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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Children’s Novels (#19)

#19 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (1964)
(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#5) (#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#8) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#10) (#10)(#10) – 152 points

Need I say anything? Chocolate! Victory of the downtrodden! Humor! Digs at nasty kids! – Joan L. Raphael, Youth Collections Librarian, San Diego Public Library

Dahl’s dark wit and nasty jokes often keeps him in the Not-Good-Quality-Literature-Category for some librarians/academics, but oh my, do these books speak to children and their need to feel empowered and independent from adults sometimes. And man, are they funny! – Eliza Brown, Assistant Retail Manager, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art

There are few characters that you root for as hard as you do poor little Charlie Bucket. When will he find that golden ticket?! Even though we know he will (see book title), the suspense is painful with each unwrapping. And the moment where the doors open and the winners enter the chocolate room? Well, there’s nothing else like it on the printed page. – Amy (Media Macaroni)

I think that this could possibly be the most child-friendly book title in the whole world. It could have just been called "Chocolate Factory" and it would be just as amazing! – Kristen M. (We Be Reading)

Would have been higher on my list, but I blame Dahl for my fixation with chocolate – I’m still looking for the golden ticket. – Beth Maddigan, Provincial Children’s Librarian, Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries, St. John’s, NL

Madcap adventures from the master of wacky. – Lenore (Presenting Lenore)

The plot from the book’s bookflap reads, "Charlie Bucket, our hero, is honest and kind, brave and true, and very, very hungry. And he can’t believe his luck when he finds the very last of Mr. Willy Wonka’s Golden Tickets inside his chocolate bar. He and four other children – Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee – have each won the chance to enter Willy Wonka’s famous, mysterious chocolate factory. What happens when the big factory doors swing open to reveal Mr. Wonka’s secrets? What happens when they come upon the tiny factory workers who sing in rhyme? What happens when, one by one, the children disobey Mr. Wonka’s orders?"

Some hints as to the origins of this book are easy to locate in Dahl’s own past. In the Fall 1998 edition of Biography: An Interdisciplinary Approach, author William Todd Schultz writes, "At age nine, Dahl attended school near a sweets shop whose emissions he happily sniffed. An adolescence spent in an otherwise dreary English Public School was at intervals partially redeemed by the nearby Cadbury Company. Dahl and his lucky classmates sometimes got to taste test experimental chocolates, rating them and writing out their reactions. Dahl liked to imagine himself working there, ‘and suddenly I would come up with something so absolutely unbearably delicious that I would grab it in my hand and go rushing along the corridor and right into the office of the great Mr. Cadbury himself,’ who after tasting Dahl’s discovery would then leap from his chair crying, ‘ ‘You got it! We’ll sweep the world with this one!’." That story can be found in Dahl’s own book Boy: Tales of Childhood, by the way.

After writing it, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory became Dahl’s first real blockbuster hit, of course.  Heck it sold out its first printing of 10,000 within a month.

And then there was the Oompa-Loompa problem. Grab ahold of a 1964 edition of this book and you’ll find it pretty different from the ones printed out today. After listening to some objections voiced from, amongst others, the NAACP, Dahl changed the Oompa-Loompas from black-skinned pygmies into short white guys of small stature.  They now had "rosy-white" skin and "funny long hair" of the hue of "golden-brown". Along with that, the Oompa-Loompas no longer come from Africa.  Nope. "Loompaland" is now their fair home.  Dahl made the changes himself, but it was the only thing he ever changed in this book.

Like all Dahl books it occasionally gets challenged or banned. However, fascinatingly enough you will not find it on the ALA’s 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2001. Nope. The only books you’ll find there by Dahl are The Witches (#96 on our poll) and James and the Giant Peach (#33, and if you’re baffled by its inclusion, it’s because the caterpillar says, "You silly ass" or something along those lines at one point).

Scholars also love dissecting this book. They can’t resist! It gets to point where you start hearing about writers that see the book "as a libidinal, aggressive, and wildly indulgent fantasy that masks its true vision of guilt and death, of oral greed and excrement, with the guiltless sweet assurance of Wonka’s chocolate factory ." Um . . . I might pass on that one, thanks.

It should surprise no one that Dahl was just as good at short horror stories for adults as he was short horrific tales for kids. "Lamb to the Slaughter" is probably his best known, but as a child my class had to read "The Landlady" in sixth grade. I was shocked to find my beloved author doing a bloody good murder tale.  Being a fan of Agatha Christie at that time, I knew exactly what it meant when your tea tasted like almonds.

Fun Fact #1: There was a sequel called Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Fun Fact #2: It was nowhere near as good as its predecessor. In fact, not a single person placed it on their Top 10 list for this poll.  I remember as a child being far more disturbed by the aliens in Charlie 2 than anything that went on in that chocolate factory in Charlie 1.

Fun Fact #3: That doesn’t mean I didn’t want a third Charlie and Willy Wonka book.  In fact, I was entirely shocked when I discovered there were only two.  It seemed like a gross oversight.  I mean, there was so much more story to tell!

  • Dahl’s influence has spread near and far.  For example, there’s quite a prominent band out there called Veruca Salt.

The New York Times said it was, "Fertile in invention, rich in humor, acutely observant, [Dahl] depicts fantastic characters who are recognizable as exaggerations of real types, and situations only slightly more absurd than those that happen daily, and he lets his imagination rip in fairyland."

More covers are out there than I expected.

And, of course, the inevitable Quentin Blake plethora:

One from France too:

And, my favorite, the one from the Ukraine:

It was since turned into two movies. The first was given the strange name of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" rather than "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" because Quaker Oats, sponsoring the film, wanted to profit off of it by selling Wonka candy of its own. According to, Dahl originally wanted Spike Milligan to play Willy Wonka. All things considered (and I’m not a huge Spike Milligan fan) that would have been pretty faithful to the book. Joel Grey really would have been the MOST brilliant, since all you would have to do is slap a tiny goatee on him and he WOULD be WW. They eventually cast Gene Wilder, which was good since he’s the best darn thing about the film anyway. That and the music. Dahl, understandably, hated the movie. That’s why you haven’t seen any Willy Wonka animated television shows in your lifetime (yet).

It is impossible to show that Willy Wonka without showing this one as well (forgive the ad):

When Tim Burton wanted to remake the movie we all thought that might be a good thing. He was going to use the original Dahl lyrics in the music, after all. We were thrilled . . . before we realized that Burton was going to give Wonka a tragic backstory. Backstory? Backstory. If Dahl though the first Wonka film was too much about the man in charge of the factory, imagine what he would have thought about #2. In a recent letter in Entertainment Weekly (only the finest periodicals for me) a reader pointed out something about Tim Burton that I never quite realized before. Said David Glassner of West Hollywood "To me, Tim Burton movies like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Planet of the Apes are nearly unwatchable.  On the flip side, Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas are timeless classics.  Anyone else see the pattern?  I’ll take Burton’s vision over his version any day!"

I’m afraid the sound quality isn’t great on this one but there are worse sins in the world.

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Ed Spicer says

    Oops! There goes my top ten. I thought old Charlie would be higher. I need a new ouija board.

  2. Bah. I love Great Glass Elevator.

  3. Scope Notes says

    I’m with you Ed – I thought Charlie would have been higher. Interesting bit about the Quaker Oats-influenced name change for the movie version. I always wondered about that.

  4. Kate Coombs says

    Not in the top 10? What!? So now I’m wondering whether the top 10 will have more old-fashioned classics, or more newy new stuff!!

  5. My Boaz's Ruth says

    I’m just as glad to not see Chocolate Factory higher. There really are better books out there. (And I did read the Glass Elevator but didn’t think either was in my top favorites)

    My husband was terrified by the movie (which his parents sent him to go see at 6! By himself–or rather, with another group of similarly aged children!) and refuses to read the book to this day.

  6. My Boaz's Ruth says

    BTW what happened to the guess the top 10 contest?

  7. Wow! I can’t believe this wasn’t in the top 5! I think I put it at #3 myself….I guess it’s a generational thing. I read this one and James & the Giant Peach when I was about 8 and was enraptured by the them. I still think there aren’t many better read-alouds than these two…

  8. I meant to put up the post about guessing the Top 10 today. Must have gotten lost in the shuffle. You’ll see it tomorrow then.

  9. With only 18 spots left and “Little Women” coming in at #25, I’ve given up on more old classics making the list. Did anyone else love “Call of the Wild” or “Heidi”? Either way, this is a fabulous list!

  10. Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator was creepy, but cool creepy. Vermicious K’nids may be the best alien name ever (and why isn’t it a band name yet?).

    I like the original movie, actually. It has so many good moments — many of them musical, admittedly (“I Want it Now” being my favorite, but also “I’ve Got a Golden Ticket” and “Pure Imagination”), but some not (“Violet! You’re turning violet, Violet!” “She’s blowing up like a balloon!” “Like a blueberry.” – straight from the book, and done excellently).

  11. That explains why I remember the Oompa-Loompas as black pygmies from “darkest Africa,” even though that doesn’t match the text when I read it to my sons. They must have changed the illustrations, too. My third-grade teacher read the book to us, and oh, how magical that was. I didn’t get a close look at the illustrations (shown from the front of the classroom), so I just thought I was remembering wrong.

  12. Lucia, I can’t believe I forgot all about Heidi! You’re right — I hope some others didn’t.

  13. My Boaz''s Ruth says

    I did not forget Heidi, but it did not rise to top 10 for me.

    I would have expected to see it in the list around the same location as Swiss Family Robinson — which means I don’t expect to see it at all anymore.

  14. David Ziegler says

    I’m beginning to wonder if the top ten may not have more newer books than many of us expected. I also liked Heidi as a child, but it didn’t make my submitted top ten because I thought my childhood tastes were too old fashioned – I only voted for one – Treasure Island. I also suspect that the 101 – 150 vote getters on this poll may include some very good quality books indeed.

  15. My Boaz's Ruth says

    I’m going back to my list of what has been here so far and I wonder — why do most books have dates and some do not?

  16. Genevieve says

    David, I would love to see a list (just a list, Betsy) of the books that didn’t quite make the cut for the top 100 – whether that list was ordered (books 101-150) or just gave the names of runners-up, it would be wonderful to see. But maybe the idea of compiling anything else after this masterpiece will send Betsy running for the hills.

  17. My Boaz''s Ruth says

    She compiled just such a list after the Picture books, Genevieve (and it actually led to that list being for 101 books!). check it out!

  18. Top ten challenge (sharpens pencil)… List of factors to consider:
    1. what book do most people love the *most* Hmmmmm…have 3 candidates.
    2. what book has the most exposure due to media frenzy and movie-making… have 1 more candidate, maybe 2
    3. What is the average age of the fuse 8 reader/contributor and what book won the Newberry when someone at that age was 11… probably not a contender
    4. What book comes up when I type “best children’s novel” into google…

    Oh dear…this will need work! Love a challenge. Yippee.

  19. I do indeed intend to do a list of books 101-120 that didn’t make the cut (but may have for a while). I also intend to do a post of all the books that were ever nominated. Whee.

    If you see a book that does not have a date, do be so good as to let me know and I will add it in. All books should have dates.

  20. My Boaz''s Ruth says

    #86 HP and the Chamber of Secrets
    #74 The Borrowers
    #62 The Secret of the Old Clock
    #22 The Tale of Desperaux

  21. When I first read Harry Potter, I found the Dursleys very Dahlish indeed.

    This is his fourth time on the list, not being a big Dahl connoisseur I was never sure which of his books would garner more love over his others. Among my students Matilda seems to be the hottest. Will she manage to sneak on the list?

  22. DaNae, I’ve given up hope for poor Matilda. We’ll see!

  23. RM1(SS) (ret) says

    This one’s the only Dahl I’ve read, and it’s nowhere near my top ten. 8)

    The final ten are going to be very interesting indeed. I’m starting to think it’s going to be loaded with newer books, though….

  24. rockinlibrarian says

    Wow, DaNae, Anna– I’d also long given up hope on my personal Dahl vote, Matilda, but maybe if THAT many of us are talking about it, maybe we’re wrong to give up after all? … no, I’ve still given up. Too many other Obvious List Makers left to make the list.

    I think it’s interesting the differences in what shocks people, when THEIR favorites don’t get as high as expected or when the books they think are OTHER people’s favorites don’t get as high. Charlie is not at all my favorite Dahl, or my second favorite, and probably not my third or fourth favorite either, but I all along predicted that it WOULD be the highest Dahl on this list. Of course I was also expecting it, if not to crack the top ten, to be a little closer to it….

  25. My Boaz's Ruth says

    I think you are right about Chocolate Factory being the highest Dahl on the list. It’s the only one (other than Glass elevator) I even KNEW about until I was an adult. And normally, once I devoured one book I loved, I went out and found all the other books in the series, by the author, EVERYTHING.

    And as an adult, I’m not appreciating these other books either I’m afraid 🙁

  26. Betsy, I had a book of Dahl’s short stories that included ‘The Landlady.’ I bought it on a family trip to the UK when I was twelve, and read it cover to to cover at least twice in the three weeks we were there. So creepy!

    I too had given up hope for Matilda (DaNae, Anne, RockinLibrarian–my Dahl vote too!) so I’m happy to see it up next this morning and can’t wait to read about it!

  27. Genevieve says

    Yay, Betsy, I’m so glad you’re going to do a list of runners-up!

  28. I loved Glass Elevator, just because it meant the adventure wasn’t over yet! Though I do not remember the aliens at all… selective memory and all that.

    I think my favorite Dahl is “The Twits”, because nothing is so funny to a vindictive child as all the tricks the husband and wife pulled on each other. Inspired me to lead a few school pranks, too, usually involving incremental changes over the course of a day. I’ll be on the lookout for “Matilda” higher up in the list.

  29. Scrumptious says

    That “How It Should Have Ended” clip is hilarious and completely spot-on! Thanks for compiling all these great materials to accompany each book. I am learning so much even about well-loved favorites!

  30. I loved Glass Elevator and recommend it all the time, with the caveat that it is scary. I was indeed deliciously traumatized by the Vermicious K’nids.


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