Monday, March 03, 2008

Literature! Now good for kids, too!

UPDATED 3-6-08: A correction below where I mis-identify an author.

SamuraiFrog calls attention to this list of the top fifty childrens' books, apparently arrived at via a poll of some sort. As usual, I'll bold the ones I've read, and provide occasional comment. (SamuraiFrog has some good points on the list as a whole, particularly the wide definition of childrens' books they used for this list.)

1 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C S Lewis (Best? Huh?)

2 The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle (I like Eric Carle, although sometimes his stuff starts to seem the same.)

3 Famous Five series, Enid Blyton
4 Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne (Wow, it's really different to read Milne's original after one has been immersed in the Disney-fied version of Pooh for so long.)

5 The BFG, Roald Dahl
6 Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, J K Rowling (OK, why this book? First, although it's definitely good, it's not the best of that series; my vote would go to Prisoner of Azkaban. Weird pick. I wonder when the poll was taken? If it was before Deathly Hallows came out last year, then clearly people are picking the most recent title they remember.)

7 The Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
8 The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
9 Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (I'm assuming we're including Through the Looking Glass here? Brilliant books, obviously.)

10 The Gruffalo, Julia Donaldson
11 The Tales of Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter (I love Potter, although I have to wonder how many kids grew up prejudiced against chamomile tea because of it.)

12 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl (I'm not sure that I've read the book, come to think of it, but I'm claiming it on the basis of having seen the two movies lots of times each.)

13 Matilda, Roald Dahl
14 The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett (I need to read this, but a very good movie was made of it back in 1993.)

15 The Cat in the Hat, Dr Seuss (Believe it or not, I actually prefer the sequel, and there are many times when I wish I could unleash the power of VOOM! upon the Federal Disaster Area that is my apartment.)

16 The Twits, Roald Dahl
17 Mr Men, Roger Hargreaves
18 A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (Is this a children's book? Or is it a really good book that appeals to children as well?)

19 The Malory Towers Series, Enid Blyton
20 Peter Pan, J M Barrie
21 The Railway Children, E. Nesbit
22 Hans Christian Fairy Tales, H C Andersen (Not all of them, but quite a few.)

23 The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum (I just grabbed a copy of this for The Daughter yesterday at the library book sale!)

24 The Witches, Roald Dahl
25 Stig of the Dump, Clive King
26 The Wishing Chair, Enid Blyton
27 Dear Zoo, Rod Campbell
28 The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Judith Kerr
29 Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Jan Brett (I haven't read this, but I do love Jan Brett's work.)

30 James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl (I recently blogged about this. We really need to read more Dahl in this household! I love Dahl.)

31 A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond (You know, I had completely forgotten about Paddington until just this very minute, while I'm writing this. We read these in class when I was either in third or fourth grade. I don't remember disliking them, but other than that, I don't remember much about them at all.)

32 Black Beauty, Anna Sewell (Another acquisition for The Daughter at yesterday's book sale!)

33 Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak (Yeah, a classic. I saw a Bill Moyers interview of Sendak on PBS once, and I was struck at what a cynical man Sendak seems to be. There's a reason his books have that hint of bitterness and despair in them.)

34 Aesop's Fables, Jerry Pinkney (Not this specific translation, I suppose, but something similar.)

35 The Borrowers, Mary Norton
36 Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
37 Meg and Mog, Jan Pienkowski
38 Mrs Pepperpot, Alf Proyson (Never heard of this book, but I do love pepperpot soup. There's no better soup for a morning after overindulging in ales and lagers the night before.)

39 We're Going on a Bear Hunt, Michael Rosen 4 (I'm not sure if the one we own is this same version, but it was one of The Daughter's favorite books when she was 2 or 3. I hated reading it, except for the very end, when I could really ham up the bear's pursuit of the family right to their own door.)

40 The Gruffalo's Child, Julia Donaldson
41 Room on a Broom, Julia Donaldson
42 The Worst Witch, Jill Murphy
43 Miffy, Dick Bruna
44 The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery (Maybe I should read it again. I recall reading it and not seeing what all the fuss was about.)

45 Flat Stanley, Jeff Brown
46 The Snail and the Whale, Julia Donaldson
47 Ten Little Ladybirds, Melanie Gerth
48 Six Dinners Sid, Inga Moore
49 The St. Clares Series, Enid Blyton
50 Captain Underpants, Dav Pilke

OK, so I haven't read too many of those, and there are more than a few that I haven't even heard of. I suspect this is because the list was made by a bunch of Brits, and we all know that those Brits don't know anything from literature; seriously, that country's been resting on its literary laurels ever since Shakespeare died. What a good thing we Americans saved the English language from them! USA! USA! USA!

Oh all right, scratch that last paragraph. I was only kidding. But there are a lot of treasured reads from my own childhood that aren't here at all. Nothing by Lloyd Alexander, for instance, appears on this list, and I would put The Prydain Chronicles right beside The Chronicles of Narnia for classic kidlit fantasy. Also, they're hard to find these days (I'm not sure if they're even in print), and they can be terribly un-PC, but John Fitzgerald's Great Brain books are as entertaining a series as you'll ever find; Tom Dennis Fitzgerald is one of the most memorable characters I can remember from any book I've ever read. (And you'd think these books would be popular with the Dangerous Book for Boys crowd.)

(By the way, Fitzgerald also mined his family history in a couple of books for grownups. I strongly recommend Papa Married a Mormon, but I found the follow-up, Mamma's Boarding House, disappointing, although assuming that the events in that book actually happened as Fitzgerald relates them, the fault can't really be his; it's just that Papa Married a Mormon ends on a really perfect and bittersweet note. Reading Mamma's Boarding House would be kind of like...oh, I don't know, learning all about how Andy and Red make out with that boat after the end of The Shawshank Redemption. Some tales just don't need to be told.)

And of course, my reading life would be immeasurably poorer had I not done something naughty in fifth grade and thus had my mother hand me The House with a Clock in its Walls by John Bellairs. Bellairs's death in 1991 is the first time I ever mourned an author's passing. It also seems strange that Laura Ingalls Wilder doesn't appear on the list, but then, her tales of life in mid-nineteenth century heartland America probably don't have much appeal for British readers, either.

Other authors? How about Robert Cormier, whose One Fat Summer was pretty meaningful to me (as a fat kid), and whose Fade is one of the most downright creepy books I've read? Or Beverly Cleary and Betsy Byars? Say, is Judy Blume still a popular childrens author? I'm tempted to read Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing with The Daughter, but I wonder if it's aged poorly.

UPDATE: OK, I completely bungled on Robert Cormier. While he did write Fade (and We All Fall Down, another book I admired greatly), he did not write One Fat Summer. That was Robert Lipsyte. Bugger! But I did love all those books.

(By the way, The Daughter and I are now making slow progress through the first book in Susan Cooper's Dark is Rising sequence. I'm liking it quite a lot.)

I'm not "tagging" anyone to do the whole "bold the ones you read" thing, but I would be keenly interested to hear what Sheila, Jennifer, Erin, Jayme, Tosy or Cosh, Belladonna, and Mrs. M-Mv have to say on the topic.


Anonymous said...

Hm... it would appear that I never read much children's lit even as a child, because I haven't read the vast, vast majority of these.

That said, I haven't thought about the Great Brain books in years! I recall a phase where I liked those a great deal... they were always a lot of fun because they were set here in Utah and captured a lot of the local flavor (things were very much different when I was growing up in a Utah farmtown in the '70s from the way they'd been in a Utah farmtown in the early 1900s). There was a movie version starring Jimmy Osmond, too, and the Osmonds of course are local heroes in these parts.

I also remember liking Where the Red Fern Grows and Summer of the Monkeys, both by Wilson Rawls. I think they're still in print...

Erin said...

I'll do my best to chime in on this one!

Anonymous said...

Funny -- I just found my old copy of The Great Brain and read it with an eye toward letting my daughter read it... I wimped out on it at the end, because in the last chapter, the Great Brain is trying to figure out how to help another kid commit suicide, and I don't really want to have a discussion with her about that at her age...

Tales of a 4th-Grade Nothing holds up pretty well. My kids liked it and had me read all of the sequels as well.

We're about to embark on reading the first Harry Potter together, once we finish the latest Captain Underpants. Yes, we're eclectic. :-D

teflonjedi said...

You're reading "Over Sea, Under Stone"? Great choice, both in book and in series! I absolutely loved this series of books when I was a wee lad, and I read them again a couple of years ago, and found that they really hadn't aged all that badly at all.

Anonymous said...

You. Absolutely. May. NOT. Claim to have read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory based upon having seen either of the movies.

Simply, no!

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed a great many things about both movies, but if you haven't read the original text (or the sequel), then you're doing yourself a disservice.

My favorite Dahl is still the first one that I read--The Fantastic Mr. Fox. It's a brilliant little social piece with anarchistic undertones.

Anonymous said...

Just a quick follow up. You may, of course, do whatever you like and it won't really bother me one way or the other. I was merely being a bit dramatically over-emphatic.


Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

No Daniel Pinkwater? Bad poll! Bad! No soup for you!

Jayme Lynn Blaschke said...

Beverly Cleary's work isn't nearly as fresh as I remember it, although Runaway Ralph and the Mouse and the Motorcycle remain timeless (and really, why wouldn't they be timeless--a mouse and a motorcycle. That's golden!). Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing has aged fairly well, although it's not nearly as funny as I remember. Lots of irony, though.

The elder daughter is heavily into Nancy Drew right now, very critical of more recent editions of the series for having "lame cliffhangers." The Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park is also quite popular (and pretty darn funny--kinda like Ramonda turned up to Eleven).

Mental multivitamin said...

One Fat Summer was actually penned by Robert Lipsyte, an author I "met" in eighth-grade, when our English class read The Contender. I promptly sought out all of Lipsyte's books, devouring what my young reader's heart inwardly called his "honesty." What a remarkable writer.

As for Cormier, The Chocolate War and I Am the Cheese come to mind as memorable books from his oeuvre.

I bookmarked your post and will give it better attention in the coming week. For work, I've been writing about contemporary children's and YA authors -- M.T. Anderson, Brian Selznick, Stephenie Meyer, and more -- so this is yet another neat example of that synchronicity/serendipity that I love.

Thanks for the nod.

Best regards to you and yours.

MFS at M-mv