The Best Children’s Books of the Century: 1951-1999

We cried when we read Charlotte’s Web, were completely transported by A Wrinkle in Time, and were nudged into adolescence with Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret. The following novels, written between 1951 and 1999, mark only a few of the classics that will continue to move and inspire (or just plain amuse) generations of young readers.

1. Charlotte’s Web
by E. B. White, et al
Harpercollins Juvenile Books
Hardcover – 192 pages
collectors edition (October 1999)

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An affectionate, sometimes bashful pig named Wilbur befriends a spider named Charlotte, who lives in the rafters above his pen. A prancing, playful bloke, Wilbur is devastated when he learns of the destiny that befalls all those of porcine persuasion. Determined to save her friend, Charlotte spins a… Read more

 

 


2. The Borrowers
by Mary Norton, et al
Harcourt Brace
Hardcover
Reissue edition (March 1998)

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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 its… Read more

 

 


3. The Witch of Blackbird Pond
by Elizabeth George Speare
Houghton Mifflin Co (Juv)
Hardcover
(December 1958)

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Forced to leave her sunny Caribbean home for the bleak Connecticut Colony, Kit Tyler is filled with trepidation. As they sail up the river to Kit’s new home, the teasing and moodiness of a young sailor named Nat doesn’t help. Still, her unsinkable spirit soon bobs back up. What this spirited… Read more

 

 


4. The Phantom Tollbooth
by Norton Juster, Jules Feiffer (Illustrator)
Random House (Merchandising)
Hardcover – 256 pages
Reissue edition (December 1988)

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“It seems to me that almost everything is a waste of time,” Milo laments. “[T]here’s nothing for me to do, nowhere I’d care to go, and hardly anything worth seeing.” This bored, bored young protagonist who can’t see the point to anything is knocked out of his glum humdrum by the… Read more

 

 


5. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Illustrated)
by Scott O’Dell, Ted Lewin (Illustrator)
Houghton Mifflin Co (Juv)
Hardcover – 181 pages
illustrate edition (October 1990)

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Scott O’Dell won the Newbery Medal for Island of the Blue Dolphins in 1961, and in 1976 the Children’s Literature Association named this riveting story one of the 10 best American children’s books of the past 200 years. O’Dell was inspired by the real-life story of a 12-year-old American Indian… Read more

 

 


6. A Wrinkle in Time
by Madeleine L’Engle
Farrar Straus & Giroux (Juv)
Hardcover – 203 pages
(June 1962)

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Everyone in town thinks Meg is volatile and dull-witted and that her younger brother Charles Wallace is dumb. People are also saying that their father has run off and left their brilliant scientist mother. Spurred on by these rumors, Meg and Charles Wallace, along with their new friend Calvin,… Read more

 

 


7. Harriet the Spy
by Louise Fitzhugh
Harpercollins Juvenile Books
Hardcover
Reissue edition (October 1985)

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Ages 8-12. Thirty-two years before it was made into a movie, Harriet the Spy was a groundbreaking book: its unflinchingly honest portrayal of childhood problems and emotions changed children’s literature forever. Happily, it has neither dated nor become obsolete and remains one of the best… Read more

 

 


8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl, Joseph Schindelman (Illustrator)
Usually ships in 2-3 days
Knopf
Hardcover
(June 1985)

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Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its sequel, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, along with Roald Dahl’s other tales for younger readers, make him a true star of children’s literature. Dahl seems to know just how far to go with his oddball fantasies; in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, for… Read more

 

 


9. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
by E. L. Konigsburg
Atheneum
School & Library Binding
(November 1970)

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After reading this book, I guarantee that you will never visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art (or any wonderful, old cavern of a museum) without sneaking into the bathrooms to look for Claudia and her brother Jamie. They’re standing on the toilets, still, hiding until the museum closes and their… Read more

 

 


10. Sounder
by William Howard Armstrong, James Barkley (Illustrator)
Harpercollins Juvenile Books
Hardcover
(October 1969)

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Sounder is no beauty. But as a coon dog, this loyal mongrel with his cavernous bark is unmatched. When the African American sharecropper who has raised Sounder from a pup is hauled off to jail for stealing a hog, his family must suffer their humiliation and crushing loss with no recourse. To make… Read more

 

 


11. Dominic
by William Steig
Farrar Straus & Giroux (Juv)
Paperback
Reprint edition (June 1984)

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Dominic is a one-of-a-kind dog. One day this exuberant, restless, freedom-loving fellow decides there isn’t enough going on in his neighborhood to satisfy his need for adventure. And off he goes, with an assortment of hats (rakish, dashing, solemn, and martial), his precious piccolo, and a few other… Read more

 

 


12. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
by Robert C. O’Brien, Zena Bernstein (Illustrator)
Atheneum
Hardcover
(June 1974)

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There’s something very strange about the rats living under the rosebush at the Fitzgibbon farm. But Mrs. Frisby, a widowed mouse with a sick child, is in dire straits and must turn to these exceptional creatures for assistance. Soon she finds herself flying on the back of a crow, slipping sleeping… Read more

 

 


13. Julie of the Wolves
by Jean Craighead George, John Schoenherr (Illustrator)
Harpercollins Juvenile Books
Hardcover – 170 pages
(February 1987)

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Miyax, like many adolescents, is torn. But unlike most, her choices may determine whether she lives or dies. At 13, an orphan, and unhappily married, Miyax runs away from her husband’s parents’ home, hoping to reach San Francisco and her pen pal. But she becomes lost in the vast Alaskan tundra, with… Read more

 

 


14. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
by Mildred D. Taylor
Puffin
Paperback – 276 pages
(February 1997)

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Cassie’s family faces a real challenge: to hold on to land in the South during the Depression. Her father works away from home and her mother works and runs the family farm. Lynne Thigpen dramatizes this excellent classic story of a black family’s struggles to remain independent and proud against… Read more

 

 


15. The Cricket in Times Square
by George Selden, et al
Farrar Straus & Giroux (Juv)
Hardcover
(September 1983)

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One night, the sounds of New York City–the rumbling of subway trains, thrumming of automobile tires, hooting of horns, howling of brakes, and the babbling of voices–is interrupted by a sound that even Tucker Mouse, a jaded inhabitant of Times Square, has never heard before. Mario, the son of Mama… Read more

 

 


16. Where the Red Fern Grows : The Story of Two Dogs and a Boy
by Wilson Rawls
Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub (Juv
Hardcover
Reissue edition (June 1996)

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Author Wilson Rawls spent his boyhood much like the character of this book, Billy Colman, roaming the Ozarks of northeastern Oklahoma with his bluetick hound. A straightforward, shoot-from-the-hip storyteller with a searingly honest voice, Rawls is well-loved for this powerful 1961 classic and the… Read more

 

 


17. Are You There, God? It’s Me Margaret
by Judy Blume
Simon & Schuster (Juv)
School & Library Binding – 149 pages
2nd edition (November 1990)

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If anyone tried to determine the most common rite of passage for preteen girls in North America, a girl’s first reading of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret would rank near the top of the list. Judy Blume and her character Margaret Simon were the first to say out loud (and in a book even) that it… Read more

 

 


18. M.C. Higgins, the Great
by Virginia Hamilton
Simon & Schuster (Juv)
School & Library Binding – 256 pages
25 edition (September 1999)

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From a perch on his 40-foot pole (a gift from his father for swimming across the Ohio River), M.C. likes to slide his hand over the rolling mountains, smooth out the sky, and fluff up the trees to the south of Sarah’s Mountain. To the north, though, no amount of pretending can make the whine of… Read more

 

 


19. 5 Novels : Alan Mendelsohn the Boy from Mars, Slaves of Spiegel, the Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death, the Last Guru, Young Adult Novel
by Daniel Pinkwater, Jules Feiffer
Farrar Straus & Giroux (Juv)
Paperback – 656 pages
(September 1997)

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There are many words that could be used to describe Daniel Pinkwater’s books. Wacky comes to mind. Outrageous. Lively. Real. Unreal. Comic genius Jules Feiffer, in his foreword to 5 Novels, says, “Pinkwater’s thoughts don’t connect like yours or mine. His ‘tab A’ does not fit into ‘slot A’ the… Read more

 

 


20. Hatchet
by Gary Paulsen
Simon & Schuster (Juv)
School & Library Binding – 142 pages
(September 1987)

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From AudioFile
Brian Robeson, the sole passenger in a single-engine plane, is on his way to visit his father in the Canadian oil fields when his pilot suffers a heart attack. Alone and desperate, Brian guides the plane to a landing on an isolated lake. In a straightforward but compelling narration, Coyote captures… Read more

 

 


21. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials)
by Philip Pullman
Knopf
Hardcover – 416 pages
(April 1996)

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Some books improve with age–the age of the reader, that is. Such is certainly the case with Philip Pullman’s heroic, at times heart-wrenching novel, The Golden Compass, a story ostensibly for children but one perhaps even better appreciated by adults. The protagonist of this complex fantasy is… Read more

 

 


22. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
by J. K. Rowling
Arthur A. Levine Books
Hardcover – 309 pages
(September 1998)

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Say you’ve spent the first 10 years of your life sleeping under the stairs of a family who loathes you. Then, in an absurd, magical twist of fate you find yourself surrounded by wizards, a caged snowy owl, a phoenix-feather wand, and jellybeans that come in every flavor, including strawberry, curry,… Read more

 

 


23. Skellig
by David Almond
Delacorte Pr
Hardcover – 176 pages
(May 1999)
(April 13, 1999)
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“I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered with dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shined the flashlight on his white face… Read more

 

 


24. The Birchbark House
by Louise Erdrich
Hyperion (J)
Hardcover – 192 pages
(May 1999)

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Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder’s beloved Little House books. With The Birchbark House, award-winning author Louise Erdrich’s first novel for young readers, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the… Read more

 

 


25. Holes (Newbery Medal Book, 1999)
by Louis Sachar
Farrar Straus & Giroux (Juv)
Hardcover – 233 pages
(September 1998)

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“If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.” Such is the reigning philosophy at Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention facility where there is no lake, and there are no happy campers. In place of what used to be “the largest lake in… Read more

 

The Best Children’s Books of the Century 1900-1950


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