10 modern children's books we think will become classics

Pari Thomson, author of Greenwild, on what makes a classic children's book, plus our list of books we think will make the cut for future generations. 

What makes a children’s book a classic? For me, a classic is the kind of book that compels you to read under the covers at night with a torch. These are books that have an imaginative splendour to them, whether they’re about Hobbits or bears from Peru with a fondness for marmalade sandwiches. Books that brim with a sense of wide-eyed wonder and curiosity. 

A children’s classic is timeless because it shines back at us our old, forgotten faith in the world. These are stories where children – so often disempowered in real life – are able to fight and to win. Indeed, the very best children’s books, like those by Philip Pullman and Diana Wynne Jones, don’t talk down to kids. They dignify children’s imaginations, and take seriously their ability to leap headfirst into fantasy that is both escapist and revitalising. These are stories that show us how to take on the world: with courage and laughter and determination and kindness.

People say we’re living in a golden age for children’s fiction, and I think it’s true. Classics are being written here, now: we should get out our torches and read them.

Arlo The Lion Who Couldn't Sleep

by Catherine Rayner

Arlo the lion is exhausted. He just can't drop off, no matter what he tries. It's either too hot, or too cold; too loud or too quiet. But then he meets Owl. Perhaps his new friend has some special tricks she can teach him to help him sleep. Catherine Rayner's beautiful illustrations combined with a gentle and relatable mindfulness message make this a timeless picture book.

What the Ladybird Heard

by Julia Donaldson

Author Julia Donaldson already knows a thing or two about classic children's books with The Gruffalo now a firm favourite on many children's bookshelves. Her more recent What the Ladybird Heard series has the same wit and charm as young readers follow a crime-busting ladybird in a brilliant rhyming adventure, complete with bright and bold illustrations from Lydia Monks. 

Who's Cute?

by Camilla Reid

Camilla Reid has a great track record for publishing brilliant books for babies and toddlers, and her new book is no different. Little children will love lifting the irresistibly soft felt flaps to discover who is the cutest little person ever – will it be baby bunny, small mouse or tiny owl? Playfully illustrated by the award-winning Nila Aye, Who's Cute? is destined to be an early-years classic for years to come.

Greenwild: The World Behind The Door

by Pari Thomson

Pari Thomson's Greenwild has already taken the children's books market by storm, described by the Telegraph as "a masterclass in how to write a timeless adventure story with a spot-on political message". Daisy Thistledown has escaped from boarding school and has a mystery to solve. Her search for her missing mother will lead her across London and through a hidden doorway to another world, filled with plants and bursting with magic: the Greenwild. This is a book that every child should read.

The Highland Falcon Theif

by M. G. Leonard

The Adventures on Trains, a mystery series from M.G. Leonard and Sam Sedgman, is already a firm favourite among many middle-grade readers, and the announcement of a film adaptation is sure to stir even more excitement. The Highland Falcon Thief is the first book in the series where we meet Harrison Beck and his Uncle Nat as they seek to solve a mystery and catch a thief before they reach the end of the line. Harrison and Uncle Nat's heartstopping and globe-trotting adventures will never cease to keep young readers hooked. 

Escape to the River Sea

by Emma Carroll

Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea has already established itself as a children's classic and Emma Carroll's Escape to the River Sea, inspired by the original story, has all the credentials to follow in its footsteps. Rosa Sweetman, a young Kindertransport girl, is the only child left at a rambling country estate in the north of England. But the arrival of Yara Fielding, starts an adventure that will take Rosa deep into the Amazon rainforest. This spectacular story tells of the next generation and the growing threats to the Amazon rainforest that continue to this day.

Peanut Jones and the Illustrated City

by Rob Biddulph

Superstar, author and illustrator Rob Biddulph charmed his way into the hearts of the nation when in March 2020 he started #DrawWithRob, a series of twice-weekly draw-along videos designed to help parents whose children were forced to stay home from school due to the Covid 19 pandemic. His books follow Peanut Jones – drawing feels like magic to her, but it can't fix her problems. That is until she discovers a unique pencil turbo-charged with special powers. This epic series from a national treasure has all the makings of a classic. 

We Hunt the Flame

by Hafsah Faizal

Hafsah Faizal quickly became a TikTok sensation with her debut, We Hunt the Flame, set in a richly detailed world inspired by ancient Arabia. Zafira is the Hunter. Forced to disguise herself as a man, she risks everything to provide for her people. Nasir is the Prince of Death. A feared assassin who is forever bound to the command of his father, the sultan. Both are legends in their kingdom – but neither wants to be. As well as carrying social importance in it's exploration of the Arab world, We Hunt the Flame is also a simply unputdownable read.

Carry On

by Rainbow Rowell

Part ghost story, part love story, part mystery and part melodrama, Rainbow Rowell's Carry On has something for everyone. Simon Snow's final year at the Watford School of Magicks becomes a whirlwind of chaos: his girlfriend brakes up with him, his best friend is a pest and his mentor keeps trying to hide him away in the mountains where maybe he'll be safe – and that's just the start. Actual evil things are trying to shut Simon down, and when you're the most powerful magician the world has ever known, you never get to relax and savour anything. This is a wizard school young readers won't forget.

Children of Blood and Bone

by Tomi Adeyemi

Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired YA fantasy books, beginning with Children of Blood and Bone. Once, Orïsha buzzed with magic; clans had powers, including Zélie's Reaper mother who could summon souls. But a ruthless king extinguished magic, targeting magic wielders, costing Zélie her mother, and her people their hope. Now, Zélie has a chance to restore magic and rebel against the monarchy. The follow-up Children of Virtue and Vengeance is just as thrilling, with the third hotly-anticipated book, Children of Anguish and Anarchy, out later this year.