Saturday, August 10, 2013

Best Childrens' Books Ever? You Decide

The Times recently published an article in which a distinguished panel of literary figures compiled a list of fifty books they believe every child should read.  It’s not the only such list out there – the Independent did one a couple of years and the Telegraph had a bumper Top 100 list five years ago, but, nevertheless, it’s an interesting one.  The article can be found here but I’ve set out the bare list here, omitting the paragraph of commentary on each one.  I’d recommend giving the article a read (although it sits behind a paywall) to see whether you agree with the given reasoning – it’s well worth it.

Although there are many indisputable ‘must-reads’ on the list, there are a number of surprising omissions.  There’s no place for Harry Potter or anything by the wonderful Julia Donaldson.  Jacqueline Wilson, much lauded for her books dealing with difficult issues for children doesn’t make the cut and Michael Morpurgo, Childrens’ Laureate and author of War Horse is similarly missing.  The Famous Five and Secret Seven are absent as are Jim Hawkins and Long John Silver of Treasure Island fame.  I also have a personal grievance that they excluded Susan Cooper’s brilliant The Dark is Rising cycle and would guess that the judging criteria permitted only one book by each author to feature (how else to explain there being only one Roald Dahl entry).  I’m pleased that there was room for older books such as Vice Versa confirming that great literature is timeless, although I suspect that political correctness may have done for Enid Blyton, W.E. Johns' Biggles books and, possibly, Willard Price.

It's also interesting in that it highlights the question of what constitutes 'childrens literature'.  Back in my day, the book world was divided into adult literature and childrens literature but in recent years, books have become more and more categorised - YA, MG, new adult etc.  Yet, there are books on the list like The Diary of Anne Frank which weren't written with a particular audience in mind.  Equally, series like His Dark Materials and The Hunger Games have audiences that reach well beyond the underaged.  A personal example is One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel of life in the Soviet gulag.  Not written specifically for children, we read it at prep school and it was a childhood favourite.  How do books like this fit in to this kind of list?

I suspect it’s cause for celebration that one can rattle off any number of books and authors that could have been on the list without even having to give it much thought.  My love of reading was definitely nurtured as a child by the combination of generous parents who almost never said no to a trip to the library or the bookshop and the ready availability of exciting books to read.  If that was the case in the 1970s, the same must go in spades for today’s children, judging by the number of recent books in the list as well as those mentioned above, most of which weren’t around in my youth.

Mini-Falaise is reading now and clearly loving it – Mrs F and I often turn a blind eye to the sound
of her reading out loud after bedtime and, over the next few years, I hope to facilitate this love.  I’m going to need to strike a balance between steering her towards books I loved and allowing her to explore the vast country of Literature.  I’ve been slowly and piecemeal starting a collection of books for her, including some gorgeous Folio Society editions, but need to slow down to give her the space to find her own way.

In any event, I am so looking forward to her first years of ‘proper’ reading – I hope she loves some of my favourites and that we discover some great new books together.  The Times list and mini-Falaise have inspired me to make my own list – I’ll be posting it in sections over the next few posts – please do stop by and let me know how you think it stacks up to the Times and to your own favourite childhood reads.

The Times 50 Books Every Child Should Read

1.  The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien
2.  The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
3.  The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
4.  His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
5.  Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
6.  A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin
7.  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis
8.  The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
9.  The Iron Man by Ted Hughes
10.  The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner
11.  Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
12.  Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
13.  The Sea of Trolls by Nancy Farmer
14.  Just William by Richmal Crompton
15.  Matilda by Roald Dahl
16.  The Midnight Folk by John Masefield
17.  The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
18.  Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg
19.  Winnie-the-Pooh by A. A. Milne
20.  Stories for Children by Oscar Wilde
21.  Hellbent by Anthony McGowan
22.  The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban
23.  Five Children and It by E. Nesbit
24.  The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
25.  The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr
26.  The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
27.  The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff
28.  The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
29.  The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
30.  The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
31.  The Cat in the Hat by Dr Seuss
32.  How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff
33.  The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken
34.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
35.  The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
36.  One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson
37.  The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
38.  The Man Whose Mother Was a Pirate by Margaret Mahy
39.  Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
40.  How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
41.  Coram Boy by Jamila Gavin
42.  The Borrowers by Mary Norton
43.  The Snow-walker’s Son by Catherine Fisher
44.  Holes by Louis Sachar
45.  Goodnight Mister Tom by Michelle Magorian
46.  Kit’s Wilderness by David Almond
47.  Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver
48.  Vice Versa by F. Anstey
49.  The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

50.  Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd


Anonymous said...

I saw this list. It's a shame in a way that they mix young childrens picture books (viz Hairy Maclary - I preferred Slinky Malinki, but loved both) etc in with the chapter books. In the books for older children, there was little unexpected, and not many of the many gems from recent years. Indeed there was little for YA upwards, not that I'm a particular fan of age-banding on childrens books. However, I can't see my own daughter (shortly to turn 13) reading many of them voluntarily, although I have many on the shelf waiting - although she did devour Dahl some yrs ago. There are some great books there though, so I hope Mini-Falaise finds some good ones to read.

Falaise said...

I completely agree. I think it dilutes the overall list quite a bit. I'm not particularly up to speed on recently published books for children (other than the obvious ones) but it did give some food for thought and bring back some memories!