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And now, the top ten children’s books

03 October 2014

As a complement to the main list, we decided to find the ten best Christian books for children. Paul Handley explains how we set about it


AS ANY child will point out, the book in first place in our top ten Christian children's books is not a book at all, more a marketing concept.

It is, though, a neat way to bundle up the seven titles in the Narnia series, which might otherwise have cluttered up the list. From this, readers may gather that our approach to the children's list has been a little less rigorous than it was with the main one. None the less, we again asked the views of contributors who had reviewed children's books for us, and collated their replies. The criteria were the same: enduring influence, popularity, and impact.

We separated children's books from the main list, although The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe leapt the fence. Our reviewers were divided about C. S. Lewis (see William Whyte's piece), but his place at the top of the list is unassailable, and not just for quantity. His stories have always captivated more than they have taught.

One reason for eschewing another panel for the children's books was our view that getting any sort of consensus out of its members would have been impossible. For one thing, there was the debate about the readers' age: how to compare books for toddlers with those for young adults, i.e. The Pilgrim's Progress v. Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

For another, there was the matter of definition: whether a work might be properly termed "Christian" becomes harder when considering fiction, the category into which all the titles in our top ten fall.

THIS is most obvious with Philip Pullman, who would, we presume, argue against being included in a Christian list. (Again, see Whyte's analysis.) This could be seen as an annexation of general virtues by Christian sectarians, or, we would argue, a generous and imaginative approach that finds Christian inspiration from a wide range of works.

Thus, titles that embodied the values of hope and courage, such as The Silver Sword and I Am David, were popular.

Also, children's classics received a number of votes, including the following, which did not quite make it into the top ten: The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; The Railway Children by E. Nesbit; Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne (usually appropriated by the Buddhists); Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken; Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce; and To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

We expect to be challenged - even more fiercely, perhaps, than we will be over our adult selection. What about Harry Potter, for example, or a number of excellent teenage books produced during the past decade or two?

Once again, let us know your recommendations.


Children's Top Ten

1. The Complete Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

'My copy of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis has a price tag of 3 shillings; it is a book that, more than any other, shaped my childhood faith. It drew me, with Lucy and the other children, through the wardrobe into a world not of make believe but of faith. I found stories and symbols that helped me understand the death and resurrection of Jesus; I discovered in the deeper magic of Narnia truth that began to make sense of life.'
Canon John Kiddle is Director of Mission in the diocese of St Albans.


2. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

'A book about transformation. Three very different children hold up mirrors to each other. Mary, the spoilt, neglected orphan; the sickly Colin and Dickon, the garden boy who knows about plants and animals – all discover enchantement along with the keys to the walled garden at Misselthwaite Manor.'
Lavinia Byrne is a writer and broadcaster


3. The Silver Sword by Ian Seraillier

'The setting of Ian Serraillier’s The Silver Sword is the devastation and chaos of northern Europe in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War. Across this desolate and menacing landscape three Polish children seek their parents torn from them by the ravages of war. Their story, superbly told, is of its period and place, but its theme is timeless and universal. Displaced persons in a broken world, we are all looking for our lost home.'
The Revd Dr John Pridmore is a former Rector of Hackney in east London.


4. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

'Saint-Exupéry’s charming story explores the importance of imagination and emotions for human relationships. “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” The book has been understood as a war story which represents Saint-Exupéry’s reaction to the conflict, isolations, fear and shame of war. This is combatted through the book by the gentle and creative speech of the Prince.'
Canon Christine Worsley is the Kingdom People Development Officer in the diocese of Worcester.


5. Badger’s Parting Gifts by Jane Varley

'Badger's Parting Gift is the touching story of how a group of friends have to face Badger’s death. The book follows badger through the process of death, as he throws away his old walking stick and runs up the tunnel towards his new life, and then follows his friends as they reflect on badgers’ life, and recognise the gifts that he has left within each one of them. The book is aimed at 3-8 year olds, but I often recommend it to parents when a grandparent has died. Never fails to bring a tear to my eye! Many years ago husband made infant assembly programmes for Radio 4 schools. This was the favourite story when a poll was taken.'
The Revd Ronni Lamont is a freelance writer and trainer. 


6. Heaven by Nicholas Allan

'When Dill the dog dies Lily is sad but Dill assures her that heaven will be full of wonderful things. A book for anyone whose dog has died  - or anyone facing the death of someone they love.'
Sue Atkinson is the author of several books, her latest book Struggling to Forgive is published by Monarch.


7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

'As the editor of a series of magazines, as well as one of the most popular writers of his age, Charles Dickens produced many seasonal sketches and tales over the course of his life, such as “What Christmas Is As We Grow Older” and “The Poor Relation’s Story” – A Christmas Carol is deservedly the most famous and most often adapted for performance on stage and screen. Perhaps that is because it is, in essence, a straightforward story with memorable characters and an ultimately uplifting conclusion. The miserly Ebenezer Scrooge is the very personification of penny-pinching, cold-hearted winter; Dickens delights in portraying the ghosts who warn him to mend his ways. Behind this seemingly timeless parable lies the author’s outrage over Victorian England’s brutal inequalities.'
Michael Caines is website, bibliography, and reference editor at the TLS.


8. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams

The appeal of the velveteen Rabbit isn’t hard to understand. It plays to adults’ nostalgia and children’s love of their toys. But is it Christian? At one level, no: this is pure animism. But its sense that we’re transformed by love is about as Christian as you get.
The Revd Dr William Whyte is a Tutorial Fellow in Modern History at St John’s College, Oxford, and Assistant Curate of Kidlington.


9. I Am David by Anne Holm

'A very moving book about a boy’s escape to freedom from prison camp and gradually learning what ordinary life is like. He prays to "the God of the green pastures and still waters". Makes me well up even remembering it!'
Naomi Starkey is a commissioning editor for BRF and author of Good Enough Mother (BRF, 2009).


10. His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

'Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy initially looked like an attack on Christianity, but the story depends on a hidden paradigm of Christian assumptions and the narrative draws the reader into reflection on a host of "big questions" about human destiny, the soul, love, loyalty and the possibility of redemption.'
The Revd Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard is Director of Development and External Affairs of Into University.

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