The Best 100 Children’s Books of . . . THE FUTURE (dun dun dun!)

For the past month, I have been following the Best 100 Children’s Books poll over at A Fuse #8 Production.  It’s gotten quite the following, and even my husband, Brian, got in the game.

So much in the game, in fact, that he began to do an experiment with it.  Brian is a pathologist and geneticist.  He’s someone who enjoys doing math for fun.  Seeing a list of ranked books with accompanying poll data just made his brain whirr, and he spent many eager hours with an Excel file before presenting the following findings.  (And even though I am known as a rampant Anne of Green Gables fan, I should say that I had no interference in any of this.) 

It’s like someone took our two professions and slammed them together in a classic chocolate-and-peanut-butter way (“You got kidlit on my statistics!  You got statistics on my kidlit!”).

Says Brian:

I have noticed that fuse #8’s list of the best 100 children’s books of all time is heavily skewed towards newer books.  For example, so far there are 17 books written in the last decade, but only 11 written in the 70s, and 5 written in the 40s.  This is not an absolute trend, but it is clear enough that it is pretty obvious. There could be several reasons for this. One is that there are just more good books written now than in the past. Another is that we tend to rank more highly newer books or books that were relatively new when we were children, so newer books are really overrated compared to where they will be 60-70 years from now.

I thought it would be interested to adjust the scores (and rankings) under the assumption there have been about the same number of good books each decade, and that the total scores of those books should be about the same for each decade.  I plotted a rolling average of all the books that were on the best 100 list that were published in the same decade.  An exponential curve fitted the plot surprisingly well (R = 0.63) and I could generate an adjusted score using the formula:

adjusted score = 100 x (actual score/(353 x e^(0.0146 x (year-1900))))

This yields the following rank list, which I think may underrate some more recent books a little, but will be closer to what the list would look like if the poll is repeated 10 or 20 years from now.  The book the went up most in the rankings were “Swallows and Amazons” and “Caddie Woodlawn” moving up 54 and 49 rankings, respectively.  The books that went down the most were “When You Reach Me” and “Inkheart” (down 19 and 17 respectively).  “Bridge to Terabithia” and “The View From Saturday” did not change in rankings.  The formula may change slightly with the addition of the final 8 books to the regression curve, but it will probably not change dramatically.

Book year score rank adjusted score adjusted rank
Anne of Green Gables 1908 365 9 92.00 1
Little Women 1868 136 25 61.47 2
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865 129 27 60.92 3
The Phantom Tollbooth 1961 291 10 33.83 4
The Hobbit 1938 207 12 33.67 5
A Little Princess 1905 124 28 32.65 6
The wonderful wizard of OZ 1900 107 40 30.31 7
Little House in the Big Woods 1932 137 23 24.32 8
Winnie-the-Pooh 1926 121 30 23.45 9
The Westing game 1978 248 11 22.50 10
Harriet the Spy 1964 177 16 19.70 11
Wind in the Willows 1908 77 53 19.41 12
Bridge to Terabithia 1977 201 13 18.50 13
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 1964 152 19 16.91 14
Little House on the Prarie 1935 96 42 16.31 15
Half Magic 1954 121 31 15.58 16
Tuck Everlasting 1975 143 20 13.55 17
James and the Giant Peach 1961 115 33 13.37 18
Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban 1999 197 14 13.15 19
The Saturdays 1941 82 51 12.77 20
The Witch of Blackbird Pond 1958 103 41 12.51 21
Because of Winn-Dixie 2000 185 15 12.17 22
Matilda 1988 154 18 12.07 23
Maniac Magee 1990 158 17 12.03 24
The Dark is Rising 1973 123 29 12.00 25
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH 1971 119 32 11.96 26
Are you there God? It’s Me Margaret 1970 111 36 11.32 27
Where the Red Fern Grows 1961 90 46 10.46 28
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry 1976 109 37 10.18 29
Hatchet 1989 129 26 9.97 30
Ramona the Pest 1968 94 43 9.87 31
Island of the Blue Dolphins 1960 83 50 9.79 32
Ballet Shoes 1936 57 65 9.55 33
Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing 1972 92 44 9.11 34
The tale of Despereaux 2003 141 22 8.88 35
Percy Jackson and the Olympians 2005 142 21 8.68 36
Betsy-Tacy 1940 54 70 8.53 37
The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1995 115 34 8.14 38
Harry Potter: Deathly Hallows 2007 137 24 8.14 39
Swallows and Amazons 1930 43 94 7.86 40
On the Banks of Plum Creek 1937 47 85 7.76 41
Henry Huggins 1950 56 66 7.65 42
Johnny Tremain 1943 50 78 7.56 43
Caddie Woodlawn 1935 44 93 7.48 44
My Father’s Dragon 1948 53 72 7.45 45
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase 1962 65 58 7.45 46
Harry Potter: Goblet of Fire 2000 112 35 7.37 47
Gone-Away Lake 1957 59 63 7.27 48
The Secret of the Old Clock 1959 60 62 7.18 49
Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix 2003 109 38 6.86 50
The Little White Horse 1946 47 84 6.80 51
The Borrowers 1953 52 74 6.79 52
The Great Gilly Hopkins 1978 74 55 6.71 53
All-of-a-Kind Family 1951 49 79 6.59 54
The Golden Compass 1995 92 45 6.51 55
The BFG 1982 75 54 6.42 56
My Side of the Mountain 1959 53 73 6.34 57
When you Reach Me 2009 107 39 6.17 58
Frindle 1996 84 49 5.86 59
Bud, Not Buddy 1999 87 47 5.81 60
Pippi Longstocking 1950 42 95 5.73 61
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 1981 65 57 5.64 62
The Book of Three 1964 47 82 5.23 63
The Penderwicks: A summer tale 2005 85 48 5.20 64
Children of Green Knowe 1954 40 98 5.15 65
Number the Stars 1989 65 56 5.02 66
The High King 1968 45 88 4.72 67
True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle 1990 61 60 4.64 68
The Invention of Hugo Cabret 2007 77 52 4.57 69
The Egypt Game 1967 39 100 4.15 70
Ramona and her Father 1977 45 89 4.14 71
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher 1991 55 67 4.13 72
Stargirl 2000 61 61 4.01 73
Sideways Stories from Wayside School 1978 44 91 3.99 74
A Long Way from Chicago 1998 58 64 3.93 75
Inkheart 2003 62 59 3.90 76
Walk Two Moons 1994 54 68 3.88 77
Sarah, Plain and Tall 1985 44 90 3.60 78
The Witches 1983 42 96 3.54 79
Series of Unfortunate Events 1 1999 53 71 3.54 80
The Indian in the Cupboard 1980 40 99 3.52 81
Out of the Dust 1997 50 76 3.44 82
Love that Dog 2001 51 75 3.31 83
The Thief 1997 47 83 3.23 84
The Mysterious Benedict Society 2007 54 69 3.21 85
The City of Ember 2003 50 77 3.15 86
The View from Saturday 1996 45 87 3.14 87
Harry Potter: Chamber of Secrets 1999 47 86 3.14 88
Ella Enchanted 1997 44 92 3.02 89
The Graveyard Book 2008 48 80 2.81 90
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon 2009 47 81 2.71 91
Miraculous Journey of Ed Tulane 2006 41 97 2.47 92

11 thoughts on “The Best 100 Children’s Books of . . . THE FUTURE (dun dun dun!)

  1. AHA! I knew I was correct in putting Anne first!!!

    Althought he math really hurts my head. Now I need to go lie down.

    Are you going to tell Betsy? Or can I blab about it in the comments?

  2. The last of the top ten books in the poll have yet to be released (The Secret Garden was revealed as #8 today, and might be the only other book to knock Anne out of the #1 spot, due to its age). I’m guessing that A Wrinkle in Time will be showing up in the #6 spot or so.

    Maybe I should get Brian to update the list with adjusted scores when the entire poll is finished.

    1. “The Secret Garden” is almost exactly tied with “Anne of Green Gables” both in real and actual scores. Using the current formula “The Secret Garden” comes up with 89.51 adjusted points and is a close second, but the formula will change as I add this and the other remaining books to the curve. I promise I will update the list, as Brooke requested, after Fuse #8 finishes revealing the last 7 books. I really have no idea which of these two will come out on top, or if there will be some other great book that beats them both.

  3. Absolutely he should adjust the scores after the top ten finishes. What makes you so certain A Wrinkle in Time is on there though?

    >twirls evil moustache and exits stage left<

  4. What about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and the Hunger Games? Are they too old for this grouping of books? (I mean for older readers)

    1. Yeah, those books are more on the YA/adult side. The rules were such that the books really had to be written for kids, not just enjoyed by them — hence, classics like Cheaper by the Dozen and Treasure Island didn’t make the cut. Gotta draw the line somewhere, I guess.

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