Charlie and the Chocolate Factory beats Harry Potter as it tops list of children’s books that have stood the test of time

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, originally published in 1964, tops the list of 20th century children’s books which are still being read today. The poll was commissioned by the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Medals, the prestigious book awards for children and young people that celebrate its 80th anniversary this year , to see which books from the past 80 years had made the most impact on British families.

The story of Charlie Bucket’s adventures in Willy Wonka’s factory, illustrated by Quentin Blake and written 53 years ago, was the number one chosen by parents of children aged 1 to 12 across every region of the UK. Two other Dahl stories – The BFG (1982) and Matilda (1988), also illustrated by Blake – came second and third place in the list of favourite reads for parents and children.

The Top 15 were selected from a list of books that were at least 20 years old and published after 1936, the year the Medals began. The oldest book on the list, at number 10, is The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, first published in 1937. Carnegie Medal winner The Borrowers by Mary Norton makes it onto the list alongside Kate Greenaway winner Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs. Interestingly, books published in the 1950s take the highest number of spots on the list.

The Top 15 are:

  1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964)
  2. The BFG by Roald Dahl (1982)
  3. Matilda by Roald Dahl (1988)
  4. A Bear called Paddington by Michael Bond (1958)
  5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1969)
  6. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (1997)
  7. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
  8. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White (1952)
  9. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss (1957)
  10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien (1937)
  11. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell (1982)
  12. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr (1968)
  13. The Snowman by Raymond Briggs (1978)
  14. The Borrowers by Mary Norton (1952)
  15. Father Christmas by Raymond Briggs (1973)

The majority of parents questioned (80.75%) agreed that distinctive covers and illustrations made a book stick in the mind, with picture books (32.3%) and fantasy (27.65%) thought to make the most impact on kids, a fact reinforced by the choices selected in the poll.

When asked why they believed their chosen books remained popular, parents cited timeless settings and reminisced about being transported into another world. The study shows almost 84% actively encourage their children to read their own favourite classics. 53% like their children to know and experience a character they loved themselves as a child and 44.3% like the idea that their child is sharing an experience with millions of other children. When asked how they felt readin g these classic books, 76.84% of parents said they themselves felt happy, nostalgic and comforted.

Other reading habits were revealed through the poll, with the majority of parents only reading to their kids an average of two hours per week , but overwhelmingly (over 80%) preferring print books to ebooks.

Chris Riddell, former Children’s Laureate and three times CILP Kate Greenaway winner, comments: “These results show that parents enjoy sharing books they love with their children and connect with these books through their engaging covers and illustrations. There is a special alchemy by which illustrators bring characters to life for the reader. They turn words and pictures into gold in our imaginations. That is why I believe all books should have pictures.”

Nick Poole, Chief Executive of CILIP, said:
“Over the past 80 years, the CILIP Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medals have played a crucial role in highlighting excellence in children’s books. To mark our anniversary year, we wanted to find out which children’s books have stood the test of time and why. The findings show the strength of illustration and fantasy in reading choices, as well as the nostalgia and affection that parents have for books from their own childhood. Whilst parents are unanimous about the appeal of reading physical books to their children, the findings also highlight the importance of schools and libraries in encouraging reading, with an average of only two hours a week spent on reading at home. We watch with interest to see which of today’s books will become the classics of the future.”