To wrap up the series on how to write children’s literature, let’s take a look at twelve beloved children’s stories that have stood the test of time, many or all of which are still enjoyed by adults as well.
Each of them portrays a world- whether real or imaginary- vibrantly colored with a child’s innocent view of people and events and flavored with their pure courage, willing to help anyone and everyone. But, beyond that, most of them have a strong theme wrapped in their rainbow adventures, proving that truths wrapped in fantasy sink into a person’s fiber and shape them.
- Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass.
The first book doesn’t even make sense until the last few paragraphs. Yet children- and adults- continue to adore Alice and the sequel. These two books highlight how bizarre an imagination can be, yet remind us that we are in supreme control of that imagination and though it may scare us, we can move through it essentially unharmed.
- The Hobbit
Dwarves with hilariously rousing songs, a little pastoral people hidden away in a corner of the world, trolls, dragons, elves, eagles, bear-men and a big battle… who doesn’t love Bilbo’s adventures? Bilbo’s simplicity contrasted with the messy adventures into which he keeps landing remind all of us that even the smallest, simplest people can play a big part in the world.
- The Chronicles of Narnia
What child hasn’t dreamed of going through a portal and finding himself in another world? With a unique twist on the Chosen One trope- children pulled into another land to complete specific tasks and learn lessons and then returned- this series perpetually inspires children with real life morals and lessons, as well as keeping alive the idea that the weirdly shaped gap in those bushes or the crack at the side of that wide board at the back of their closet may really hold a doorway to another world.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Another classic portal fantasy, this time spotlighting how sustaining the thought and hope of home are to a child. Adventures are wonderful but in the end it’s good to know that home exists and is safe.
- The Secret Garden
Secret gardens are fantastic but the real heart of this book lies in its depiction of the journey from an attitude of loneliness and selfishness to finding the strength within yourself to change your circumstances, refusing to let them define or confine you. (I was so disappointed that there was never any potential for a secret garden around my house.)
- Black Beauty
Most children naturally love animals and understand them on a basic level but this book taught generations of children that they also have a responsibility to care for animals and make sure they were safe.
A young Swiss girl far from home and love, being exploited by an aunt who didn’t really care about her, this was one of the earliest classics I read. It poignantly proves that no matter where you land, or how badly you don’t want to be there, you can still make a difference wherever you are. (Also, how many kids have wanted to taste goats’ milk or toasted cheese on bread after reading it? I sure did.)
- Peter Pan
If you never wished for Peter Pan to come whisk you away as a child or tried to find Neverland on your own, then I don’t even know what to say to you. The allure of not having to grow up, of living forever in the rich, (comparative) innocence of a child, of not having to listen to adults or make big decisions… what’s not to want? And yet, this book strikingly portrays why Neverland is not real and that everyone has to grow up sometime.
- The Jungle Book
I credit this book with part of my lifelong passion for big cats. Subtly woven through Mowgli’s lessons is the truth that we have a responsibility to understand nature’s laws and wild animals as well as domesticated ones.
- Anne of Green Gables
Even those kids with happy families can easily understand the feeling of being unwanted, whether they can identify with it or not. But being unwanted doesn’t mean that you can’t make a place for yourself, as Anne ably proves to everyone who reads this delightful tale and carries the memory of it with them to enrich the rest of their life.
- Treasure Island
Every kid (or all the ones that I’ve known) plays pirates at some time or another and this is an adventure in true pirate style, setting the mold for subsequent pirate stories. “What can go wrong, will go wrong” is basically the subtitle of this book, but Jim Hawkins is an excellent example of how ingenuity and keeping your head aren’t to be underestimated.
- Charlotte’s Web
This is just FUN, in addition to exploring the important message of how the unlikeliest of companions can not only help each other but become true, caring friends who would do anything for each other- a message possibly needed today more than ever.
There are so many more that I could mention, or write an entire post on the myths, legends, and fairy tales that children adore, but if I keep going I will never stop.
In conclusion: to truly lure a child into a story, you have to fire their imagination on all cylinders. Give them something in which to believe, for which to hope and fight; while at the same time representing the world around them in colors as vivid and living as they themselves see. If there is a ‘magic recipe’ for writing children’s literature, this is it, as I think these twelve books aptly demonstrate.
Merry Writing, and may your books for children last the test of time even half as well as these have.