Scholastic has recently compiled a list of 100 Greatest Books for Kids, published in the latest issue of Parent and Child Magazine. Any list that publishes E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (a book for ages 8+) and Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon (a book for ages 0 to 2) side by side in Positions #1 and #2; Brown’s other classic, the Runaway Bunny beside the latest phenom, Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games; and includes Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree at all (trust me, that book deserves its own post…forthcoming) and that sure-to-become-a-classic, Dav Pilkey’s The Adventures of Captain Underpants certainly inspires the critic in me.
Let me begin by saying that I applaud the effort to compile such a list. Anything that supports and raises awareness around children’s literacy is certainly something that has value. It is inevitable that compiling a list such as this will stir up controversy – – ok well, let’s call it debate. There are bound to be books included in the list that raise eyebrows (let’s say my eyebrows are getting a bit of a workout!); and, there are books that I’m sure others would say should have been included, but were excluded from the list.
There are some things that were really well done. Visually, the list is presented as non-distinct book covers in groups of ten on a series of bookshelves. Further, the books are color coded to represent age categories: 0-3, 4-7, 8-10, 11+. There are also categories for fiction and non-fiction as well as award-winners and what they refer to as “Superlative” choices (i.e., books that “wowed” them). When you select a category, the books in that category stay opaque, while the other books become transparent so that you can see where they sit on the shelves (i.e., in what position in the list). Very eye-catching and visually pleasing display!
I also applaud Scholastic’s efforts to include a diversity of books with regards to the age, gender, and ethnicity of the reader, authorship, fiction/non-fiction, genre, and format. The result, in Scholastic’s own words, is as follows:
In the end, we came up with a diverse range of timeless titles, classic and new, that children of all ages will learn from, grow through, and enjoy.
I couldn’t agree more – this list is a strange, hodge-podge collection of titles. In my opinion, some of the books on the list definitely belong there – no argument there!
Now, I must unleash the critic. First, I object to the title of this list…yes, that’s right…THE TITLE. I think Scholastic fundamentally erred by attempting to compile a list of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids. I think it would have been more appropriate to name the list something along the lines of “100 Must-Read Children’s Books” or “100 of Our Favorite Children’s Books”. The term “Greatest” implies some kind of literary merit coupled with the potential for becoming a “classic”. I simply refuse to accept that a book with “Captain Underpants” in its title has extraordinary literary merit or timelessness for that matter.
The researcher in me immediately wants to know the science behind the compilation of the list. First, let us consider the panel of experts who made the final decisions. The contributors/judges consist of 5 Reading, Writing, and Book Experts who clearly have the experience, expertise, and qualifications necessary to evaluate the quality of a children’s book. Ok, no problem there.
Next up are the 2 “Scholastic Experts”, one who is Scholastic’s Chief Academic Officer and the second who is Editorial Director of Scholastic’s Classroom & Community Group. Ok, so anyone who knows me well, will know that I actually WILL go and count how many of the books included in the list were published by Scholastic. That would be 15. If one was to ignore the fact that Scholastic has the most books in the list, it still seems like a reasonable overall percentage. It’s their list – if they want to promote some of their own books, then who can blame them? Honestly, I was surprised it was so low. So what if I haven’t heard of some of these Scholastic books – “Living Sunlight”, “Rules”, “Grumpy Bird” (is that anything like an Angry Bird?), and of course, some I have heard of…ready for it…”The Adventures of Captain Underpants”. Aha!!
Rounding out the panel are the three Parent Bloggers (ok, actually, they are MOMMY bloggers) who represent the “average” Mom reading children’s books to their own kids. I think it’s a great idea to include that voice, although including at least 1 Dad might have been a better idea. Maybe then someone would have thought to include The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.
So, aside from the self-promotion, to what extent does the list fall prey to “trending”. That is, will books that are popular today (e.g., “The Hunger Games”…another Scholastic publication) withstand the true test of time? Will they become classics? Will they become required reading in schools? Will they make a 100 Greatest Books for Kids in 5, 10, 15, 25 years from now? And, let’s ask the question that’s on all of our minds, Will the movie version outshine the book?
Ok, I’m going to cut the list-makers some slack now. Perhaps their true intent was not really to compile a list of the top 100 greatest children’s books of all time. Here’s a clue from Scholastic’s website:
We used a variety of criteria to narrow down to 100 and then rank our titles, including diversity of genre, topic, format, ages and stages, authorship, and cultural representation. Factors such as literary and/or illustration excellence, popularity, and longevity or innovative freshness were all qualities of books in the final round…In the end, we came up with a diverse range of timeless titles, classic and new, that children of all ages will learn from, grow through, and enjoy.
Just as I suspected…MY criteria for a greatest children’s book that withstands the test of time and has considerable literary merit doesn’t really coincide with THEIR use of popularity and innovative freshness as criteria! I think I’m beginning to understand why we are not necessarily agreeing on some of the books in the list.
That being said…here are some of the books (in my most humble opinion) that maybe, just maybe I would have included:
Napping House or Silly Sally (Audrey Wood)
Peepo or any other Allan and Janet Ahlberg book
Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell)
Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn (Mark Twain)
Love You Forever or ANY (Robert Munsch)
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Oh dear…I’d better stop here or I will go on and on and on…
Here is another fun fact – 46 of the 100 books on the list were written in the year 2000 or later. This could mean one of two things: 1. Children’s literature just gets better and better through the generations; or, 2. Someone thinks they can sell more copies of “Ivy and Bean”, “Captain Underpants”, “The Hunger Games”, and “The Lightning Thief” than “Tom Sawyer”, “Little Women”, and “Oliver Twist” – and I believe they would be correct! Well, on the brighter side, I believe I’ve answered my question about “trending”!
It’s time to fess up: Out of the 100 books in the list, I have read (as a child or to my children and ok, ok, let’s say I’ve seen a motion picture version just for fun) approximately 28 of these books. That being said, I’ve read 9 out of the top 10 (I don’t believe I’ve read The Snowy Day – I can’t say for sure). Let’s face it – I have really only read children’s books when I was either a child myself or when I had children (like now!). Who knows what was being written in between that time!? Maybe there are some real nuggets on this list that I missed out on just because I was in the wrong demographic at the wrong time.
So, what children’s books do you think should have been included in this list? What children’s books deserve the proverbial boot? Please share your thoughts in the comment box below.