Cover Story

The Nifty 50

WORLD's list of 50 great 20th-Century books for children

Issue: "Nifty 50 Books," July 1, 2000

A year ago WORLD published a list of the top 40 books of the 20th century (with the help of readers, the list later grew to 100). This year WORLD takes a look at the world of children's literature by publishing a Nifty 50 list of children's fiction written since 1900. Picture books come first on our list, in alphabetical order by author, followed by juvenile fiction.

In composing the list I consulted with other moms and with my husband, who has 22 years of bedtime stories under his belt, but since we're the parents of four boys I have to acknowledge that the list is tilted toward boy favorites. (Parents with daughters are welcome to send suggestions for list expansion.) Some books that are written for children seem to appeal more to adults than their intended audience. A favorite like Ouida Sebestyn's Words by Heart, a story of a black family in Oklahoma after the Civil War, deals beautifully with the difference between knowing Scripture and applying it, but it didn't appeal to a focus group of boys.

We limited the list to one book by each author, and sometimes that was hard. We chose Horton Hatches the Egg by Dr. Seuss, but Yertle the Turtle is also terrific. We chose Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak, but Pierre: A Cautionary Tale (about the boy who learned to care) was a close second. Same goes for William Steig, whose great Yellow and Pink barely beat out Sylvester and the Magic Pebble.

We see you’ve been enjoying the content on our exclusive member website. Ready to get unlimited access to all of WORLD’s member content?
Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.
(Don’t worry. It only takes a sec—and you don’t have to give us payment information right now.)

Get your risk-free, 30-Day FREE Trial Membership right now.

One final note: Since the list focuses on books written in the past 100 years, some classics such as Robinson Crusoe, Treasure Island, An Old Fashioned Girl, and Five Little Peppers and How They Grew are not on it. Since the list is limited to fiction, some excellent nonfiction titles (for example, books by D'Aulaire, Gail Gibbons, and David Macaulay) aren't on it.

Please send letters to the editor commending specific choices or castigating us for omissions. But for now, let's dive in.


Runaway Bunny

Brown, Margaret Wise

The persistent bunny mother acts as does God in Psalm 139. Kids will like comparing the illustrations to those in Goodnight Moon.

The Lost Sheep

Butterworth, Nick and Inkpen, Mick

One of a series of four books based on parables from the Bible. A joyous combination of text and illustration.

Freight Train

Crews, Donald

A wonderful read-aloud story about a train. The writing displays great train rhythms that kids love.

The Knight and the Dragon

de Paola, Tomie

An inexperienced knight and dragon make preparations for their first battle.


Freeman, Don

A circus bear has to learn a new trick or be out of a job.

Asterix the Gaul

Goscinny and Uderzo

First in the series about a Gaulish village's comedic fight against Roman tyranny.

Ox-cart Man

Hall, Donald

In the fall a farmer takes his crop to market. He sells everything, even the ox that pulled his cart, and walks home with seeds, tools, and presents to begin the process all over again.

The Tale of Three Trees

Hunt, Angela Elwell

Three young trees' dreams of future greatness are fulfilled in surprising ways.

Harold and the Purple Crayon

Johnson, Crockett

A boy creates his world with his trusty purple crayon, saving himself with a stroke of his imagination from many catastrophes.

I, Mouse

Kraus, Robert

Robert Kraus is better known for Leo the Late Bloomer, but we enjoy this little mouse's attitude. He likes cheese. Is that a crime?

The Carrot Seed

Krauss, Ruth

Charming drawings by Crockett Johnson illustrate this simple story of a seed that grows into an enormous carrot.

The Story of Ferdinand

Leaf, Munro

Ferdinand would rather smell the flowers than fight in a ring, but on the day the bullfighters come to find the toughest bull, placid Ferdinand has just been stung by a bee.

Custard the Dragon

Nash, Ogden

While Belinda, Ink, and Blink brag about their bravery in this story-poem, it falls to Custard, a "realio trulio cowardly dragon," to defeat the pirate.

Cowardly Clyde

Peet, Bill

A cowardly war horse overcomes his fear to save himself and Sir Galavant from the ogre.

The Bed Book

Plath, Sylvia

For kids tired of their "nice little, tucked in tight little, turn-out the light little beds," here's a whirlwind poem about more exciting places to lay their heads.

Just Plain Fancy

Polacco, Patricia

The Amish dress plain to please God. But what happens when two little Amish children find they have hatched a colorful peacock alongside their chicken?


You must be a WORLD member to post comments.

    Keep Reading


    Troubling ties

    Under the Clinton State Department, influence from big money…