Thursday, May 8, 2008

Let’s Use Our Brains for Once

Here’s a question for you guys (and be flattered I’m asking you this, it means I think you may have something intelligent and worthwhile to say): What are the 5 books every child should read?

Some background info – my mother is an English teacher with a Doctorate in Education and Reading; I have been working in and around children’s books for the last 6 years and am considered somewhat of an expert on the subject. So when my mother called me last night and told me she had been asked to answer this question, I started laughing. That might be the fucking HARDEST question a person could ask either of us. It also sparked a long and intensely engaging conversation. I mean, which angle do you take when answering this? Is there an age limit? Are we talking just elementary school or K-12? Are we including pre-school books on the list? And what the hell – ONLY 5?!

In the end I chose books that either kicked my ass (both emotionally and intellectually) or were so important they couldn’t be left off the list. But the best part about this was that my mother had a completely different list, and the reasons for her choices were just as valid as my own. And you know what, THAT got my juices flowing (yes, at the end of the day I’m a dork who loves talking about books).

My Top 5 list is (and no mcbias, The Phantom Tollbooth is nowhere to be found):

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

Nope, no Shakespeare on the list (and I am a devoted Shakespeare fanatic). No, I kept the list narrowed down to books that I couldn’t bear to NOT have there. These are all books that I thought about for days, weeks – hell, I still feel something when I think about them – after finishing them. I cried like a baby over every one. (Note: I realize I made Harry Potter 1 choice even though there’s technically 7 books – I don’t care. I’m not going to pick a favorite since I think they’re all shockingly good, should be read together, and actually mature in writing and story along with their characters. These books had to make my list, not just because they’re a tour de force by J.K. Rowling, but also because they’re legitimately significant historically and socially.)

Now I’m not going to go into my argument here about how I truly believe the best books ever written are all ‘children’s’ books (you people don’t need me to preach here and I don’t have the time to do the argument justice right now), but suffice it to say the list above and the list to come have my favorite books of all time on them. Do I read good ‘adult’ books? Yes, shockingly I do read more than romance novels. However the ones that really blow me away, for whatever reasons (and I have my theories), have always been the ones in the children’s section of the bookstore.

But enough explanation. Some other children’s books that I absolutely loved and would suggest you read even if you are technically adults – in no particular order:

Gathering Blue and The Messenger by Lois Lowry (these two go with The Giver – possibly my #1 book)
Animal Farm by George Orwell
The Pigman by Paul Zindel
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Bad Boy by Walter Dean Myers
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon
Sahara Special by Esme Raji Codell
Kaffir Boy by Mark Mathabane
The Cay by Theodore Taylor
The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (I hated that fucking kid, but still…)
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
Dr. Seuss (everything he ever wrote – the man was a genius)
William Shakespeare (again, he was a genius and his complete works should be read by every intelligent human being - King Lear is my personal favorite)

Oh, and Catcher in the Rye isn’t on my list – on purpose. You may now proceed to think whatever you want about me, but I never liked that book. Everyone else I know did, but I thought it was crap. So there you go.

Anyway guys, what would be on your lists? Did I miss anything on mine? (These were all off the top of my head, I’m sure I forgot something.) Hate my choices? For once I’m asking what you think and I actually care – blow me away.


Mr. Thursday said...

If you're going to have a Lois Lowry love-in, I must insist upon adding Number the Stars. No, I haven't read it since I was a child, but I remember being blown away by it at the time.

In the realm of picture books, my absolute favorite is "East of the Sun, West of the Moon" by Peter Christen Asbjornsen and Jorgen Moe. The story is wonderful, and the pictures are stunning.

I'd have to throw some Roald Dahl in there. My personal favorite by him, as well as one of my favorites ever has always been "Danny, Champion of the World", but I will accept arguments for many of his other books.

Dr Seuss goes without saying. The entire collection.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli.

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh by Robert O'Brien. Hall of fame quality book.

Mr Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater.

The Hobbit/The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien. Yeah, I was one of those kids.

My fiance insists upon Goodnight Moon.

I recall not really liking Tuck Everlasting. I liked the idea of the story, but found the actual experience of reading the book...unpleasant.

To Kill a Mockingbird, I think, might be on the short list of greatest novel ever written in English. For any age level. Extraordinary book.

The Giving Tree was sad and beautiful, but as a child, I read Where the Sidewalk Ends a lot more often.

Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak.

A Wrinkle in Time is a beautiful book. I actually first read it in college. Wonderful stuff.

I think I read every book in the Boxcar Children series in 2nd grade. There were fine, but I don't think I'd recommend them now, and I certainly wouldn't consider them required reading. Despite reading probably 50 books with them, I just now had to look up whether they were the Boxcar Children or the Boxcar Kids.

Joseph said...

Good lord, what a hard question.

Harry Potter

A Wrinkle In Time

Superfudge (or Ramona the Great)

Whatever the first Little House book is (House in the Big Woods?)

All-Of-A-Kind Family

Jack Cobra said...

Here is what I read as a child as I was only able to read what was available at the homes of my parents and grandparents:

1. TV Guide - weekly
2. Sports Illustrated issues from the 60's and 70's
3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
4. Baseball America - weekly
5. Encyclopedia Britannica - A through Z

You can make your own decision as to how that worked for me but you can be certain that my kid(s) will be reading the exact same thing*

*not a true comment

Anonymous said...

Lurker chiming in: for the younger kids, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" is a classic.

Redhead said...

mr. thursday: You're right, I can't believe I left off Number the Stars. As for the rest of your picks - I truly didn't even get into the amazing preschool stuff out there (who doesn't love Goodnight Moon?), and I am still a sucker for a beautiful...or cute...or just really bright and colorful picture book. 2 thumbs up for pop-ups! I am KICKING myself over forgetting Mrs. Frisbee and the Rats of NIMH (HOW did I forget that?), I did give Dahl a brief thought but didn't feel any one of his books was top of the list for me personally, but it's a good point that I should have at least mentioned him. Spinelli is great, I was never a Tolkein fan (sorry!), Sendak should not have been overlooked - especially Where the Wild Things Are, and while I still prefer The Giving Tree, I respect your choice of Where the Sidewalk Ends.

Oh, and I have a huge crush on you right now for this comment alone.

joseph: Ramona! OK, Judy Blume basically deserves her own post - I LOVED Judy Blume as a child.

jack: You just broke my heart a little.

anon: I love lurkers. As for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs - I always really liked the idea of food falling from the sky (although I have to say it WOULD be messy). A sentimental choice I assume?

TK said...

James and the Giant Peach
The Outsiders
The Phantom Tollbooth
Superfudge and a Wrinkle In Time are excellent choices
Any/all Dr. Zeuss
Tuck Everlasting
The Chronicles of Narnia

Kudos for picking Kaffir Boy.

There are dozens more that I'm sure I'm not thinking of.

Mr. Thursday said...

Just for fun, a list of books I distinctly remember reading as a child that, perhaps, I was too young for (all books read before the age of 14):

It, by Steven King

Nicholas Nickelby, by Charles Dickens

Enders Game / Speaker for the Dead, Orson Scott Card

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Lord of the Flies, William Golding (hated it)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (didn't get it)

Invisible Man by HG Wells (loved it)

Diary of Anne Frank -- honestly, I have no idea what age people are supposed to read this book. I didn't like it much as a child, and as an adult I found it haunting.

Just about anything by Mark Twain, with special interest in both Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, as we had early editions of both books.

Had an early edition of Catcher in the Rye--second edition, I believe. It now contains a note, written by my mom, saying that I had permission to read the book, since she wasn't sure if it was still banned in our school district. My mom = awesome. CitR = kind've awesome. I totally understand why so many people can't stand it. I hated it the first 3 or 4 times I read it, too. I like it now out of sheer will.

The Power and the Glory, by Graham Greene (didn't understandd it then, didn't understand it, but loved it nonetheless, in college. Possibly understand it now).

I have reached a point where I almost always acutely regret any situation in which I have not brought whatever book I happen to be reading.

Jack Cobra said...

Maybe I gave that answer just so others wouldn't feel bad about their answers???

Yeah, that's not true....

I actually dated a second grade teacher a few years ago and she went on this rant about all these great children books and started naming them off. I just sat there expressionless for like five minutes until she asked me what I read when I was younger because I read just about everything I can get my hands on......I gave her the answer I just gave above and she accused me of lying.

Different people want to read different things. As a kid I already knew right from wrong and why I felt certain ways so I didn't need to read books like that to learn the foundational elements of being a human. I didn't find them entertaining at the time although I've read all the 'classics' by now.

That being said, don't take my answer, or lack thereof, as a swipe at children's literature. There is a lot of great stuff out there that kids can absolutely learn from and enjoy. (I have two nieces and one nephew so I've procured quite a few of the books you mentioned above)

rs27 said...

Where the hell is "Of Mice and Men" on this list?

What a disapointment.

MCBias said...

You can't post this today! I have real work to do! Can't...resist...
Here's my criteria for a set of 5:
Must teach kids more about human communication and also the birth/growth/death process
Must introduce kids to some hard truths as well (i.e. the world is not fair, heroes die, evil does win on occasion, etc.)
But, must be FUN to read. The kid can't be thinking s/he is being preached at; it has to be enjoyable and fast-paced.

I put the books in categories, so that's why the occasional parenthetical statement; these are either/or choices.

1. Taran Wanderer (or The Black Cauldron), by Lloyd Alexander. I think that Lewis/Tolk/Rowlings may be a little heavy for a must-read list, so I'll pick a book that takes it down a notch. It's set in a fantasy-land, but it's about an orphan who sets out to find his parents and becomes a man along the way.
2. Jane Eyre (or Precious Bane). This is my nod to the female readers and having a little romance, but I wanted something on this list that dates before 1900. I like the way that the books give excellent female role models while showing the good and bad of the male and female personalities.
3. The Kid Can't Miss by Russell Almon. It's obscure, but it's about a losing middle-school basketball team that is offered a chance to cheat. No, it's not as boring as that sounds, it's a fun read. Since a lot of kids play sports, I think they'll identify with the story.
4. Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn (or the Prince and the Pauper). Some young kids often think that authority or culture itself are always good. Mark Twain's supposed kid stories do a good job of quietly and savagely ripping that myth to pieces.
5. Let's see...we've covered a little fantasy, a little romance/coming of age, a little sports, a little about humor? James and the Giant Peach or another Dahl book sounds like a nice fit here. I also like Gordon Korman's tales of teens in a boarding school in Canada--Zucchini Warrior is good.

Books that it hurt to leave off the list:
Beverly Cleary, "Fifteen" (a light-hearted tale of a girl's first romance), or the Henry books. She is so down to earth it's wonderful.

O Henry short story collection. It's kind of cheating to count this as a book, but oh well.

To Kill a Mockingbird--it might be ahead of Twain if I remembered it better.

Ok, I give up, I could do this all day. I miss reading! Stupid Internet.

Malea said...

I couldn't agree more with your assessment of children's lit. BPaine is always telling me to read "grown-up" books to build my vocabulary. I do read "grown-up" books, I just happen to talk about more (and really enjoy more) the kids books!

This was a hard list to create, there are oh so many, so I kind of cheated and split it into 3 categories based roughly on age

Picture books
Miss Rumphius _ Barbara Cooney - (all time favorite book.)

Liza Lou and the Yeller Belly Swamp _ Mercer Mayer

Peter's Chair _ Ezra Jack Keats (although The Snowy Day is a close one here)

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble _ Wiliam Steig (It is this or Thunder Cake _ Patricia Polacco)

Harold and the Purple Crayon _ Crockett Johnson (he gets to write all over the wall!)

Chapter Books - younger
The Dark is Rising _ Susan Cooper (If you lump all the HP books together, I lump this series in one)

The Witches _ Roald Dahl (I still get freaked out when I read this)

Beauty _ Robin McKinley (I'm a big fan of this author -I like strong female characters, but this is one of my favorites)

Indian in the Cupboard _ Lynne Reid Banks

Charlotte's Web _ EB White

Chapter Books - teens
Deerskin _ Robin McKinley

My Antonia _ Willa Cather

Sister Carrie _ Theodore Dreiser

Cannery Row _ John Steinbeck

Kurt Vonnegut _ Cat's Cradle is where I would start

This is a start.

Suzy Q said...

I'm not going to recommend any children's books, but I'm going to agree with you about Catcher in the Rye. I hated it. I still wonder if there is something I missed. Great blog, by the way.

Anonymous said...

Authors teens should read to make them lifelong literature lovers:

Annie Proulx (not for younger audiences)

Aldous Huxley (HOW IS HE NOT ON HERE)

Ayn Rand

Awesome authors for younger children:

C.S. Lewis

Laura Wilder (I was in LOVE with her books in 1st-2nd grade) I know that she's an easy read but she is probably the reason I'm such a book geek

Lois Lowry (late elementary early jr. high)

I have a 5 yr old nephew & a 1 yr old niece...Dr.Seuss is by far their favorite

Redhead said...

Wow, you guys are going to make me work for it today:

tk: No kudos necessary for picking Kaffir Boy - I read that book in middle school and I can't truly explain (like with all great books) just how much it affected me. As for The Outsiders, I considered putting it in there, but although I liked it I really didn't see it as a TOP book. For me at least.

mr. thursday: I read Steven King's Pet Sematary when I was WAY too young - my sister gave it to me. My mother was...not pleased (neither was I when I didn't sleep for 2 weeks). Dickens - look, I can't argue the talent, but I just was never able to get into him. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy is probably my all time favorite adult book (I've got a collectors edition of Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy, Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and So Long, Thanks for All the Fish on my bookshelves right now). Diary of Anne Frank was haunting (a true classic that everyone should read), and Invisible Man by Wells is amazing. As for Twain, I really struggled with keeping him off my list - I never actually enjoyed his books, but I read both Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn in the 5th Grade (yes, probably too young for Finn) and I found them great for discussion and learning, totally worthwhile reads, but...I just didn't feel them.

Oh, and I'm with you on wanting to keep all books I read - there's a reason my apartment looks like a library.

cobra: I'm not making fun of you! But I don't see children's books as simply a way to 'learn the foundational elements of being human.' Yes, they seem to deal with emotions and life and lessons - JUST like adult books. I guess my main reason is I feel the best writers out there a) write children's books, and b) take more care with them. There's something about writing a great book for...let's just say the younger generation; they are more thought out, they mean more, and often times they make the reader think more. I can't explain it here right now, suffice it to say I disagree, but respect your choices in what you read (at least you did read).

rs27: OK, feel free to mock - I didn't love Of Mice and Men. It was beautifully written and a lovely story, but...I couldn't connect with it (and no, that's not something I'm proud of).

mcb: Interesting choices. I'm not on board with you fantasy picks (wow, that sounds like sports) - I feel like so many children's books are in the fantasy genre, so to stand out it really needs to be AMAZING. Lloyd Alexander never really did it for me (but one of my ex-boyfriend's younger brother would lose it if he heard me say that). Jane Eyre was great, but if I was going to pick one 'girl' book pre-1900, I would have gone with Pride and Prejudice. Cliche, yes - but it was great. And as for Beverly Cleary - YES. I can't believe I forgot about her.

malea: GREAT LIST. Your picture book choices were inspired - Ezra Keats is an all time favorite, and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble...there are no words for how much I love that book. The Witches, Charlotte's Web - yes and yes. But I'm going to have to disagree on Vonnegut and Steinbeck - I was forced to read both in school, and I found the process...long.

suzy q: Hey, thanks. (Oh, and I'm loving my like-minded readers - what is up with all the Catcher in the Rye love out there?)

anon: You're absolutely right - how did Aldous Huxley NOT make my list; cliche a choice as it may be, I loved Brave New World. Ayn Rand - I've read all of her books and Atlas Shrugged is a Top 10 in my 'adult' books list, but it's more her ideas that draw me, not her writing (talk about long winded...not that I have a right to complain I guess). Laura Wilder - I never felt her but I know many, many, many people do. And obviously I'm always going to be in on a Lois Lowry love-fest.

Note to all of you guys: You're blowing me away with the comments here - I could spend 20 minutes just writing back to each one...if it wasn't for my damn job!

Mr. Thursday said...

Atlas Shrugged--I loved the book, but I have to wonder, is there a more irrelevant climactic chapter in a great piece of fiction than "This Is John Galt Speaking"? I mean, the geniuses on the island have just spent the entire second half of the book espousing their philosophy to Dagny and Hank, and then we have to sit through it again as Galt explains the whole thing to everybody else. If you skip it, you literally miss nothing.

Other than that, however, it's one of the most incredible books I've ever read. Objectivism isn't my thing, but, still, very interesting.

LosingIt said...

Delurking: "The House with a Clock in Its Walls" by John Bellaris and all of his subsequent books... SO wonderful and so mysterious and full of suspense. I loved this book when my 3rd grade teacher read it to us. Also, all the "Ramona" books by Beverly Cleary.

MC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MCBias said...

Quick return comment:
Pride and Prejudice was on my list, and then I erased it. My only complaint is that the story sags a little bit in the middle, and that the two younger sisters are kind of boring. But Elizabeth and Jane are wonderful, and I identify with Mr. Darcy a little too well.

Let me join the Catcher in the Rye hate. There are maybe 20? books IN MY LIFETIME that I stopped reading due to not liking the story--I am a compulsive book finisher. Catcher in the Rye is one of those 20. The guy's a jerk--why should I care about him?

TK said...

Also, I like books that have a lesson tied into them, so I suggest:

School Is Because God Doesn't Like You


Daddy Drinks Because You Cry

Redhead said...

mr. thursday: No kidding - my main thoughts upon finishing Atlas Shrugged were 1) Wow, and 2) That could have been A LOT shorter. As for the 'This is John Galt' speech - that fucker is famous in my family as one of the most useless (and painful) reading experiences available today. I also heard it took Rand 2 YEARS to write it.

losingit: OK, I don't think I've read The House with a Clock in its Walls. Huh, I guess I know what I'll be reading soon though.

mcb: You're like Mr. Darcy - really? Interesting. (Oh, and the 2 younger sisters were BORING? One of them was the catalyst for bringing Elizabeth and Darcy together!...deep breath...But that's your opinion, and therefore let's pretend it's valid.)

tk: My personal favorite is: Nobody Likes You Because They're Jealous

onthevirg said...

Damn it, I'm late to this whole thing (damn you job!), so I guess it's past time for dick jokes.

I'm a huge sci-fi & horror dork, so I'm going to go for stuff that is, obviously, not necessarily meant for the toddlers:

1. The Stand - Stephen King
2. The EarthSea Trilogy - Ursula Le Guin
3. Anything by Tolkien
4. On a Pale Horse - Piers Anthony: The first book that made me think about mortality.
5. The Wind in the Willows (I'm amazed no one has listed this yet) - Kenneth Grahame