10 Classic Children’s Books by Women Authors to Read Before You Die

A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

How many of these classic children’s books by women authors did you miss reading? Some of the books listed here were written for all ages — Black Beauty  and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn come to mind — but have been adopted by younger readers as favorites.

Not long ago, my book group read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, an American coming-of-age classic.

Among the group, about half had never read it; the other half hadn’t picked the book up since adolescence.While it wasn’t written specifically for children, the book has been beloved by generations of girls despite its tough themes. 

It was as enjoyable an experience for those reading it for the first time as it was for those rediscovering it, proving how timeless classics books can be.

The books presented here appeal to “children of all ages” with their universal themes of love, loyalty, loss, and coming of age. If you missed any of them while growing up, it’s never too late to delve into them. And if you haven’t read them since you were young, it will be like meeting old friends once again.

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A Little Princess & Anne of Green Gabes photo by annie spratt

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Here, in our humble opinion, are 10 classic children’s books by women authors to read (or reread) before you die — plus 12 runners up.

Of course, children’s classics by men are worthy of visiting or revisiting, too. Who wouldn’t love Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White, The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum, and Roald Dahl’s lovable lunacy?

That said, the mission of our site is to pay homage to our female foremothers and the memorable stories and characters they created.

First, the list of the top 10 that are absolute musts in order of publication date. Following that list, you’ll find a dozen runners-up. Are there any glaring omissions? If so, please comment below the post!

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Little Women (1868)

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

Starring Jo March, one of literature’s most inspiring heroines for girls, Little Women by Louisa May Alcott is the semi-autobiographical story of four sisters that’s a timeless look at personal ideals, family bonds, loss, and growing up. More about Little Women

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Black Beauty (1877)

Black beauty by Anna Sewell

Anna Sewell loved horses and was often saddened at what she observed in terms of their treatment. Black Beauty was not only a plea for more humane treatment of horses but a great story. Fittingly, it’s one of the best-selling children’s books of all time. More about Black Beauty

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Anne of Green Gables (1905)

Anne of Green Gables

Anne Shirley is a dreamy, imaginative 11-year-old orphan girl mistakenly sent to a middle-aged brother and sister who meant to adopt a boy to help on their farm. The reading public fell in love with Anne of Green Gables from the start, and her creator, L.M. Montgomery, went on to write several sequels, taking her from girlhood to motherhood. More about Anne of Green Gables

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A Little Princess (1905)

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

In the beloved tale by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Sara Crewe has everything a girl could want, but loses it all when her father dies. She is reduced to work in cruel Miss Minchin’s school as a servant. But she retains her courage and dignity, and proves that no matter what one’s outward circumstances, all girls are princesses at heart. More about A Little Princess.

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The Secret Garden (1911)

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This classic is also by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Mary Lennox, a bitter, sickly, and neglected 10-year-old, was born to wealthy British parents in India who never really loved her.

Through caring for others, she finds redemption. It’s a bit on the sentimental side, in the literary fashion of the day, but is life complete without reading The Secret Garden? More about The Secret Garden

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Little House in the Big Woods (1932)

Little house in the big woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The family depicted in The Little House books was an idealized version of that Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up in. Starting with Little House in the Big Woods, this series recounts the everyday lives as well as adventures of a family pioneering the Great Plains in the mid-1800s. Life was simple, sometimes challenging, but good. More about the Little House series

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Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers (1934)

Mary Poppins boxed set

Mary Poppins, one of the best-loved characters in children’s literature, came from a story that its author, P.L. (Pamela Lyndon) Travers made up while minding two young children. Here’s a rundown of most all of the Mary Poppins books in the series.

Mary Poppins, the first book in the series, was published in 1934 to instant success and launched a series starring the magical nanny as the central character. In it, she’s blown to Number 17 Cherry Tree Lane, London by the East wind, and becomes part of the Banks family’s household.

There she takes charge of the children, changing their lives and that of their parents. The books, all illustrated by Mary Shepard, have been a mainstay of classic children’s literature from the time of their publication. Read more about the Mary Poppins series.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943) 

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn cover

Betty Smith’s best-known novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, is somewhat autobiographical. Its heroine, Francie Nolan, is real and relatable, and her girlhood is anything but easy. The coming-of-age novel touchingly depicts childhood and young adulthood in early 1900s Brooklyn. More about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

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A Wrinkle in Time (1962)

A wrinkle in Time 50th anniversary cover

This fantasy for all ages by Madeleine L’Engle has much more than science or fantasy: add religion, philosophy, mathematics, satire, and allegory. Add a lot of suspense and you’ll wonder why this award-winning book had such trouble finding a publisher! More about A Wrinkle in Time

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Harriet the Spy (1964)

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

In this subtly subversive novel by Louise Fitzhugh, Harriet spends part of her day “spying” and writing her observations down in her notebook. The loss of her childhood nanny and the discovery of her notebook by classmates turn Harriet’s world upside down. This flawed heroine will be beloved by girls for many more generations to come. More about Harriet the Spy

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Once  you’ve tackled these 10 must-read classic children’s books by women authors, here are more for you to enjoy before you depart for the Great Beyond.

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Classic children's books by women authors



13 Responses to “10 Classic Children’s Books by Women Authors to Read Before You Die”

  1. I’d add Lois Lowry’s “The Giver” to the list of 12.
    Glad you’re deleting “The Yearling” from the list.

    • Thank you, Rose. On Literary Ladies, we cover only authors who have passed, and not that I’m wishing it on her, but I’m sure Lois Lowry will take her place as a classic author in her genre. She’s a wonderful writer.

  2. Love the top ten and the extended list too. I would add the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace and the All-of-a-Kind Family series by Sydney Taylor.

  3. Excellent list, with one exception — I wouldn’t recommend The Yearling to anyone, let alone a child, due to its truly horrific ending. Why people persist in calling it a classic I will never understand. But the rest are great 🙂

    • Actually, you’re right … Rawlings didn’t write it as a children’s book at all, even though the protagonist is a boy. I’ve deleted it off the list. I tried reading it a few months ago and couldn’t even stomach the first few chapters. So much graphic description of hunting; and eating, eating eating! Thanks for the nudge.

  4. Thank You So Much for your wonderful reccommendations! Exactly the information I was looking for! Thank you again for sharing!

  5. This is a good start to classic women authors for children whose books I keep on my shelf at home (all but one). Some I read as a girl and others I discovered years later to have and to hold onto. The literature grows up with America, Canada and the UK. The second list includes favorites as well, several more that I’ve kept on my shelves at home. It’s always good to revisit the classics that are anchored in a time and place to help know where we’ve grown or fallen short as a society. Thanks for this!

    • Vanessa, it was so hard for me to pick the top 10, and it’s totally subjective! I love Pippi, too, and the series is in the honorary mentions list following the top 10. Thanks for weighing in!

  6. Thank You So Much for your wonderful website! Exactly the information I was looking for! I look forward to returning again and again! Many, Many, Thanks!

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