On 1001 actually being quite a small number

“I love reading another reader’s list of favourites. Even when I find I do not share their tastes or predilections, I am provoked to compare, contrast, and contradict. It is a most healthy exercise, and one altogether fruitful.” 

– T. S. Eliot

1001 books

I’ve been contemplating the list of the 1001 Children’s Books I must read before I grow up. Not the books themselves, but the list. It must be been astonishingly difficult to come up with that list. But how did the creators of the list know that they were right to include books on the list? Did they pick their childhood favourites, and see how many other people on the panel of 1001 Children’s Books agreed with them? Did they do some sort of survey of children? Did they look at book sales? Did they think about which books were ground-breaking when they were first published, or which ones had been around for a certain amount of time, or were still selling after being published five, ten, one hundred years ago? How do you choose, out of the zillions of books that have ever been, one thousand?

I don’t know if I could have done it.

There are books left off the list that I feel dismay over their absence – one that I simply can’t understand is Enid Blyton’s The Magic Faraway Tree, another is Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. But I suppose, it’s all a matter of opinion, isn’t it? I mean, to me, those two books are books that deserve to be on the list, but I don’t know the list of criteria. Maybe they had something missing, some key element that the creators of the 1001 Children’s Book book were looking for. And who knows? Once I read all one thousand and one of them (which, I realise, may take quite a while…) perhaps those books will be bumped down my list of books that you should read because of all the fabulous books on the list.

What would be on your list of books to read before you grow up? What books have I read so far that you agree with, or hated, or is there a book missing from the list (which can be read in full here) which you think should, obviously, be on the list and the fact that it has been overlooked is a crime?



  1. My copy of 1001 Children’s Books has lots of extra pages where I’ve inserted some of my own personal favourites and, at the end of the past three years, I’ve tried to add in what I think were the deserving books from that year. It’s all of course from the scope of my own reading, but as that takes place mainly in the same market as the original text, it doesn’t appear too divergent.
    Being a bit of a book nerd, I’ve tried to make sure that my extra pages follow the same format and layout as the original, down to the type of paper. That’s a bit more time-consuming than popping a post-it note on a page but it does work as a form of quality control. I have to be really sure that a book deserves the time it takes to do up the insert.
    Writing this down feels a little like confessing a shameful secret, but the process stops me feeling aggrieved and resentful towards Eccleshare and co. so it can’t be wholly bad!

  2. I, too, always wonder about those lists. And there seem to be new lists that pop up every day. And at what point does a particular list become obsolete? As new books come out every day. An Infinity of books!

  3. I’ve spent quite a bit of time wondering how the list was conceived. Julia Eccleshare was children’s book editor at the Guardian, so is well qualified to make some sort of list. It seems they’ve only included fiction, so I think that is why Gerald Durrell misses out- I was perplexed at Anne Frank’s absence for a while, but think that explains it too. What I’m particularly mystified at (and rather miffed by) is that they included so many books that aren’t available in English. That were never available in English. Why? Why do that to us? Did they expect that noone would be so crazy as to set out to deliberately read all the books? If you build it they will come. If you make the list someone will attempt to read it. It was a disheartening moment to realise that no matter how hard I try I will never get to read all these books, not through lack of trying or intent, but because I can’t read in Catalan, and Polish, and Swedish, and….

    There’s never been a second edition of 1001, where they fix these errors. The adult 1001 books to read before you die, is actually up to a 3rd edition, so there’s some 1200ish grown up books to read before you die.

    • How annoying they aren’t all available in English! That will certainly put a spanner in the works when I get to the pointy end of the list. I hadn’t thought about the fiction/non-fiction ratio of the books, but that does make sense about Gerald Durrell and Anne Frank. It doesn’t explain the absence of The Magic Faraway Tree and The Talking Parcel, however!
      If we ever finish this list, perhaps we’ll have to move to the 1001 grown up books to read, although I don’t think they will be as fun!

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