SLJ List of Top 100 Children’s Books

This week, I found School Library Journal’s blog that compiled a list of the top 100 children’s books, as suggested by teachers and students.

With as much children’s and young adult literature that I’ve read, I’m surprised to find I’ve only read 43 of the 100. That’s 57 I have left to read! Many of them are classic examples of children’s literature, but there are a few more contemporary ones mixed in (for example, most of the Harry Potters are on the list).

So…as if I need another reading goal, I’ve decided to try for reading at least 20 of these this summer.

[Side note: this will help in my other goal of reading 100 previously unread books this year. As of yesterday, when I finished by 50th previously unread book of the year, I’m halfway through! These 20 will get me closer.]

The 57 books I have to choose from:

5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E. L. Konigsburg

8. The Secret Garden, Francis Hodgson Burnett (which I own and have started several times, though never completed. This should definitely be one of the 20.)

10. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster.

12. The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien (my bookmark is about halfway through…I need to finish…also one of the 20)

16. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh

17. Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

18. Matilda, Roald Dahl

21. Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, Rick Riodan

23. Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder

26. Hatchet, Gary Paulsen

27. A Little Princess, Francis Hodgson Burnett

29. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll (yeah, I know…also one of the 20)

30. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper

31. Half Magic, Edward Eager

32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O’Brien

37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, Mildred Taylor

39. When You Reach Me, Rebecca Stead

40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

42. Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder

45. The Golden Compass, Philip Pullman

47. Bud, Not Buddy, Christopher Paul Curtis

48. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy, Jeanne Birdsall

49. Frindle, Andrew Clements

51. The Saturdays, Elizabeth Enright

52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, Brian Selznick

53. Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame

55. The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson

58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Joan Aiken

59. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke

60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, Avi

62. The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew), Caroline Keene

63. Gone-Away Lake, Elizabeth Enright

65. Ballet Shoes, Noah Streetfield

67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher, Bruce Coville

69. The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart

70. Betsy Tacy, Maud Hart Lovelace

72. My Father’s Dragon, Ruth Stiles Gannett

73. My Side of the Mountain, Jean Craighead George

74. The Borrowers, Mary Norton

76. Out of the Dust, Karen Hesse

77. City of Ember, Jeane DuPrau

78. Johnny Tremain, Esther Forbes

79. All-of-a-Kind Family, Sydney Taylor

80. The Graveyard Book, Neil Gaiman (I’ve heard mixed reviews on this, but I’m still eager to read it. This will probably be one of the 20 as well.)

81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Grace Lin

82. The Book of  Three, Lloyd Alexander

83. The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner

84. Little White Horse, Elizabeth Goudge

85. On the Banks of Plum Creek, Laura Ingalls Wilder

88. The High King, Lloyd Alexander

92. Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine

93. Caddie Woodlawn, C. R. Brink

94. Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome

96. The Witches, Roald Dahl

97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, Kate DiCamillo

98. Children of Green Knowe, L. M. Boston

99. The Indian in the Cupboard, Lynne Reid Banks

Some of these I don’t even recognize, and a lot of others I know as being older books. There aren’t as many recently published on here as I would like, and there are some that I’m shocked were left off (what about The Book Thief or The Devil’s Arithmetic?)

So…my goal is to read at least 20 of these by the end of the summer, though I suspect I could get through a lot more than that. Then, after I’ve read most of the books on this list, I’ll make my own list (of less than 100 probably) of books that I think should absolutely be read and why.

So, readers, now that you’ve made it through this lengthy list, where should I start? What books on this list of ones I haven’t encountered yet do I absolutely need to include in the 20 I’m going to read this summer?

Young Merlin

At Jamboread, the library had tables set up where we could purchase books by the authors who would be speaking that day. I didn’t own any books by Jane Yolen, so I purchased a storybook about lady pirates and The Young Merlin Trilogy, a collection of chapter books that Yolen wrote about the legendary wizard as a young boy.

My copy of the trilogy contains all three in one volume, though they were originally published separately. Each title comes from a falconry term that somehow represents Merlin’s stage in life, so not only did I enjoy a good story that contains bits of Arthurian legend, but I also learned about birds and stuff. 🙂

The first book Passager is about Merlin’s abandonment by his mother, who could no longer afford to care for him (think “Hansel and Gretal”). Merlin–who, at the time, is an unnamed character to the audience–is eight years old, and he lives in the woods for a year, slowing losing his civilized nature. Finally, he spots a falconer training a falcon, spies on them for a few days, and then follows the falconer home (after the falconer left an intentional trail). The falconer–named Robin–adopts the young boy and begins to civilize him and care for him. When Robin takes the boy out to see his hawks, he introduces the boy to the merlin, which is a small falcon that, despite its size, is rarely captured by predators. When the boy hears the word “merlin,” he, of course, recalls his own name, and symbolically becomes part of Robin’s family. The title of this first book is from “passager,” a falcon caught in the wild and trained, but not yet mature.

Warning: spoilers may follow.

The second book Hobby begins with a tragic house fire in which Merlin, now twelve years old, is the only survivor. He sets off with a cow and a horse, the only farm animals to survive, and heads into the woods towards a town, where he plans to sell the animals to buy food. Before he reaches the town, he comes across a set of ruins, where a scary, mean man who calls himself Fowler and his dog Ranger are. Though Fowler captures the young Merlin–who has begun to call himself Hawk–Hawk eventually escapes and arrives at a fair in town. Here he meets Ambrosius, a mage, or magician, and Viviane, a beautiful musician, who are traveling entertainers. (And both are characters that appear in Arthurian legend.) Hawk joins them after Ambrosius realizes that Hawk is a dreamer (and a dream-reader). He uses one of Hawk’s powerful dreams to entertain a certain duke and his lady, though Ambrosius incorrectly explains Hawk’s dream. After Hawk has been with the two entertainers for a few days, they send him back to the fair and escape, fearful of Hawk’s ability to dream and his interpretations of those dreams. It’s becoming evident in the plot that Merlin is very powerful, though he does not realize it. The story is written in such a way that even a young reader (mid- to late-elementary age) will be able to see how Merlin’s dreams are symbolic of the future. In regards to falconry (as I’m sure you’re all eager to learn about birds, too), a “hobby” is “a small, Old World falcon or hawk that has been trained and flown at small birds.”

[By the way, did you know that a falcon is merely a female hawk? And that a male hawk is technically called a “tercel”? I always assumed that falcons and hawks were two separate species. Then again, science was never really my strongest subject.]

The final book in the trilogy is called Merlin. In this book has fled from the town and is on the run again. Now, his power is becoming more evident, as his dreams while sleeping are now joined by dreams while he’s awake. He seems to become part of a pack of wild dogs even while they are chasing him; he swims with trout in a river though he sits on a rock, completely dry. He doesn’t yet understand why he has these experiences, but others older than he are figuring out that he’s quite powerful. One dream fascinated me–Merlin dreams of a bear wearing a golden crown, and though the bear should be frightening, it seems powerful yet gentle. I’m familiar enough with Arthurian legend that I realized this dream symbolized that Merlin was soon to meet the young Arthur (from artus, or bear), whose presence actually made this last book my favorite.

Soon after the dream, a great, bear-like, wild man saves Merlin from a pack of wild dogs. This man, one of the legendary “wild ones” that Merlin has heard about, takes the boy back to the camp. The people he meets are kinda scary; they’re semi-nomads who take in orphans and children otherwise abused or who have run away, and when they realize that the boy is a dreamer, they put Hawk-Hobby (which he is now going by) into a wicker cage and feed him food spiked with a drug intended to create more dreams. A lot happens in this last book, but the most important events are that Hawk-Hobby meets a young boy named Cub, who one day brings him a dead robin. Hawk-Hobby is able to breathe life back into the bird, realizing even more of his magical potential, and when he finally flees the wild people, Cub follows him, adopting him, in a way. When they return to camp, they realize that Hawk-Hobby’s one dream about the wild people has come true, and they have been slaughtered by an army led by Fowler, the bad man from the second book, who has died in the battle as well. The boys are now really and truly on their own, and Merlin takes the job of raising Cub, finally telling Cub what his true name is. Cub is such a wonderful little character, and the epilogue to the last book is an older Arthur reflecting on how Merlin changed his life.

This is a seriously long synopsis for three relatively short books, but they were quite good and I wanted to share. Yolen is a masterful storyteller, which I already knew, but I love how she integrates Arthurian legend and falconry into these stories. The legends of Merlin are so numerous, and each one tells a different side of the story that it’s impossible to know what aspects of the story are true, if such a man named Merlin really did exist. And even if Merlin only exists in our collective memory, I’m so glad that Yolen is adding to the lore.

Child Heroes

Today, CNN had a link to an article on Techland about the best child heroes featured in films. It’s a great list (and I’m so stoked that they included Dumbledore’s Army rather than just Harry himself).

A lot of those heroes, I’ve noticed, originally appeared in works of literature: the DA, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, the Pevensies. So I decided to make a list of my favorite literary heroes who happen to be under the age of 18. I’m putting them in alphabetical order because deciding which one is most important would require too much decision making. 🙂

Anne Shirley: the hero of quite possibly my favorite literature series, Anne of Green Gables saves Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert and the whole town of Avonlea from dissolving into a bored, lonely life.

The Boy: Cormac McCarthy’s unnamed character in The Road. He carries the fire–and the hope for a future.

Jack: the young bard in Nancy Farmer’s The Sea of Trolls. Jack battles ogres and Vikings and all sorts of fierce, mythical or historical figures in order to get himself and his sister Lucy back home.

Jonas: the Receiver of Memories in Lois Lowry’s The Giver. He lets the memories escape and reveals the true essence of humanity to a people who have only known conformity.

Leisel Meminger: the protagonist of The Book Thief; she holds onto hope throughout all of WWII that peace is coming and that knowledge and a future are worth fighting for.

Lucy Pevensie: sure, the Pevensies were all mentioned in Techland’s list, and they’re all worth of hero titles. But without Lucy, the Pevensies never would have found Narnia, much less become kings and queens.

Meg Murry: her love is the secret for moving through that wrinkle in time and getting her father, Cal, Charles Wallace, and herself back home.

Stargirl: the hero of two Jerry Spinelli books. Stargirl is unique (and even strange) in a town full of average high school students. But she enchants them, and falls in love with one of them, and changes their lives, even though they reject her in the end.

Todd & Viola: the protagonists of Patrick Ness’ brilliant Chaos Walking trilogy (of which only the first two books, The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, have been released). These two thirteen-year-olds fight an army of truly evil men who not only physically control every town they conquer, but who also control the thoughts of every person they rule. I’ll find out in September, when the final book Monsters of Men is released, how Todd and Viola’s story ends.

Winnie Foster: from Natalie Babbitt’s beautiful novel Tuck Everlasting. She doesn’t drink the water.

This is in no way a complete list. These are just the first ten who came to mind, and you should know by now that I do like my lists in groups of five or ten. 🙂