Reading is a habit that stays with you for a lifetime.
Like most kids, I too loved being read to in my childhood. Snuggled in grandma’s arms, my sister and I spent innumerable nights listening to bedtime stories. With time, the gold mine of words and sentences came to life, and we read books happily ever after.
Lewis Carroll, Rabindranath Tagore, Mark Twain, Charles Dickens, and Enid Blyton befriended me, and with each passing year, their fictional characters became more and more real. Walking hand in hand with Feluda, Rusty, Charlie, Swami, and Mowgli, I travelled to incredible places, solved baffling mysteries, savoured mouth-watering cuisines, and explored a world of magic and delight.
On this Children’s Day, November 14, I have compiled a list of 14 books that I think every child must read. These treasures have been a part of my growing years, and I am sure kids will love them too because books are a child’s best friend and good stories never grow old.
1. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland: Lewis Carroll
This timeless tale takes you down a rabbit hole into a wonderland where wisdom and fantasy come together. The Mad Hatter, Cheshire Cat, and Caterpillar stay with the readers for life and with every reading, and make you, ‘Curiouser and curiouser!’
2. Black Beauty: Anna Sewell
Black Beauty is an autobiographical account of a horse, who narrates many tales, both of cruelty and compassion. It is one of those exceptional classics that can preach without being preachy.
So here’s a book, straight from the horse’s mouth.
3. Children’s Omnibus: Ruskin Bond
This potpourri of novellas and short-stories is as fresh as the ‘gulabi thand’ of early winter. The master story-teller from the hills weaves magic with his simple and lucid writing. The experience of reading and re-reading Bond can be summarized in his own words: ‘The world keeps changing, but there is always something, somewhere, that remains the same’.
4. Harry Potter Series: J.K. Rowling
What can I say about these 7 book that hasn’t been said before. If there’s one author who can entice readers and non-readers alike, it definitely is J.K. Rowling. When you hold a Harry Potter book, you know you are holding magic. Filled with enchanting characters and unimaginable locations, Hogwarts is every child’s dream school. So what are you waiting for? Just say ‘Alohomora’, unlock these books, and read them before ‘You-Know-Who’ does!
5. Kabuliwala: Rabindranath Tagore
This is the story of an Afghan hawker who comes to Calcutta to earn a living, and develops a beautiful bond with five-year-old Mini. Profoundly moving and heart-warming, Kabuliwala explores the themes of love, friendship, and a father-daughter relationship. This is one of the earliest childhood stories that I was read to, and it has surely left an indelible impression on my mind.
6. Letters from a Father to His Daughter: Jawaharlal Nehru
This collection of 30 letters was written by Nehru to his 10-year-old daughter, Indira. Topics like natural history, ancient civilizations, evolution, economics, religion, cultures, and the genetic make-up of the world have been discussed at length. When you read this book, the bygone era of letter-writing comes alive along with an array of facts and ideas. It is an excellent read.
7. Malgudi Schooldays: R.K. Narayanan
Based in the fictional town of Malgudi, this book is an Indian classic written by a veteran teller of tales. Narayanan brilliantly juxtaposes the innocence of childhood against the life in pre-independent India. Written from the viewpoint of Swami, a young prankster, the story revolves around his friends and the pranks they play at school. The book paints a picturesque picture of childhood which is uncomplicated, stress-free, and happy.
8. Matilda: Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s unforgettable stories have inspired readers all over the world. Matilda is special because it talks about an extraordinary little girl whose life turns around. The hopefulness and optimism in this impressive tale, is not just gratifying but also inspiring. Like most other Roald Dahl’s books, reading this story too gives you ‘a hopeful and comforting message: You are not alone.’
9. Peter Pan: J.M. Barrie
If there’s one book that inspires children to dream, it is Peter Pan. Every time I read it, it reminds me of childhood, happiness, the beauty of innocence, adventure, love, and so much more. Like Wendy, John, and Michael, the readers too can fly off to Neverland, a world full of adventures. Peter Pan’s story is a story that every child must know because, ‘All children, except one grow up’.
10. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer: Mark Twain
How could my list be complete without mentioning The Adventures of Tom Sawyer? One of America’s best-loved novels, the story portrays childhood in a tender but practical way. This book has stood the test of time because of Twain’s perfect portrayal of young boys. Tom engages readers of all ages, and in his adventures along the banks of the Mississippi, he more often than not manages to achieve success. So do read this book because, as Twain rightly said, ‘The man who does not read has no advantage over a man who cannot read.’
11. The Chronicles of Narnia: C.S. Lewis
Written by one of the best writers of children literature, this collection of 7 books presents fantasy at its best. It is the story of four children who travel repeatedly to an incredible world, and discover that they are not merely children and everything around them is much more than what meets the eye. Lucidly detailed with charming characters, The Chronicles of Narnia is a must-read for children as well as adults. So ‘do not dare not to dare’ and do read this book.
12. The Complete Adventures of Feluda (Volume 1 and 2): Satyajit Ray
Feluda, a phenomenal private investigator, is one of the most memorable characters I remember from childhood. Topshe, Jatayu, and Feluda became household names when they were first introduced to Ray’s readers. Intelligent plots, believable stories, and Indian setting add life to the trio’s adventures. If you want your kids to read Indian detective fiction which is at par with Sherlock Holmes, this is the book I’d recommend.
13. The Jungle Book: Rudyard Kipling
Who doesn’t remember Shere Khan, Hathi, Baloo, and Bagheera? I am sure most of us grew up reading their stories. Kipling narrates the tale of Mowgli, a little boy lost in the jungles of India where he is adopted by a family of wolves. He grows up in a kingdom where Jungle Law, loyalty, and friendship reign supreme. The prose is imaginative, rich, and full of interesting metaphors. The Jungle Book will surely keep you captivated for hours!
14. The Magic Faraway Tree: Enid Blyton
Enid Blyton is responsible for creating a generation of bookworms. Through The Magic Faraway Tree, she introduces her readers to a fantastic world full of adventures. The story revolves around three children who live near a magical wood in which there is a gigantic tree. The children often climb this faraway tree, a home to various enchanting lands like Rocking Land, Land of Treats, and Nursery Rhyme Land. This is one book every child would love to read even when they are old because at that time they would ‘remember what it was like to think in the way children do’.
Piece written by Anukriti Sarma. She works as an Editorial Assistant at Random House India.