Because sometimes it’s not only who the character is and what they do, but where they do it….
1. Jack’s Beanstalk…and Giant’s Castle (Benjamin Tabart)
The giant’s enormous castle at the top of the beanstalk remains one of the scariest places in children’s fiction.
Many young ones presumably have had to sleep with the lights on after reading about terrified Jack hiding in a corner while the searching behemoth sings about smelling his blood and grinding his bones to flour. Best of all though, is the beanstalk itself – any child’s dream of the ultimate climbing tree.
2. Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
The best thing about Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the build-up.
Rather than throw us directly into the action, Dahl first lets his readers stew in the browny-grey bleakness of life outside the factory. Charlie’s yearning for a golden ticket is infectious. And when he finally gets inside…wow. The kaleidoscope of colors, flavors, sensations and madness (chocolate rivers! candy gardens!) is enough to make any young reader giddy.
3. Neverland (J. M Barrie)
The small, magical island from Peter Pan never fails to astound.
For a start, it’s home to Tinkerbell, the Lost Boys and the fearsome Captain Hook. And kids can easily lose themselves in this mystical place with multiple moons, a Mermaids’ Lagoon and even a man-eating crocodile with a clock inside it. An especially neat touch is that Neverland appears slightly different according to the imagination of each child visitor.
4. The Underground Fairy City (Eoin Colfer)
Described as ‘Die Hard with fairies’ by its author, the Artemis Fowl book series was a shot in the arm for children’s fiction.
A 12-year-old criminal genius mastermind is not the typical star of a kid’s book and the Fairy City similarly up-ends all expectations. Looking for a pretty place with winged angels? Uh, uh. The City is a hi-tech dystopia filled with weaponry, hidden cameras and all kinds of weird gadgets.
5. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Nobody who read this British classic as a child is likely ever to forget it.
Young orphan Mary, sent to live in her uncle’s giant house on the Yorkshire Moors, soon discovers a walled secret garden – and a sickly boy who hasn’t been outside in years. The book explores trauma and loss with a maturity seldom seen in children’s literature, and the garden itself is brought brightly to life in the reader’s imagination.
6. Hogwarts (J. K. Rowling)
You didn’t think we’d leave this one out, did you?
The heroes and villains in the fantastic Harry Potter series are so well-drawn that it’s easy to forget their main stomping ground is almost like a character itself. That Great Hall, the swirling staircases, the secret passages and magically triggered door locks – not to mention a Forbidden Forest on the doorstep. Unforgettable.
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