BBC Culture reveals 100 greatest children’s books of all time
Critics from around the world rank Where the Wild Things Are in the top spot
Tuesday, 23 May – Where the Wild Things Are by the US author Maurice Sendak has been named the greatest children’s book of all time* in a poll by BBC Culture. The 1963 classic picture book was joined by Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Pippi Longstocking, The Little Prince, and The Hobbit to make up the top five.
BBC Culture’s top 100 list, featuring the greatest children’s books of all time was voted for by children’s authors, illustrators, editors, publishers, academics, librarians, writers, and readers from across the world, who cast votes for more than 1000 different books, with each choosing their 10 favourite children’s books and ranking them.
The number one book was deemed to be Maurice Sendak’s 1963 classic picture book, Where the Wild Things Are, with more than a fifth of respondents including it in their top 10 and 7% choosing it as their top-ranked book.
The top 10 children’s books from the list are below. The full list is available here.
1. Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak, 1963)
2. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll, 1865)
3. Pippi Longstocking (Astrid Lindgren, 1945)
4. The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1943)
5. The Hobbit (JRR Tolkien, 1937)
6. Northern Lights (Philip Pullman, 1995)
7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis, 1950)
8. Winnie-the-Pooh (AA Milne and EH Shepard, 1926)
9. Charlotte’s Web (EB White and Garth Williams, 1952)
10. Matilda (Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, 1988)
Rebecca Laurence, editor of BBC Culture, said: “We are delighted to present BBC Culture’s poll of the 100 greatest children’s books of all time. With 177 children’s books experts voting from 56 different countries around the world, we hope that this list will inspire debate, encourage people to revisit classics of their youth, and discover books they may not have come across before.”
Philip Pullman, author of Northern Lights (1995) and the highest-ranking living author on the list (#6) said: “I’m delighted to hear the result of this poll, it has taken me completely by surprise, and I’m not entirely sure I can find the words respond to it. Children’s books are important because we still think about them when we’re grown up because they have an effect on our way of seeing the world and our way of thinking about other people. They provide us with models of bad behaviour and good behaviour. People who we would like to have as friends behaving generously, being kind, being brave, in difficult circumstances. That’s why they’re important to grown-ups as well as to children, and that’s why the best grown-up books are important, for the same sorts of reasons I think.”
Elle McNicoll, author of A Kind of Spark (2020), the youngest author and writer of the most recent book on the list (#75) said: “It’s so astounding to see A Kind of Spark on this list. It’s been the highest joy and relief to see so many children, especially children on the margins, falling in love with Addie and her story, but to be recognised in this way is truly incredible. Proud to be the youngest as well. I hope I haven’t peaked!”
Some key facts and analysis from the top 100 list:
· 80 different authors are represented among the top 100 books.
· 46 of the top 100 books were written by female authors and 52 by male authors. (Two books – The Panchatantra at #49 and One Thousand and One Nights at #70 – are based on folk stories of uncertain authorship.)
· The authors with the most books in the top 100 are Roald Dahl (six books), Tove Jansson (five books), and Astrid Lindgren (four books).
· 43 different illustrators are represented in the top 100. The illustrator with the most books in the top 100 is the British illustrator Quentin Blake (five books), who often collaborated with Roald Dahl.
· The oldest book in the top 100 is the Panchatantra, a collection of Indian children’s stories dating back to the second century BCE. The newest is A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, published in 2020 (#75).
· Of the top 100 books, 74 were originally published in English, with nine in Swedish, followed by German (six books), French (four books), and Italian (two books). Other languages represented by one book each were Arabic, Danish, Korean, Sanskrit, and Uzbek.
The poll’s respondents came from 56 different countries in total, including the UK, the US, Belgium, Canada, India, and Switzerland. Two-thirds of respondents were born outside Europe and the US, and more than half spoke a non-English language as their mother tongue.
Visit BBC Culture to find the complete list of critics’ ballots, as well as features including Why Where the Wild Things Are is the greatest children’s book, The 20 greatest children’s books, and The 21st Century’s greatest children’s books.
Previous BBC Culture critics polls have included: The 100 greatest TV shows of the 21st Century, The 100 greatest films directed by women, The 100 greatest foreign language films, The 100 greatest comedies of all time, and The 21st Century’s Greatest Films.