Top 100 Children’s Novels (#85-81)
Sometimes I’d feel like a matchmaker while making this list. Folks would include the same books on their Top 10 lists, but in a slightly different order from one another. They were children’s literary book soulmates, if you will. There was no predicting it either. I’ll have to check and see if anyone had a list that included the Top Ten books as their own Top Ten. Maybe they should get a prize of some sort.
Anywho, on we go . . .
The best Little House book, simply because it introduces Nelly Oleson. A close second would be Farmer Boy, simply for the food. – Jennifer Hubert Swan, Little Red School House, New York, NY
I happen to be with Jennifer on the food there. And so, Ms. Wilder takes her first step onto the Top 100 list.
The publisher’s description of the plot reads: "The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as they leave their little house on the prairie and travel in their covered wagon to Minnesota. Here they settle in a little house made of sod beside the banks of beautiful Plum Creek. Soon Pa builds a wonderful new little house with real glass windows and a hinged door. Laura and her sister Mary go to school, help with the chores, and fish in the creek. At night everyone listens to the merry music of Pa’s fiddle. Misfortunes come in the form of a grasshopper plague and a terrible blizzard, but the pioneer family works hard together to overcome these troubles."
Of course the stories were based on Ms. Ingalls own past, so there are plenty of places to visit in conjunction with the books, if you’ve a yen to do so. For example, the dugout home featured in this book is still well remembered. The Historical Marker Database has a sign on the site itself in Walnut Grove, Minnesota that reads, "The Charles Ingalls Family’s dugout home was located here in the 1870’s. This depression is all that remains since the roof caved in years ago. The prairie grasses and flowers here grow much as they did in Laura’s time, and the spring still flows nearby." The site itself goes on to explain why it is preserved:
"In 1947 Harold and Della Gordon purchased a 172 acre farm in Walnut Grove, MN, unaware of its historical connection. Garth Williams, an illustrator of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, had been following the Ingalls’ trail in courthouse records. He visited the Gordons in November 1947 and informed them that their new farm had been homesteaded by the Ingalls. The unusual depression in the bank of Plum Creek was the location of the Ingalls dugout. The Gordon family continues to maintain access to the dugout site for Laura’s fans. Visitors can still identify the plum thickets, table lands, big rock, spring, and other sites that Laura describes in ‘On the Banks of Plum Creek’. The Gordons have left the dugout site as they found it in 1947. The deep depression is all that remains of Laura’s dugout home. None of the buildings that Pa built remain nor is their exact location known. About 25 acres of native grasses have been planted surrounding the dugout site since 1999 to enhance the visitor’s experience." You can find the website for the place here. There is also a museum that hosts (I love this) a Laura-Nellie Look Alike Contest.
An article in Twentieth-Century American Western Writers (Third Series) by Alison M. Wilson on Ms. Ingalls also considers the truth behind the stories in this book:
"On the Banks of Plum Creek (1937) carries on the saga of the Ingalls family, but again, not precisely as it happened. Wilder depicts the family’s arrival at Plum Creek, using Jack, the dog, to introduce the new setting. ‘All day long for many, many days, Jack had been trotting under the wagon. He had trotted all the way from the little log house in Indian Territory, across Kansas, across Missouri, across Iowa, and a long way into Minnesota.; In reality, the Ingalls family found their way from Wisconsin to Plum Creek, near the town of Walnut Grove, Minnesota, after their second stay in the Big Woods. But what happens to them in On the Banks of Plum Creek is based on real events . . . As in Wilder’s previous books, most of the characters in the story are based on real people. The Nelson family were prominent Walnut Grove citizens who stayed on in the town and prospered after the Ingalls family had moved on. ‘Brother Alden,’ the kindly minister who called Laura and Mary ‘his little country girls,’ was the Reverend E. H. Alden, a traveling missionary preacher who helped to establish the Congregational Church in Walnut Grove and who was present at the dedication of the church building on 20 December 1874. The church bell for which Pa helped to raise money was saved when the old church building was demolished in the 1950s and now rings in the bell tower of the English Lutheran Church in Walnut Grove; the tiny jewel box Laura received that day is now on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Home and Museum in Mansfield, Missouri."
The book won a Newbery Honor in 1938 (and four more of Ingalls’s books won Honors as well: By the Shores of Silver Lake in 1940; The Long Winter in 1941; Little Town on the Prairie in 1942; and These Happy Golden Years in 1944). It lost out to The White Stag by Kate Seredy, a book that has the distinction of being my least favorite Newbery winner. True story.
Of course, one of my favorite Twitter profiles to follow is that of HalfPintIngalls. Her tweets were particularly perfect in terms of this book this past Halloween when she wrote, "It’d be a riot if I dressed up as a grasshopper plague for Hallowe’en, wouldn’t it? Or is that ‘too soon?’ ". This was immediately amended with, "But I’d be, you know, a SEXY grasshopper plague."
- You can read some of the book here.
- Take the Plum Creek Quiz as well.
- By the way, Nellie got to tell her own story in the much later sequel Nellie Oleson Meets Laura Ingalls, which basically retells this book from Nellie’s perspective. I just like how the description of the book makes Nellie a "prairie foe".
Were you surprised by the old cover of On the Banks of Plum Creek included at the start of this post? Then you may be even more surprised by the range of covers this book has sported:
I loved all of Elizabeth Goudge’s books, and this one is especially magical. – Jenny Schwartzberg
I discovered this one as an adult and was blown away by Goudge’s flowery description and absolutely lovable characters. I recently re-read it to see if it would hold up (after 10 years as a librarian) and it sure did. – Maggi Idzikowski, Media Specialist, Allen Elementary School, Ann Arbor MI
A unicorn book on the Top 100? Really, there’s only one book that could be. And no. It is not The Last Unicorn.
In a 2002 Horn Book Terry Schmitz said that the plot, "involves the return of young orphan Maria Merry-weather to her ancestral home Moonacre Manor in an enchanted village in the English West Country. There she discovers that it is her destiny to become the next Moon Princess who will repair the rift that has plagued the family for centuries and brought discord and danger to the valley."
The Little White Horse enjoyed a kind of revival when Joanne Rowling happened to mention that it was one of her favorite books growing up. This inevitably led to a brief resurgence in the book’s sales, and the obligatory movie adaptation. Oh, you never heard of the movie adaptation? That’s probably partly because they changed the name from The Little White Horse to The Secret of Moonacre. And you were probably better off not knowing that fact.
Another fan of the book? Oprah Winfrey. She said of it, "Goudge was the only one whose influence I was conscious of. She always described exactly what the children were eating, and I really liked knowing what they had in their sandwiches." So there you have it girls. Read this book young and you’ll become one of the most powerful women in the world.
The book was actually the winner of the 1947 Carnegie Medal. In spite of that, John Gough in Twentieth-Century Romance & Historical Writers says that it was her book Green Dolphin Country that turned out to be "her only bestseller". As for her writing Gough says, "Her novels, historical or modern, are always about two worlds—our own everyday world, as it once was, intensely realized, full of the brutal and tender facts of reality, as well as being about another world, of poetry, music, faith, or a child’s vision. Her lasting achievement is to present these two worlds so that they are convincingly part of each other, two aspects of one larger, richer world that transforms and transcends what we take for granted as ‘ordinary’, limited, flawed, violent, painful, terrifying, awe-full, and beautiful. Her achievement is unique and to be treasured."
I find this particular cover sequence to be fascinating.
And the completely forgotten movie that came of it:
This is the only book that I have ever read from cover to cover in one sitting, thought for a moment, and then opened it up to start reading again immediately. – Ann Carpenter, Youth Services Librarian, Brooks Free Library
What a perfect set-up, what a series, what a thief. – Jess at garish & tweed.
The plot, as described on the author’s own website, reads, "The most powerful advisor to the King of Sounis is the magus. He’s not a wizard, he’s a scholar, an aging solider, not a thief. When he needs something stolen, he pulls a young thief from the King’s prison to do the job for him. Gen is a thief and proud of it. When his bragging lands him behind bars he has one chance to win his freedom– journey to a neighboring kingdom with the magus, find a legendary stone called Hamiathes’s Gift and steal it. Simple really, except for the mountains in between, the temple under water, and the fact that no one has ever gone hunting Hamiathes’s Gift and returned alive. The magus has plans for his King and his country. Gen has plans of his own."
The Thief, as it turns out, was only Turner’s second book. This might surprise some folks who find her writing to be particularly good. Yet her first published title was actually a short story collection called Instead of Three Wishes. And how did she get that published? In an interview with HipWriterMama she said, "I owe it all to Diana Wynne Jones. She recommended my work to Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow." In her entry in Contemporary Authors Online, some note is made of the creation of this book. "Published the year after Instead of Three Wishes, Turner‘s debut novel The Thief was inspired by a vacation she and her husband took to Greece, where they became steeped in the history and landscape of the Mediterranean." Prior to that she’d had a vague idea for a book. "I did have an idea in mind about a group of people traveling together with one severely undervalued member of the party, but I couldn’t start writing until I decided on the setting." With Greece, that little problem was solved.
This is the first in a series too. The next books to follow (so far anyway) were The Queen of Attolia (2000), The King of Attolia (2006), and A Conspiracy of Kings (2010).
The fans are . . . let’s just call them dedicated. I once posted a review of The King of Attolia on my blog and a crew from the Eddis, Attolia, Sounis Livejournal community came on over for a field trip. Had they heard of this poll, I have little doubt that The Thief would have ranked far higher in the votes.
In 1997 Turner‘s second published book and first novel, The Thief, was one of four books to be named Newbery Honor books that year. The ultimate winner? The View From Saturday. Small world. Small list.
By the way, I particularly love this quote from Ms. Turner as well: "All I can say is that endings are very important to me as a reader and so they are important to me as a writer. I really resent stories without endings. I was once very flattered to be lumped in the same category as Frank Stockton, but that’s because of The Griffin and the Minor Cannon. Don’t get me started on "The Lady or the Tiger?"
- You may read some of the book here.
Publishers Weekly said of the book, "In addition to its charismatic hero, this story possesses one of the most valuable treasures of all-a twinkling jewel of a surprise ending."
Said VOYA, "Clever and well-written, The Thief is well deserving of the Newbery Honor it received, and its place on ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults. The narration flows, the characters are well developed and believable, and there is plenty of action and suspense."
School Library Journal thought that, "This book is sure to be a hot item with adventure and fantasy lovers."
Finally, Kirkus said, "This is an uplifting book, a literary journey that enriches both its characters and readers before it is over."
There aren’t many covers, but what they have vary widely:
And if you’d like to see the Japanese edition of this book (as well as the interior art), go here.
Greenwillow recently made a book trailer for it too.
One of the few books in my life I would say was "Important." It had great influence in shaping me… mentally, emotionally, creatively. – Aaron Zenz
Long before J. K. Rowling came on the scene, Lloyd Alexander understood that fantasy is the best vehicle for getting at the heart of life’s enduring questions – what is the right thing to do? how do you get comfortable in your own skin? what is the meaning of friendship, love, and loyalty? – and he did it all with a seamless blend of seriousness and humor. – Connie Rockman, Children’s Literature Consultant, Program Coordinator, Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, Stratford, CT
To the uninitiated, Alexander’s best-known series looks like a rough copy of J.R.R. Tolkien’s. It would be an unfair characterization. For one thing, Alexander had a sense of humor. For another, one of the things I always loved about this series was the hero’s capacity to learn and grow. Cause when you first meet dorky Taran in this book, you have a pretty hard time believing he’s going to turn into the man in The High King later on down the road.
Laura Ingram describes the plot this way: "The first novel of the series, The Book of Three (1964), is named after a legendary magical book which contains between its covers the wisdom of all time. It is the story of the orphan Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper, who is bored with his peaceful life under the care of the farmer Coll and the old magician Dallben. He longs for adventure and the chance to perform heroic deeds and finds them sooner than he expects when the search for the runaway oracular pig, Hen Wen, draws him into a battle between good and evil."
In Lloyd Alexander’s entry in American Writers for Children Since 1960: Fiction, it is said that, "Alexander‘s most important work has been the Prydain cycle, a series of five novels inspired by the Welsh Mabinogion. As originally planned, the novels were to be simple adaptations of these legends, a special interest for Alexander since he encountered them in his research for Time Cat. When he began to dig more deeply into the roots of Welsh mythology, however, the project ‘grew into something much more ambitious.’ He had ‘discovered that place which was, for him, the spiritual expression of something hidden.’ So, Prydain grew into something much more than a thinly disguised ancient Wales; undeniably, it was similar to that land, but reshaped by the addition of contemporary realism, modern values, and a generous dose of humor, as well as the special depth and insight provided by characters who not only act, but think, feel, and struggle with the same kinds of problems that confuse and trouble people in the twentieth century. In addition to human characters, the novels contain magical creatures both good and evil, including members of an ancient line of enchanters, the Sons of Don, who share the Earth with the human race."
It’s funny to note that it wasn’t universally loved from the start, though. A reviewer for the Junior Bookshelf said that "this sample fails to come up to expectations" and that the people in it were so "trivial… that the menace is rendered ineffectual by their reactions." Harsh!
- You can read some of the book here.
- Here a reading group guide (including a pronunciation guide as well).
The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said of it, "A very funny adventure tale set in an imaginary kingdom… The writing is sophisticated."
The covers are out there. A pity I couldn’t find any from other countries (aside from Britain). In general artists have a hard time resisting the magic combination of skull, horns, and cape.
Again, another by my favorite cover artist when I was a kid, Jody Lee. You were awesome, Jody!
This is probably the only one where The Horned King isn’t wearing a shirt, of course.
Some may remember movie The Black Cauldron by Disney, considered widely to be the worst Disney animated film in the history of the genre. The movie was a combination of The Book of Three, The Black Cauldron, and . . . junk. Well, I can’t embed the trailer here (mixed blessing, I know) but if you go to this site you can see it for yourself. It’s very 1985. Fun Fact: The voice of Fflewddur Fflam was done by Nigel Hawthorne.
The first book that I’ve read in ages that I know I’ll read again and again. Simply lovely.– Pam W. Coughlan (MotherReader)
Yes, this is really new, but I do think it has classic written all over it. – Jennifer Rothschild
Too new? Hard to say, really. I will point out that when books win Newbery Honors, as this one just did, they aren’t usually as beloved as Lin’s deft melding of Chinese folktales and her own original storytelling. Newbery Honors do not immediately equate love and they CERTAINLY don’t equate eleven votes as a Top 100 chapter book favorite. There’s something to this story. You can already tell.
Aw, what the heck. I’ll put in the book summary here that I wrote when I reviewed the title. Seems fitting. Poor in the valley of Fruitless Mountain, young Minli and her family earn their daily rice by working and scraping in the fields near their home. Her sole joy comes at night when her father tells her wonderful stories of far away places. One day Minli buys a goldfish to improve her fortunes, but when her mother sees her "foolish" purchase, Minli frees the fish and sets it in the river. Little does she suspect that this single act will give her the impetus to seek her family’s fortune by leaving to find the Old Man of the Moon. Along the way Minli makes friends and outwits foes in her attempt to help not just herself but those she loves and cares about.
It won a Newbery Honor in 2010, beaten only by Rebecca Stead’s Award winning When You Reach Me.
The book is, was, and evermore shall be an Al’s Book Club Pick for December 2009. Al, as in, Al Roker.
Read chapter one here.
It was a winner of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award.
Check out the website for the book, which happens to include everything from event kits to Skype chats.
And, of course, Grace Lin had a magnificent feature in a recent issue of SLJ (the one with the catchy cover).
Booklist gave it a star and said, "Stories, drawn from a rich history of Chinese folktales, weave throughout her narrative, deepening the sense of both the characters and the setting and smoothly furthering the plot. Children will embrace this accessible, timeless story about the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Lin’s own full-color drawings open each chapter."
School Library Journal also gave it a star and said, "The author’s writing is elegant, and her full-color illustrations are stunning. Minli’s determination to help her family, as well as the grief her parents feel at her absence, is compelling and thoroughly human."
Even Kirkus starred it and said, "With her "lively and impulsive spirit," Minli emerges a stalwart female role model who learns the importance of family, friendship and faith during her amazing journey. Richly hued illustrations reinforce the Chinese folk theme."
No other covers, alas. This book is FAR too new. There are some lovely videos, however. Like this book trailer for the title:
Or the appearance of Grace Lin on The Today Show when Al Roker made the book his newest pick:
And here are some inside notes:
Thanks to Matt for giving me the idea for the poll.
Filed under: Top 100 Children's Novels (2010)
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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