16 classic children’s books and series that all adults should read

August is definitely one of my favourite months in the entire reading challenge; as an adult, I love the feeling of nostalgia I get reading a children’s book, whether it’s a decade-overdue reread or a classic I’m discovering for the first time. Last year in lockdown, I found myself turning to children’s books often for that sense of familiarity and comfort. I was also new to audiobooks at the time so I sought out books that I could read from a new dimension (you’ll find a bunch of those in here if you need your next audio fix).

“I’d rather be happy and odd than miserable and ordinary,’ she said, sticking her chin in the air.”

Goodnight Mister Tom

Spotlight recommendation

Every month, I share my top recommendation. For August it is:

Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian

Genre: Historical fiction (WW2)

I was lucky enough to receive a digital copy of the 40th edition of Goodnight Mister Tom via NetGalley and I recently read it for the first time; I’m going to put it out there and say it’s one of my favourite books of the year so far. The writing is flawless with beautiful, rich descriptions, and the character-building truly makes the book come to life. Here’s to the next 40 years of people both discovering and rereading this wonderful, timeless classic ♥

Quick overview

The story centres around Willie, a young, sickly boy who is sent to the countryside as an evacuee during WW1. His mother wants him to stay with a God-fearing adult, which is how Willie finds himself on the doorstep of solitary, cantankerous Mr Oakley who lives in a cottage on the outskirts of the church graveyard. The two appear to be polar opposites and it takes a while for them to grow used to each other, but soon, friendship blossoms and the two become inseparable. That is until Willie is summoned back to London to care for his sick mother and isn’t heard from again…

Hayley’s highlights

Here are some other must-read children’s books that I can guarantee you will enjoy just as much (if not more) as an adult:

The Famous Five series by Enid Blyton

Genre: Adventure/mystery

Famous Five was a staple in my home growing up, both the books and the films. Five Go To Smuggler’s Top was my favourite movie (for a serious 1995 throwback, check it out on YouTube) and a few years ago, I bought the boxed set so I could own (and reread) all the books.

Adults can enjoy: a thorough dosing of nostalgia, traditionally-constructed mystery stories, and a chuckle when they shout Dick.

Side note, the classic children’s books are ironically much better written than the so-called adult versions IMO.

Malory Towers series (1-6) by Enid Blyton

Genre: Adventure school stories

I still own this pictured edition of Malory Towers and it brings back so many memories of summer rereads and arguments with my cousin who stole my copies for a good ten years. It was the series that made me seriously consider lacrosse as a career (safe to say that dream was shattered) and the one that introduced me to my favourite-name-at-the-time, Gwendoline.

Adults can enjoy: quintessential British-ness, teen life flashbacks, and countless escapades at the all-girls boarding school.

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories by Carolyn Keene

Genre: Mystery/detective

Nancy Drew has a special place in both my child and adult heart. I’ve recently jumped back into the series and they are wonderful to reminisce. The writing is a bit amateur but these books (all 56 of the ‘classic originals’) were written between 1930 and 1979 so you just have to accept that they’re pretty behind the times.

Adults can enjoy: a strong female lead, exaggerated exclamations (so bad it’s funny), and plenty of fast-paced mysteries.

Fun fact: Carolyn Keene is actually a pseudonym as the books were all ghostwritten by different authors.

The Babysitter’s Club by Ann. M. Martin

Genre: Children’s fiction

The Babysitters Club is another momentous throwback to series that I will never outgrow. I bought a bunch of these old-school editions from a secondhand shop a few years back and loved diving back into the stories.

Adults can enjoy: a diverse cast of well-constructed characters, fun storylines, and an easy writing style.

For once, the Netflix series actually do these books/characters justice – highly recommend if you haven’t yet binged 👀

The Railway Children by E. Nesbit

Genre: Historical fiction/adventure

The Railway Children was the first proper classic I read independently and I’ve re-read it countless times since.

Puzzled by the mysterious disappearance of their father, three siblings distract themselves by watching and waving to passing trains. After regularly seeing the same passenger who they dub the ‘Old Gentleman,’ they eventually seek his help and that of a Russian writer to bring their father home.

Adults can enjoy: reading from a different perspective and picking up on darker themes possible overlooked as a child.

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce

Genre: Fantasy/time travel

Another book I was obsessed with as a child, Tom’s Midnight Garden tells the late-night adventures of Tom who, after hearing the clock strike thirteen, discovers a secret garden that only he can enter.

Adults can expect: magically crafted prose, dreamy scenery, and a beautifully poignant tale. 💭

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

Genre: Summer adventure

In the midst of a summer camping trip to a deserted island, four siblings meet two Amazon pirates who challenge them to a war.

My mum and I read/watched Swallows and Amazons multiple times when I was younger and a few years ago, I picked up a beautiful edition from a secondhand bookshop so this will be the perfect time to revisit.

Adults can enjoy: the simple joys of pre-digital childhoods, witty one-liners, and another chuckle at the character named Titty (promise I’m not usually this immature).

Holes by Louis Sacher

Genre: Adventure/mystery

I love discovering books that are part of school curriculum so today I’m sharing my own; I studied Holes back in year 8 and it was like nothing I’d read before.

Following a generation of bad luck, Stanley Yelnats ends up in a juvenile camp after being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Each boy must dig a hole a day in the sweltering heat, but this isn’t just character building; there’s truth hidden in that dry lake bed and Stanley’s luck might finally be about to turn.

Adults can enjoy: the dark humour, two great fictional protagonists (Stanley and Zero), and other-worldly elements (notably magical onions).

Goosebumps series by R. L. Stine

Genre: Horror

Of course, good old Goosebumps had to make the list; they are absolute classics and let no one tell you any different. Like most kids, I scoured the library shelves to make sure I’d read every single title on offer. Even now, I hunt thrift shops looking for old editions to dive back into.

Adults can enjoy: an entryway into the horror genre, a generous splash of spookiness, and cliffhangers galore.

Classic children’s books that feature in past challenges

Back in May, we explored anthropomorphic reads. Many in that list are also much-loved children’s books so if you didn’t get to them in May, now’s your chance!

I also have a post dedicated to books that empower children if you’re looking for something non-fiction. They are from the series Little People, BIG DREAMS which celebrates the life achievements of inspirational people, all of who started our with a dream that they never stopped believing in.

Plenty to choose from for this month’s theme and plenty of others that I haven’t (yet) included! My aim is to broaden my cultural knowledge this month and learn more about the history of the country I now permanently live in. Hope you can join me on that journey and gain some Indigenous insights too in whichever part of the world/time you choose to armchair travel to.


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