This might just be the most incredible personalised book in the galaxy.
How many of our list have you read?
Recently, Buzzfeed published an article which listed the 51 most beautiful sentences in literature as suggested by readers. Out of the whole list of 51, there are just 3 sentences chosen from children’s books (‘Where the Wild Things Are’, one or other of the Harry Potters and ‘Anne of Green Gables’). Although the list is indeed beautiful, and much of it left me in awe of what we can do with just 26 letters at our disposal, my overriding thought was how underrepresented children’s literature is in this particular list. Barely 5% of it? Please. As this list seemed to criminally ignore so much of the beauty inherent in the books that our children read, there seemed a need for a similar celebration of beauty – but this time, just in children’s literature.
Before we go any further, though, please note the title of this post again. This is A Top 10 – not THE Top 10, but just one of an infinite number of top 10s that could be produced by each of us if we put our minds to it. Perhaps more accurately, though, this is MY Top 10 of some of the most beautiful sentences from the realm of children’s literature that I have ever read. As this is my list, it is inevitably intensely personal to me, to my childhood, and now to my journey as a Mummy. Your list will almost certainly be different, I’m sure. We will have read different things, had different experiences, different adventures, been moved by different events. That’s how life works, after all. Wouldn’t it be boring if we all had the same Top 10?
So why should you bother reading my Top 10? Because agree with my list or not, I promise you that all of these sentences that I have chosen are in some way beautiful, or honest, or enlightening, or comforting, or insightful. And all are absolutely and unquestionably worth a read. They appear in no particular order and I’ve added a short comment from me after each quotation to justify its place in my very own hall of fame.
1. “We be of one blood, ye and I.” [The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling]
Aaaah. This one short sentence speaks of so much, all at once – love, family, friendship, soul mates, devotion. Big ideas for a children’s story (and quite rightly so…). I often say this sentence to my husband and now our son is here too, it has become something of a family motto. This sentence is succinct, non-gushy and beautiful – my favourite of the whole list.
2. “If a person has ugly thoughts, it begins to show on the face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until you can hardly bear to look at it. 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 it will shine out of your face like sunbeams and you will always look lovely.” [The Twits by Roald Dahl]
I simply cannot imagine a Top 10 of children’s literature without Roald Dahl. Dahl is still an absolute legend to a certain generation and this is perhaps my favourite extract of all his writing. What a gorgeous way to think about beauty, both inside and out. And what a positive message to pass on to our little ones in an age obsessed with Photoshop and airbrushing, superficiality and surface.
3. “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” [The Lorax by Dr Seuss]
OK, confession time. Dr Seuss completely and utterly passed me by as a child. I didn’t know any of his books and my parents didn’t read them to me – he just wasn’t on my radar. However, now that I’m a Mummy, I cannot get enough of him. I love his vivid rhyming, crazy imagery and the non-preachy moral that underlies much of his work. This quote is from ‘The Lorax’, a children’s book about environmentalism, capitalism, deforestation and globalisation (not a synopsis you often type!). All in rhyme. With a positive message about making a difference in the future. What’s not to love?!
4. “I think I can. I think I can. I think I can. I know I can.” [The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper]
Simple, rhythmic, encouraging, soothing. This engine-like rhythm sounds wonderful read aloud and it’s exactly the kind of phrase that lodges itself in a child’s mind to be recalled at those times when self-doubt creeps in.
5. “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” [Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne]
This is technically from a film rather than the original book but as it’s so lovely, I’m sneaking it in. I can make the rules for my own Top 10, right?! However, there is a danger that this extract has become a little too familiar now. I’ve seen it plastered over countless Facebook walls designed to inspire and motivate. However, if we ignore all that baggage that comes with its familiarity and look at those words afresh, I think it’s impossible not to be moved. As a child, isn’t this all we wanted to hear from our loved ones? Heck, even as an adult, it’s still pretty nice!
6. “The most wonderful and the strongest things in the world, you know, are just the things which no one can see.” [The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley]
As children, my sister and I shared a beautifully illustrated copy of this book. The pictures of the children escaping the cruelty of poverty and chimney sweeping to instead swim underwater and encounter the world beneath the sea are still imprinted on my adult mind. I chose this quotation as it talks a little of the magic of the unseen – something that it never hurts to remember, even as adults.
7. “And Max, the king of all wild things, was lonely and wanted to be where someone loved him best of all.” [Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak]
At the very end of this magical story, little Max just wants to go home – ‘to be where someone loved him best of all’. As a child, I think this feeling of being both brave and yet wanting to be wrapped up safely at home is a familiar one. Sendak captures this so perfectly, I think – Max is still the king, after all, but king or not, he needs his dinner and his bed.
8. “Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.” [The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams]
This is such a gorgeous story about toys, and about the power of love. It gets me every time…
9. “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” [The Minpins by Roald Dahl]
Another entry from Roald Dahl. A simple and short sentence, but one which invites us to suspend our disbelief and look for magic everywhere. As with some of these other quotations, they manage to be exciting for their child readers and yet simultaneously heartbreaking for their adult readers as we remember our unbridled curiosity and inquisitiveness at that age. This makes me feel both childlike and jaded, all at the same time.
10. “A person’s a person no matter how small.” [Horton Hears a Who by Dr Seuss]
Another sneaky entry from the good doctor. To be honest, I could have chosen any one of several dozen quotations from him but I love how this one seeks to give even the smallest child a voice and importance and empowerment. Isn’t it wonderful how a single sentence can do all that?!
So, there we have it. My very own Top 10. Aren’t our children lucky to be growing up with so many incredible stories to choose from? And aren’t we lucky that we have the perfect excuse to read them all and live them all over again?!
If you’re not just a fan of the classics and you’re looking for some exceptionally personalised stories for kids, browse our range of personalised books great as a gift for any occasion.
Written by Katy Wright, new Mummy to her 11 month old son, living in Hertfordshire with yoghurt in her hair most of the time. Proud owner of a PhD in contemporary literature and with a background in university teaching. Generally obsessive about books, stories and education.