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

 Books shape our lives–especially the books we read as children. How many of us are reminded of The Secret Garden when we see a leggy rosebush in the winter? And how many fondly recall Rat in The Wind in the Willows when we see a lazy river? The following 25 children’s novels, written between 1900 and 1950, recall some of our best memories and represent a part of us, as well. And, lest we overlook the last half of the century, we’ve also chosen our favorites from 1951 to 1999.

1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Books of Wonder)
by L. Frank Baum, W. W. Denslow (Illustrator)
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William Morrow & Company
School & Library Binding – 267 pages
(August 1987)Click here for more info
In spite of the fact that L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900) is one of the most popular stories in America, relatively few people have actually read the book. It’s well worth the effort! Young readers expecting rainbows, Munchkin songs, and wicked witches with burning brooms will… Read more
2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit
by Beatrix Potter
Frederick Warne & Co
Hardcover – 59 pages
Reissue edition (November 1987)Click here for more info
The quintessential cautionary tale, Peter Rabbit warns naughty children about the grave consequences of misbehaving. When Mrs. Rabbit beseeches her four furry children not to go into Mr. McGregor’s garden, the impish Peter naturally takes this as an open invitation to create mischief. He quickly… Read more
3. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (Books of Wonder)
by Kate Douglas Smith Wiggin, Helen Mason Grose (Illustrator)
William Morrow & Company
School & Library Binding – 291 pages
(September 1994)Click here for more info
Author Jack London wrote Kate Douglas Wiggin a letter about her classic Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm from the headquarters of the First Japanese Army in Manchuria in 1904: “May I thank you for Rebecca?… I would have quested the wide world over to make her mine, only I was born too long ago and… Read more
4. Peter Pan : The Complete and Unabridged Text
by Scott Gustafson(Illustrator), James Matthew Barrie
Viking Pr
School & Library Binding – 192 pages
(October 1991)Click here for more info
“All children, except one, grow up.” Thus begins a great classic of children’s literature that we all remember as magical. What we tend to forget, because the tale of Peter Pan and Neverland has been so relentlessly boiled down, hashed up, and coated in saccharine, is that J.M. Barrie’s original… Read more
5. The Enchanted Castle (Books of Wonder)
by E. Nesbit, et al
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William Morrow & Company
School & Library Binding – 292 pages
(September 1992)Click here for more info
A plot summary makes this story sound ordinary by children’s literature standards: the summer adventures of four children who discover an enchanted castle and a magic ring. But Edith Nesbit’s adored classic (written in 1907) is so much more than the description suggests. Right from the start, the… Read more
6. The Wind in the Willows
by Kenneth Grahame, Michael Hague (Illustrator)
Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
(September 1980)Click here for more info
“[Mole] thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before–this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with… Read more
7. Complete Anne of Green Gables
by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Bantam Doubleday Dell Pub (Juv
Mass Market Paperback
Boxed Set edition (November 1991)Click here for more info
When Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island, send for a boy orphan to help them out at the farm, they are in no way prepared for the error that will change their lives. The mistake takes the shape of Anne Shirley, a redheaded 11-year-old girl who can talk anyone under the… Read more


8. The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Tasha Tudor (Illustrator)
Harpercollins Juvenile Books
Hardcover – 358 pages
Deluxe edition (March 1987)Click here for more info
Mistress Mary is quite contrary until she helps her garden grow. Along the way, she manages to cure her sickly cousin Colin, who is every bit as imperious as she. These two are sullen little peas in a pod, closed up in a gloomy old manor on the Yorkshire moors of England, until a locked-up garden… Read more


9. Understood Betsy
by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Kimberly Bulcken Root (Illustrator)
Henry Holt & Company, Inc.
(October 1999)Click here for more info
Anyone who fondly remembers how the fresh air of the moors puts a blush in the cheeks of sallow young Mary in The Secret Garden will love Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s Understood Betsy just as much. First published in 1916, this engaging classic tells the tale of a thin, pale 9-year-old orphan named… Read more


10. The Story of Doctor Dolittle (Books of Wonder)
by Hugh Lofting, et al
William Morrow & Company
School & Library Binding – 176 pages
(September 1997)Click here for more info
Doctor Dolittle–a 19th-century English physician–has never been one for worrying much. Even after his human patients desert him (when one too many sit on one of the doctor’s unusual parlor pets), he manages to convert gracefully to animal medicine. Having mastered animal language along the way… Read more


11. The Magical Land of Noom (Books of Wonder)
by Johnny Gruelle(Illustrator), Peter Glassman
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Books of Wonder
School & Library Binding – 192 pages
(April 1998)Click here for more info
Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938)–much-loved creator of Raggedy Ann and Raggedy Andy–started his career as a newspaper cartoonist. Inspired by the charm, wit, and commercial success of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, Gruelle created this magical adventure in 1922. This extraordinary, riveting story begins when… Read more


12. Bambi : A Life in the Woods
by Felix Salten, Barbara Cooney (Illustrator)
Pocket Books
Paperback – 192 pages
Reprint edition (July 1988)Click here for more info
Bambi comes into the world in a forest glade, loved by his mother, protected by a thicket. He grows up frolicking in the meadow, befriending butterflies and screech owls, and learning about the dark fear of all the woodland creatures: man. Over time, Bambi seeks out the wisdom of the prince of deer,… Read more


13. Swallows and Amazons
by Arthur Ransome
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David R Godine
(January 1986)Click here for more info
Charles Puffer ([email protected]) from New England , October 12, 1999
Grait book to start reading on.
I actualy saw the Movie (while visiting Scotland) and then readall the books. These are good books about good adventures. No magic and no real evil. Just stories of young people chalanging themselves and each other to be there best. Not to say they don’t make mistaks or take chances that is what… Read more
14. Laura’s Early Years Collection : Little House in the Big Woods/Little House on the Prairie/on the Banks of Plum Creek
by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Garth Williams (Illustrator)
Harpercollins Juvenile Books
(April 1999)Click here for more info
Although the Little House stories are traditionally seen as “girl” books, boys might be happily surprised if they take another peek at their sisters’ shelves. Little House in the Big Woods–the first book of the series and Laura Ingalls Wilder’s first children’s book–is full of the thrills, chills,… Read more


15. Mary Poppins (Harcourt Brace Young Classics)
by P. L. Travers, Mary Shepard (Illustrator)
Harcourt Brace
Revised edition (October 1997)Click here for more info
For all her offended sniffs and humphs, Mary Poppins is likely the most exciting nanny England–and the world–has ever seen. Young Jane and Michael Banks have no idea what’s in store for them when Mary Poppins blows in on the east wind one autumn evening. Soon, though, the children are having tea… Read more


16. Caddie Woodlawn
by Carol Ryrie Brink, Trina Schart Hyman (Illustrator)
Simon & Schuster (Juv)
School & Library Binding – 275 pages
(September 1983)Click here for more info
At age 11, Caddie Woodlawn is the despair of her mother and the pride of her father: a clock-fixing tomboy running wild in the woods of Wisconsin. In 1864, this is a bit much for her Boston-bred mother to bear, but Caddie and her brothers are happy with the status quo. Written in 1935 about Carol… Read more


17. J.R.R. Tolkien : The Hobbit and the Complete Lord of the Rings, the Fellowship of the Ring, the Two Towers, the Return of the King/Boxed Set
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Ballantine Books (Trd Pap)
Mass Market Paperback
Boxed Rei edition (November 1991)Click here for more info
Hobbits and wizards and Sauron–oh, my! Mild-mannered Oxford scholar John Ronald Reuel Tolkien had little inkling when he published The Hobbit; Or, There and Back Again in 1937 that, once hobbits were unleashed upon the world, there would be no turning back. Hobbits are, of course, small, furry… Read more


18. The Moffats
by Eleanor Estes, Louis Slobodkin (Illustrator)
Harcourt Brace
(September 1941)Click here for more info
Who else but a member of the Moffat family could, during kindergarten recess, accidentally hitch a ride out of town on a boxcar? Or wind up trapped in the breadbox outside the delicatessen store? Or kindly offer to escort the Salvation Army man to his destination–only to accidentally bump him out… Read more


19. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Perennial Classics)
by Betty Smith
Harperperennial Library
Paperback – 489 pages
(September 1998)Click here for more info
Francie Nolan, avid reader, penny-candy connoisseur, and adroit observer of human nature, has much to ponder in colorful, turn-of-the-century Brooklyn. She grows up with a sweet, tragic father, a severely realistic mother, and an aunt who gives her love too freely–to men, and to a brother who will… Read more


20. Johnny Tremain
by Esther Forbes, Lynd Ward (Illustrator)
Houghton Mifflin Co (Juv)
(June 1962)Click here for more info
This story of a tragically injured young silversmith who ends up hip-deep in the American Revolution is inspiring, exciting, and sad. Winner of the prestigious Newbery Award in 1944, Esther Forbes’s story has lasted these 50-plus years by including adventure, loss, courage, and history in a… Read more


21. The Little Prince
by Antoine De Saint-Exupery, et al
Harcourt Brace
Hardcover – 97 pages
(December 1943)Click here for more info
It is hard to think of any book so widely read and internationally loved by both children and adults as Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, originally written as Le Petit Prince in 1943. A fable in the most classic sense, this wise story offers layer upon layer to be peeled away… Read more


22. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
by Betty MacDonald, Hilary Knight (Illustrator)
Paperback – 118 pages
(June 1989)Click here for more info
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle has been wildly popular with children and adults for over 50 years. Children adore her because she understands them–and because her upside-down house is always filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies, and her backyard with buried treasure. Grownups love her because her… Read more


23. Misty of Chincoteague
by Marguerite Henry, Wesley Dennis (Illustrator)
Simon & Schuster (Juv)
Hardcover – 145 pages
(November 1990)Click here for more info
On an island off the coasts of Virginia and Maryland lives a centuries-old band of wild ponies. Among them is the most mysterious of all, Phantom, a rarely seen mare that eludes all efforts to capture her–that is, until a young boy and girl lay eyes on her and determine that they can’t live without… Read more


24. The Chronicles of Narnia (Boxed Set)
by C. S. Lewis, Pauline Baynes (Illustrator)
Harpercollins Juvenile Books
Rei/Boxed edition (August 1994)Click here for more info
The Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis, is one of the very few sets of books that should be read three times: in childhood, early adulthood, and late in life. In brief, four children travel repeatedly to a world in which they are far more than mere children and everything is far more than it seems…. Read more


25. Henry Huggins
by Beverly Cleary, Louis Darling (Illustrator)
William Morrow & Company
(September 1983)Click here for more info
Nothing ever happens to Henry Huggins. Nothing, that is, until a stray dog named Ribsy comes into his life. Pretty soon, Henry and Ribsy are wreaking havoc on the city bus, getting a ride in a police car with sirens wailing, and winning a prize at the dog show. Thanks to their joint shenanigans,… Read more


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




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