The Ten Best Children's Books

Click to follow
The Independent Culture


If you can get past the slightly dated portrayals of the children, the Narnia chronicles are still wonderful fantasies and this one is my favourite, owing perhaps as much to Greek mythology (Odysseus's journey) as it does to Christianity. Lucy and Edmund visit Narnia for the last time, and sail with Caspian and Reepicheep the mouse - unforgettably - to the very end of the world.


It's amazing that, in these politically correct times, Willard Price's adventure books - abouttwo brothers who visit primitive peoples and capture wild animals for their father's zoo - have survived. But Price's heart was in the right place and these are rousing tales, packed with natural history. This volume has sharks, mutiny - and flogging, too. Real Boy's Own stuff.

3 THE SILVER SWORD Ian Serraillier

This is one of the great anti-war novels, telling the story of four Polish children crossing Europe in the chaos of the Second World War. Ian Serraillier, a life-long pacifist, pulls no punches in describing the sickness, starvation and fear of his young protagonists, and yet the overall tone is surprisingly gentle. First published in 1951, the book is as relevant in these post-Iraq days as it was then.


The first book in Garth Nix's Keys to the Kingdom series. Nix already has a huge following in his native Australia and this awesome fantasy is sure to win him still more fans over here. He creates a weird, slightly Victorian world with bowler-hatted villains, grotesque monsters and more truly original ideas than JK has had in her entire life.


My 12-year-old son simply can't wait for the next instalment in this long-running series which pitches a certain Darren Shan into a dark and twisted world of warring vampires. The pace, the well-measured violence and the shortness of the books makes them extremely accessible - and explains their huge following. I think they're imaginative and well-written, too.


The Artemis Fowl books - best described as Hans Christian Anderson meets Miami Vice - have got better and better. Artemis himself is a brilliant creation, while Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon unit has to be one of the most feisty heroines in children's literature. And how can you resist a mobile phone that's the latest Fission Chips model?

7 THE TWITS Roald Dahl

We owe a lot to Roald Dahl, who both subverted and modernised children's literature, and this remains a great introduction to reading. The Twits are horrendous characters, trapped in a marriage from hell and slugging it out with frogs, worms, balloons, glass eyes and, finally, glue. The perfect book to read out loud.

8 HOLES Louis Sacher

The film could never capture the brilliance of this story of a boy's internment in a American prison where he is forced to dig holes in a dried-up lake. The structure is deceptively simple but it deals out a series of quite astonishing surprises, and if the ending is perhaps a little too neat, it's still a great read.

9 I AM THE CHEESE Robert Cormier

Right on the line between children's books and adult fiction sits Robert Cormier. His stories are totally uncompromising and this one has an ending more shocking than anything I have ever read. The narrative seems to follow a boy called Adam as he travels to meet his father in Vermont, USA, but nothing can be taken at face value.

10 STORMBREAKER Anthony Horowitz

This book is the first in the series about Alex Rider, the reluctant teenage superspy. Its success really has changed my life. Alex seems to appeal in particular to children who wouldn't normally read, and he now has a following in more than 20 countries. The books are fast-paced and full of adventure. They have been influenced by every choice I've made on this page.

Anthony Horowitz is the author of 'Point Blanc', 'Skeleton Key' and 'Eagle Strike', all published by Walker Books. 'Scorpia', the fifth Alex Rider book, comes out in April 2004