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Press Release: 31.11.2021 - From Boomers to Millennials: The children’s books that shaped the generations

From Boomers to Millennials: The children’s books that shaped the generations

• From naughty kittens to warring wizards, data published by online bookseller Wob has revealed the children’s books that have shaped generations and stood the test of time
• The retailer sells 20% more children’s books from days gone by in the run up to Christmas, as people seek to recapture the magic of childhood during the season
• The data also provides insight into how the genre has evolved over the decades, from the rhyming stories and fables of the mid-century to the more complex themes we see today.

Bedtime stories and snuggling up with a good book is a shared childhood experience that spans the generations – and the run up to Christmas seems to leave us with a nostalgic need to relive these precious moments.

A leading bookseller has revealed that their sales of children’s books from days gone rises by 20% in the run up to Christmas and have now released a list of the bestsellers from across the decades that thousands are reexperiencing for a little festive nostalgia.

The list has been compiled by Wob, the UK’s largest retailer of preloved books, and will undoubtedly bring back childhood memories for Boomers and Millennials alike.

It also highlights the marked differences in the themes and range of the books we enjoyed as the industry kept up with the rapidly changing times decade by decade – from naughty kittens to boy wizards and hard-hitting societal issues.

1940’s: Morality tales

Ginger's Adventures, A.J Macgregor and W. Perring
Smoke and Fluff, A.J Macgregor and W. Perring
Tiptoes the Mischievous Kitten, Noel Barr

Morality tales of naughty domestic pets dominated the 1940’s, causing such ‘mayhem’ as knocking over vases and stealing newspapers. A.J Macgregor and W. Perring dominated the rather genteel genre of mischievous kittens and puppies on a path to redemption.

1950’s: Child protagonists

Charlotte’s Web, E.B White
The Cat in the Hat, Dr Suess
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S Lewis

The 1950’s continued to have a theme of animals set within morality tales, but this time with the vital addition of children as the protagonists instigating positive change. The post-war era saw a marked difference in how children were represented in their own literature.

1960’s: A great divide

Where Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
The Gingerbread Boy, Paul Goldone
Chicken Licken, Vera Southgate

The 1960’s saw themes as divided as the decade itself. While bestselling titles harked back to simpler times – dodging sly foxes and causing unoffensive nuisance - Where Wild Things Are caused a storm on it’s release. Banned in many schools and libraries on release, many felt that the themes of a ‘naughty’ child unable to control their emotions was branded ‘psychologically damaging’ by some conservatives.

1970’s: Exploring emotions

Burglar Bill, Janet and Alan Ahlberg
Stig of the Dump, Clive King
Watership Down, Richard Adams

Things become a lot more relaxed and varied in the 1970’s! While some children rejoiced in a pair of burglars getting away with a crime spree, others fell in love with the tale of cave-boy, Stig, and his adventures with outsider Barney. But perhaps the most memorable – and traumatising – tale came from Watership Down. Whereas in the 60’s there was outcry over Where Wild Things Are, by 1972 we were happy for children to experience stronger emotions through literature.

1980’s: A new perspective

Goodnight Mr Tom, Michelle Magorian
Please Mrs Butler, Alan Ahlberg
Not Now Bernard, David Mcgee

Nearly 40 years after the start of World War 2, Goodnight Mr Tom was released to critical acclaim – with an emotional story that gave a new generation a perspective on the experiences of their parents.

1990’s: Stars of literature

Harry Potter (Philosophers Stone, Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban), JK Rowling
The Butterfly Lion, Michael Morpurgo
The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson

A certain boy wizard went off to Hogwarts – but he wasn’t the only boy carted off to boarding school! In Michael Morpurgo’s Butterfly Lion, an escape from boarding school begins a lifelong adventure to reunite with his feline childhood friend. And, of course, Julia Donaldson burst onto the scene and introduced the world to the beloved Gruffalo.

2000’s: Tackling serious issues

Harry Potter (The Goblet of Fire, The Order of the Phoenix and the Half Blood Prince), JK Rowling
Holes, Louis Sachar
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne

By the time we reached the 21st Century, children’s books had moved on a long way from those enjoyed by previous generations. The steady evolution in themes and context meant that children and young people were absorbing more complex issues and characters. Two of the bestsellers from this era both deal with young people incarcerated in camps, with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tackling the horror of the holocaust and Holes exploring child labour, forced marriage, racism and homelessness within a fictional correctional camp.

The list is released as Wob celebrate all things nostalgic over the Christmas period, as many customers look to purchase sentimental gifts for loves ones. The business has compiled a festive nostalgia hub, where customers can browse preloved editions children’s books from days gone by.

Graham Bell, CEO of World of Books Group, says:

“Books play such an important part of our childhoods and bring back happy memories. Not only do the stories themselves have an element of nostalgia, but the physical book and artwork can take us back to simpler times. Buying preloved means people can access the editions that they grew up with – and is one of the reasons people choose us when buying thoughtful gifts that spark precious memories.”


Media contact:

Nick Ford,
Brand Communications Manager at World of Books Group,

[email protected]

About World of Books Group

  • In 2002 World of Books was founded with an ethos to do good to help charities and to make a positive impact. Over the last two decades they have grown from a start-up into a leading global seller of quality preloved books and media. Today, they drive the circular economy through three re-commerce brands:
    • Wob: Through Wob, they sell. They provide affordable, preloved books and media to customers all over the world. A book leaves their collection of over seven million titles and begins a new chapter every two seconds, enabling more goods to be reused.
    • Ziffit: Through Ziffit, they buy. They give people around the world the opportunity to contribute to the circular economy, earn money and protect the planet, by trading their unwanted books and media.
    • Shopiago: Through Shopiago, they help others. By sharing the technology that has grown World of Books Group into the business it is today, they’re helping charities increase revenue and reduce waste through re-commerce.
World of Books Group are an accredited B Corp. Certified B Corporations (B Corps™) are for-profit companies that use the power of business to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.