Classics every child should read
From gripping adventure to the deliciously scary, Anna Carey recommends 10 top childhood reads
Anne of Green Gables
By LM Montgomery
This story of a red-haired orphan taken in by two elderly siblings in Canada’s Prince Edward Island has delighted readers of all ages for nearly a century. Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert want an orphan boy to work on their farm, but the orphanage mistakenly sends them Anne Shirley, a bright but impulsive girl with a wild imagination. Montgomery’s style can verge on the flowery, but Marilla’s sternness stops the book from getting sentimental, while Anne herself remains a brilliant portrait of a neglected child whose ability to dream has helped her survive.
By Philip Reeve
Reeve’s Mortal Engines quartet are probably the best fantasy novels of the last 20 years. Set in a superbly realised distant future in which cities have become mobile, moving on giant wheels over the ravaged surface of the earth and capturing other cities (thanks to the principles of “municipal Darwinism”), the first book in the series is a gripping adventure, as a teenage boy called Tom falls off the mobile city of London and reluctantly teams up with a wild, scarred girl called Hester Shaw, an unforgettable antiheroine.
By Noel Streatfeild
Don’t be fooled by its pretty title – Noel Streatfeild’s first book for children is a surprisingly down-to-earth look at children training for a life on the stage. Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are adopted sisters in 1930s London who attend a stage school out of financial necessity. If that sounds grim, it isn’t – there’s a reason this book has been adored for over 70 years, and that’s because it’s enormously likeable, thanks to both Streatfeild’s totally convincing depiction of the theatre world and the three heroines themselves.
The Story of the Treasure Seekers By E Nesbit
In her first novel for young readers in 1899, Nesbit basically invented the modern children’s book. The story of the Bastables, a family of impoverished middle-class siblings determined to restore their family’s fortunes, remains astonishingly fresh and undated, despite the fact that its characters live in a world of gas lamps and domestic staff. Lively, dramatic and very funny, it also has one of the best unreliable narrators in fiction. “It is one of us that tells this story,” he says on the first page, “but I shall not tell you which: only at the very end perhaps I will.”
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Age 13¾
By Sue Townsend
No one ever captured the combination of mundanity and emotional melodrama that makes up almost every teenager’s life as perfectly as Sue Townsend in this utterly hilarious, heartbreaking book. Adrian is a would-be intellectual living in the English midlands and, like most of us at that age, he feels that no one understands him – not his best friend Nigel (owner of a coveted racing bike) nor his parents (whose marriage seems to be on the rocks). His only hope is his classmate Pandora, the girl of his dreams.
By Diana Wynne Jones
This is my favourite sort of fantasy novel: scary, witty, wildly imaginative, and populated by characters who behave and talk like real people. First published in 1977 but still fresh and original, this is the story of Cat Chant, who lives in what feels very like Edwardian England apart from the fact that many people have magical powers. His egomaniacal sister Gwendolen is a powerful witch. When their parents die they go to live with a charismatic and urbane enchanter called Chrestomanci, and a serious power struggle begins.