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Weird and wonderful children's books that pushed boundaries


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It would’ve been Roald Dahl’s 102nd birthday today, so in celebration of the weird and wonderful worlds and characters he created over his lifetime including, Matilda, Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Willy Wonka, we’re going to take a look at other children’s books that used imagination over actuality.

Image courtesy of Oast House Archive

1) Where The Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

This picture book from 1963 was written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak, and a live-action film adaptation was made in 2009. The book has sold over 19 million copies, following a little boy named Max whose bedroom turns into a mystical jungle, where he comes into contact with the notorious beasts, the “wild things”. This book is truly mystical and definitely deserved of a place in our top ten.


2) The Cat in the Hat – Dr. Seuss

The Cat in the Hat focuses on a talking cat adorned in a large red and white striped hat and a red bow tie. He appears in the home of two children while their mother is away and wreaks havoc throughout the household with the help of Thing One and Thing Two. We would be remise not to mention this delightful rhyming entry into the kids book canon.


3) Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis

When one thinks of childhood fantasy, C. S. Lewis’s magical world in the wardrobe, Narnia, comes to mind. The book is the first in The Chronicle of Narnia series, which was first published in 1950. It has everything: a fantastical, wintery land hidden in the back of a wardrobe; a talking lion; a snow queen and a group of children ready to save the day.


4) Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Most children will have seen, heard or read Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The book has been adapted hundreds of times, most famously by Disney in 1951, but it has also been adapted into a ballet and even for stage. With a crazy plot and cast of characters such as the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Queen of Hearts, this is truly something that ignites the imagination and is a milestone of quirky and clever child book writing.


5) The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

One of the oldest stories in the book is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, published in 1911.  This novel is considered an absolute classic in children’s literature. The main character of the novel is selfish and spoilt Mary Lennox whose parents (who don’t care for her much) die of cholera. She moves in with her Uncle in Yorkshire and discovers a secret garden that has been locked away for years, the rest of the plot takes the girl on an adventure where she learns more about herself and grows as a person. It’s a truly great novel, which could even be considered a coming of age story, of a girl who learns to change.


6) Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

An adventure novel written and published in 1883, Treasure Island is one of the most famous pirate stories for children. This novel encapsulates the sea and pirates, with treasure maps, pirate ships, and evil captains. Its paved the way for pirate stories to this day.


7) Charlie and The Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

We couldn’t have a top ten of imaginative and weird children books without including at least one Roald Dahl book. Arguably one of his most popular, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory introduces the most fantastical and imaginative characters including the icon that is Willy Wonka, the owner of the biggest and best chocolate/sweet factory in the whole world. Willy Wonka allows 5 lucky children entry to his factory on receipt of a golden ticket. These 5 lucky children are invited into the world of Oompa-Loompas and chocolate rivers.


8) Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White

E. B. White is known for many children's books including The Trumpet of the Swan, Stuart Little and most famously Charlotte's Web, which tells the story of Wilbur the pig and his unexpected friendship with a barn spider named Charlotte. This book is perfect for both adults and children which makes it an ultimate classic.

9) James and The Giant Peach – Roald Dahl

Another of Dahl’s works, James and The Giant Peach (written in 1961) is equally as weird as the previous Dahl book on our list. James is an orphan who lives with his horrible aunts and he one day manages to escape in a giant peach that grows in their garden. One of the weirdest elements of the novel is the characters, who are all insects such as The Centipede, The Earthworm, The Old Green Grasshopper and Miss Spider. As far as wacky stories go this is by far one of the best.


10) The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

This French novel, written in 1943, is one of the most translated books ever - it’s been translated into 300 languages and sold over 140 million copies, making it one of the best-selling books ever published. Le Petit Prince is well-worth the read, it explores very human themes about morality, sensibility and maturity and this is why it makes our top 10 children books.

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