I went through what's become a familiar procession of emotions on hearing about and then reading the semi-recent recommendations for essential school-age books. Curiosity followed by interest, eagerness and finally irritation. I do sympathise with Nick Hornby's comment at the end of the Guardian piece. Motion's list is clearly political, and impractical, but he makes a necessary point. Pullman's list seems light, though I agree with what he says about Kipling; Rowling's isn't bad. For what it's worth, here's mine:
Winnie-the-Pooh/The House at Pooh Corner
The Wind in the Willows
The Jungle Books
Tales of Robin Hood [not the Roger Lancelyn Green version]
The Hill of the Red Fox
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen
The Lord of the Rings
I've cheated like mad, putting two books in as the first entry; also, The Jungle Books count as two, Earthsea counts as three; and it's maybe hard to read The Lord of the Rings without having first read The Hobbit. However, that's it squeezed down to ten entries and I really can't reduce it any further. I'm embarassed by the absence of female protagonists, save for Tenar in The Tombs of Atuan and Susan in Weirdstone, who doesn't count because she and Colin are personality-free.
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen is not Garner's best book, but The Owl Service gave me such difficulty as an adult before I licked it that I shy from recommending it. A child who has read Weirdstone may go on to try the rest of Garner - it's a first step, and in any case it's a terrific, frightening adventure story. The Lord of the Rings I now have many reservations about, though I read and re-read it obsessively from the age of about 12 to 15, but the strength of the narrative will carry a kid past the interminable descriptive paragraphs on flora. Indeed I think it's a book which is far easier to read as a child than as an adult. Also, its length is in its favour - once you've read that, size alone is likely to hold less fear.
I could happily have added Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Dr Seuss, The Eagle of the Ninth, Tales of King Arthur, The Thirty-Nine Steps, The Dark is Rising, the Narnia novels, and with great reluctance I have taken out a selection of Robert Westall novels (including Anne, female protag. of The Watch House). I notice that many of them are overtly or obliquely about the natural world, and that many are fantasies. In children's books that counts as a plus because they deal in archetypes, and that makes them imaginatively portable - they are capable of going in deep and forming a foundation for later reading. Doubtless other novels would do as well as these, but I can't vouch for them - these I know from experience, and can count on. We read I Am David and The Silver Sword at school, acknowledged classics and "serious" (i.e. about the war), but for some reason they never made much impression.
The list excludes the innumerable Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, Doctor Who novelisations and Willard Price adventures that I read as a kid. As Ursula Le Guin has said, children consume enormous amounts of garbage, and it is good for them - which is why I don't get too worked up any more about Harry Potter. (I was, I admit, genuinely delighted to see the real-life Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross recently.)
It also excludes stuff which I considered putting on because it was worthy and improving - the worst reasons. Hence no Animal Farm, The Outsider, Metamorphosis, A Man for All Seasons, Shakespeare, Wilfred Owen, Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov. These are not kids' books - they are pieces of literature which are fundamental, yes, simple, yes, capable of being read by children, yes, but they're the books you read after you've read the other stuff. At least, I did. Gore Vidal may have been reading Henry James at 13, and good for him, but it doesn't make it children's literature. Literature of this sort is geared towards an adult sensibility, and just because you can read it doesn't mean you'll grasp it, or that it will shape you. It may, but I can't see the hit-rate for Henry James being great for contemporary children.
The only exception to this rule is Davy, which I read once at 13 and didn't need to go near again, until I decided to check it out a few years ago, and found it to my joy as strong, strange, dirty and vital as it had been when I'd read it under the covers with a Durabeam torch and marvelled at all the fucking in it. It's about a boy's transition to manhood (and the sex is only part of it) on the road in a post-Apocalyptic, neo-rustic America, learning to apprehend the world and the cruelty and compassion and contradiction of it, written with tremendous inventiveness and humanity. I can't think of a better book with which to leave childhood.