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The 10 greatest kids’ books ever!

With the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature on March 1-10, we thought we’d go all-out early and declare what we think are the best of the best

© ITP Images

1 The Cat in the Hat
By Dr Seuss
There are unwanted guests and then there are top-hatted, fast-talking cats who turn your house upside-down while your mum is out… Two children find themselves at the centre of a magical, tongue-twisting mess when a cocky moggy turns up at the door. Can he help undo the cartoon chaos he causes before mum returns? Clever and funny – a wonderful literary romp that should inspire a lifetime love of books.
Best for: Ages 3-7.
In a nutshell: Feline frolics for a rainy day.

2 Northern Lights
By Philip Pullman
Pullman writes for teenagers with intelligence, something the poor old so-and-sos are rarely offered by the constant stream of dreadful YA material most often pitched at them. As a result, his celebrated Dark Materials trilogy has proved a worldwide success with young and old alike. Northern Lights is the opener – set in a parallel universe to ours, where science, magic and theology co-exist. Lyra is an orphan who goes in search of her missing friend and finds herself in a world of witches and ice bears. It’s a dazzling thriller that continues with a new trilogy, The Book of Dust.
Best for: Ages 12+.
In a nutshell: Brave and actually smart modern fantasy.

3 The Hobbit
By JRR Tolkien
Tolkien never expected his story about Bilbo Baggins to be such a huge hit, but its instant success inspired the epic sequel The Lord of the Rings. For younger fans of fantasy writing, this is a great place to start: a quiet, stay-at-home hobbit reluctantly finds himself on a daring expedition to raid the treasure hoard of Smaug the Dragon. It’s a dense read, but it crackles with wit, imagination and adventure, and is way better – shock horror! – than the trilogy of movies stretched to breaking point out of it.
Best for: Ages 11-15.
In a nutshell: Heroics in the Middle-earth mountains.

4 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
By Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl’s delicious fantasy, like the earliest fairy stories, has a cautionary tale contained inside. One by one, the children who have won the chance to meet the reclusive chocolate magnate Willy Wonka are punished for their brattishness. Dahl revels in the rich descriptions of each scene, every character and even the sad, squalid home life of the book’s anti-hero, the unassuming little Charlie Bucket.
Best for: Ages 7-10.
In a nutshell: Thinking candy.

5 Emil and the Detectives
By Erich Kästner
Smalltown boy Emil is taking his first trip alone to visit family in Berlin. When he loses the money his mother gave him he is sure the suspicious man on the train has stolen it, but can he go to the police without proof? When he meets a gang of streetwise kids in the city, Emil finds his own way to get justice in a funny, fast-paced adventure as fresh now as it was when it was published in 1929.
Best for: Ages 8-11.
In a nutshell: Pint-sized private eye caper.

6 Where the Wild Things Are
By Maurice Sendak
Dressed in his wolf costume, naughty little Max behaves like a wild animal around the house and is sent to his room in disgrace. There he suddenly finds his surroundings magically transformed into a strange new world. He sails to an island and becomes the king of the beastly Wild Things. But eventually, after lots of untamed fun, Max decides there’s no place like home and returns to his family. An American classic that salutes creativity and individuality. Terrific stuff.
Best for: Ages 3-6.
In a nutshell: Escapism for free spirits.

7 The Gruffalo
By Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Donaldson’s genius for inventive stories and deft rhymes is matched perfectly by Scheffler’s playful drawings in this award-winning modern classic. A little mouse outsmarts the hungry forest’s predators, but can he talk his way out of being eaten by the knobbliest monster of them all? Didn’t you know? There’s no such thing as a… oh!
Best for: Ages 3-7.
In a nutshell: Beastly fun.

8 Peepo!
By Janet and Allan Ahlberg
As young parents, author Allan and (the late) illustrator Janet Ahlberg created a beautiful evocation of the small world surrounding a baby – the view from the cot of mum and dad’s bedroom, the washing in front of a fireside and a loving family home. Each scene is first glimpsed through a little hole as we see this world through the child’s eyes: “Here’s a little baby. One, two, three…” Nostalgic yet timelessly lovely at the same time.
Best for: Ages 0-3.
In a nutshell: Soothing quiet-time poetics. Perfect.

9 You’re a Bad Man, Mr Gum!
By Andy Stanton
Fans of the sillier excesses of Roald Dahl and Roddy Doyle? Then they’ll love the smart, colourful, conversational genius of London author Andy Stanton. Greedy, miserable Mr Gum wants to poison a boisterous dog who keeps fouling up his garden. Can his ’orrible plan be stopped by a young girl, a hippy and the unruly woofer in this hilarious romp?
Best for: Ages 7-10.
In a nutshell: Adventures in sublime nonsense.

10 Noughts & Crosses
By Malorie Blackman
One of the great contemporary authors writing for older children and teens, Blackman created a thought-provoking modern classic when she launched the Noughts & Crosses series with this first novel – a story exploring power and prejudice and generations of two families torn apart by the racial and social division between the dark-skinned Cross class and the colourless Nought underclass.
Best for: Ages 12-15.
In a nutshell: Love battles power and racial division.

Time Out Dubai,

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