The Adventures of Asterix by Réne Goscinny and Albert Uderzo
It’s actually somewhat frightening how much of Flavorpill’s grasp of ancient history can ultimately be traced back to childhood sessions with Asterix, Obelix and co. Uderzo’s beautiful illustrations and the plentiful slapstick action certainly makes the books a great choice for kids, but as with, say, The Simpsons, they also work on a variety of levels. See if you can spot the plentiful references to Elizabeth Taylor vehicle Cleopatra in Asterix & Cleopatra, for instance, or the biting satire on rapacious development and gentrification in The Mansions of the Gods. And, of course, laugh out loud at the comic genius of the characters’ names (all of which are different in the original French, by the way) — our personal favorites are the two prison guards in Asterix the Gladiator, who are called Sendervictorius and Appianglorius. The best of Asterix came while co-creator René Goscinny was still alive (he died in 1977), but even the late period books are still worth a look.
The Adventures of Tintin by Hergé
The other great Gallic graphic novel series for kids, Tintin is less packed with humor and subtlety than Asterix, but it still makes for fascinating reading today, especially because of its depiction of the political crises of the time in which it was written. You might perhaps take issue with the way Hergé presented some of his characters — he’s been accused of latent racism in the way he portrayed Africans, in particular, although his defenders argue that his work merely reflects the attitudes of its time. Either way, one thing’s for sure: no-one writes children’s comics based on the grab for Africa or the Boxer Rebellion any more. There’s a motion-capture movie based on The Secret of the Unicorn out later this year — we’re crossing fingers that it doesn’t suck.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
For whatever reason, there seems to be a Francophone theme developing here. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s all-time classic was apparently inspired by his experience of being stranded in the Sahara Desert after he crash-landed there during his career as a fighter pilot in the Second World War. The book’s surreal tale of the stranded protagonist and the strange little prince he meets in the desert is a strikingly profound piece of work that has just as much insight to offer mature audiences as it does to children.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
It’s one of the enduringly amusing things about literature that one of the great children’s novels of all time also happens to read like it was conceived under the influence of several gallons of the sort of acid that’d make Ken Kesey blanche. Which, of course, it might as well have been — actually, Alice’s exploits in Wonderland allegedly owe much of their psychedelic charm to Lewis Carroll’s experiments with Amanita Muscaria mushrooms. And yes, we said “allegedly,” historical sticklers! Kids, of course, couldn’t care less either way — they’re perfectly happy to follow the White Rabbit and enjoy the madcap adventures that lie at the other end of the rabbit hole.
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Another vintage classic, and again, there’s much for adults to relate to in the book’s theme of finding a place for yourself in a world that appears uncaring and hostile — indeed, you could argue that the alienation and angst of Burnett’s protagonist is something that only resounds all the more as you get older. Either way, there’s definitely a lot of people out there who could do with a secret garden in their lives.
Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift
The prose might be a little antiquated for the kids of today, but if they persevere, they’ll be rewarded with a grand adventure wherein the titular hero’s exploits include, amongst other things, getting tied up by Liliputians, getting treated as a curio by Brobdingnagians, visiting a city in the sky, and deciding he’d rather live out his live in the company of horses. Adults, meanwhile, will enjoy Swift’s sly satire on travel memoirs and 18th century England in general. Everyone wins, really.
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
There are many, many fantasy novels that appeal to both children and adults — Flavorpill was a huge fan of Stephen Donaldson’s work in our pre-teens and early teens, and would argue that his books still stand up today. But if there’s one fantasy series that’s deftly walked the children/adult divide over recent years, it’s Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy — the books have won awards fro both children’s fiction and fiction generally, both of which are richly deserved. Now, if only American publishers wouldn’t bloody insist on censoring Pullman’s work…
Boy by Roald Dahl
Kids all over the world have been enraptured by Roald Dahl’s outlandish tales of Willie Wonka, the BFG, the Fantastic Mr. Fox, and various others. His first autobiography is fascinating reading for children and adults alike — it’s written accessibly enough for kids to enjoy, and while the arcane rituals of English public schools have happily been condemned to history, Dahl’s struggle to find a place for himself in a strange and hostile environment is certainly something that many kids can relate to. Adults, meanwhile, will appreciate the insight into the early life and work of one of the most idiosyncratic — and sometimes downright strange — figures in 20th century literature.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
We admit that Tolkien’s work is an acquired taste — but while The Lord of the Rings is heavy going at times (especially the bloody war, which seems to last forever), The Hobbit remains both accessible and engaging throughout. It’s first and foremost a cracking adventure story — the fact that Tolkien managed to invent both an entire language and an entire genre with the book is just the icing on the cake.
The Harry Potter books by JK Rowling
Go on, laugh it up — we know you secretly shed a tear when Dobby died, just like everyone else.