Classical literature for young people is an essential part of a child’s education. It provides them with a glimpse into the past, a window into different cultures and ways of life, and an understanding of the human experience. The 50 Best Classic Books for Children and Young People below, whether they be fairy tales, adventure stories or historical fiction, are not only entertaining but also offer valuable life lessons and critical thinking skills.
Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” for instance, educates young people to challenge authority and use their own judgment. L.M. Montgomery’s “Anne of Green Gables” is a coming-of-age tale that teaches kids the value of self-acceptance and self-discovery. A well-known animal rights tale that teaches the value of compassion and care for animals is “Black Beauty” by Anna Sewell. The renowned fairy tale “Cinderella,” by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, can teach children the value of inner beauty and tenacity. And from Samuel E. Lowe’s historical fiction book “In the Court of King Arthur”, children can learn the value of respect, loyalty, and chivalry.
These stories are packed with relatable topics like love, friendship, and family that can give young readers a sense of hope and optimism. For instance, “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott is a coming-of-age tale that emphasizes the importance of education, family, and sisterhood. Meanwhile, Herman Melville’s well-known adventure tale “Moby Dick” instructs young readers about grit, bravery, and the dangers of becoming unhealthyly fixated on anything. Children can gain important lessons about self-discovery, hope and the resilience of nature from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s “The Secret Garden”.
Books like Pride and Prejudice and Little Women offer insights into societal expectations and gender roles, while The Call of the Wild and The Jungle Book explore themes of survival and the natural world. The Invisible Man and The Yellow Wallpaper address issues of identity and societal oppression. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes and The Return of Sherlock Holmes provide students with an introduction to the detective genre, logical reasoning and forensic science.
Additionally, these classic works of literature offer students the opportunity to experience different time periods and cultures, expanding their understanding and empathy for the world around them. They also help to develop important critical thinking and analytical skills through the examination of plot, character development, and symbolism.
Overall, the books on this list represent a diverse range of themes and topics, making them an essential part of any high school student’s literary education. They not only entertain, but they also challenge, educate, and inspire young readers, making them an important and valuable part of any student’s literary journey and well-rounded education.
So here are the 50 Best Classic Books for children and young people that are freely available in the public domain, in alphabetical order. (These include those just recently released in 2023.) When available, images were included in these books and large file sizes are indicated.
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll tells the tale of a young girl named Alice who falls down a rabbit hole and enters a magical realm full of odd people and absurd happenings. For more than a century, this inventive and amusing story has captivated readers of all ages.
- Anne of Green Gables, by L.M. Montgomery, centers on a coming-of-age orphan girl named Anne who is unintentionally transported to live on Prince Edward Island with her brother and sister. The topics of identity, belonging, and self-discovery are all explored throughout the book. Because of her creative imagination and unwavering energy, Anne’s character is adored.
- Black Beauty, by Anna Sewell, is written through the eyes a horse named Black Beauty. It examines the contrast between kindness and cruelty, demonstrating how both can have a significant impact on both human and animal lives. This heartfelt story serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of animal rights and the need to treat all living things with kindness.
- Cinderella, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, is the story of a young girl who is unfairly treated by her stepmother and stepsisters. This classic fairy tale has withstood the test of time and remains a favorite of both children and adults. The universal themes of hope and perseverance in the face of adversity make it a timeless story that anyone can enjoy.
- In the Court of King Arthur, by Samuel E. Lowe, features Arthurian legends, poetry and stories about King Arthur and his knights of the round table. Some of the stories discuss violence, so those me be inappropriate for certain students. It’s an excellent resource for younger students who are interested in Arthurian Legends.
- Jack and the Beanstalk, by Joseph Jacob, teaches the value of risk-taking and resourcefulness. A young boy named Jack climbs a giant beanstalk to explore a land of giants in this story. This folktale is an excellent way for students to become acquainted with traditional fairy tales. It does not contain any advanced concepts, but it does contain a deeper moral lesson about being creative and resourceful.
- Little Women, by Louisa May Alcott, recounts the lives of four sisters as they develop during the American Civil War. Readers won’t lose interest as they face intriguing themes of self-discovery, family, and love in the narrative. The sisters’ storylines are captivating, and their personalities are so well developed that it is hard to forget them.
- Moby Dick, by Herman Melville, details the journey of a whaling ship and its crew as they look for the legendary white whale. It explores topics like obsession, revenge, and human destructiveness. Melville’s writing is vibrant and rich, and the characters are complex and fully realized. But students could find it challenging to get into the book due of its length and complex language.
- Mosquitoes, by William Faulkner, examines class, privilege, and social status themes through the eyes of a group of affluent people on a luxury yacht in the Gulf of Mexico. The characters are deep and well-developed, and the writing is exquisitely constructed and evocative. However, because of its intricate narrative structure and Faulkner’s distinctive stream-of-consciousness writing style, the novel can be difficult for students to comprehend and connect with.
- Mother Goose, by W.W. Denslow, is the perfect book for introducing children to the joys of reading and storytelling because of the lively and quirky drawings and the straightforward but appealing rhymes.
- Now We Are Six, by A. A. Milne, “is a beloved collection of poetry for children whose poems are charming, easy to understand, and have a lovely rhythm that makes them fun to read out loud. The illustrations are also a delightful addition to the book and make it a great way to introduce children to the joys of poetry with pictures.
- Peter and Wendy (Peter Pan), by J.M. Barrie, is about Peter Pan, who teaches Wendy and her brothers, John and Michael, to fly and then takes them off to fantasy island of the Never-land. They have many adventures there, including an encounter with the lost boys, skirmishes with Native Americans who reside there, and battles with pirates and Captain Hook.
- Pollyanna, By Eleanor H. Porter, is about an orphan girl named Pollyanna who moves to a small village and spreads happiness and optimism to everyone she encounters. Younger kids will love the writing because it is clear and uncomplicated. It is jam-packed with valuable life lessons about the value of thankfulness and the influence of optimism. The plot is endearing and inspiring, and the characters are likeable and realistic.
- Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen, explores themes of love, class, and marriage in nineteenth-century England. The Bennett family, specifically the five Bennett daughters and their relationships, are central to the plot. The characters are well-developed and relatable, and the writing is witty and well-crafted. Pride, prejudice, and love are timeless themes that continue to resonate today. Students may struggle due to the language and style.
- Short Fiction by Beatrix Potter, is a famous children’s book with wonderful stories and artwork. It is full of adorable characters that will make children smile because they are simple and easy to understand. Beautiful visuals accompany each narrative, bringing it to life. It is an ideal book for younger readers who appreciate pleasant stories with life lessons.
- Sleeping Beauty, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, is a classic fairy tale about a unloved princess who meets a prince who breaks her curse when they fall in love with each other. Its themes are timeless: love, bravery, and the triumph of good over evil. The writing is straightforward and simple, making it an excellent introduction to fairy tales for young students and to encourage their imagination and creativity.
- Smoky The Cowhorse, by Will James, is about Smoky, a young horse, who is raised in the American West on a remote range. For his first few years, he was free to roam before being kidnapped and domesticated by a cowboy. But the cowboy soon realizes Smoky’s unique qualities and develops a deep affection for the smart, untamed young horse. Over the years, Smoky faces battles with mountain lions, winter blizzards, horse thieves, and finally the biggest danger to the wilderness: contemporary society.
- Snow White, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimmis, is a classic fairy tale about a princess who is betrayed by her stepmother and rescued by seven dwarfs. It’s a classic tale of love, betrayal, and the transformative power of kindness. Because the writing is straightforward and simple, it is an excellent introduction to fairy tales for young students as well as a great way to encourage their imagination and creativity.
- The Adventures of Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi, tells the tale of a wooden puppet named Pinocchio who longs to be a real boy. Pinocchio learns many lessons through his adventure, including the importance of honesty, accountability, and being aware of the effects of one’s actions. Readers of all ages will like it because the language is innovative and engrossing and because they can identify to the characters.
- The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle, is an intriguing collection of detective tales about the renowned detective Sherlock Holmes and his trustworthy companion Dr. John Watson. You’ll be reading these stories on the edge of your seat because they are so wonderfully crafted with interesting narratives and likeable characters. It’s a great way for students to become immersed in the world of detective fiction while learning logical reasoning and forensic science.
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain, is the story of a boy growing up in a small town on the Mississippi River, offering a quaint depiction of life in nineteenth-century America. The writing is lively and funny as it explores themes of friendship, adventure and coming of age, and the characters are relatable and well-developed.
- The Benson Murder Case, by S.S. Van Dine, is a classic murder mystery where investigator Philo Vance is tasked with looking into the death of a wealthy businessman. Its writing is witty and entertaining, and it has many unexpected turns that will keep you guessing right up to the very end. It’s an excellent approach to exposing students to the realm of mystery books and forensics.
- The Big Four, by Agatha Christie, is one of this author’s must-reads. It follows Hercule Poirot as he looks into an international gang known as “The Big Four.” You’ll be kept guessing right up until the very end in this genuine page-turner. The writing is interesting, and the characters are complex and sympathetic. It’s a fantastic option for kids who enjoy detective fiction and mystery books.
- The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson, is a fascinating adventure tale set in medieval England with a young man’s quest for justice during the Wars of the Roses. You’ll have a strong sense of medieval England because to the writing’s colorful and evocative style. The story is exciting and full with action, as it explores the history and culture of medieval society, and it is not only enjoyable but also educational.
- The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, is about a dog named Buck who is taken from his home and put in the dangerous setting of the Alaskan gold rush in Jack London’s classic adventure novel The Call of the Wild. You’ll be able to picture yourself with Buck in the wilds of Alaska thanks to the book’s vivid description. It’s jam-packed with adventure and excitement, and makes you think about survival and environment. It also examines interactions between people and animals.
- The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle, is a collection of short stories featuring the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion Dr. John Watson. The stories are so well-written and captivating that you can’t help but get caught up in the mystery and try to solve it along with Holmes. The book is full of surprises that will keep you guessing until the very end. And the best part is, you’ll learn how to think critically and use logic to solve problems, just like Sherlock Holmes.
- The Frog Princess, by Jacob Grimm and Wilhelm Grimm, is a classic fairy tale that tells the story of a young prince who is cursed to live as a frog and how he overcomes the curse with the help of a clever and kind princess. The story is full of important life lessons about the power of kindness, forgiveness, and true love. It is simple and easy to understand, making it a great choice for younger students.
- The Happy Prince and Other Tales, by Oscar Wild, contains fairy stories that explore the ideals of friendship, love, kindness and charity and both celebrate these attributes while showing how they are too often twisted or ignored by the very societies that espouse them.
- The Invisible Man, by H.G. Wells, is a science fiction classic where a scientist who discovers a way to make himself invisible struggles to control the power and effects that come with it. The book looks at topics including identity, power, and the consequences of scientific experimentation. It’s a great way to expose students to science fiction while simultaneously delving into important philosophical questions about responsibility and power.
- The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling, is a well-known adventure story about a young boy named Mowgli who was raised in the forest by wolves. Various jungle animals confront Mowgli as the provocative, action-packed plot unfolds, teaching life lessons about friendship, loyalty, and self-discovery. This book is fantastic for delving into the concepts of self-discovery and the importance of nature.
- The Railway Children, by E. Nesbit, tells the story of three children who are forced to leave their comfortable home and relocate with their mother to a small cottage in the country after their father is taken away from them. They don’t go to school and live in peace there, but since they are close to a railroad station, they become friends with the workers there and go on a number of exciting adventures where they display a great lot of initiative and bravery.
- The Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, tells of a very individual and self-searching act of discovery within a vividly portrayed Civil War combat setting that leaves little terror or difficulty to the imagination. It reframes the concept of military duty as a rite of passage, and the war seldom depicts the protagonist’s anxieties or feelings, elevating him to the status of a regimental and war hero.
- The Return of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle, is a collection of twelve short stories which all details the criminal investigations of detective Sherlock Holmes, as seen through the eyes of his partner, Dr. John H. Watson. The majority of the stories attempt to identify and correct social injustices experienced by European aristocrats.
- The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, is one of the most delightful and enduring classics of children’s literature. When Mary Lennox, an orphan, moves in with her uncle to live in his grand house on the Yorkshire Moors, she discovers that it is full of secrets, one of which is a walled-off garden with a key that is missing. One day, with the help of two companions, she discovers a way in. Is everything in the garden dead, or can Mary bring it back to life?
- The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois, is a collection of 14 essays describing of the state of the African Americans’ lives and the culture of race relations at the turn of the 20th century. Du Bois wrote from his own experiences as an African American, narrating situations that Black people encountered during the period of Reconstruction.
- The Story of the Treasure Seekers, by E. Nesbit, is a children’s adventure novel set in England around 1900 and is told from a child’s point of view. The plot follows a group of siblings who go about restoring their family fortune after their widowed father loses his business. An interesting feature is the depiction of the realistic quarrels and faults of the children. This is Nesbit’s most popular novel.
- The Sword in the Stone, by T.H. White, is a fantasy of the boyhood of King Arthur, combining elements of legend, history, fantasy and comedy. Merlyn instructs him in order to prepare him for the use of power and a life as a king, but in order to reveal his true identity, he must draw the sword from a stone. The setting is based on Medieval England, and incorporates aspects of medieval culture. Time magazine included the novel in its list of the 100 Best Young-Adult Books of All Time.
- The Three Musketeers, by Alexandre Dumas, is a French historical and adventure novel written set around 1625 that tells of the adventures of four fictional swashbuckling chivalrous heroes who lived under French kings. It recounts the adventures of a young man named d’Artagnan who he leaves home hoping to join the Musketeers of the Guard. He is befriended by three of the most formidable musketeers of the age and becomes involved in affairs of state and at court.
- The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells, is one the earliest works of science fiction, specifically, future history and speculative evolution. It’s credited with popularizing the concept of time travel by using a vehicle called a “time machine”. The story is set in Victorian England and recounts an anonymous tme traveller’s journey into the far future. It is interpreted today as a commentary on the increasing inequality and class divisions of that era.
- The Tower Treasure, by Franklin W. Dixon, is the first volume in the original Hardy Boys mystery books, whose themes involve action, mystery, and suspense. Brothers Frank and Joe Hardy become engaged in their own case (not their father’s) and work to prove that a car theft and tower robbery are connected. The Hardy Boys remain the quintessential mystery and detective stories for young readers.
- The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle, by Hugh Lofting starts with Tommy Stubbins meeting Doctor Dolittle and after being inspired by the Doctor’s ability to talk with animals and seeing his magnificent home populated with animals from all over the world, Tommy convinces the Doctor to take him on as an apprentice. Along with Polynesia the parrot, Jip the dog, and an African prince by the name of Bumpo, they go searching for the missing great naturalist Long Arrow, son of Golden Arrow.
- The War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells is a science fiction story that recounts, in a first-person narrative, the battles between mankind and alien beings from Mars. The narrator and his younger brother relay the events of the Martian invasion as it occurs in southern England. This book had an influence on some scientists, including Robert H. Goddard, who created the multistage rocket.
- The Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley, is a fantasy story about Tom, a poor orphan, who works for an evil chimney-sweep, and is mistaken for a thief. He then runs away and slips into a cooling stream, falls fast asleep, and becomes a water baby. In his new aquatic life, he encounters all kinds of water creatures, including an talkative old lobster and other water babies.
- The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame, is a much-loved children’s classic about four animals, Mole, Rat, Toad, and Badger, and their exciting adventures in the peaceful English countryside. Although the animals converse, philosophize, and act like humans, each one also displays its distinctive animal-like customs.
- The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, is the story of a girl, named Dorothy, who is carried away by a tornado to the strange and beautiful Land of Oz. While Dorothy travels down the yellow brick road to the Emerald City to meet the Wizard who lives so she can go home, she encounters and has adventures with a scarecrow, a tin woodsman, and lion. They defeat the wicked witch and learn about the power of friendship, loyalty, and self-confidence.
- The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, is a thought-provoking short story for high school readers that deals with the topic of mental health and society’s expectations of women during the 19th century. It introduces students to the theme of mental health and the impact of societal norms and pressures on individuals, particularly women.
- Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll, is the sequel to the very popular “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”, where Alice finds herself in a mirror image of Wonderland. She now engages with a chess board, meets mirror images of her old friends, and comes across a curious land of talking flowers, chess pieces, a fighting lion and a unicorn. She is crowned a queen when she reaches the eighth square, and a dinner party is thrown for her.
- Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson gives us everything we know about pirates: peg legs, parrots, treasure chests, tropical islands, Long John Silver, maps marked with an “X,” swashbuckling adventure, and “Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum. Its brisk pace and easy-to-follow plot are as engaging, pleasurable and unforgettable today as ever.
- Winnie-the-Pooh, by A.A. Milne, is about a bear who lives in the Hundred Acre Wood with his animal companions Rabbit, Piglet, Owl, Eeyore, Kanga, and Roo, as well as his human friend Christopher Robin. It includes various tales about Pooh, who enjoys honey a bit too much, and his pals having adventures, including attending a birthday party, searching for heffalumps, locating a tail that was lost, and tricking one of their own. Of course, most of these also involve honey in some manner.
- Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, is now widely regarded as a classic of English literature, but was considered controversial when published due to its depiction of mental and physical cruelty. It is a bold critique of the rigid societal norms of the Victorian era as it focused on the topics of religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality.
For more classical books, stories and readers for young readers and people, please see these other posts on BestEdLessons:
- 70 Classic Story Books for Young People to Read and Enjoy
- 654 Classic Reading Books, Primers and Readers
- Classic Books to Help Improve Self-Esteem and Respect for Young Readers
- McGuffey Readers – From Primer & First Reader Through High School
- Classical Greek Books and Stories for Young Readers
- Heritage History – 125 Classic Books for Lower Grades
- Heritage History – 240 Classic Books for Middle Grades
- Heritage History – 140 Classic Books for High School and Beyond
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