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Some of the fondest memories many of us have from childhood come the books we read (or were read to us). Books open up the imagination in ways nothing else can, all while teaching children valuable communication skills — and heck, they're just plain fun!
So when we learned that storied publishing house HarperCollins (the publisher behind some of the books below) was turning 200 years old, we got to thinking: What are some of the greatest children's' books of the past century?
We steered clear of straight picture books (because otherwise this list would never end) and stopped right before true Young Adult reading years. But even then we had a really difficult time keeping the whole thing manageable! Consider this a totally subjective list (ranked in no particular order) of 30 of our favorites — which ones would be on yours?
TODAY editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! Just so you know, TODAY does have affiliate relationships. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.
1. "The Velveteen Rabbit," by Margery Williams (1922), $6, Amazon
A stuffed rabbit aspires to become real, and gets his chance thanks to the love of his owner.
2. "The Wind in the Willows," by Kenneth Grahame (1908), $7, Amazon
Sweet, gentle tales of animals like Frog and Toad, set in a pastoral England of the last century.
3. "Where the Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak (1963), $12, Amazon
Ages 4-8 years
Let the wild rumpus start! Troublemaker Max visits a strange land where the monsters are his greatest playmates.
4. "Esperanza Rising," by Pam Muñoz Ryan (2000), $16, Amazon
Tragedy sends wealthy Esperanza on the road as a farmworker during the Great Depression.
5. "The Lorax," by Dr. Seuss (1971), $7, Amazon
The Lorax only wants to save the Truffula Trees from being wiped out, but the forces of commerce array against him.
6. "The Secret Garden," by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911), $7, Amazon
Spoiled and neglected simultaneously, invalid Colin's life is changed when his orphaned cousin arrives.
7. "Lost Treasure of the Emerald Eye," Edisioni Piemme (2000), $8, Amazon
The first in the ongoing Geronimo Stilton series tells the story of a journalist mouse who lives on an island and has endless adventures.
8. "Little House on the Prairie," by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1935), $8, Amazon
The best known of the "Little House" series, this is actually the third book published about Wilder's life growing up on the plains and woods of America in the late 1800s.
9. "Blue Willow," by Doris Gates (1940), $7, Amazon
Survival during America's Dust Bowl and Great Depression are a challenge for farmworker Janey Larkin, who has one valuable item: a blue willow plate.
10. "The Saturdays," by Elizabeth Enright (1941), $7, Amazon
The four members of the Melendy quartet devise a terrific way to spend their Saturdays: together! This is the first in the Melendy Quartet series.
11. "When We Were Very Young," by A.A. Milne (1924), $5, Amazon
The delightful book that introduced us to the Best Bear in All the World, Winnie-the-Pooh.
12. "All-of-a-Kind Family," by Sydney Taylor (1951), $6, Amazon
Five Jewish girls living with their family at the turn of last century in New York City are about to get a big surprise. The first of four "All-of-a-Kind" books.
13. "Charlotte's Web," by E.B. White (1952) $5, Amazon
Rescued by a young girl, Wilbur the pig grows up in a farmyard living under the shadow of imminent slaughter ... until his best friend, a spider, writes him a new story.
14. "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," by C.S. Lewis (1950), $17, Amazon
The first in the seven-book "Chronicles of Narnia" series features the Pevensie children escaping Britain during World War II and slipping into a magical land where they become rulers.
15. "The Phantom Tollbooth," by Norton Juster (1961), $8, Amazon
Milo is bored, bored, bored ... until a mysterious tollbooth appears in his room and he visits wondrous lands through its portal (and learns all about jumping to conclusions).
16. "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," by Roald Dahl (1964), $10, Amazon
Willy Wonka opens his amazing chocolate factory to a handful of terrible children ... and one special boy, Charlie.
17. "From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankeweiler," by E.L. Konigsburg (1967), $12, Amazon
Claudia runs away to New York City with her younger brother Jamie, and the pair take up secret residence in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they uncover a mystery.
18. Sounder, by William H. Armstrong (1969), $14, Amazon
An African-American boy and his family are struggling as sharecroppers when his father is sent to jail, and the young man and his loyal dog Sounder must work to keep the family afloat.
19. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, by Robert C. O'Brien (1971), $8, Amazon
A widow mouse with four young children makes a pact with intelligent rats from the National Institute of Mental Health to solve all their problems.
20. "Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing," by Judy Blume (1972) $14, Amazon
Peter is driven to distraction by his younger brother Fudge, who keeps on getting into scrapes and potentially ruins everything.
21. "Bud, Not Buddy," by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999), $12, Amazon
Ten-year-old Bud is orphaned and living in a difficult foster home in 1936 Flint, Michigan when he runs away to discover family he never knew he had.
22. "The Westing Game," by Ellen Raskin (1978), $7, Amazon
A game-loving millionaire invites 16 people to solve a mystery and possibly inherit a great fortune.
23. "Diary of a Wimpy Kid," Jeff Kinney (2007), $7, Amazon
Middle school is a trial for the undersized Greg and his buddies in this first in an ongoing series.
24. "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," by J.K. Rowling (1997), $16, Amazon
The Boy Who Lived makes his introduction as a wizard-in-training in this first of seven books that kicked off the whole phenomenon.
25. "Mary Poppins," by P.L. Travers (1934), $15, Amazon
A magical nanny is hired to get the Banks' children (and their parents) in line. The first in a series of eight books.
26. "Bridge to Terabithia," by Katherine Paterson (1977), $10, Amazon
Jess and Leslie become fast friends in 5th grade, and invent a special land of their own called Terabithia, until tragedy strikes.
27. "A Wrinkle in Time," by Madeline L'Engle (1963), $12, Amazon
This first in the imaginative Time Quintet of books introduces us to a missing father, his intelligent children and tesseracts.
28. "Artemis Fowl," by Eoin Colfer (2001), $13, Amazon
Artemis is 12, a millionaire and a genius ... but also a criminal. The first in this 8-book series introduces us to him and his battle with armed fairies.
29. "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry," by Mildred D. Taylor (1976), $11, Amazon
A young girl growing up in Mississippi faces racism, persecution and deliberately-set fires as she grows and learns why land ownership is so important to her family.
30. "The Little Prince," by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1943), $15, Amazon
A downed pilot in the desert meets a little prince who regales him with tales of his trips to faraway worlds.
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