Few activities are as important to the growth and maturation of the mind as reading. As an exercise for the mind, reading continually challenges a child to grow, with more difficult words and concepts at each step. Furthermore, the foundation of a child’s morals and worldview takes shape not just from the example and teaching of the parents and other influential adults, but from the characters and stories that fill and inspire the young imagination. Finally, beloved stories familiar to the masses help form the basis of a child’s culture as he travels into adulthood, and provide a framework for comparison of the things he encounters in the world. The following books are an excellent selection that every parent should encourage their children to read.

The Giving Tree by Shel Siverstein is often cited as a favorite childhood book by adults. Its prose is simple and easily comprehended, but the depth behind the words resonates from the first time a child hears or reads it, throughout his life and into adulthood. It is a story about love and sacrifice, with an ending both poignant, hopeful, and sad. Almost everyone will at some time be or have their own ‘giving tree’, and this book helps a child grasp the concept from both sides. It is suitable for the youngest children and the oldest adult alike.

Aesop’s Fables is not a modern book, in that it is a collection of stories said to have originated with a former slave in the seventh century B.C. The stories have been retold and re-penned countless times throughout the ages, but modern collections of these tales are easy to find. They often feature animal characters and approachable concepts that teach a universal moral. In addition, Western culture and language have frequently alluded to various of these stories. For example, the concept and phrase “sour grapes” originates with one of these tales. Every child should be exposed to these collections for both the moral and ethical lessons, as well as the cultural significance.

The Happy Prince is a beautiful, lyrical story by Oscar Wilde, and should be on every child’s book shelf. It is an exquisite tale that can both break and inspire the heart. Like The Giving Tree, it is about sacrifice. Despite a tragic ending, it also encourages hope, as well as mercy. While it is not an easy book, ending in tears for many who read it, it holds important lessons for every child to carry with them into adulthood.

Once a little older and able to tackle the thicker books, every child should be given a copy of The Hobbit. This novel is widely regarded to be part of the first great modern Fantasy epic, spawning an entire genre that is still going strong today. The author, J.R.R. Tolkien said he wished to synthesize and create a work of English mythology, and his tales of Middle Earth draw from Northern European mythological sources to create a fantastic, wholly realized alternative past for our modern world. The Hobbit was nevertheless originally a tale Tolkien made up for his own children at bedtime, and it’s imaginative setting, endearing characters, and epic battles are everything the fantasy genre can offer.

Finally, every older child should read Animal Farm. A thoroughly approachable allegorical work by George Orwell, it introduces children to universal themes about power and its corruptive force. No previous political knowledge or experience with the world is necessary to grasp the concepts of this book. A deceptively simple story featuring farm-yard animals, it engages even the youngest mind that is disinterested in the high-minded content which it contains. George Orwell wrote with simple, approachable prose, so that the messages of the book aren’t lost in a clutter of words.

While this list barely scratches the surface of the number of classic children’s book titles which a child should read, it provides five accessible, brilliant works which will penetrate and occupy the mind throughout life. The lessons taught within are universal and resonate throughout Western culture and beyond.