The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
A Peter Rabbit doll may have been patented in 1903, but Potter’s classic was written for a five-year-old boy 10 years prior. It tells the tale of a mischievous rabbit who gets into Mr. McGregor’s vegetable garden, only to eventually escape the clutches of McGregor and a cat. His mother than coaxes him to sleep with chamomile tea — which is apparently like Nyquil for rabbits.
Peter Pan and Wendy by J.M. Barrie
Inspired by Barrie’s friendship with Llewelyn Davies family, Peter Pan Wendy is essentially the classic tale of Peter Pan, a boy who can fly and whisks a group of young children away to Neverland. All the usual suspects make their debut (Tiger Lily, Tinker Bell, the Lost Boys, Captain Hook, etc.), but it might not seem as blatantly offensive to Native Americans as the 1953 Disney film.
Aesop’s Fables by Aesop
Presumably crafted circa 600 BCE by Aesop, a story teller and slave, Aesop’s Fables is a collection of tales often associated with animals and revolving around moral and ethical themes. There have been numerous renditions and interpretations of the works over the years, but tales like the Tortoise and the Hare remain as poignant today as they did thousands of years across the sea in ancient Greece.
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
There are very few people who are oblivious to Dorothy’s cyclone-fueled romps in Oz with Wicked Witch of the West, yet revisiting the Kansas native’s harrowing quest for the Emerald City is always somehow reassuring. The Tin Woodman, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow all add to Baum’s descriptive and vivid world. Victor Fleming’s music doesn’t quite do the novel the justice it deserves.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A touchstone in the realm of children’s literature, Burnett’s classic has been adapted time and time again for both the stage and the big screen. It revolves around heroine Mary Lenno, an orphan who’s shipped off from her colonial India to live on a dingy county estate in Yorkshire. There she learns the healing power of friendship through plant cultivation in her, ahem, secret garden. So heartwarming, yet insightful.
Grimm’s Fairy Tales by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm
The brothers Grimm wrote fairy tales that were aptly, rather grim, but many of the beloved tales have undergone edits and numerous alterations to the point where they’ve become suitable for children rather than the grotesque, violence-laden stories they once were. You know the tales — Rapunzel, Cinderella, Hansel, and Gretel — but there are also plenty of great standouts that weren’t made into animated films.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
Swift’s classic tale is both a satire on human nature and simply one man’s fantastical voyages to uncharted lands. Among the many journeys along the way, Lemuel Gulliver meets a race of horses, an island inhabited by 6-inch people and the Emperor of Japan. It’s teeming with political undercurrents, albeit fictional, and has never gone out of print since making its initial debut in 1726. Talk about enduring.
Rikki-Tikki-Tavi by Rudyard Kipling
It should go without saying, kids love animals. Kipling’s tale, culled as a standalone story from The Jungle Book, follows a valiant mongoose who works to defend his adopted family of British colonials from a menacing pair of cobras upon their arrival in India. Sure, you may need to explain some of the subtle Victorianisms to younger audiences, but the harrowing story exhibits some of the most vibrant and sharp personification of any novel in existence.
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
As one of my favorite childhood books, it makes me all warm-and-fuzzy inside knowing Grahame’s classic is readily available free of charge. It’s about four anthropomorphised animals — Toad, Mole, Rat, and Badger — and their various escapades in the English countryside. It’s chalk-full of adventure, companionship, and moral reasoning, written by the former secretary of the Bank of England as bedtime stories for his son Alistair.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
English-born Lewis Carroll was known for coining a great deal of things, but his most well-known is undoubtedly Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It’s a familiar story, filled with witty wordplay and satire, about a young girl who follows a white rabbit down his hole into a world of absurd scenarios and memorable characters. Carroll may have been a pedophile in his personal life, but could weave one hell of a trip in his off time.
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