The Kids Books that Changed Us

The Kids Books that Changed Us

My biggest lesson from this book is that, as long as you have a book with you, you are never alone. As an only child, this was a comforting thought!” – Better Reading’s Jess Horton on Roald Dahl’s Matilda

As part of our kids week, the Better Reading Team recall the books that profoundly affected them:

Cheryl Akle, Director

John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat by Jenny Wagner & Ron Brooks

This is one of my all-time favourites as an adult and as a child. Good picture books are great short stories. I still enjoy them now as much as I did then. It’s the most beautiful tale of an English sheepdog called John Brown who loves an old lady called Rose and won’t let the cat in – the Midnight Cat – who Rose has befriended. John Brown is a jealous dog, just like my dog who is named after him. Rose starts to suffer depression and one morning she doesn’t get out of bed. John Brown is so sad and asks if it will help if he lets the Midnight Cat in. She says yes, the cat comes in, and they all live happily ever after.

Charlotte’s Web by E.B.White

This moved to me to my core. I remember bawling and sobbing throughout. I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m that kind of person, stories really affect me.

Jess Horton, Marketing Co-ordinator

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch

I first read this at age four on the plane to New Zealand for our annual family holiday. It was the first plane ride I can remember, and Mum handed me this book to keep me occupied. It taught me that you didn’t have to rely on a prince to come and save you – you just had to have enough sass to stand up to a dragon yourself! I recently hunted down the correct (Canadian) copy of this book, and I still love the ending as much as I did on that first read.

Matilda by Roald Dahl

Any bookworm my age would have this on their list of most beloved children’s books. It was published the year I was born, but I read it when I was five. My biggest lesson from this book is that as long as you have a book with you, you are never alone. As an only child, this was a comforting thought!

What Katy Did by Susan Coolidge

I am an only child and the Carr family were the first fictional family I wished I was part of – so many siblings, a loving father, and all sorts of mischievous scrapes. Following Katy and her family as she grew up felt like a very long friendship. I only recently finished reading the entire series, thanks to ebooks, as the final two seem never to be in print.

The Bad Beginning (A Series of Unfortunate Events #1) by Lemony Snicket

I couldn’t have known that a few months after the thirteenth and final book of this series was published, I too would lose my parents in an accident. Over the course of this series, the Baudelaires are thrown into one horrible situation after another and always come out on top. They taught me that no matter how bad things may seem, there’s always a fresh start right around the corner. Oh, and also to never trust a man with an eye tattooed on his ankle.

Todd Alexander, Social Media Manager

Dr Seuss – Are You My Mother? 

This book taught me that finding a safe place where you belong is the antidote to feeling like an outsider.

The 27th Annual African Hippopotamus Race 

This started my love of all things African and really got me interested in the art of telling an engaging story.

This School Deserves Capital Punishment (A book so obscure that we can’t find an author or image. Can anyone recall this one?)

This was given to me as a special project by my English teacher when I was going through an anti-authority phase… but it was the fact that I was singled out by her that started a long friendship that still thrives today.

My Children’s World Book 

This taught me about different countries, cultures, histories and languages and I read it repeatedly, cover to cover.

Liz Bray, Kids Books Specialist

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

My school librarian gave me this to read in Year Four, after I’d devoured pretty much every other book in the library. Its portrait of grief had me sobbing for days – in a good, ‘I care so much about these characters’, way! While I can no longer remember the fine details of the plot, I still have a strong sense of the setting (I can smell the damp earth of the secret kingdom across the creek), and the caring interaction between Jess and his friend Leslie’s parents has really stuck with me.

Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

As a kid I delighted in the trick of perspective through which a white dog with black spots could get dirty and become a black dog with white spots. It still makes me smile! And I still love the illustrations. I was asked to review a copy of How Big is Too Small recently, and was completely charmed to find that Andrew Joyner’s illustrations are reminiscent of Gene Zion’s muted colour palette and heavy outlines.

The Moomintroll books by Tove Jansson

I was very lucky to own a complete boxed set of this eccentric series, and was enthralled by the simple delights of Moominvalley – a world that felt a little bit familiar and yet so strange. Re-reading some of the books recently, I was struck all over again by the Moomin’s whimsy and philosophy.

Liz Durnan, Better Reading Website Editor

The Ladybird Picture books

I don’t know if they changed me but apparently Einstein said that reading fairy tales to children makes them more intelligent.  I can still picture the original images from the Elves and the Shoemaker, the Magic Porridge Pot, the Princess & the Pea, Beauty and the Beast, Jack & the Beanstalk. I wish I still had those originals.

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

There was a tattered Oliver Twist Told in Pictures lying around our house for years and I remember poring over it many times. Though we’re all avid readers now, me and my siblings didn’t have much attention span for reading long books – so Oliver Twist Told in Pictures was perfect for us and many of Dickens’ novels were originally published with illustrations. Some people might look down on the classics compressed in this way, but for kids like us, they were an ideal introduction to Dickens and I’ve never stopped reading him (thankfully I can manage the full length versions now).

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

We redheads have a hard time as kids so it’s always good to read about cool copper-tops such as the feisty Anne. No wonder there was an outcry a few years ago when a version came out with a blonde, blue-eyed Anne on the cover. Needless to say that cover didn’t last long – you can’t mess with the classics like that.

The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde

I have a vivid memory of this being read to us at school at a very early age and feeling devastated as I heard about the swallow who stays with the Happy Prince as he helps the poor of London. I recently read it to my children but I couldn’t get the words out as the tears came flooding back. I still can’t read it without crying.

Karen Collier, Creative Director

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

The Cay by Theordore Taylor

These two novels, which both became motion pictures, made a profound impact on my values as a child and beyond for their strong moral imperatives dealing with man-made injustice. Both timeless stories share a universal message: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. whom The Cay is dedicated to. Two very timely novels to re-read today.

 Sadako and The Thousand Paper Cranes by Eleanor Coerr

This historical children’s fiction book is based on the true story of Sadako Sasaki who was diagnosed with Leukemia after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on 6 August 1945. It was shared with me by a Japanese exchange student who boarded with our family when I was a child. The story has been translated into numerous languages for peace education programs in primary schools worldwide. I still have the book today, which inspired in me a life-long passion for peace and a belief in the power of intention.

Let us know your favourite children’s books in the comments below.

Like this list? Please share it with your friends on social media using the icons below.

For more information on the Better Reading team, click here.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. When my grade two teacher read ‘The Complete Adventures of Blinky Bill’ all those years ago, I was hooked. I still have my copy of this classic Australian story and the writing of Dorothy Wall stands the test of time.
    As an adult I read Roald Dahl’s ‘Matilda’to successive classes of eager readers. What a joy to read aloud. Themaster story teller gave me so much to work with. With ‘Matilda’ I understood the power of reading aloud.