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25 classic children’s books worth reading at any age

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Photo by Sanne Vliegenthart

Not only can the books we read as children stay with us forever, but childhood classics also hold some of the wisest words and most timeless stories found in literature.

I’m a firm believer that you’re never too old to read classic children’s books.

In fact, adulthood can be the perfect time to retreat into heartwarming and wholesome stories of friendship, adventure, and the art of being a good human.

There are so many wonderful new children’s books (which I’ll be sharing soon), but in this post I’m going back to the classics.

Read on for my pick of the best children’s books of all time, featuring lost bears, magical wardrobes, and much, much more.

Whether you’re looking for the perfect book gifts for children or a book to reignite your youthful spirit, I hope you find some good choices below.

I’ve included the average age from which readers can enjoy these books, starting with the youngest, but you will know best which books are a good fit.

My pick of the best children’s books of all time for young and grown readers

The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter

Who should read The Tale of Peter Rabbit? Anyone in need of a break can enjoy this timeless story of a mischievous rabbit and the trouble he encounters in Mr McGregor’s vegetable garden.

I was given a gorgeous collected box set of the Peter Rabbit books as a baby, and still adore leafing through the beautiful pages and remembering how much I disliked Mr McGregor.

Beatrix Potter’s books are some of the most wholesome and memorable children’s classics to treasure and share from generation to generation.

The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

Who should read The Snowman? Readers aged 3+ can enjoy this charming festive story about friendship, love, and loss.

The Snowman is one of the most iconic Christmas books of all time, which is impressive, considering it’s completely wordless.

After waking up to snow outside his window, a little boy rushes out into the day to build a snowman. That night in his dreams, the snowman comes alive. The hazy, softly coloured illustrations feel like Christmas morning to me.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne

Who should read Winnie-the-Pooh? Readers aged 3+ can experience this children’s classic that’s full of lovable characters and timeless wisdom about living a kind life.

The Winnie-the-Pooh stories are some of the most memorable books for children. They’re also packed with life lessons for readers of all ages from Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and friends.

Grown-up readers can also perfectly complement A.A. Milne’s children’s classics with The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.

The Complete Brambly Hedge by Jill Barklem

Who should read The Complete Brambly Hedge? Readers aged 4+ and parents who love gentle, whimsical children’s books with cottagecore vibes can enjoy this collection.

As well as The Wind in the Willows and Beatrix Potter’s iconic stories, I grew up reading Brambly Hedge – the archetypal English children’s classic that shares Jill Barklem’s wonderful illustrations and stories of life in the hedgerow.

Since the first books were published in 1980, the ethos of Brambly Hedge’s community spirit, seasonal cooking, and sustainability is more necessary than ever before.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Who should read The Little Prince? Readers of 4+ years can enjoy this timeless story of a young prince’s travels through space.

Weaving a profound story about a prince and the single rose he carries, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s beloved classic teaches us about loneliness, loss, love, and friendship.

This children’s classic book is one of the best pairings of beautiful illustrations and gently wise words of all time.

The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse by Charlie Mackesy

Who should read The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse? Readers aged 4+ who adore heartwarming and wise books that are filled with life lessons. (Here are 12 more books like Charlie Mackesy’s modern classic.)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” asked the mole. “Kind,” said the boy. In this beautifully illustrated story, Charlie Mackesy weaves the tale of a curious boy, a greedy mole, a wary fox, and a wise horse.

These characters find themselves together traversing uncertain ground while sharing their greatest fears and biggest discoveries about vulnerability, kindness, hope, friendship, and love.

I loved listening to the audiobook adaptation that’s read by the author and accompanied by music from Max Richter and Isobel Waller-Bridge as well as soothing wildlife sounds from rural England.

The Wind in The Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Who can read The Wind in the Willows? Readers aged 4+ can enjoy this iconic English children’s classic about some of the most endearing characters of all time.

The Wind in the Willows is the quintessential children’s classic about the English countryside in spring, offering cozy vibes, talking frogs and badgers, and nature in bloom.

Choose a copy with gorgeous illustrations if you can, such as Robert Ingpen’s in the Sterling Illustrated Classics series.

Moomin Book One: The Complete Comic Strip by Tove Jansson

Who should read the Moomin books? Readers aged 5+ can fall in love with the easygoing and whimsical world that Tove Jansson created.

Although her books for adults are wonderful (especially The Summer Book), the Moomin universe is Tove Jansson’s most famous creation. I love her iconic, tight-knit circle of hippo-shaped creatures and their unique outlooks on life.

Paddington by Michael Bond

Who should read Paddington? Readers aged 6+ can enjoy reading about the charms, earnest good intentions, and humorous misadventures of everyone’s favourite bear.

Over fifty years ago, a small bear set out on the adventure of a lifetime to England with nothing but a suitcase, several jars of marmalade, and a label that read, “Please look after this bear. Thank you”.

When he arrived at busy Paddington Station, he was discovered by Mr. and Mrs. Brown. As luck would have it, the Browns were just the sort of people to welcome a lost bear into their family – and their lives would never be the same.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Who should read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Readers aged 6+ can tumble through the wardrobe into one of literature’s most iconic settings with Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie.

Step through the wardrobe into the land of Narnia in one of the best children’s series of all time, beginning with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Whenever I think of C.S. Lewis’s series of classic children’s books, I think of icy winds, adventure, and Turkish delight.

Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter by Astrid Lindgren

Who should read Ronia, The Robber’s Daughter? Readers aged 6+ who love adventure, nature, and strong characters.

Ronia is one of my favourite books about strong girls and women, as imagined by Astrid Lingren, author of Pippi Longstocking. It’s also the inspiration for the Studio Ghibli TV series.

Ronia is the only child of Matt, the chief of a clan of robbers living in a castle in the woodlands of early medieval Scandinavia.

She’s expected to become the leader of the clan someday, but alone in the forest is where Ronia feels truly at home.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

Who should read Heidi? Readers aged 6+ who love wholesome stories set in beautiful nature.

Heidi is the much-loved book that so many people associate with Switzerland, available as a beautifully illustrated hardcover by Puffin in Bloom.

When five-year-old orphan Heidi is sent to live with her grandfather in the Alps, she plays in the sunshine, grows up among the goats and birds, and is surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains.

But one day, Heidi is collected by her aunt to go and live with a new family in town. Can she find a way back up the mountain, where she knows she belongs?

This gorgeous book is one of the most iconic children’s classics – and for me, a beautiful reminder of the four years I called the Swiss Alps my home.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Who should read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Readers aged 6+ who have never met Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee.

Of course you’d find some Roald Dahl in this list. The renowned children’s author has written so many great books, but here I’ve settled on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Enjoy this childhood classic for the beloved story of golden tickets, the children who uncover them, and the man behind a very mysterious chocolate factory.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

Who should read Charlotte’s Web? Readers aged 7+ can enjoy what’s arguably the best children’s classic book to take place in a barnyard.

In this heartwarming story (that isn’t without some stress for young animal lovers), E. B. White marvellously weaves together the lives of a young girl, a skilled spider, and some pig.

I haven’t re-read this book since childhood, but remember it all so clearly nonetheless – including how much I worried for Wilbur in the early pages (as a farmer’s daughter, I wanted to save all of the animals). It’s one of the true classics of children’s literature.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Who should read The Secret Garden? Readers aged 8+ can fall in love with this children’s classic about an uplifting journey from darkness into light.

For orphaned Mary Lennox, the gardens surrounding her uncle’s spooky house on the Yorkshire Moors are her only escape.

When she discovers a secret garden enclosed by walls and locked with a missing key, Mary is determined to bring it back to life.

The Secret Garden is one of the best sorts of children’s stories, inspiring a love of nature, optimism, and open-heartedness.

Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

Who should read A Wrinkle in Time? Readers aged 8+ can enjoy what journalist and author Cory Doctorow describes as “a road map for seeking knowledge and compassion even at the worst of times, a book to make the world a better place.”

One of the best books for middle graders, A Wrinkle in Time is the story of teen Meg Murray and her younger brother Charles Wallace as they set off on an interdimensional adventure.

What follows is their mission to save the universe from darkness, merging exhilarating sci-fi, relatable teen awkwardness, and creative resourcefulness into an iconic coming-of-age fantasy story.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Who should read Peter Pan? Readers aged 8+ can travel to Neverland with Wendy and her younger brothers in one of the most popular children’s books of all time.

In this magical land where pirates reign and children never grow up, Wendy finds herself in the middle of an ages-long brawl and realises it’s up to her to save the group.

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Who should read Swallows and Amazons? Readers aged 9+ can travel into the pages of this adventurous children’s classic set in England’s Lake Distict.

About two decades ago, I received a beautiful copy of the children’s classic Swallows and Amazons from my grandparents. I rediscovered it lately and remembered exactly what the book felt like to me as a child.

Ease your tension with this childhood escape into the magic, adventure, and freedom of warm summer days, journeying to the camp on Wild Cat Island and the able-bodied catboat “Swallow”.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Why should you read The HobbitReaders aged 9+ (ish) can listen to or read this classic book about heading out on an adventure and leaping into the marvellous unknown.

Is The Hobbit a children’s book? The short answer: yes, Tolkien originally wrote The Hobbit as a story for his children growing up.

The Hobbit is probably the best choice for tweens of Tolkien’s books, but kids younger than 8 might struggle with the vocabulary and violence. I first read it when I was around that age and really enjoyed it; it’s also been wonderful to revisit later in my teens and twenties.

Read this classic book about courage and adventure to dive into Tolkien’s beautiful world of hobbits, Orcs, dwarves, dragons, and much more.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Green Gables

Who should read Anne of Green Gables? Readers aged 9+ can fall in love with the classic story of everyone’s favourite red-headed orphan.

This is the beloved story of Anne finding her place in the world, as well as a celebration of new beginnings, second chances, and noticing the beauty of the world around us.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket

Who should read The Bad Beginning? Readers aged 9+ can experience the unfortunate adventures of the Baudelaire siblings, as told with Lemony Snicket’s trademark black humour.

I was six years old when The Bad Beginning hit the shelves in 1999, and thus grew up with Lemony Snicket’s writing by my side.

We follow the Baudelaires – Violet, Klaus, and Sunny – through the remarkably unfortunate events that scatter their childhood (beginning with losing their parents, continuing with being sent to live with awful Count Olaf).

The tales are delivered with such fun, exciting, and dark storytelling that these books have become true modern children’s classics.

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin

Who can read A Wizard of Earthsea? Readers aged 10+ can experience one of the most acclaimed series of all time with the Earthsea Cycle, beginning with this iconic first book.

Earthsea is Le Guin’s equivalent of Tolkien’s Middle Earth or Martin’s Seven Kingdoms, and Sparrowhawk – a child who soon realises his powers – is her hero.

A Wizard of Earthsea is the award-winning story of his growth into his true name, Ged, and his calling as a great sorcerer.

As Neil Gaiman’s glowing endorsement reads, “the lessons of Earthsea remain as potent, as wise, and as necessary as anyone could dream.”

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Who should read Little Women? Readers aged 10+ can retreat into the pages of this literary treasure that’s one of the very best children’s books of all time.

Little Women is Louisa May Alcott’s classic wholesome comfort read about four sisters: grown-up Meg, tomboyish Jo, timid Beth, and precocious Amy. It’s bittersweet at times, but oh so iconic.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Who should read Hatchet? Readers aged 11+ can enjoy this fast-paced young adult classic about adventure and survival.

On his way to visit his estranged father in Canada, the pilot of Brian’s small prop plane suffers a heart attack.

Forced to crash-land the plane and survive ­in the Canadian wilderness, Brian slowly learns to turn adversity to his advantage in this thrilling and intense tale.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Who should read I Capture the Castle? Readers aged 12+ can tumble into the world of this teen’s unconventional family and the ruined Suffolk castle they call home.

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink” begins one of the most beloved classics of children’s literature by Dodie Smith, the English writer best known for 101 Dalmatians.

Written like a diary, I Capture the Castle is the quintessential coming-of-age story of Cassandra Mortmain, her penniless and eccentric family, and her journey to falling deeply, hopelessly in love.


For more of the best children’s books ever written, head over to these collections next:

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