Favorite Books for Young Readers 2011

Yup, it’s that time of year again — time to stop procrastinating and decide which books for young readers were my favorites of 2011.

Take note: these are not the most popular, most distinguished, most likely to win an award, etc.  It isn’t the list of books I’d make for librarians or teachers to purchase.  It is simply an idiosyncratic list of my personal favorites.  Fire up those library cards and read away!

PICTURE BOOKS

  • Just ‘Cause It’s Purty Snow Rabbit Spring Rabbit by Il Sung Na
  • Fun With Graphic Design Perfect Square by Michael Hall
  • Most Clever Cleverness Press Here by Herve Tullet
  • It’s Jane Goodall as a Little Kid! Me . . . Jane by Patrick McDonnell
  • Best Christmas Story The Money We’ll Save by Brock Cole
  • Best Novella-as-Picture-Book The Secret River by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings (aka “The Lady Who Wrote The Yearling”), illustrated by Leo & Diane Dillon
  • Reminds Me of My Own Early Childhood In the Meadow by Yukiko Kato, illus. Komako Sakai (aka illustrator of Emily’s Balloon and other favorites)
  • You’ll “Get It” if You Read It Out Loud I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen
  • Best Cartoon Family Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake by Michael B. Kaplan, illus. Stephane Jorisch
  • Grand Prize for Stupendous Moose IllustrationThe House in the Woods by Inga Moore
  • My Kids Made Me Read It Over and Over Until I got Sick of It, So Beware Mitchell’s License by Hallie Durand, illus. Tony Fucile
  • Best Fractured Fairy Tale The Princess and the Pig by Jonathan Emmett; illus. Poly Bernatene
  • Most Likely to Cause Giggle Fits What Animals Really Like by Fiona Robinson
  • Just Plain Powerful Never Forgotten by Patricia C. McKissack, illus. Leo & Diane Dillon
  • Best Mother Goose Nursery Rhyme Comics: 50 timeless rhymes from 50 celebrated cartoonists edited by Chris Duffy
  • I Admit That Elizabeth Is a Cool Name My Name is Elizabeth! by Annika Dunklee, illus. Matthew Forsythe
  • Put it in Your Church Bag Naamah and the Ark at Night (note: Naamah is more popularly known as “Mrs. Noah”) by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illus. Holly Meade
  • The Japanese Can Bring the Cute When They Need To 999 Tadpoles by Ken Kimura, illus. Yasunari Murakami
  • Because There Aren’t Enough Stellar Books About Groundhog’s Day Brownie Groundhog and the February Fox by Susan Blackaby, illus. Carmen Segovia
  • Let’s Get Excited About Vegetables! Rah Rah Radishes! by April Pulley Sayre
  • Best Picture Book About Dementia (It’s a Category If I Say It Is) Grandpa Green by Lane Smith
  • The Obligatory Awesome Mo Willems Book Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator! by Mo Willems

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

  • Best Anti-Girly Girl Marty McGuire by Kate Messner, illus. Brian Floca (I LOVE his art!)
  • Channeling Diana Wynne-Jones, Part I (Magic Can Be Confusing)Small Persons With Wings by Ellen Booraem
  • Channeling Diana Wynne-Jones, Part II (Pranks Can Win the War) Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George
  • Channeling Diana Wynn-Jones, Part III (This Time, with Jane Austen-y Antics!) Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
  • This Author Will Be Famous Someday Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby
  • Best Historical Fiction With Talking Mice The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy and Randall Wright
  • Best Historial Fiction With a Severed Hand Caper The Trouble With May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm
  • Best Historical Fiction With Victorian Ladies Getting in GunfightsThe Year We Were Famous
  • Book With Best Crossover Appeal for Adults Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt
  • That Jerk Patrick Ness Made Me Cry A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness
  • Most Heart-Warming-y Heartwarming The Penderwicks at Point Mouette by Jeanne Birdsall
  • Sometimes It’s Better When You Don’t Get Prince CharmingThe Silver Bowl by Diane Stanley
  • Treasure Seeking Hijinks With Cowboys and Dragons! The Dragon of Cripple Creek by Troy Howell
  • Arthurian Knights Can Be Surprisingly Deep — and Funny The Adventures of Sir Gawain the True by Gerald Morris
  • Poetry Can Make Your Head Spin Hidden by Helen Frost
  • But Will Martin Scorsese Direct the Film Adaptation? Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
  • Immigration Can Be Hard The Unforgotten Coat by Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Best Depiction of Contemporary Africa The No. 1 Car Spotter by Atinuke
  • Immigration Can Be Hard — Especially During the Vietnam War Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
  • I Usually Don’t Like Multi-Author Anthologies But This One’s Pretty Great The Chronicles of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Authors Tell the Tales , illus. by Chris Van Allsburg
  • Sentient Origami Rules Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

Note: Yes, once again it’s a short list.  I’ve grown tired of supernatural romance/gossipy frenemies/dystopian fiction, so that winnowed the playing field by quite a bit.  Plus, with the birth of Baby Katie this year, I wasn’t up for anything where anything really bad happens.    I even checked out every one of these titles from the library, kept them on my shelf, and then turned them back in.  THAT’S HOW BAD IT IS THESE DAYS.  So this year, for the first time ever — I am listing a group of books which I know are wonderful and which I know you will like, but which I am simply too wimpy to read right now.

What I Read And Thought Worthy of Sharing:

  • Best Fairy Tale Adaptation (and that’s really saying something, trust me) Entwined by Heather Dixon
  • Best Road Trip Through Europe The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson (note: this is a sequel to Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, which is also excellent)
  • When Bad Covers Happen to REALLY Good Books Chime by Franny Billingsley
  • It’s Like Seabiscuit With Legendary Irish Fairy Horses The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

What’s Probably Great But Which I Am Too Wimpy To Read:

  • Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys (Siberian Prison Camp!)
  • Blood Red Road  by Moira Young (post apocalyptic universe! with cage fighting!)
  • All These Things I’ve Done by Gabrielle Zevin (dystopian future where chocolate is illegal!)
  • Paper Covers Rock by Jenny Hubbard (boy drowns at 80s prep school and it sounds way too much like A Separate Peace!)
  • The Watch That Ends The Night by Allan Wolf  (the Titanic!)
  • How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr (just a sad, beautiful domestic drama!)
  • Bluefish by Pat Schmatz (bullies!)
  • Jefferson’s Sons by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (it’s about Thomas Jefferson’s slave children!  Also not technically YA!)
  • Blink & Caution by Tim Wynne-Jones (kidnapping!)
  • The Lost Crown by Sarah Miller (the Romanovs!  With meticulous research!)

THIS SINGULAR PIECE OF NON-FICTON IS PROBABLY THE BEST AMERICAN CHILDREN’S BOOK OF THE YEAR

  • Amelia Lost by Candace Fleming (go read it!)

BEST BOOK FOR ADULTS ABOUT CHILDREN’S LITERATURE

  • The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure

The Gentle Madness

Apparently I have a problem:

This is what my living room looked like after hitting the county library book sale a week and a half ago.  (Oh hey, and Katie’s on the couch, too.  I just noticed that.)

Keep in mind that I had brought home just as many books after the city library book sale two weeks before that.  (Whoo, and I had to be quick to nab ’em at the county library sale, because people there were RUTHLESS.  When I arrived, there were four bookshelves full of children’s novels, and after twenty minutes in the picture book section, I returned to find only ONE shelf of novels left.  Wow.)

Obviously, I’m a fan of the picture books.  ‘Tis true.  I’ve been collecting them since I was a teenager; I brought my more valuable ones to college, which lead to Brian and I becoming friends (we traded books a lot).

But it’s becoming a problem.  When I first began to collect picture books, I chose them based on the quality of illustration alone.  Now that I know something more about children’s literature (more than the average person ought to know, really), I focus on finding books that are out of print, or likely to be so.  Therefore, my book sale splurges are done with the attitude of, say, rescuing Holocaust refugees (“If I don’t take them in, they’ll disappear forever!“).  I despair whenever I see really good books that are only a year or two old showing up as library discards.  Didn’t anybody want to read them?  Or did the librarians not do a good enough job of promoting them?  Oh, tragedy. And schadenfreude — because those books are now mine.

*rubs hands together with evil grin*

The Top 100 Children’s Books Redux

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how a-list blogger Betsy Bird was conducting a massive poll to determine the top 100 children’s novels of all time.

My husband, the statistics fanatic, noticed how books published in the last ten years were getting a disproportionate amount of attention.  So he created an algorithm that would weight the books’ poll scores according to age.

The older a book was, the more value its votes would have.

In addition to fiddling with the winners of the official poll, Brian went so far as to recalculate the scores of every book that anybody voted for. That’s dedication, baby.  Ergo, books like Swiss Family Robinson — even though it only got nine votes — ends up in the top 30 because it was published in 1812.

Below is the list of the top books — expanded to include 120.  If you want to see the explanation of the math, read the previous post.

It’s interesting that the #1 choice didn’t change.  Note, too, the big jump in scores between the top four books, and the following four.  It’s also fun to see which books had the biggest increases in scores (like Heidi or Call of the Wild) and which had the biggest drops (Inkheart, The Bad Beginning).  And some books from the official list disappeared altogether (such as The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane).  I was personally happy to see one of my kinda-obscure childhood favorites, What Katy Did, make the list this way.

Just interesting stuff, if you’re a fan of the math.  And as a certified children’s librarian, I can say with confidence that if you were to read all of these books, you’d get a very strong foundation in becoming a children’s literature expert.  (*sound of official Seal of Approval ramming down on computer monitor*)

Book year.
score
rank Adjusted score Adjusted Rank Change in rank
Charlotte’s Web 1952 751 1 67.320 1 0
Anne of Green Gables 1908 365 9 65.861 2 7
The Secret Garden 1911 371 8 63.826 3 5
Little Women 1868 136 25 46.354 4 21
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865 129 27 46.116 5 22
A Wrinkle in Time 1962 593 2 45.343 6 -4
Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe 1950 456 4 42.197 7 -3
Mixed Up Files of Mrs. BEF 1967 409 5 28.883 8 -3
A Little Princess 1905 124 28 23.468 9 19
Harrry Potter: Sorcerer’s Stone 1997 533 3 23.361 10 -7
The Hobbit 1938 207 12 23.182 11 1
The Phantom Tollbooth 1961 291 10 22.607 12 -2
The wonderful wizard of OZ 1900 107 40 21.926 13 27
The Giver 1993 373 7 17.422 14 -7
Holes 1998 392 6 16.910 15 -9
Little House in the Big Woods 1932 137 23 16.878 16 7
Winnie-the-Pooh 1926 121 30 16.399 17 13
The Westing game 1978 248 11 14.703 18 -7
Wind in the Willows 1908 77 53 13.894 19 34
Harriet the Spy 1964 177 16 13.110 20 -4
Bridge to Terabithia 1977 201 13 12.108 21 -8
Little House on the Prarie 1935 96 42 11.276 22 20
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory 1964 152 19 11.259 23 -4
Half Magic 1954 121 31 10.507 24 7
Treasure Island 1883 38 103 10.204 25 78
Swiss Family Robinson 1812 11 121 9.134 26 95+
James and the Giant Peach 1961 115 33 8.934 27 6
Tuck Everlasting 1975 143 20 8.892 28 -8
The Saturdays 1941 82 51 8.755 29 22
The Witch of Blackbird Pond 1958 103 41 8.393 30 11
Harry Potter: Prisoner of Azkaban 1999 197 14 8.364 31 -17
The Dark is Rising 1973 123 29 7.896 32 -3
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH 1971 119 32 7.886 33 -1
Matilda 1988 154 18 7.788 34 -16
Maniac Magee 1990 158 17 7.740 35 -18
Because of Winn-Dixie 2000 185 15 7.731 36 -21
Are you there God? It’s Me Margaret 1970 111 36 7.474 37 -1
Where the Red Fern Grows 1961 90 46 6.992 38 8
Five Children and It 1902 34 112 6.749 39 73
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry 1976 109 37 6.671 40 -3
Ballet Shoes 1936 57 65 6.590 41 24
Island of the Blue Dolphins 1960 83 50 6.552 42 8
Ramona the Pest 1968 94 43 6.534 43 0
Hatchet 1989 129 26 6.421 44 -18
Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing 1972 92 44 6.001 45 -1
Heidi 1880 21 121 5.914 46 75+
Betsy-Tacy 1940 54 70 5.858 47 23
The tale of Despereaux 2003 141 22 5.618 48 -26
Percy Jackson and the Olympians 2005 142 21 5.480 49 -28
Swallows and Amazons 1930 43 94 5.469 50 44
On the Banks of Plum Creek 1937 47 85 5.348 51 34
The Watsons Go to Birmingham 1995 115 34 5.203 52 -18
Henry Huggins 1950 56 66 5.182 53 13
Johnny Tremain 1943 50 78 5.172 54 24
Caddie Woodlawn 1935 44 93 5.168 55 38
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows 2007 137 24 5.122 56 -32
My Father’s Dragon 1948 53 72 5.063 57 15
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase 1962 65 58 4.970 58 0
Gone-Away Lake 1957 59 63 4.885 59 4
The Secret of the Old Clock 1959 60 62 4.812 60 2
Call of the Wild 1903 24 121 4.689 61 60+
Harry potter and the Goblet of Fire 2000 112 35 4.680 62 -27
The Little White Horse 1946 47 84 4.635 63 21
The Borrowers 1953 52 74 4.588 64 10
All-of-a-Kind Family 1951 49 79 4.463 65 14
Understood Betsy 1916 28 121 4.449 66 55+
The Great Gilly Hopkins 1978 74 55 4.387 67 -12
Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix 2003 109 38 4.343 68 -30
The Boxcar Children 1924 31 117 4.337 69 48
My Side of the Mountain 1959 53 73 4.251 70 3
The BFG 1982 75 54 4.173 71 -17
The Golden Compass 1995 92 45 4.163 72 -27
Pippi Longstocking 1950 42 95 3.887 73 22
When you Reach Me 2009 107 39 3.875 74 -35
Frindle 1996 84 49 3.741 75 -26
Bud, Not Buddy 1999 87 47 3.694 76 -29
Ramona Quimby, Age 8 1981 65 57 3.674 77 -20
The Book of Three 1964 47 82 3.481 78 4
Children of Green Knowe 1954 40 98 3.473 79 19
The Moffats 1941 31 120 3.310 80 40
The Penderwicks: A summer tale 2005 85 48 3.281 82 -34
The Magician’s Nephew 1955 38 102 3.248 83 19
Number the Stars 1989 65 56 3.235 84 -28
Tom’s Midnight Garden 1958 39 101 3.178 85 16
The High King 1968 45 88 3.128 86 2
Harry Potter: 1/2 bood prince 2005 81 52 3.126 87 -35
Mrs. Piggle Wiggle 1947 32 113 3.106 88 25
The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle 1990 61 60 2.988 89 -29
The Invention of Hugo Cabret 2007 77 52 2.879 90 -38
What Katy Did 1872 9 121 2.879 91 30+
The Thirteen  Clocks 1950 31 119 2.869 92 27
Voyage of the Dawn Treader 1952 31 121 2.779 93 28+
A Cricket in Times Square 1960 35 108 2.763 94 14
The Egypt Game 1967 39 100 2.754 95 5+
Peter Pan 1911 16 121 2.753 96 25+
Ramona and her Father 1977 45 89 2.711 97 -8
Betsy, Tacy and Tib 1941 25 121 2.669 98 23+
Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher 1991 55 67 2.652 99 -32
Sideways Stories from Wayside School 1978 44 91 2.609 100 -9
Stargirl 2000 61 61 2.54907 101 -40
Knight’s Castle 1956 30 121 2.523513 102 19+
Twenty-One Balloons 1947 26 121 2.523511 103 18+
A Long Way from Chicago 1998 58 64 2.502018 104 -40
The Long Winter 1940 23 121 2.49515 105 16+
Walk Two Moons 1994 54 68 2.482432 106 -38
Inkheart 2003 62 59 2.470175 107 -48
Farmer Boy 1933 20 121 2.425135 108 13+
Sarah, Plain and Tall 1985 44 90 2.333909 109 -19
The Witches 1983 42 96 2.299805 110 -14
The Indian in the Cupboard 1980 40 99 2.297299 111 -12
The Frog Princess 2002 56 66 2.266885 112 -46
Jennifer Hecate… 1967 32 116 2.259832 113 3
A Series of Unfortunate Events: #1 1999 53 71 2.250262 114 -43
House with a Clock in its Walls 1973 35 111 2.246791 115 -4
Homer Price 1942 21 121 2.206874 116 5+
Out of the Dust 1997 50 76 2.191481 117 -41
Danny Champion of the World 1975 35 110 2.176467 118 -8
Betsy and Tacy go Downtown 1943 21 121 2.172063 119 2+
Wizard of Earthsea 1968 31 118 2.154679 120 -2

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

Infernal Devices

This week my aforementioned Olde Fashioned Colde Virus morphed into Ye Devil’s Sinusitis and then progressed merrily on into Thine Ear Infectione o’Doom. 

Not much work was done on the book this week — my writing time was 100% staring at the screen while miserably pressing a cold compress onto my face and counting the hours until my next dose of antibiotics. Oh, wait — at least 30% of that time was spent making mincemeat out of many, many boxes of Kleenex.  All of Friday was devoted to harassing a doctor into giving me stronger medicine (she did.  As she put it, “it looks like you have a giant blister on your eardrum”).  Owwwwww.

The best thing to do, I figured, was to spend time reading about people who were infinitely more miserable than I was, and so out of my mass of wallowing self-pity I turned to Dante’s Inferno.  It’s simply impossible to feel bad about constant ringing ear pain when reading about being buried alive with 1,000 Arch-Heretics in a flaming red-hot coffin.

I’ll admit that my desire to Inferno-ize myself was also owing to running into one of my old literature profs. at the grocery store (he remembered my name, which is stunning) and feeling residual guilt at not having read Inferno as thoroughly as I was supposed to for class.  Also, I heard about the new video game based on the poem, and found it both intriguingly bizarre and unintentionally hilarious.

In the game, Dante Alighieri is a scythe-wielding ex-Crusader who engages in hand-to-hand combat with Marc Antony and Cleopatra at the end of Level 3.  (Hear that? It’s the sound of hundreds of Dantean scholars all spitting out their rose hip tea at the same time.) 

Oh oh oh — and Beatrice is also in hell, because Satan wants to make her his bride.  Thus effectively giving one of the greatest epic poems in world literature essentially the same plot as Super Mario Bros.

May I add that Super Karamazov Bros. would also make for an awesome video game?  Especially if it took the steampunk route . . .

Anyway, I’ve much more to write regarding Inferno, but I’ll save it for further posts (if I can scrounge up the time).  I’m really enjoying this read, it’s much more enjoyable than when I read it as a harried undergraduate.  I’m in Canto XVI right now — Seventh Circle, Third Ring, Second Zone, if you’re interested.  Thank goodness for the map in the back of the book.

The Top Children’s Fiction Poll

The lovely Ms. Bird at A Fuse #8 Production is undertaking the massive effort of conducting a poll of the best children’s novels of all time.  Each person is only allowed to submit his or her top ten (only ten!) and since there are far too many books that I consider The Best, I’ve decided to manipulate the scoring system and choose books that I think might need some extra points.

So: no Charlotte’s Web, no Bridge to Terabithia, no Little House in the Big Woods, and no Alice in Wonderland.  But plenty of other titles that I’m sure you’ll agree are rather wonderful.

From least to greatest:

10. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild.  I ask you:  in this day and age, where else can you find a book about a girl who performs in a ballet of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by night and is an budding mechanic and aviatrix by day?  Nowhere, that’s what.  And it’s precisely because of Petrova Fossil that this book has maintained its high levels of awesome over the years.

9. Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster.  Long before today’s batch of “novels with cartoons,” the world was blessed with the ficticious illustrated letters of Judy Abbot’s adventures at college, circa 1912.  Part of this novel’s lasting charm is its revelation that, in some ways, college students haven’t changed that much over the years.  For example: Judy and her friends stay up late in the dorms debating over whether or not it would be possible to swim through a pool filled with lemon-flavored Jell-O.  Add pizza and and a Che Guevara poster to that scene, and you see what I mean.

8. The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie PopeIt’s the Tam Lin legend imagined as a gothic suspense tale set in Elizabethan England, complete with a secret underground cult, a Fairy Queen, and toxic super-freakouts.  Oh, and Christopher Heron, one of the most swoon-worthy fictional lads this side of Shakespeare.

7. Cheaper by the Dozen by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth CareyYes, it has its problematic chapters that have not aged well, but the trials and travails of the Gilbreths, their twelve children, and their glorious, glorious efficiency-expert childrearing methods still makes this one of the funniest children’s books ever written.  Oh, and did I mention that I myself am the oldest of five children?  It’s nice to have Ernestine to relate to when you discover that your little brother has put peanut butter in your hairbrush again.

6. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  Porridge and rope skipping and fountains of roses and a wild boy from the moor who can practically talk to animals!  It’s frequently touted as the “most satisfying” children’s book ever written, and you have to respect any novel that takes a traditional gothic setting (waifish orphan in deep dark mansion with mysterious wails) and morphs it into a heartwarming family story.  It’s had scads of imitators ever since, and no surprise.

5. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  I’d like to know how many kids developed a full-fledged love of wordplay from this book.  There’s something that makes you feel so smart and clever when reading about jumping to Confusions, literally eating your own words, and sparring wits with the Spelling Bee and Canby.  And you gotta love the Watchdog.

4. The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley.  Is it children’s lit. or YA?  Folks, it’s a Newbery winner.  A Newbery winner in which the heroine kills a dragon by driving her sword into its eye until she’s up to her armpit in brains.  ‘Nuff said.

3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg.  Ahh, yes.  The book that has warped the way I view museums forevermore.  Now when I look at rare antique furniture, I think “would that be a good place to sleep?” and fountains are often eyed as potential sources of income.  Bathrooms?  Completely and thoroughly judged for their ability to hide me from security staff.  Look at what you’ve done, Ms. Konigsburg.  Look and despair.

2. The 13 Clocks by James Thurber.  Back off, Princess Bride.  This here’s probably the original “fractured fairy tale.”   The story includes an evil Duke who sports both a glass eye, an eye patch, and a sword cane; man-eating geese; a prince-disguised-as-a-minstrel (or is it the other way ’round?); the magic roses of Princess Saralinda; and the lovable Golux with his “indescribable hat.”  Add to that a heaping helping of classic Thurberean asides (“I sent eleven guards to kill the prince.”  “But the prince is as strong as ten men.”  “So that means there will be one left to finish him off!”) and you can easily see why Neil Gaiman has declared it to be “probably the best book in the world.”

1. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery.  Pretty much the gold standard for historical fiction with a dreamy-eyed, book-loving firebrand of a protagonist whose imagination gets her up to no good.  You can’t throw a rock into a library without hitting a host of Anne wannabes.  And it’s also possible that you can’t throw a rock into a children’s literature conference without hitting a passel of ladies who ARE Anne Shirley.  It’s not just a book, it’s a lifestyle.  Plus, I have to respect any character with a compulsive drive to emphasize the silent e at the end of her name.  (Did I mention my name was Brooke-with-an-e?)