The mesmeric wonder of Moominvalley. The twinkling magic of Mrs Pepperpot shrinking. Madeline’s “old house in Paris that was covered with vines.” Heidi snuggling to sleep in Grandfather’s alpine hayloft. The moment Max’s room is transformed into a jungle of Wild Things. That moment when Charlotte the spider’s work is done.
While the catalysts will be deeply personal (as is always the way with books), re-visiting stories first read in childhood can be an uncannily evocative experience for us all. They possess the power to stir memories, and to transport us - back in time, to distant lands, to other worlds - in the company of unforgettable characters. They might provide comfort, akin to settling down by a fire while wild winds rage outside. Or they might reawaken the wild winds of long forgotten fears. Either way, their impact can be profound, with the best of these books speaking to adults as much as they do to children, and re-readings evoking new understandings of old favourites.
Take Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, for example. This classic picture book resonates with today’s toddlers as much as it did when it was published in 1963. It’s also abundant in truths adults can learn from - don’t judge appearances, love big, embrace the power of imagination, don’t be afraid to unleash your inner Wild Thing, and always appreciate the sanctuary of coming home. Indeed, plenty of classic picture books offer grown-up readers plenty of nourishing food for thought, from the rousing call-to-adventure of Dr Seuss’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, to Michael Foreman’s allegorical War and Peas.
Moving from picture books, readers of all ages over six or so will be captivated by Tove Jansson’s charming Moomin series with its emotionally honest adventures and tender message of tolerance. Then there’s Anne of Green Gables, the free-spirited, flame-haired orphan who embodies the adventurous spirit of childhood, and Charlotte's Web, with its deeply affecting story of friendship, loss and the cycle of life. And what about Winnie the Pooh? Re-reading this as adults, we might recognise Eeyore’s depression and Piglet’s anxiety while taking wisdom from Pooh’s philosophical reflections.
Although it’s a wonder to return to classics that rekindle memories and prompt fresh thought, we wouldn’t want you to miss out on books for children and young adults that have been published more recently. Beginning with picture books, Shaun Tan is a true artist, a master of multi-layered text and illustrations that speak to many ages, such as the CILIP Kate Greenaway Medal-winning Tales from the Inner City. Aimed at 7+ year-olds, and published in 2020, Ways to Make Sunshine is a personal favourite. With an unforgettable African American heroine at its heart, this family-centred treasure imparts a warming message about being yourself and making the best of things.
Fans of atmospheric adventure would do well to lose themselves in Eva Ibbotson's Brazil-set Journey to the River Sea, and the emotional, elemental October, October, or Tuck Everlasting, an enchanting, timeless tale of everlasting life, life-changing friendship and everyday happiness.
For history with heart and potency, try Alex Wheatle’s Cane Warriors, a real-life story of hope and heroism set during a 1760 uprising of Jamaican slaves. And for unique coming-of-age insights with genuine cross-over appeal, they don’t come better than Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden and How I Live Now.
From re-discovering old favourites that will awaken potent memories, to uncovering contemporary marvels no one should miss out on, the collection below highlights books you’ll never outgrow, no matter how grown-up you are, and no matter where your tastes lie (there’s something for everyone here). What’s more, among these pearls you might discover perfect presents for the little ones in your life.