train-set, and allows animals onto his train, one by one, when they reveal their assorted predicaments. The audaciously experimental illustrations, full of painterly atmosphere, are still something to wonder at and be inspired by.

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