The following are highly biased and opinionated lists of books that I think aspiring writers and/or editorial assistants should read. The kids' and YA lists are mostly composed of books mentioned or used as examples in The Magic Words, but I've also edited the lists to bring in or indicate classics that are still worth reading (albeit sometimes for historic interest; marked with a C); modern (post-2000) titles that I would recommend for people who want to get up to speed on contemporary children's literature (marked with an M); and my personal favorites (marked with an F). Titles with a (‡) indicate books I edited (I have not marked any of them with an F); you can see a complete list of such books in the slideshow here. For additional children's and YA recommendations, see the annual selections of Notable Books for Children and Best Fiction for Young Adults from the American Library Association and Elizabeth Bluemle's A World Full of Color database. This list will be perpetually under construction and subject to revision. 


Chapter Books

The Best Friend Battle by Lindsay Eyre, illustrated by Charles Santoso (‡)

Clara Lee and the Apple Pie Dream by Jenny Han, illustrated by Julia Kuo

Clementine by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee (C, M, F)

Captain Underpants by Dav Pilkey (C, M)

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat (‡)


Middle-Grade Realistic and Historical Fiction

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (M)

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

El Deafo by Cece Bell (graphic novel; M)

The Penderwicks and its sequels by Jeanne Birdsall (M, F)

Tales of a Fourth-Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (C)

The Secret Garden and A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett (C, F)

The Ramona books by Beverley Cleary (C)

Frindle by Andrew Clements (C, F)

Love That Dog by Sharon Creech (M)

Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (C, M)

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis (C)

Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman (C)

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (C, M, F)

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo (M)

The Melendy Quartet by Elizabeth Enright (C, F)

The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes (C)

Better Nate than Ever by Tim Federle (M)

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (C, F)

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (C)

George by Alex Gino (M)

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson (‡)

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (M)

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg (C, M, F)

Day of Tears by Julius Lester

The Giver by Lois Lowry (C)

Number the Stars by Lois Lowry (C)

Saffy's Angel and the rest of the Casson series by Hilary McKay (F)

Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne (C, F)

The Slightly True Story of Cedar B. Hartley, Who Planned to Live an Unusual Life by Martine Murray (F)

Wonder by R. J. Palacio (M)

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park (M)

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson (C, F)

Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (C, F)

Criss Cross by Lynne Rae Perkins

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (C, F)

Stealing Air by Trent Reedy (‡)

Words in the Dust by Trent Reedy (‡)

Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes

8th Grade Superzero by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich (‡)

The Encyclopedia of Me by Karen Rivers (‡)

Esperanza Rizing by Pam Munoz Ryan (M)

Holes by Louis Sachar (C)

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt (M)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (M)

The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (C, F)

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare (C, F)

Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (C, M)

Drama by Raina Telgemeier (graphic novel)

The Dicey Tillerman books by Cynthia Voigt (C)

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White (C)

One Crazy Summer and its sequels by Rita Williams-Garcia (M, F)

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (M)

Millicent Min, Girl Genius and its companion books by Lisa Yee (‡)


Middle-Grade Speculative Fiction

The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt (C)

The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black

The Dark Is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper (C)

King of Shadows by Susan Cooper (F)

The BFG by Roald Dahl (C)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (C)

Matilda by Roald Dahl (C, F)

The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (M)

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (C, F)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (C, F)

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine (C, F)

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (M)

Grounded: The Adventures of Rapunzel by Megan Morrison (‡)

The Borrowers by Mary Norton (C)

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien (C, F)

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (C, F)

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (C, M, F)

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (M, F)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling (C, M, F)

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar (C, F)

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (C, F)

The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (M)

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (M)

Goosebumps by R. L. Stine

The Arrival by Shaun Tan (graphic novel, C, M, F)

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien (C)

The Real Boy by Anne Ursu


Young Adult Realistic and Historical Fiction

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli (F)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (M)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (C, M)

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation by M. T. Anderson (M)

Nothing But the Truth by Avi (C, F)

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi (C, F)

Dangerous Angels (the Weetzie Bat books) by Francesca Lia Block (C)

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret by Judy Blume (C)

Forever by Judy Blume (C)

Hush by Eishes Chayil

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (C, M)

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier (C)

Staying Fat for Sarah Burns by Chris Crutcher (C)

This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen (F)

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (M)

If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth (‡)

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (M, F)

Looking for Alaska by John Green

Paper Towns by John Green (M, F)

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han

The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton (C)

Impulse by Ellen Hopkins

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (M, F)

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A. S. King

Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A. S. King

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg (‡)

The Porcupine of Truth by Bill Konigsberg (‡)

The Book of Everything by Guus Kuijer, translated by John Nieuwenhuizen (‡)

Very Far Away from Anywhere Else by Ursula K. LeGuin (C, strong F; the way most YA people feel about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, I feel about this book)

Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (M)

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by David Levithan and Rachel Cohn (M, F)

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart (M)

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart (M)

Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina

Cut by Patricia McCormick (M)

The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty (F)

Monster by Walter Dean Myers (C, M)

Slam! by Walter Dean Myers

Shine by Lauren Myracle

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (M)

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (C)

A Room on Lorelei Street by Mary Pearson

Ball Don’t Lie by Matt de la Peña

Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Divided We Fall by Trent Reedy (‡)

When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (M, F)

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (F)

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz (M)

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter (‡)

Young Man with Camera by Emil Sher (‡)

Irises by Francisco X. Stork (‡)

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (‡)

The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork (‡)

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred Taylor (C)

The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (F)

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini (M)

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein (M)

American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (graphic novel; M)

The Kidney Hypothetical by Lisa Yee


Young Adult Speculative Fiction

Feed by M. T. Anderson (M)

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigualpi

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Chime by Franny Billingsley

Above by Leah Bobet (‡)

Tithe by Holly Black

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (M)

A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce (‡)

Graceling and sequels by Kristin Cashore (M, F)

City of Bones and sequels by Cassandra Clare

The Hunger Games and sequels by Suzanne Collins (M)

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean (F)

Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones (C, F)

Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones (C)

A Wizard of Earthsea and its sequels by Ursula K. LeGuin (C)

Ash by Malinda Lo

Legend by Marie Lu

Throne of Glass by Sarah Maas

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Twilight by Stephenie Meyer (M)

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (C, F)

The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequels by Patrick Ness

Sabriel and its sequels by Garth Nix

Shadowshaper by Daniel José Older (‡)

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce (C)

Divergent by Veronica Roth

The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger (C)

The Thief and its sequels by Megan Whalen Turner (C; for The Queen of Attolia and The King of Attolia, F)

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (M)


Craft Books

The Poetics by Aristotle

The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card (Please buy this used or borrow it from the library. It's an excellent writing book, but I don't encourage giving money to Card, who is a virulent homophobe.)

Voice Lessons by Nancy Dean

Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

The Power of Point of View by Alicia Rasley

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Writing Children's Books by Harold Underdown