Children’s literature is hard to define; it can have many themes and take many forms, but one thing is for sure – it’s not just for children. There’s a lot to enjoy and a lot to be learned from children’s books, so to celebrate International Children’s Book Day (April 2), here are the top five children’s books all students should read…
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
There’s a reason why this little novella is one of the best-selling and most translated works the world has ever seen. Originally published in French as Le Petit Prince, the story follows a pilot who has crash landed in the desert and encounters a strange young person, the prince, who has travelled from his home on a distant asteroid where he lives alone with a single rose.
The book addresses themes of loneliness, friendship, love, and loss, jumping from fable to comedy to tragedy in order to make a recurrent point: you can’t love roses. You can only love one rose. It’s the children’s book most likely to bring an adult to tears.
Peter Pan by JM Barrie
You probably read Peter Pan, or at least watched the film, when you were younger – but have you ever re-read it as an adult? As well as being a great story, the book reveals many lessons about the nature of growing up and certainly doesn’t turn away from the macabre – you might be shocked if you’ve only ever seen the Disney film!
There’s also a lesson hidden in the character of Captain Hook: An Old Etonian who still carries many traits of his privileged education. James Hook believed he is entitled to whatever he wants, and when he doesn’t get it, he attempts to bring destruction to Neverland. The lesson? Beware Old Etonians who prize good form above truth and who would seek to rule.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Golden Compass, The Subtle Knife, and The Amber Spyglass are modern fantasy classics that you’ll find recommended again and again by children and grown-ups alike. They comprise the thrilling coming-of-age adventures of Lyra and Will, two ordinary children on a perilous journey through shimmering, haunted alternative worlds.
The books are about truth and its importance, and how we can tell the truth through stories. These spellbinding books will have you questioning everything you think you know about the world.
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Sephy is a Cross, a member of the dark-skinned ruling class, and Callum is a Nought, a ‘colorless’ member of the underclass. In a captivating and thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice that is reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet with a modern twist, a forbidden romance grows between our protagonists.
The success of the recent TV series goes to show what an enduring appeal this their story has, and how ahead of its time it was: this year, Tesco finally brought out plasters in different shades for different skin tones, yet Malorie Blackman wrote a memorable line about this in Noughts and Crosses two whole decades ago.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
This classic tale of an eccentric chocolate maker and his magical factory is slightly darker than it appears on the surface; to children, the violence as Willy Wonka eliminates children one by one from his factory tour seems wacky and fun.
It’s a fantastic story to come back to as an adult when you uncover new depths to the story that you hadn’t previously realized were there: themes of colonialism, madness and isolation are expertly weaved between the jokes in a way that makes this the perfect story for any age.