By Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake, published by Puffin, RRP £5.99
What’s the story: It’s so hard to choose among Dahl’s books. Matilda is one of the most borrowed books by children in libraries, so let’s go with her. Super bright Matilda has very mean and stupid parents. They’re horrified that their daughter prefers books to TV. Her teacher, the lovely Miss Honey thinks Matilda is a genius. And she’s right. Matilda proves she has courage as well as cleverness when she frees her school from the head mistress, the tyrannical Miss Trunchbull.
Why we love it: The exploits Matilda goes to in getting back at her horrid parents is incredibly amusing. She dyes her father’s hair platinum blonde and hides a talking parrot up the chimney pretending to her family it’s a ghost. It’s a sheer delight to read and Blakes illustrations perfectly complement this captivating story.
First published: 1988
Diary of a Wimpy Kid: a novel in cartoons
By Jeff Kinney, published by Puffin, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: Meet Greg Heffley, who finds himself thrust into a new year and a new school where undersize weaklings share the corridors with kids who are taller, meaner and already shaving. Everything that happens to him are noted down in his journal because he figures later on, when he’s rich and famous, this book will come in handy. But for now, he has to deal with a bunch of morons.
Why we love it: If you haven’t had a good laugh lately, Diary of a Wimpy Kid is your source for timeless humour. There’s a particular goofiness about boys in middle school. Jeff Kinney creates a book with plenty of tongue-in-cheek irreverence that will amuse anyone reading this book.
First published: 2007
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
By C.S. Lewis, illustrated by Pauline Baynes, published by Harper Collins, RRP £5.99
What’s the story: Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy accidentally discover the magical land of Narnia through the back of an old wardrobe – a land ruled by the cruel White Witch, where it’s always winter, but never Christmas. Only the mysterious Aslan can save the creatures of Narnia and break the cursed spell. Apparently, this is Geri Halliwell, Noel Gallagher and Peter Mandelson’s favourite book for children.
Why we love it: These books are a riot of fauns, talking beavers and dancing druids. This is Book 2 of 7 in the classic series, but it was the first to be published and it’s the one most people start with and favour.
First published: 1950
The Phantom Tollbooth
By Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer, published by Harper Collins, RRP £5.99
What’s the story: Bored Milo unexpectedly receives a magic purple tollbooth and with nothing better to do he drives through it in his toy car. He’s transported to the Kingdom of Wisdom where he picks up two companions, journeys through Dictionopolis, has adventures in Digitopolis, and saves two banished princesses named Rhyme and Reason.
Why we love it: This is a children’s adventure novel and modern fairy tale rolled in to one dazzling, discomforting, enchantment of a read. There’s a whole extra dimension to the story – about being educated and everyone’s complete puzzlement over all the weird and useless things they make you learn in school.
First published: 1961
Five Children and It
By E. Nesbit, published by Puffin, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: Robert, Anthea, Cyril, Jean and their baby brother – the Lamb, move from London to the countryside in a house next to the sea where they discover a grumpy creature called a Psammead, a sand fairy. It grants them one wish every day. Of course, all the wishes go comically wrong, much to the amusement of the reader.
Why we love it: Everybody, and I mean everybody, wishes that wishes could come true, and this delightful tale shows what could happen when the things you think you want actually appear. Funny, suspenseful and wise, this will keep your eight year old entertained.
First published: 1902
Fungus the Bogeyman
By Raymond Briggs, published by Puffin, RRP £7.99
What’s the story: In the disgusting land of Bogeydom, among snot, slime and scum, lives Fungus. Fungus is a decent hard-working bogey but he often asks himself, what is it all for? Why do bogeymen exist? Why do they have to pester and frighten the Drycleaners (people who live above the surface, A.K.A us!)? It seems as if no one has the answer, not even his beloved wife Mildew ‘the ugliest woman in Bogeydom.’
Why we love it: This picture book has plenty of text in a storyboard format to keep a reader at this age engaged enough to not get too bored. The illustrations offer a light and laughable relief. Briggs has created a vivid and rather vile creation in Fungus. What’s not to love!
First published: 1978
The Wind in the Willows
By Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Robert Ingpen, published by Oxford Children’s Classics, RRP £5.99
What’s the story: Good-hearted Mole loses patience with his spring cleaning and decides to leave his underground home for some fresh air. Walking along the riverbank he meets Ratty who invites him along on a boat ride. From then on the two creatures become great friends, and not long after they encounter the larger than life Aristocrat, Toad of Toad Hall, and the gruff but friendly Badger.
Why we love it: A number of children’s books contain anthropomorphised animals, but this one especially, with the main characters being a bit like animal members of an Edwardian gentleman’s club like Three Men in a Boat but for children. The characters are vivid and lovable – despite their quirks and foibles. There are lessons to be learned in some parts of the book and certain chapters that explore human emotions of fear, nostalgia, awe, wanderlust.
First published: 1908
By Mary Norton, illustrated by Sian Bailey, published by Puffin, RRP £6.99
What’s the story: The tiny Borrowers own nothing at all. Instead they borrow from the houses of ‘human beans’ (human beings). They live in secret places in quiet old houses – behind mantelpieces, harpsichords and under kitchen clocks. This is the story of Arietty Clock and her parents Homilly and Pod. Arietty is curious about the ‘big people’ which causes her and her parents to go on many adventures that perhaps the average Borrower would prefer.
Why we love it: Anyone who has ever entertained the notion of ‘little people’ living furtively among us will adore this artfully spun classic. The Borrowers, a Carnegie Medal winner, a Lewis Carroll Shelf Award book, and an ALA Distinguished Book, has stolen the hearts of thousands of readers since was first published.
First published: 1953
The Demon Headmaster
By Gillian Cross, published by OUP, RRP £5.99
What’s the story: Dinah Glass moves in with Lloyd and Harvey Hunter and she discovers that at her new school, the Headmaster is very strange with the powers of hypnosis and a desire to take over the world. With the help of her friends, who are immune to the headmaster’s hypnotic powers, she successfully stops his evil master plan.
Why we love it: This brilliant series is spooky and exciting all at once. Readers will afterwards thank their lucky stars they don’t have a hypnotist headmaster bent on ruling the world.
First published: 1982
By Jeremy Strong, illustrated by Nick Sharrat, published by Puffin, RRP £4.99
What’s the story: Something odd has happened to Rosie and her brothers. It seems Rosie’s new pyjamas are responsible for leading them all on a dangerous discovery. Doctor Starkly-Bonkers has muddled history up with his Doombuster invention. It’s up to Rosie and her brothers to beat the pharaohs, dinosaurs and Vikings, but will rice pudding really save the day?
Why we love it: Strong’s books are hugely popular with young children with their breezy, daft exuberance. This is perfect for Roald Dahl and Andy Stanton fans. Be prepared for split sides, aching cheeks and tears of laughter.
First published: 2010