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What Makes These 10 Books so Well-Loved?

I was talking to my kids the other day about all of the historically well-loved books I read as a child. I HAD to read everything my eyes landed upon. Then I had to finish it, regardless of how good or bad it was. Fortunately, I read some pretty amazing books that have stayed with me to this day.

So, back to my discussion with my kids. I expressed to them how many books I enjoyed and how good they were. Then, I dared to tell them that because of all of the wonderful technology available today, the number of books they read is way less than what I had read. The truth of the matter is that if the phones, tablets, and computers weren’t competing for their attention, the great outdoors, landline, and neighborhood kids would be stealing their time.

Our Family’s History with Well-Loved Books

This discussion reminded me of a conversation I had with my oldest daughter one day during school. When she was in seventh grade, I told her one of my favorite books/movies was Watership Down by Richard Adams. She asked me what it was about and I began to explain it to her. But by about the third sentence, she stopped me to tell me she refused to read a book that makes animal characters behave like people. I laughed, and then shared with her all of the books and movies/tv shows that do that. Some of those were her favorites. But still no dice. She refused to buy into it and outright refused to budge. Lucky for her, she was a home school student. I was able to shift gears and find another book for her to read that she could appreciate more.

Fast forward to several years later. She and her husband were talking about favorite books. He informed her that one of his all-time favorite books was Watership Down. She could not believe it.  Still, even this great recommendation from her own husband was not enough to get her to read it!

Fortunately, the rest of my kids did not react so adversely to the books they were assigned to read. And one of the conversations we had recently was what makes the most well-loved books so popular and so well-loved.  Read on to see what our book discussions led us to find.

What the Professionals are Saying about Well-Loved Books

TIME published a wonderful article describing the top 100 well-loved books that you can see right here.  It was written by some of the best in the industry: U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Kenn Nesbitt, children’s-book historian Leonard Marcus, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, the Every Child a Reader literacy foundation and 10 independent booksellers.

Let’s take a look at the first 10 books on this list and take note of what makes them so well loved for both students and today’s literature teachers.  Click on the titles to get more information about each book.

Let’s take a look at the first 10 books on this list and take note of what makes them so well loved for both students and today’s literature teachers.  Click on the titles to get more information about each book.

10.  The Giver by Lois Lowry

I am actually so glad that this book made the top 10 list  because it is the book I am currently working on for my newest literature program.

The Giver is a Newbery Medal winner and for good reason. Its main character is Jonas who is led to believe that he lives in a perfect world.  Something doesn’t seem quite right to him, so he decides to investigate life. This is expressly forbidden in the “utopia” he lives in.  As it turns out, he bears the burden of knowing what is on the other side of his world.  He must try to figure out the good and evil of both worlds and how to handle that moving forward.

What makes this great book so well loved is that it helps young readers learn that all decisions are made more difficult because there is almost never a perfect decision to make.  We base most decisions on the lesser of evils or the most advantages.  Then, regardless of which decision is made, we face consequences on all sides that must be lived out.

The hope here is that the reader learns about wisdom in making the best decision.  There is not always a clear-cut right decision, but there can be a better decision.  And finally, how to live on richly, knowing that you have made the best decision you could.

9.  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This book is quite quirky, making its appearance at number nine delightful.  It follows a boy named Milo, who suddenly obtains a magic tollbooth one day and decides to try it out.

He drives into it with his toy car and thus begins the adventure of the phantom tollbooth. First, he arrives at the Kingdom of Wisdom.  Unfortunately, it is not the wonderful place he would have expected it to be.  He goes on a mission to find two princesses, whose names are Rhyme and Reason.  He must bring them back to the kingdom.  While he lives out his mission, Mr. Juster masterfully writes lever grammar articles into so much of the book in a way that amazes and entertains parents and teachers.  The students will be loving the story so much that they won’t even realize the sneaky way they are learning about the intricacies of grammar.

This genius writing talent earned Mr. Juster critical acclaim and allowed him to sell over 3 million copies of his first attempt at writing.  He wrote the book in 1961, but it still reads as a very timeless book.

8.  The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

I have to admit, I saw the movie for this book years before I even realized there was a book.  I loved it.  My friends and I watched it so many times, not because of how hard life was for this group of boys, but because even though life was so difficult for them, they still lived in hope that things could turn out okay.

Amazingly, Ms. Hinton started writing this award winning book when she was only 15 years old and finished when she was 16.  She understood well the struggles of coming of age because she was living it at the moment she was writing this book.

The main character of this book is Ponyboy Curtis.  He fulfills the role of narrator of this story, which makes it so much more compelling because he makes you feel like you are right there with him.  And I think that it is this raw story-telling feel that makes this book so well-loved.

7.  Matilda by Roald Dahl

Matilda exudes sweetness in spite of being kicked while she’s down.  And that is what has made her warm the hearts of those that have read this book.  The reason this book made the list of  books so well-loved is because Matilda is such a well-loved young lady.

Matilda attends a school where the headmistress (Miss Trunchbull) is an absolute nightmare.  No matter what she does, she cannot earn the favor of Miss Trunchbull.  She determines that no matter how much Miss Trunchbull tries to keep her down, she will rise, but not by revenge or inappropriate behavior.  She very creatively shows the world that you can rise above your circumstances in the most beautiful way.  This book inspires those that live a difficult life and aren’t sure how to see their way through it.

6.  Holes by Louis Sachar

My two oldest children couldn’t get enough of this book or the movie for that matter.  This book tells the story of Stanley, who finds himself in much the same position that Matilda did in the seventh place book in this list.  The powers that be falsely accuse him of stealing and subsequently send him to Camp Green Lake, a disciplinary camp.

The constantly changing plot keeps you spell-bound as you keep reading to find out what can possibly happen next.  The ending renders such poetic justice that you finish the book feeling totally satisfied.  In spite of all that Stanley went through, his young life triumphs in great ways by the end of the book.  Those powers that be couldn’t keep him down.

5. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White

This book stands out as one of my all-time well-loved books because one of my favorite elementary school teachers read it to my class.  I remember hanging on her every word.  I also remember thinking the chapters weren’t long enough because reading time was over so quickly.

Mr. White communicated life on the farm in such an alluring way that my city-girl mind just fell in love with.  Fern was probably about the same age I was so it was so easy to understand her.  Her father’s firm and decisive ways were foreign to her way of thinking.  She didn’t realize that he had to maintain that strength to be able to function successfully on a farm.  But that didn’t stop her from keeping her own part of the world in her comfort zone.  She couldn’t fathom her father perceiving the need to just get rid of such a cute little animal like Wilbur.  And somehow, he was able to pull away from his farmer mentality just enough to give in to her need to love her farmyard friends in a most adorable way.

I suffer mightily from arachnophobia, but this is one case where I don’t mind spiders at all!

4. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

This is the first book on the list that I am not overly familiar with.  I don’t know why, though, because I have always thought of the book fondly.  It fit perfectly into one of my favorite genres.  But for whatever reason, I never delved into it. I plan to very soon though!

It won the Newbery Medal, Sequoyah Book Award, and Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

The story follows three children–Meg, Charles, and Calvin–as they journey throughout space and time. They seem to have no limits to the places they go and the wild adventures they face.  But they aren’t just experiencing random adventures.  They face the battle between good and evil.  They must decide how to win the battle between light and darkness.  What makes this book a bit different than most of the others in the list is that the kids actually grow from children to adolescents as the book progresses.

3.The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief is one of the newer books in this list, published in 2005.  It is a haunting but beautiful story, set in World War II.  A young girl named Liesel is brave beyond her years as she faces the threat of death. She and her father harbor a young Jewish man in their home.  She risks all in order to procure books for her new friend and together they share their love of reading and life.

My all-time favorite line of the book is when Liesel says, “When life robs you, sometimes you have to rob it back.”  What an amazing line!  I kind of feel like that line alone is why this is one of the books so well-loved by so many teachers.

2.  Harry Potter  by J. K. Rowling

I bet you all knew this was not only going to be on the list, but near the top!  I love this book, not only for what an awesome book it is, but for the story of J.K. Rowling.  She inspired so many people with her story of overcoming when life seemed to be closing in around her.

But, let’s talk about the book!  Young Harry’s life is turned upside down when he finds out that he is the son of two very powerful wizards.  On the flip side, he also discovered that he had powers of his own.  He gets sent off to wizard school, and of course, must fight against the usual evil authority that every fictional boarding school must have.  This story differs in that the evil authority is Lord Voldemort, who is not just a nasty teacher or Headmaster, but an evil wizard.

Harry meets some amazing friends throughout his journey at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and his adventures far outweigh the negative energy of his new life.  Harry and his companions actually go on to experience six more gigantic books of adventure.

This series is said to be the top selling book series of all time.  And one of the things I love most about it is the story of J.K. Rowling and how she produced this masterpiece out of a life of difficulty and came out of it in such a beautiful way.

And for the most well-loved book in this list…

1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

This book is the poignant story of a young man who had the foresight to do what he needed to in order to not just survive, but thrive in his life.  What makes this novel so poignant is the fact that it isn’t just fictional narration, but the story of the author’s life.

Most Americans realize that life on a Native American reservation is tough.  The expectations of the kids that grow up in them are very low.  There is no room to grow.  Opportunity does not exist.

Mr. Alexie somehow grasped this.  He became frustrated with his life situation early on and did something about it.  He realized if he looked outward, he could find so much more.  And this is his story of living beyond expectations.

This book has won the following awards:

  • National Book Award for Young People’s Literature (2007)
  • American Indian Youth Literature Awards (2008)
  • American Indian Library Association –Best Young Adult Book (2008)
  • Boston Globe–Horn Book Award (2008)
  • Odyssey Award–Best Audiobook (Read by Mr. Alexie) (2009)
  • California Young Reader Medal–Young Adult Book (2010)

Because of the rough nature of Mr. Alexie’s early life, there are some parts of this book that may not be suitable for younger readers.  But in order to try to maintain the truth of those parts of his life, he chose to write them in the manner presented.  So for those who would like to read this inspirational book, proceed with caution with your younger or more sensitive readers!

With this most inspirational story hitting number one in this famous list, I am thrilled at the thought of how this can inspire children in reservations across America.

And hopefully even beyond.

By the way, Watership Down is number 74 in a different top 100 list, but didn’t even make the TIME list.  It’s still a pretty amazing book, though, and Netflix recently featured it in an excellent mini-series.

I would love to hear what your most well-loved books are.  Feel free to comment!

To see a sample chapter of one of the books that I have a fully involved curriculum written, click here.


This Post Has 85 Comments

  1. Linda Sawanowich

    I like N.D. Wilson’s books–100 Cupboards series is probably the most popular. My favorite of his is Leepike Ridge.

    1. Kndphillips

      I had never heard of those! They look good, especially since I’m surrounded in boys now. This is the point where I realize there are way to many books to read and never enough life to get to them all.

    2. Hannah Marie

      These are pretty nice selections. All seems to have a good story behind it. Thanks for recommending such great books.

  2. Cristina Petrini

    A family that reads is a family of dreamers. Magnificent list.

  3. poutineandprada

    So many of these books are so good. I loved The Giver as a child and still love it as an adult.

    1. Marie

      I am currently working on a full spectrum curriculum program for The Giver. It will be done in December. It is one of my all time favorite books! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Chad

    I’ve read a couple of these books and they were awesome!! I will pick one as soon as i am done with the book i am reading now.

  5. Farrah Less

    Reading books is one of my favorite past time. Learning is something i will never get tired of doing.

  6. Traci Edwards

    Holes is such a good book!!! I can not believe how many of these I have not read.

    1. Marie

      It is–my kids and I all loved it!

  7. Nyxinked

    The Book Thief is one of my all time favourite books. It’s beautiful. I highly recommend ‘The tattooist of Auschwitz’

    1. Marie

      i’m planning to write a full spectrum curriculum for The Book Thief this spring. I can’t wait! It is such an amazing book.

  8. Laura G

    Those are such good books. I want to read A Wrinkle In Time, now that I’ve see the movie!

    1. Marie

      I love reading the book, then seeing how the movie compares, then reading the book to get all the extra details again! It’s so fun to read again after watching the movie because the pictures in my head are so much more vivid. 🙂

  9. vanessa haywood

    Be still my heart! I loved all of the books on your list. It just took me back to the days on my grandparent’s porch. You couldn’t tell them you were bored, they would send you out to the porch with a book in hand. I loved that porch and those books too.

    1. Marie

      I would have constantly been telling them I was bored so they would send me out to the porch to read!!!

  10. natalielovesbeauty

    I love Matilda – such a classic! And who does not love Harry Potter – such a good series.

  11. Susan1375

    Never like dahl’s books as a child but enjoyed reading them as an adult. An interesting list, some of the books I had never heard of,

  12. I’ve read almost all of these books and they’re definitely well loved. I can’t wait to share Harry Potter with my nephew. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  13. Mommy Sigrid

    We also love the story of Matilda. What a precious girl. And my daughters sings the song from that musical so nicely. 🙂

    1. Marie

      How awesome that your daughter sings it!

  14. Lyosha Varezhkina

    Sounds like a nice list! I hard read anything from it (Harry Potter aside for sure), sounds pretty exciting

  15. I admit that I should read more and it is one of my goals for the next year! This list will be by my side, helpful. – Paolo

    1. Marie

      Awesome! I hope that you get a chance to read and enjoy it! Thanks for sharing!

  16. toastycritic

    Those are all classics. Although I will admit I have not read the one about the part time Indian though. I have wanted to for a while. I should definitely do it this holiday season.

    1. Marie

      I had not heard of it until I was researching for the best books. I was instantly enamored by it and by the author’s candor and transparency. I hope you get a chance to read it during the holidays!

  17. ohmummymia

    Chatlotte’s Web and Harry Potter are my favourites. I could read those books every month! I rememberhow young I was when read first time Harry Potter book

  18. Viola

    I love children’s lit! Currently reading The Golden Compass which is also a great book! Great choices for this list.

    1. Marie

      The Golden Compass is an excellent book! Thank you for weighing in. 🙂

  19. Ceci Rey

    These are all classics. Not only have I read them…but, my children have enjoyed them too! Thanks for sharing!

  20. Echo Aspnes

    I have read almost all of the books on the list and yes, they are all magical and memorable!

  21. Matilda has always been a favorite in our home. My sister and I would read it before bed when we were growing up.

  22. Dani Flanders

    Matilda has always bene one of my favorites!! I haven’t read all of these yet, but as our daughter gets older I am SO excited to read with her!

  23. HolyVeggies

    I was sure you were gonna mention the harry Potter saga. I didn’t read the books but I enjoyed every single movie.

    1. Marie

      The original Harry Potter book made the number 2 spot. Although it isn’t the whole series, this survey was on individual books, that would explain why it landed here the way it did. My kids and I enjoyed the movies as well! Thanks for weighing in. 🙂

  24. Peachy A.

    I have to brush up on my reading before 2019 ends. Thanks for sharing this 10 books!

  25. couponmamacita

    My daughter has read almost all of these books, she is definitely obsessed and spend hours reading. Thanks so much for sharing this with all of us!

  26. Cindy Ingalls

    The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my all time favorite books. My 3rd grade teacher read it for us and they way she made this interesting story come to life has stayed in my mind all these years later.

    1. Marie

      It is an awesome book! My boys loved it too.

  27. The only book from that list I read is Harry Potter and it is one of my all time favorite! The story, the world building, the atmosphere, the magic, everything is amazing

  28. Amber Myers

    I love a lot of these books! I still say “Stay gold,” from The Outsiders. I never got into Harry Potter!

  29. Eloise

    these are some great books listed! I haven’t read some of them for a long time (Charlettes Webb being one of them… oh the memories!) I LOVE the Book Theif, such an amazing read!

  30. Cristina Varzan

    I absolutely loved The Book Thief and when I read Harry Potter I was completely immersed in the little wizard’s world. I love reading and I’m trying to instill the same love for books in my little boy.

    1. Marie

      The Book Thief is amazing. It is on my list of books to develop curriculum for and I can’t wait to get started. And while you are sharing your love of reading with your son, I am sure he will pick it up from you!

  31. Oh man, I loved so many of these books when I was younger!

    This year I got my nephew the first illustrated Harry Potter book, and I’m going to continue that until he has them all. He’s a little young for them now but I can’t wait for him to love them!

    1. Marie

      That is awesome. Maybe his parents can start reading them to him until he is old enough to take over on his own.

  32. successunscrambled

    What a great list of books to read. I am familiar with Charlotte’s Web, Harry Potter and Matilda but not the other 7. I must say that the book ‘Holes’ very similar to the Lemony Snicket series of books.

  33. amberleshae

    Oh my goodness Holes and Charlotte’s Web are two of my favorite classics!

    1. Marie

      Same! I am actually really excited to be working with this list! Some of them are my favorites as young as 5 years old. It is awesome to see those titles still going strong.

  34. LOVE The Outsiders…book and movie! I’m surprised one of my favorites didn’t make the list, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe!

    1. Marie

      I loved the Outsiders movie long before I even knew there was a book. And I was surprised that LWW didn’t make a lot of lists that I used to do this research, even though if you look at my website for long enough, you will know it is one of my all-time favorites. Thanks for sharing!

  35. Ewa

    Great books. I haven’t read Watership Down yet, but a friend of mine recently praised the book a lot. Maybe it’s time to catch up on childhood books.

    1. Marie

      I hope you get a chance to, Ewa. And I must say that you will get way more out of them now as an adult than you would have as a kid.

  36. Cindy Ingalls

    My children have read every book on the list with the exception of the Book Thief. I agree with you on Watership Down, I read it in the 70’s. I had a white VW Rabbit car I named Fiver!

    1. Marie

      That is so awesome, Cindy! I will have to tell my daughter that so she doesn’t sill think that her husband and I are the only people in the world that loved that book, lol! I hope you and your kids get a chance to read The Book Thief.

  37. paolo

    I have seen the movie a wrinkle in time and it was good. Will read the book. Thanks for all these recommendations. I love it

  38. Ramil Hinolan

    I am not really fond of reading books. But going through the list, I like The Giver because it tackles about decisions that are part and parcel of life. Everyday, we make decisions. It may not be right but it is not necessarily wrong. The effects or results of every decision we have will make us a better person.

  39. Ambuj Saxena

    This is an astounding collection of books. Though I haven’t read many in the list but I guess I’m already feeling FOMO! Haha
    I have read and discussed the Harry Potter at length so that is one read that I’m proud of

  40. Mae

    I’ve read so many of these books and I’d like my son to read them too!

  41. Such amazing classic books on this list! Brings back fun memories whilst reading them back in the day.

  42. TheHappyMommie

    Such a beautiful lost, I am a Potter head , Harry Potter had literally made out childhood magical, love it

  43. Kathy Kenny Ngo

    I have only read one out of 10. I guess I need to find more time to read other books.

  44. Angel

    I have loved Harry Potter, Matilda and Holes; this is such a great list! I keep hearing good things about The Book Thief so perhaps that will be next on my TBR pile. Thank you for your insight and recommendations!

  45. Bright snow Loveland

    These are great books, I kind of fall in love with The Giver. It sounds great. Will surely read it. Thanks for sharing

  46. these are all terrific books. i remember reading The Giver when I was a child. Lowry’s Number the Stars is a favorite.

  47. Chei

    Harry Potter is one of the best book that i have ever read and Twilight too is a good book too.

  48. joanna

    I haven’t read most of these books, but that’s because they were not popular in my country. I do remember though when the school’s library brought in a copy of Harry Potter. Everyone wanted to borrow and read it.

  49. Nkem

    When I was younger, I much preferred to watch movies than to read books, so I have seen some of these in movie form, and loved them. As I more so enjoy reading now, I don’t know if any of my selections would make your list.

  50. tweenselmom

    I love reading new books! Thank you for providing us with a nice list of books! All these stories seem really interesting, looking forward to reading them sometime!

  51. World in Eyes

    These books really sounds quite interesting and lovely one..glad you shared the info with us..great work though…

  52. Emman Damian

    I literally grew up on Harry Potter. I really enjoyed the seven books because I can relate to Hermione a lot. She really used her wit to step up with the evil forces.

  53. Monidipa

    Being an avid reader I had read all except Holes by Louis Sachar and The Giver by Lois Lowry. I believe books become beloved when the authors are able to connect with readers. And I must say your voices are really good!

  54. Paula Schuck

    The Give by Lois Lowry is excellent. I couldn’t agree more with that choice. I have read most of these here. I have not ever read the Phantom Tollbooth though. Thanks for including it. I obviously need to get that one on my Kobo or my Kindle.

  55. Hayley

    Matilda and Charlotte’s web are my ultimate favs! I read and re-read the books so many times when I was little.

  56. Jasmine Martin

    I need to check out The Giver and The Book Thief. Those have been on my book list for a couple of years now. I keep hearing about how great they are. Harry Potter and Charlotte’s Web will always be one of my all time favorites that I grew up reading as a child.

  57. Rosey

    I’d like to read a Wrinkle in Time. I have seen the movie.

    1. Rosey

      I also want to say that I loved all of the SE Hinton books when I was a kid. I never knew the author was a woman though!! So cool!

  58. Kathleen Cregg

    My 4th grade teacher loved Roald Dahl and we read almost all of his books! Matilda was one of my favorites and the movie wasn’t bad either!

  59. Renata Feyen

    Those are some great books for children – I have read most of them when I was young 🙂

  60. Kevin Brotac

    I love many of these books on your list. They help me love reading and took me to many great journeys and adventures! I am definitely sharing this list with my kids to see if I can get them to read some of these wonderful books

  61. Kiwi

    I love most of these classic. Many of these were made into movies too Matilda is my favorite!

  62. saniya puri

    I haven’t read them all. Thanks for sharing, would read the left out books.

  63. Elizabeth O

    Books are a gift that keeps on giving and the earlier we start introducing kids to reading, the more likely they would become life long readers. Books were my world as a kid and I shared my passion with my kids. Both are writers and we all still love reading in my family.

  64. My Kitchen

    I loved watching Matilda.i don’t mind buying a book for my son.

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