Top 100 Children’s Novels (#60-56)
Dan Blank the Director of Content Strategy & Development for Reed Business Information did just the loveliest little recap of me doing this poll over at his own blog. In the course of the piece he mentions some stats on the post I did where I mentioned books #100-91. He says that it contained, "Nearly 8,000 words, 51 images, 11 videos, 60 links, 69 comments, and 15 ReTweets on Twitter." Zow. Well, thanks so much for featuring me, Dan!
This is by far the best of Avi’s books. Non-stop adventure and a girl protagonist. Who could ask for anything more? – Martha Sherod, LAPL
I want to be a stowaway in Avi’s brain. – Katherine Harrison, Editorial Assistant, Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
I run a bookgroup for kids between the ages of 9 and (now) 14 out of my library. One day one of my best readers came up to me, clutching a copy of The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle in her hot little hand. "We HAVE to read this!" she insisted. "It is so good!" I didn’t have the heart to tell her that I hadn’t actually read it myself at the time. But I took her at her word and brought it up with the rest of the group. Charlotte Doyle is part award winner, part crowd pleaser, and altogether enjoyable. I tell you, man. Those Charlotte fans. They’re insatiable.
Publishers Weekly describes the book in this way: "Told in the form of a recollection, these ‘confessions’ cover 13-year-old Charlotte’s eventful 1832 transatlantic crossing. She begins her trip a prim schoolgirl returning home to her American family from England. From the start, there is something wrong with the Seahawk : the families that were to serve as Charlotte’s chaperones do not arrive, and the unsavory crew warns her not to make the trip. When the crew rebels, Charlotte first sides with the civilized Captain Jaggerty, but before long she realizes that he is a sadist and–the only female aboard–she joins the crew as a seaman. Charlotte is charged with murder and sentenced to be hanged before the trip is over, but ends up in command of the Seahawk by the time it reaches its destination. Charlotte’s repressive Puritanical family refuses to believe her tale, and the girl returns to the sea."
Now according to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, "Avi first entered the realm of children’s books as a character. His fourth-grade class was portrayed in Bette Bao Lord’s book In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, and Avi made his debut as Irvie, the silent member of the group." An auspicious beginning to say the least.
In terms of this particular book, Silvey says, "Avi had been working on another book, The Man Who Was Poe, when he began thinking about The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. At first he thought he would write a mystery, entitled ‘The Seahawk,’ set on the high seas. But as he wrote, he cared more and more about Charlotte – and ultimately decided that it should become her book." On his website Avi also explains that, "As for the title, when I thought of it, I assumed it would not work because there must be a million books with a similar title. But when I checked, to my amazement, there was not one. Happy to grab it."
For a moment there, it was thought that Danny DeVito would direct the cinematic version of this book. Indeed, they’d already cast Pierce Brosnan and Saoirse Ronan. In June of 2009, however, the Sunday Mirror reported that, "the movie’s writer and director Danny DeVito is being sued by New York businessman Michael Caridi who claims he helped raise the funds for the project. The lawsuit could delay production of the picture, which is being made by Brosnan’s company Irish DreamTime and DeVito’s Jersey Films." Due to the fact that we haven’t heard any updates on the movie since this article came out, "delayed" is probably the least of it.
The book won the sole Newbery Honor of 1991. What beat it? Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. Good year, that.
- Read some of the book here.
Kirkus gave the opinion (in a starred review, no less) that the book was, "tautly plotted, vividly narrated, carefully researched: a thrilling tale deepened by its sober look at attitudes that may have been more exaggerated in the past but that still persist."
Publishers Weekly said of it, "Charlotte’s story is a gem of nautical adventure, and Avi’s control of tone calls to mind William Golding’s 1980s trilogy of historical novels of the sea. Never wavering from its 19th century setting, the novel offers suspense and entertainment modern-day readers will enjoy."
Said School Library Journal, "Awash with shipboard activity, intense feelings, and a keen sense of time and place, the story is a throwback to good old-fashioned adventure yarns on the high seas."
Five Owls thought it was, "expertly crafted and consistently involving, it is sure to excite, enthrall, and challenge readers."
Beautiful book. I love the chapter headings. – Sian Marshall
She was called "the German J.K. Rowling" at the start of her career. I’m sure that if her books were to first appear today they’d call her "the German Stephenie Meyer" as well. Cornelia Funke is a beloved name to a lot of kids out there right now and like Rowling her big and thick books don’t turn off potential readers. They challenge them. Inkheart was the first in a trilogy and probably remains her best known work at this moment in time.
The plot according to School Library Journal reads, "Meggie, 12, has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. Things change after a visit from a scarred man who calls himself Dustfinger and who refers to Mo as Silvertongue. Meggie learns that her father has been keeping secrets. He can ‘read’ characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released Dustfinger and other characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the story. Mo also released Capricorn, a sadistic villain who takes great pleasure in murdering people. He has sent his black-coated henchmen to track down Mo and intends to force him to read an immortal monster out of the story to get rid of his enemies. Meggie, Mo, Dustfinger, and Meggie’s great-aunt Elinor are pursued, repeatedly captured, but manage to escape from Capricorn’s henchmen as they attempt to find the author of Inkheart in the hope that he can write a new ending to the story."
On her website Ms. Funke talks a little about the various inspirations for this book: "I have dreamed for a long time of writing a story in which characters from a book come into our world. Which book addict doesn’t know the feeling that the characters in a book can seem more real than the people around us? . . . And there was something else that made me write Inkheart. It was an image I saw again and again – the image of a girl kneeling on her bed and looking out of a window wet with rain. She sees someone standing outside and she doesn’t know who it is. I kept seeing this image quite clearly, almost like seeing a movie poster. All I had to do was find the story behind this image. And writing down the story was great fun, for I got to read lots of books full of the strangest stories about book collectors, book maniacs, books thieves, book murderers, book addicts and book maniacs."
Ms. Funke is not afraid to say where the inspiration for one character or another springs. In an interview appearing in the Fall 2004 ALAN Review, Ms. Funke discussed where some of the characters in this book came from. "Mostly my characters step into my writing room and are so much alive, that I ask myself, where did they come from? Of course, some of them are the result of hard thinking, adding characteristics, manners etc., but others are alive from the first moment they appear. When I wrote Inkheart, this happened with Dustfinger. He told me his name, and he was so real that after a while I had the feeling that he was standing behind me whispering his story into my ear. As for Mo (also from Inkheart), from the first page I wrote of Inkheart, he looked and talked like an actor I knew. (By now, probably everybody knows that Mo is Brendan Fraser.)
- You can read a selection from the book here.
Library Media Connection said, "There is adventure, suspense, anxiety, hope, love, and strong family bonds that all strengthen this adventure about the love of reading books. Highly Recommended."
The Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy concurred with, "As with The Thief Lord, Inkheart will definitely catch the attention and admiration of most readers as it is, overall, a delightful read."
Said Horn Book, "Thanks to Harry P., kids may not be scared off by this volume’s heft, though they may wish the pacing wasn’t quite so leisurely–even the novel’s many chases and hostage-takings are related in a deliberate fashion. But bibliophiles will delight in a story that celebrates books (each chapter begins with a literary passage ranging from Shakespeare to Sendak), and the conclusion is especially satisfying."
The New York Times said it was, "Beguiling…the story seems to have been sprinkled with some magical fairy dust."
The ALAN Review thought that, "Filled with twists and turns, ups and downs, this fantasy will leave you moved, especially at the reunion of three people separated for many years. Most likely in the end you will feel as Meggie and her Aunt Elinor did, that books are better left under their covers and not meant to come alive.
Said School Library Journal, "This ‘story within a story’ will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters."
Even Kirkus conceded, "It is hard to avoid preciosity in books about books, but here Funke pulls off the feat with vigor . . . Funke takes her time with her tale, investing her situations with palpable menace and limning her characters with acute sensitivity."
And in Germany it looks a little something like this:
There was a movie made of it too. Didn’t blow people away, but it also wasn’t universally panned. Some folks are quite keen on it.
The book responsible for defining my gothic sensibilities. – Priscilla Cordero, Ocean County Library, Toms River, NJ
Because Miss Slighcarp is the best villainess of all time. – Laurie Amster-Burton (Six Boxes of Books)
"childhood almost entirely shapes one’s outlook later; that we can never escape from our early conditioning." – Joan Aiken
As a child I avoided The Wolves of Willoughby Chase for precisely the wrong reasons. Laughable reasons even. When I was young, girls were constantly falling for animal books. Cutesy dolphins. Adorable horses. And sweet little wolves. Me? I avoided such books like the plague. Ridiculously so, to the point where I looked at the image of the slathering Edward Gorey hellhounds on the cover of this book and honestly thought to myself "wolves = girly = bad." I never said I was a bright child. Clearly I would have adored this book back in the day. One can only hope that there are brighter boys and girls out there willing to give a dark little title like this one a fair shake.
The plot according to AllReaders.com reads, "Soon after orphan Sylvia comes to live with her wealthy relatives, her aunt and uncle leave on an extended trip, leaving Sylvia and her spirited cousin Bonnie in the care of their governess, Miss Slighcarp. Bonnie’s parents are reported dead in a shipwreck, and Miss Slighcarp turns on her young charges, firing the household staff and sending the cousins away to an orphanage. Together, Bonnie and Sylvia must escape and try to reclaim their home."
In a profile of Ms. Aiken from a November 1989 edition of Language Arts, it says that "Working at Argosy magazine for six years to support her family, Aiken learned the practicalities of professional writing. She then moved to the J. Walter Thompson London office and was a copywriter for a year when success with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase finally encouraged her to try full-time writing and she succeeded in making the transition."
In the publication British Children’s Authors, Joan Aiken goes into a little more detail. "The first two chapters of Willoughby Chase were written when both my children were tiny, and then the book had to be put aside for almost ten years. By this time the children were much bigger, and I read the chapters aloud to them as I wrote. They made a lot of very useful comments and criticisms as we went along."
She also makes no bones about her primary influence. "I think I got the idea for writing melodrama for boys and girls because when I was young, I had a great deal of Dickens read aloud to me. Of course, he is the prime example of this kind of melodrama. I think this had a very strong influence on my writing. The historical period of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase and the others is imaginary, although the trappings are all fairly genuine English nineteenth-century ones. This again, I think, was heavily influenced by Dickens. . . . The names of my characters have a strong connection with Dickens. Miss Slighcarp and Mr. Gripe, for example–this is the kind of name Dickens uses a great deal. A lot of my names, in fact, I tend to think of in dreams. I just leave the business to my subconscious, and it produces some fine names." One wonders if J.K. Rowling works similarly.
In a way, this was the first book in a series too. As Ms. Aiken herself said, "When I planned Willoughby Chase I hadn’t thought at all of following it up with the other books. But when I finished it, I’d enjoyed it so much and my publisher seemed to enjoy it, that it seemed the natural thing to go on and write a sequel." The books in general take place in an alternate history of Britain where James II never got deposed. Strangely, the series never seemed to ever acquire an official name. Some refer to it as the "Wolves Chronicles" but that title never really stuck. Maybe that’s why the books are not particularly well known here in America. We’ve a penchant for catchy monikers (see: A previous post on how we renamed Noel Streatfeild’s series the "shoe" books).
The subsequent books in the "Wolves" series include (and this is in narrative rather than publication order): Black Hearts in Battersea (1964), Nightbirds on Nantucket (1966), The Whispering Mountain (1968), The Stolen Lake (1981), Dangerous Games (1999), The Cuckoo Tree (1971), Dido and Pa (1986), Is Underground (1992), Cold Shoulder Road (1995), Midwinter Nightingale (2003), and The Witch of Clatteringshaws (2005).
The Fine Lines column in Jezebel took a long hard look at this book, and I am grateful. As Laura Lippman writes in it, ". . . if I could set up a system controlling for all my favorite things in books:
Orphans, real or de facto
Nature Boys, a la Dickon
Specialized Schools — a boarding school, a school for the performing arts, an orphanage or — the dream that I have yet to find — an orphanage devoted to the performing arts."
School Library Journal said of it, "It’s a funny book. The language is so fantastically right."
Said Time, "A masterpiece…a copybook lesson in those virtues that a classic children’s book must possess."
For cover artists the idea of evil wolves is hard to pass up.
I started watching the trailer for the 1989 movie of this book with a smirk upon my face. But as it goes on, it gets quite exciting. It runs the risk of giving away the entire story, but all in all this appears to be a pretty faithful adaptation of the original book. Here’s the trailer.
Extra Fun Fact: Richard O’Brien, normally known as Riff Raff from Rocky Horror Picture Show, is in this film. That almost makes me want to rent it right there.
Loved this kid; laugh out loud humor, oh-so-true sibling dynamics. – Maria Padian
Another favorite from childhood. I challenge anyone to read Ramona and not fall in love with her. Honestly. – Melissa Fox (Book Nut)
I loved the Ramona books so much as I child and rereading them recently, I was floored at the skill with which Cleary captures being 8 years old. She truly did it best. – Eliza Brown, Assistant Retail Manager, The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
By this point in her career, Ramona Quimby, Age 8 was Beverly Cleary’s twenty-fifth book. On our list, however, she comes in at #57. That means that Cleary has officially shown up on the Top 100 list three times now. Will there be a number four?
The plot, according to the publisher, reads "Ramona Quimby, one of the most loved characters in children’s fiction, has now reached third grade. At school, she acquires a new teacher, Mrs. Whaley, who addresses the class as ‘you guys.’ At home, she helps the family ‘squeak by’ as her father returns to college to become an art teacher. All the Quimbys have their ups and downs, but none feels them more intensely than Ramona. Her low point is undoubtedly reached the day she throws up in class and Mrs. Whaley instructs the children to hold their noses and file into the hall. But three days later Ramona recovers her verve sufficiently to give a book report in the style of a T.V. commercial, bringing down the house with her final ad-lib line of ‘I can’t believe I read the whole thing!’ Writing with humor and compassion, Beverly Cleary continues her chronicle of a child’s growth and lovingly reaffirms the durability of the memorable Quimby family. They may not be nice all the time, but they stick together through good times and bad."
The official New York Times book review of this title was written by fellow children’s literature luminary Natalie Babbitt. In it, Ms. Babbitt makes some pretty brilliant points. "It is a rare thing to be hailed by audience and critics alike. In our field, children do occasionally take up a writer critics have spurned; this was the case, for instance, with L. Frank Baum’s Oz stories. More often, children spurn writers that critics have taken up. But in Mrs. Cleary’s case, everyone seems delighted."
In an interview with Leonard Marcus in his book Funny Business: Conversations With Writers of Comedy, Marcus brings up the moment in Ramona Quimby, Age 8 when a stranger in a restaurant says that the Quimbys look like a "happy family". Cleary replies that "That was a little bit autobiographical." She explains that when her kids were four they were driving Ms. Cleary crazy so everyone went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. "When it was time to go, we found that an elderly gentleman had paid for our dinners because we were ‘such a nice family.’ We tried to be nice after that."
The book was a Newbery Honor winner in 1982. What did it lose to? A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers by Nancy Willard, illustrated by the Provensens. One of the very few books, I should note, to get a Newbery Award and a Caldecott Honor in the same year.
- Read some of the book here.
- Use this literature unit if you like.
- Consider this reading guide.
- Or better yet, take a look at what caused Maud Newton to say, "This ‘Ramona and Beezus’ poster is an abomination against God."
Kirkus said of the book, "Cleary shows us life through Ramona’s eyes and shows her young readers that they are not alone.
I did know that there was a Ramona television show in 1988 when I was young. What I didn’t realize was that it starred Sarah Polley. Sarah Polley, who would go on to star in Avonlea and then create an adult acting career for herself as well. She was once the queen of the children’s literature television adaptation. Who knew?
My elementary students begin showing some concern/interest about the Holocaust and this book has enough information for them about this time period without giving them too much for their age. – Tina (Tina Says)
Best introduction to the Holocaust for this age group. Love the treatment of courage and the seamless weaving of Red Riding Hood into the story. – Brenda Ferber
The plot from the publisher reads, "Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are "relocated," Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life."
In terms of the research for this novel, Ms. Lowry talks a bit about it on the Scholastic site: "I did a lot of research in libraries, about the history of WW II and Denmark’s role in it. But the most important thing I did was to go to Denmark and to talk to people who had actually participated in the rescue of the Jews. It was important, too, to walk around Copenhagen and feel what the city is like (and imagine what it had been like then) and to go up the coast, through the farmland and the fishing villages."
There is a serious debate out there about if and when to teach children about the Holocaust. "Representations of the Holocaust in Children’s Literature" from the Children’s Literature Review puts it this way. "Holocaust children’s literature has always been controversial. Though some feel that the subject matter is inappropriate for young audiences, others argue that children must be educated about such a significant historical event." So periodically we will see children’s books try to tackle this slippery subject. Some fail, others succeed, and one of the most successful was probably Number the Stars.
Good old symbolism. This book is chock full of it, but not so much that it annoys the reader (whether an adult or a child). In the April 1997 edition of Lion and the Unicorn, David L. Russell takes a close look at some of that. "The symbolism of the boots trampling on this human dignity is found in many, if not in most, stories of the Holocaust. In fact, Lowry’s editor felt that there were too many references to the boots and that some should be eliminated, but Lowry rejected the advice, noting that ‘those high shiny boots had trampled on several million childhoods and I was sorry I hadn’t had several million more pages on which to mention that’." And that’s not even getting into the Little Red Riding Hood comparisons Brenda Ferber brought up. It’s one of those elements that you don’t notice at first, but if you look for it . . . oh, it’s there.
In terms of the cover, Ms. Lowry says, "The girl on the jacket of Number the Stars is a Swedish girl named Anna Caterina Johnson. (She prefers being called Ann.) I photographed her when she was 10… She is now married with three children!"
I won a Newbery Award Medal proper in 1990, beating out such titles as Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle, Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples, and The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen.
I’ve seen fan art by professional illustrators on a lot of books, but this image by Ashley Smith surprised me. I would not have though the book a likely candidate for impromptu illustration.
- Read some of it here.
Publishers Weekly said of it, "The whole work is seamless, compelling, and memorable — impossible to put down; difficult to forget."
School Library Journal followed that up with, "Readers are taken to the very heart of Annemarie’s experience, and, through her eyes, come to understand the true meaning of bravery."
Said Booklist, "While the novel has an absorbing plot, its real strength lies in its evocation of deep friendship between two girls and of a caring family who makes a profoundly moral choice…"
Generally speaking, folks don’t muck about with the original photograph. They will tamper with the color, though.
Or just forget the image entirely and replace it with another.
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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