The books we love as children have a place in our hearts for life. Virago has selected the best in classic literature to bring you a list that will inspire and enthral – stories you will lose and find yourself in, whatever your age. Some books will be well known to you, while others are gems you have yet to explore. Stories of friendship, adventure, magic and new beginnings – these are timeless tales to share across the generations.
Discover the collection:
Joan Aiken (1924–2004) is recognised as one of the classic children’s authors of the twentieth century. Her best-known books are The Wolves of Willoughby Chase chronicles and the Arabel’s Raven series, but she is also famous for her brilliant short stories. Joan Aiken received the Edgar Allan Poe Award in the United States as well as the Guardian Award for Fiction. She was decorated with an MBE for her services to children’s books.
The Gift Giving: Favourite Stories
An enchanting volume of Joan Aiken’s own favourite stories, chosen from throughout her long career.
‘Joan Aiken’s invention seemed inexhaustible, her high spirits a blessing, her sheer storytelling zest a phenomenon’ Philip Pullman
The Kingdom and the Cave
When she was just seventeen Joan Aiken wrote her first novel, The Kingdom and the Cave, a thrilling adventure about a cat and his boy.
‘One of the most important and interesting children’s fiction writers of the last fifty years’ Neil Gaiman
The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories
Joan Aiken wrote the magical Armitage Family stories throughout her life – from when she was a teenager, to just before her death. They have appeared separately, in different collections, but this is the first time they have been published together in our market.
‘What a thrill to discover this gem from the witty and endlessly inventive Joan Aiken’ Chris Riddell
Nina Bawden (1925-2012) was one of Britain’s best-loved writers for both adults and children. Several of her children’s books – Carrie’s War, a Phoenix Award winner;The Peppermint Pig, which won the Guardian Fiction Award; and Keeping Henry – have become contemporary classics. She wrote over forty novels, slightly more than half of which are for adults, and she was shortlisted for the 1987 Man Booker Prize for Circles of Deceit. She received the prestigious S T Dupont Golden Pen Award for a lifetime’s contribution to literature in 2004, and in 2010 The Birds on the Trees was shortlisted for the Lost Booker of 1970.
Carrie’s War, with a forward by Michael Morpurgo
One of the most loved and enduring wartime novels, Carrie’s War, based on the author’s own childhood. is the unforgettable tale of two evacuees billeted to Wales.
‘A touching, utterly convincing book’ Jacqueline Wilson
Henry is only three inches long when naughty Charlie catapults him out of his nest – a poor baby red squirrel, all ragged and skinny. He is too young to survive being released into the wild, but can a squirrel be a pet?
‘What a consummate storyteller Nina Bawden is’ Michael Morpurgo
The Peppermint Pig
The Peppermint Pig, which won the Guardian Award for Children’s Fiction, has been a great favourite since it was first published.
‘Warm and funny, this tale of a pint-size pig and the family he saves will take up a giant space in your heart’ Kiran Millwood Hargrave
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Frances Hodgson Burnett was born in Manchester, England, in 1849 but moved to America in 1865 after her father died and her family fell on hard times. There she began writing stories to earn money and soon became a successful novelist, playwright, and children’s author. She wrote the classic novels, Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess and The Secret Garden.
A Little Princess
A timeless Cinderella story, A Little Princess is one of the best-loved children’s classics of all time. A heartwarming tale that champions the power of imagination.
The Secret Garden
One of the best-loved classic children’s books, The Secret Garden is an unforgettable story of a surly orphan who comes to discover goodness, herself and the world around her.
Susan Coolidge was born in 1835 in Cleveland, Ohio, but grew up in Connecticut. During the American Civil War, Coolidge worked as a nurse. Susan Coolidge loved writing stories even when she was a child, and What Katy Did is based Susan and her brothers and sisters when they were young. Susan, like Katy, was a high-spirited, imaginative little girl, who often got into trouble. Her realistic portrait of childhood set her apart from other writers of her time; instead of teaching morals, she was interested in her characters, their imperfections and the dynamics of a family. The What Katy Did trilogy was a huge success.
What Katy Did
The What Katy Did trilogy was first published in the late 1800s, but was there ever such a modern girl as wild, irrepressible Katy? One of the first realistic portraits of a child in literature, the character was groundbreaking and the book is as enjoyable today as when it was first published.
What Katy Did at School
What Katy Did Next
Rumer Godden(1907-98) was the acclaimed author of over sixty works of fiction and non-fiction for adults and children. Born in England, she and her siblings grew up in Narayanganj, India, and she later spent many years living in Calcutta and Kashmir. Several of her novels were made into films, including Black Narcissus, The Greengage Summerand The River, which was filmed by Jean Renoir. She was appointed OBE in 1993.
An Episode of Sparrows
A captivating classic novel of a poor girl striving to create beauty among the bombsites of postwar London.
Listen to the Nightingale
Rumer Godden’s enchanting classic about a girl who overcomes the odds to become a ballet dancer will thrill young readers.
The Dark Horse
This moving, classic novel will appeal to horse-lovers of all ages. It has genuine crossover appeal.
Rumer Godden’s classic coming of age story about a boy who longs to dance ballet will delight young readers.
L.M. Montgomerywas born in 1874 on Prince Edward Island, Canada, where she spent her childhood living with her grandparents in an old farmhouse. A prolific writer, she published many short stories, poems and novels, many of which were inspired by the years she spent on the beautiful Prince Edward Island. Anne of Green Gables and its sequels have always been amongst the most popular of children’s classics. Montgomery died in Toronto in 1942 and was buried on her beloved island.
The Anne Shirley Series
When a scrawny, freckled girl with bright red hair arrives on Prince Edward Island, Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert are taken by surprise; they’d asked for a quiet boy to help with the farm work at Green Gables. But how can you return a friendless child to a grim orphanage when she tells you her life so far has been a ‘perfect graveyard of buried hopes’? And so, the beguiling chatterbox stays. Full of dreams, warmth and spirit, it is not long before Anne Shirley wins their hearts.
Anne of Green Gables
Anne of Avonlea
Anne of the Island
Anne of Windy Willows
Anne’s House of Dreams
Anne of Igleside
Rilla of Ingleside
The Emily Starr Trilogy
From the author of Anne of Green Gables comes the Emily of New Moon trilogy, with a spirited heroine who will beguile readers of all ages. Emily’s story is heart-rending, magical and completely unforgettable.
Emily of New Moon
Jane of Lantern Hill
From the author of Anne of Green Gables, this is the enchanting story of a young girl’s dream to reunite her long-divided family
Edith Nesbit (1858-1924) is perhaps most famous for writing The Railway Children and Five Children and It, but she was extremely prolific and wrote or collaborated on more than sixty children’s books. Nesbit is today recognised as one of the most influential and innovative children’s writers that ever lived, and is cited as an inspiration by many contemporary authors, including J. K. Rowling, Neil Gaiman, Jacqueline Wilson, Kate Saunders and Frank Cottrell-Boyce. Even C. S. Lewis acknowledged the debt his Narnia series owed to her work – particularly the Bastable and Psammead trilogies.
‘I love her books’ Neil Gaiman
The Psammed Trilogy
Digging in the gravel pit on a hot summer’s day, five children discover ‘it’: a grumpy creature with eyes like a snail’s, ears like a bat’s, and a tubby body all covered in fur. ‘It’ is a Psammead, an ancient sand-fairy who has the power to grant the children one wish a day.
That, you might think, would be a dream come true! But you need to be very careful what you wish for: whether it’s for wings, treasure or beauty, things can – and often will – go wrong.
Five Children and It
The Phoenix and the Carpet
The Story of the Amulet
The Bastable Children Trilogy
Edith Nesbit was a hugely influential writer whose books include The Railway Children and Five Children and It. The Bastable Series is ripe for rediscovery, and will appeal to fans of Arthur Ransom’s Swallows and Amazons, which it inspired.
The Story of the Treasure Seekers
New Treasure Seekers
The Railway Children
Never out of print since its first publication in 1906, The Railway Children is one of the most loved children’s stories of all time.
Noel Streatfeild was born in Sussex in 1895 and was one of three sisters. After working in munitions factories and canteens for the armed forces when the First World War broke out, Noel followed her dream of being on stage and went to RADA where she became a professional actress.
She began writing children’s books in 1931 and Ballet Shoes was published in 1936. She quickly became one of the most popular authors of her day. She was one of the first winners of the Carnegie Medal and was awarded an OBE in 1983.
A heart-warming story of music, family and finding a home by Noel Streatfeild, the author of Ballet Shoes.
Caldicott Place is a moving story of unexpected friendships, new beginnings and of the good things that can sometimes come out of disaster.
Noel Streatfeild’s Christmas Stories
A never-before-collected selection of sparkling Christmas-themed stories by Noel Streatfeild that will charm, delight and entertain.
Noel Streatfeild’s Holiday Stories
This volume of newly discovered stories will be an exciting discovery for Streatfeild fans of all ages. By the beloved author of Ballet Shoes.
Elizabeth Taylor(1912-1975) is increasingly recognised as one of the best British writers of the twentieth century. She wrote her first book, At Mrs Lippincote’s, during the war while her husband was in the Royal Air Force, and this was followed by eleven further novels and a children’s book, Mossy Trotter. Her acclaimed short stories appeared in publications including Vogue, the New Yorker and Harper’s Bazaar.
Mossy Trotter is the only book for children by Elizabeth Taylor, a writer who is increasingly recognised as one of the best writers of the twentieth century.
P.L. Traverswas born Helen Lyndon Goff in 1899 in Queensland, Australia. She worked as a dancer and an actress, but writing was her real love and she turned to journalism. Travers set sail for England in 1924 and became an essayist, theatre and film critic, and scholar of folklore and myth. While recuperating from a serious illness Travers wrote Mary Poppins -‘to while away the days, but also to put down something that had been in my mind for a long time,’ she said. It was first published in 1934 and was an instant success. Mary Poppins has gone on to become one of the best-loved classics in children’s literature and has enchanted generations. In addition to the Mary Poppins books, Travers wrote novels, poetry and non-fiction. She received an OBE in 1977 and died in 1996.
Aunt Sass: Christmas Stories
In the 1940s, P. L. Travers wrote three stories, which she gave as Christmas gifts to friends. Now, for the first time, they are available to a wider readership. Printed on board, with beautiful illustrations, this will be the perfect gift book for Christmas.
I Go by Sea, I Go by Land
First published in 1941, this children’s classic, by the author of Mary Poppins, has been unavailable for many years. A moving story of a little girl and her brother, who must leave their parents and home in the Sussex countryside for safety in America.
The Fox at the Manger
A charming retelling of the Christmas story by the author of Mary Poppins.