Whether you’re a parent, teacher or student, reading has been shown to have countless benefits for both the brain and the soul.
From tucking your youngsters in at night with a bedtime story, to studying literature in English class, stories are an important tool that open the door to so many other aspects of life-changing education.
We’ve compiled a list of some of the best children’s books that teach a valuable lesson or share a profound nugget of wisdom. (Many of them were actually chosen by our very own staff at TEP!)
From toddlers to teenagers, here are the best life-changing children’s books worth reading.
‘Elmer’ by David McKee
There’s a reason this loveable patchwork elephant remains everybody’s favourite, more than 25 years after it’s original publication.
Elmer is a colourful patchwork elephant who is made fun of by his herd of greys for looking different. However, after several attempts of trying to blend in with the crowd, Elmer eventually learns that it’s his individuality that makes him special, and even inspires the other elephants to embrace their uniqueness too.
Lesson: Embrace what makes you different, and never be afraid to be yourself.
‘I Love You To The Moon & Back’ by Amelia Hepworth
‘I Love You To The Moon & Back’ is a sweet picture story about the relationship between a mother bear and her cub. They spend the whole day together and show their love for one another by hugging, touching noses and playing chase.
The mother bear uses the words, “I love you to the moon and back” to explain how much she loves her cub. Even though this story is aimed at toddlers and very young children, it does a perfect job of explaining just how much the child is loved by their parents.
Lesson: Never underestimate the love a parent has for their child.
‘The Huge Bag of Worries’ by Virginia Ironside
‘The Huge Bag of Worries’ tells the story of Jenny, a little girl who one day finds a big blue bag at the end of her bed, filled with worries.
The bag follows her wherever she goes – to school, to the bathroom…even when she is relaxing and watching TV! Jenny doesn’t feel like she can tell anyone about the bag, so she keeps it to herself. Meanwhile, the bag of worries simply gets bigger and bigger.
Eventually a kind lady comes along, empties out the bag of worries and encourages Jenny to talk about them, one by one. Now that the worries are out in the open, they don’t look so bad anymore.
This story is perfect for young primary school age children, who may be starting to develop their own bag of worries.
Lesson: A problem shared is a problem halved! Find someone who will listen and talk about it.
‘The Invisible Boy’ by Trudy Ludwig
‘The Invisible Boy’ tells a heart-breaking tale of Brian, a lonely boy who is ignored at school by his classmates and teachers. One day however, a new kid comes along called Justin who finally notices Brian and befriends him.
Over time, Brian is made to feel more and more seen, which is beautifully conveyed through the delicate illustrations throughout the book. The story is a perfect example of the importance of empathy and how making others feel welcome both at school and in life goes a long way. Many children will feel comforted about their own feelings of loneliness and will hopefully realise that they have the power to make everyone feel seen.
Lesson: Always be kind to others; never let them feel invisible.
‘The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh’ by AA Milne
The adventures of a cuddly, fluff-stuffed bear and his animal friends in the 100 Acre Wood may seem simply like whimsical fantasy on the surface. But AA Milne does a perfect job of tucking remarkable lessons within Pooh-Bear’s various stories, as well as using all of the animals to show examples of different characteristics.
There are almost too many beautiful nuggets of wisdom in ‘Winnie the Pooh’ to count, but many of them revolve around mindfulness, gratitude and the importance of friendship. It is the simplistic, innocent nature of Pooh’s thought processes that help to convey lessons in a way children will effortlessly understand.
”You're braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.Christopher Robin
Lessons: Cherish your friends.
Always think about others.
Sometimes it’s okay to do nothing, and let you imagination float.
Don’t be afraid to feel your emotions.
Always be grateful for what you have.
Be patient and have faith, and good things will come to you.
It’s okay to not have all of the answers.
Believe in yourself.
‘The Faraway Tree’ by Enid Blyton
Though technically a series of books, ‘The Faraway Tree’ remains some of Blyton’s best work to date, and for good reason.
Following the adventures of Joe, Fannie and and the magical folk of the Faraway Tree, the story takes readers on a series of adventures, each with their own lesson to teach.
Through the alluring backdrop of the Enchanted Wood, ‘The Faraway Tree’ conveys feelings of magic, mystery and the idea that anything can happen. When paired with the unpredictable and chaotic nature of the Faraway Tree (which promises a different land every day), it’s a recipe for unbelievable adventure with plenty for the characters and readers to learn.
Lessons: There is magic inside you and outside. You just need to keep you intuitions alive.
Be thankful and kind and it’ll come back to you in amazing ways.
Life is like the Faraway Tree. You’ll find different lessons at different times.
‘The Little Prince’ by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
‘The Little Prince’ has captured hearts around the world ever since it was first published in 1943. Since then, the book has been translated into around 300 languages so that readers everywhere can access its invaluable wisdom.
The book tells the story of the Little Prince, who flies around the galaxy visiting different planets. Along the way he meets many memorable characters, each with an amusing, insightful or reflective message that the Little Prince later ponders. He finds love in a small rose for whom he cares greatly, learning what really makes a relationship special. And his open and frank questions will both entertain and delight.
The subtle lessons within ‘The Little Prince’ may take a few reads to really show themselves. But one thing’s for sure – it’s a beautiful adventure for both children and grown-ups alike.
Lessons: Look after the planet.
Don’t judge others by their words, but by their actions.
Relationships make life worth living.
That which is really important in life can only be felt with the heart.
Where is the Lorax? Where did he go? What happened in this place that is now here rotten?
Only the Once-ler can tell you. ‘The Lorax’ is a light-hearted but cautionary tale of how corporate greed and business-based interests can destroy everything we hold dear to us. When the evil Once-ler decides to chop down all of the Truffula trees and cause environmental destruction to build his factory, The Lorax who ‘speaks for the trees’ confronts him.
What follows is a series of disastrous events that have gravely negative consequences for the animals and creatures that live in the forest of Truffula. The Lorax and other creatures eventually leave to find themselves a different land, leaving the Once-ler in solitude and self-imposed exile.
Lesson: We all have a responsibility to look after the planet and protect that which is important.
‘Bill’s New Frock’ by Anne Fine
Children will love this entertaining story of Bill, who wakes up one morning to discover he has transformed into a girl. What’s worse is that nobody else seems to notice. His mum dresses him in a pink dress and sends him off to school.
What follows is a series of encounters that only seem to get Bill into more and more trouble. He learns firsthand that lots of things are different as a girl and finds himself not being able to do all the things he enjoys – including play football!
This humorous story is an opportunity to raise questions with children about gender roles in society and how boys and girls may be sometimes treated differently.
Lesson: Boys and girls are equal and should be treated the same way.
‘The Twits’ by Roald Dahl
‘The Twits’ tells the tale of a nasty, gruesome married couple who enjoy playing terrible pranks on one another. They live in a house with no windows that looks like a prison, and keep the family of Muggle-Wump monkeys trapped in a cage and treat them very cruelly.
One day, the Roly Poly bird flies in from Africa to visit the monkeys and, with the help of the rest of the birds, crafts a clever plan to help them escape. The monkeys and the birds work together to seek revenge on Mr. and Mrs Twit and ensure they never cause misery to any creature again.
As well as telling a classic story of victory as the mistreated animals triumph over their frightful owners, ‘The Twits’ also sheds light on the folly of thinking unkind thoughts and what it truly means to be ‘ugly’.
”"If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on their face.
A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly. You can have a wonky nose and a crooked mouth and a double chin and stick-out teeth, but if you have good thoughts they will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.Roald Dahl
Lessons: Be kind to animals.
Ugly thoughts will lead to looking ugly on the outside, whilst those with good thoughts will always look lovely.
‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell
One for older readers, ‘Animal Farm’ is a true literary classic that cleverly reflects on the events of the early Soviet Union years, as well as drawing attention to the unfair structures that may exist in societies today.
The story follows a group of farm animals that overthrow their farmer, chase him away and take over the farm for themselves. For a little while the animals enjoy their newfound freedom, but over time, a new hierarchy takes shape placing the pigs, Napoleon and Snowball above the rest of the animals.
‘Animal Farm’ provides some great lessons in both history and sociology, and is a story students will love to talk about for time to come.
Lessons: Power can often lead to corruption and oppression.
Language can be manipulated and twisted for evil purposes.
‘The Edge Chronicles’ by Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
The Edge Chronicles are a series of books that take place in the fictional world of The Edge – a vast cliff with no apparent bottom. Each of the sagas within the series focus on one character, covering a 600-year period in total.
The books are divided into three ‘Ages of Flight’, each determined by the different modes of travel the characters use to get around. The power of flight is a major theme in the books, and readers also love the stunning drawings and maps that accompany them.
Though The Edge Chronicle stories are aimed at children, they largely cover serious themes such as slavery, racism, environmental destruction, technology advances and mass migration. They are also admirably creative, stimulating real and raw imagination with intriguing characters, diverse landscapes and rich culture.
Lessons: Almost too many to count. But finding out what lies beyond The Edge will involve facing your darkest fears…
‘Of Mice & Men’ by John Steinbeck
‘Of Mice and Men’ is a popular 1930s novella often taught in secondary schools to illustrate the struggles of the Great Depression.
It follows the story of George and Lennie, two friends who work on a ranch in California. George is small and intelligent, and looks out for Lennie, who is large and strong and has a learning disability. Over the course of four days, the pair meet many other characters who emphasise the loneliness and difficulty of life for many working men around this time.
Things take a wrong turn when Lennie accidentally kills a woman due to his strength, and George aims to protect him. Readers are kept on tenterhooks to see if the two men’s friendship will survive their harsh circumstances.
Lesson: Overall, ‘Of Mice and Men’ demonstrates the damaging effects of the Great Depression on the working class in America. However there are plenty of other lessons as well, such as the importance of compassion and looking out for those who are vulnerable.
‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee
Another one for secondary school level, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is the timeless story of a white lawyer, Atticus, who defends a black man in 1930s America.
In a society where racism and class division are highly prevalent, Atticus does his best as a single father to do right by his two children Scout and Jem. The story is told through Scout’s perspective as she encounters a variety of dynamic characters in their hometown and learns lots of powerful lessons. Her childlike perspective on a grown-up world is the perfect lens through which the darker events of the story are seen.
Harper Lee is excellent at demonstrating how people caught up in the jumbles of ignorance and poverty often turn to racism to mask their shame and low self-esteem.
Lessons: You’ll never really understand a person until you consider things from their point of view.
Fight with your head, not with your fists.
Sometimes you have to see something through anyway, even when you know you won’t win, because it’s the right thing to do.
Protect the innocent.