World Book Day: 15 books all children should read
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If you’re after a little inspiration this World Book Day, keep on reading for our rundown of our favourite children’s books
Today is World Book Day - a global celebration of reading and all the joy that books can bring. From immersive fantasy worlds to sci-fi futures and parallel universes, a good book can take us anywhere, and the day is a fantastic excuse to get lost in the pages of one of your favourite novels. Here in Britain, the main aim of World Book Day is to encourage children to discover the joys of reading. Some 15 million book tokens are delivered to schools around the UK, and thousands of children will be heading off to class dressed up as their favourite bookish characters.
But this 23rd World Book Day comes amid news that British children are reading less than ever before. According to research by the National Literary Trust, in 2019, just 26% of under-18's spent some time each day reading. The research also found that fewer children now say that they enjoy reading, with a third of surveyed children saying that they couldn't find books that interested them.
With so many fantastic books out there, there's no reason why children should be stuck for something to read. Here, we run down some of our favourite children's books, with something to suit budding bookworms of all ages.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
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A perennial favourite, this story of a very hungry little caterpillar is many a toddler's first book. The picture book is now 50 years old, but the story it tells is timeless. The holes in the story book's pages encourage young children to interact with the story, wiggling a finger in the style of the titular caterpillar as he works his way through all manner of indulgent delights. Not only does the story guide children through counting, days of the week, foods and life cycles, it also encourages conversation between parent and child.
Green Eggs and Ham, Dr Seuss
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Another popular tale for younger children, this playful poem is ideal for those who have just started to read independently. At just 50 words long, and with Dr Seuss' typical cartoon style, the story is a wonderful beginner book, helping children to read simple yet common words. The short tale follows a persistent Sam-I-am, who is on a mission to get his friend to sample the titular dish. After repeatedly refusing to try the meal, his friend ultimately relents and discovers that he actually quite likes green eggs and ham, after all.
Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
A picture book that strikes a chord with adults and children alike, this classic story is poetic, dreamy and sensitive all in equal measure. After causing much mischief, Max is called a 'Wild Thing' by his mother and is sent to bed without any supper. Retreating into the safety of his imagination, Max sails to a faraway island, inhabited by great beasts known as the 'Wild Things'. There, he bonds with the animals and becomes their King, learning about his inner self before forgiving his mother and returning home, where he finds a hot meal waiting for him.
The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr
One of the nation's favourite picture books, The Tiger Who Came to Tea has been a fixture on children's bookshelves and in primary school libraries for over 50 years. Its vibrant, colourful pictures and simple story make it perfect for reading aloud to small children, and it also makes a great beginner book for those who are learning to read to themselves. The doorbell rings as a little girl called Sophie is having tea with her mother. To her great surprise, there's a hungry tiger at the door, who, once invited inside, proceeds to eat all of the food in the house. A classic story.
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Possibly one of the most profound children's books ever written, The Little Prince is a simple story that touches on friendship, loneliness, caring for the environment and the importance of kindness. Not only is it beautifully written, but the drawings are very special, too. A little prince falls to earth from the Asteroid B-612. In the middle of the Sahara desert, the prince meets an aviator who is stranded after crashing his plane. The prince and the pilot become friends, and the prince shares his stories and wisdom he has gained from travelling through space.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
We couldn't have a list of children's books without including some Roald Dahl, could we? Everyone has their own favourite story (I'm quite partial to The BFG, myself), but possibly the best-loved of the bunch is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The kaleidoscopic, chocolate-coated rags-to-riches story of Charlie Bucket is a thoroughly engrossing read, perfect for children with a budding interest in books. The story follows eleven-year-old Charlie, who wins a golden ticket to visit Willy Wonka's famous chocolate factory. It's a dream come true for young Charlie, but things take a not-so-sweet turn one he's through the factory gates...
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
Wonderfully strange, thought-provoking and entertaining, Lewis Carroll's classic novel takes us down the rabbit hole and into a land of pure fantasy. The tale turns logic on its head and delights in the nonsensical, introducing us to a whole host of memorable characters such as the pompous and time-pressed White Rabbit and the foul-tempered Queen of Hearts. The story sucks you in from the very first page, transporting you to Wonderland along with Alice. It's a great book for more confident readers.
Harry Potter series, J. K. Rowling
This series really needs no introduction. There's a good reason why the Harry Potter franchise is so beloved - it's simply magic. The series is perfect for confident young bookworms, and is guaranteed to get children reading. The earlier books have a lighter, more playful tone, and are also shorter in length, while the later books take the series into more complex, more mysterious and darker directions.
Northern Lights, Philip Pullman
The first book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is widely regarded as a modern masterpiece. Following our young heroine Lyra Belacqua and her animal 'daemon', this immersive fantasy story takes the reader on an epic adventure, beginning in the corridors and libraries of Oxford University and then heading towards the ice-covered tundra of the far north. This is a captivating, engaging piece of fiction that pulls readers into the story. Ideal for older children and young teenagers - just make sure you have books two and three on hand for when they've finished with this one!
Holes, Louis Sachar
A quick little read with plenty of personality and humour. An unlucky 14-year-old boy named Stanley Yelnats is falsely accused of a crime and promptly sent to a juvenile corrections facility on Camp Green Lake. There's no lake in sight at Camp Green Lake - only a vast, empty desert. Each day, Stanley and his fellow teenage 'convicts' must dig a hole, five foot wide by five foot deep, in what they are told is a "character building" exercise. But it quickly becomes clear that the Camp Warden is looking for something in the desert...
Noughts and Crosses series, Malorie Blackman
First published in 2001, this ground-breaking series is considered to be a classic in young adult fiction. Set in an alternative 21st century Britain, the first book in the series follows Callum and Sephy - two young people growing up in a racially segregated society. Although slavery has been abolished, there are laws in place to keep the 'crosses' (darker-skinned people) in positions of power over the noughts (lighter-skinned people). A BBC adaptation of the series, starring rapper Stormzy, is set to begin on Thursday, March 5, so now is a good time to revisit the series.
A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
With 13 books in this series, there's plenty of material here to keep kids reading. Darkly humorous, and with plenty of mystery and intrigue, this series is perfect for teenage bookworms. The books follow the very unfortunate Baudelaire orphans, who are sent to live with their villainous relative, Count Olaf, after losing their parents in a mysterious house fire. When Count Olaf attempts to steal their inheritance, the children escape his custody and begin to travel around the country, with Olaf always on their tale. Tragedy often befalls these unfortunate siblings, but they keep their heads held high in the face of adversity. There's a Netflix adaptation of the series starring Neil Patrick Harris, which is also well worth a watch.
The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot
Another classic staple of young adult fiction, The Princess Diaries series tells the tale of Mia Thermopolis, a typical Manhattan teenager, who one day learns that she's heir to the throne of Genovia. Suddenly she's forced to balance homework, crushes and royal duties all at once. The series might feel somewhat dated to Generation Z and Generation Alpha, but the books are still a fun, fast read.
The Hobbit, J. R. R. Tolkien
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy can seem dense and intimidating even for adult readers, but The Hobbit is much more manageable for budding fans of fantasy literature. Surprisingly short (who knows how they managed to drag it out over three whole films), this is a quick read that follows Bilbo Baggins on an epic adventure across Middle Earth. Accompanied by a gang of dwarves, Bilbo encounters giants, dragons and a powerful ring during his trek towards the Lonely Mountain.
Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
Often compared to a teenage James Bond, our hero Alex Ryder is a schoolboy-turned-M16 agent, who is called upon to stop a terrorist attack in this gripping and fast-paced novel. Perfect for teenage readers, Stormbreaker has everything that you could want from a spy novel - car chases, secret identities and gadgets galore. Don't bother with the film adaptation - the book (as is so often the case) is much better.