12 children's books that influenced highly successful people

Two women read books in the Korean exhibition hall on the day of the opening of the Frankfurt bookfair, October 18, 2005. The world's largest book fair with it's focal theme on Korean literature will be open to public from October 19 to 23. REUTERS/Alex Grimm - RP2DSFIITFAD

Children's books shape who we are. Image: REUTERS/Alex Grimm

Business Insider
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Business?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how The Digital Economy is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

The Digital Economy

We all have our favorite children's books that have shaped who we are.

Even highly successful people can appreciate the enduring impact various childhood stories have had on their lives.

Here are the 12 best and most influential children's books, according to some highly successful people.

'The Harry Potter' Series by J.K. Rowling

Image: Scholastic

A series that needs no introduction, "Harry Potter" has brought millions of fans worldwide together to celebrate the story's magical, yet entirely relatable, world of witchcraft and wizardry.

Adam Grant, a professor of management at Wharton, told Business Insider that J.K. Rowling is perhaps the most influential person alive.

"There's a lot of originality in the 'Harry Potter' stories: The way to get to Hogwarts, all of the different ideas about how to cast spells, children being the individuals who are responsible for saving adults — all of that is setting a standard for saying, 'I want to do something new,'" he said.

'The Little Prince' by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Image: Harcourt, Brace, & World

"The Little Prince" is the story of a stranded pilot that meets a young Prince from outer space. It is an allegorical tale of the author's real life experiences when fleeing to North America during World War II.

Robert Grimminck of List Verse reported that actor "James Dean deeply identified with the book and took it with him any time he moved."

Grimminck said that the book was so important to Dean that his good friend and biographer William Bast wrote about it in an inscription on Dean’s memorial near his crash site.

The inscription includes Dean’s favorite line from the book: "What is essential is invisible to the eye."

'Goodnight Moon' by Margaret Wise Brown

Image: Harper Festival

Brown's poetic story of a bunny saying goodnight to all of his inanimate belongings is one that inspires blessings and gratitude.

"I just love the idea of blessing everything that's near and dear to you before you go to sleep with a simple 'Goodnight,'" Gwyneth Paltrow told Oprah Magazine.

'James and the Giant Peach' by Roald Dahl

Image: Puffin Books

Among one of Roald Dahl's most beloved works is "James and the Giant Peach," the enchanting story of an orphan who befriends bugs living inside a peach with whom he subsequently embarks on an eventful journey to New York City.

"Nobody wrote more imaginative stories for kids. These worlds he created had the nonsensical appeal of Dr. Seuss, while at the same time, the characters were all written with wonderful complexities and enormous heart," actor John Krasinski told First Book.

'The 500 Hearts of Bartholomew Cubbins' by Theodore Geisel

Image: Random House Books for Young Readers

Dr. Seuss's story of a boy removing 500 hats in order to appease his king is among his most gripping stories, Stephen King told the Center for Fiction,

"I guess the book that really made me a reader was 'The 500 Hats Of Bartholomew Cubbins,' by Doctor Seuss," King said. "It was my first encounter with a horror story, because poor Bartholomew was going to get his head chopped off if he couldn't take off his hat for the king."

'Fantastic Mr. Fox' by Roald Dahl

Image: Knopf Books for Young Readers

"I was in second or third grade when my sister read this to me, Scarlet Johansson told Reader's Digest."I remember that when she was finished, I insisted she start right over again."

"I attribute my love of drama to having heard her do all the characters' voices," she said.

Have you read?

'Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.' by Judy Blume

Image: Random House Inc.

Although technically categorized as a young adult novel, this creation of Judy Bloom's demonstrates its protagonist's quest to find and adopt a single religion.

"My mother died then I was in the fifth grade, so I didn't have a mother to talk to about girl things," Rosie O'Donnell told Parents magazine. "I would read that book over and over."

'The Giving Tree' by Shel Silverstein

Image: Harper Collins Publishers

Among one of the most illustrious children's stories is the one that showcases the relationship of a young boy and an apple tree.

Tony Robbins told NPR that "the secret to living is giving. No one so purely evokes emotions of the heart and soul as giving, receiving, rejection, expectation, love, and sorrow like Shel Silverstein."

'The Rainbow Fish' by Marcus Foster

Image: North-South Books

Another book that Robbins has heralded is Marcus Pfister's "The Rainbow Fish," the story of a multi-colored fish that learns to share.

"Another similar tale about conscience, respect, and true beauty is 'The Rainbow Fish,' which is a little more like the kid's version of 'Shallow Hal,'" Robbins told NPR.

'The Secret Garden' by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Image: HarperCollins

After discovering a locked door to a dilapidated secret garden, an orphaned girl, along with her two companions, find a way in and seek to bring it to life in this engaging tale by

"I wanted to be Mary Lennox so badly," Anne Hathaway told the National. "I still have a soft spot for gardens and I’m always going off to see if I can find locked doors inside them."

'Matilda' by Roald Dahl

Image: Puffin Books

"Matilda" is the story of gifted young girl with crude parents that uses her powers of telekinesis to defend her friends from their evil principal and her twisted parents.

"It was the first 'big' book I ever read," Kelly Clarkson told Bookstor. "I was alone a lot as a kid, so I related to Matilda, in the sense that she was on her own too. I also loved that she was the underdog."

'Stone Soup' by Marcia Brown

Image: Aladdin

"Stone Soup" is a folk story in which hungry strangers convince their fellow townspeople to relinquish a small portion of their food to create a unique concoction from which everyone can benefit and enjoy.

"'Stone Soup' is the best children’s book," David Duchovny told Men's Health. "It tells you that art and life are made of nothing but imagination."

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
BusinessArts and Culture
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

Tourism is bouncing back - but can we make travel sustainable?

Robin Pomeroy and Sophia Akram

May 23, 2024

About Us



Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum