As a first-time mum on maternity leave, I set myself a 12-month reading list featuring books that I would want my child to grow up with. These books would fire-up and test the imaginations of both parent and child, and provide lasting memories of shared time in the pages of a book.
Having spoken to other mothers of young children, I know how important it is to get good children’s book recommendations. For some years, children’s books will be all that parents read, so it is essential that the books we spend time and money on are enjoyed by both adult and child. I hope, therefore, that this list might be a good guide to some of the books that can proudly sit on bookshelves beyond the nursery walls for many years to come.
It wasn’t easy to come up with 12 books; there are so many books from my own childhood that I couldn’t put down and still have on my bookshelves as an adult. I wanted this list, however, to speak to a new generation as well as an older one, casting a spell on a mind growing and learning in a world filled with digital imagery and technologies.
So to keep connections between the generations, I picked a few themes that would run through my book choices, elements that inspired me in my childhood, and ones that are still strong in children’s literature today – myth, magic, the unwavering fascination with nature/animals, and the uplifting power of imagination!
There is no recognised canon of children’s classics and no large body of critical work to draw upon; this presented both a challenge and an opportunity. It was a challenge in that the list of books that I could have included is simply endless – so many magical books that have moved so many people the world-over. At the same time the absence of this list meant that I could be more free in my choices and open in my thinking around them, picking perhaps more popularist books, little-known books, and books no longer in print.
I did, however, need some structure to my list and so in my selection of novels, I have chosen books that position children as ‘the innocent’; children as ‘the saviour’; and children as ‘victims’ of a modern fragile world. These roughly break-down into late Victorian period novels, post-World War Two novels, and 21st century novels. For my choice of picture books for early learners, I have looked at those connected to the changing seasons, that say something of the natural world that speaks to a child’s imagination.
I hope this list can add to your growing library of children’s books and cast a spell over parents, grandparents, and children, as they have done for me and my family.
Happy (bewitching) reading to all!