Top 100 Children’s Novels (#30-26)
Once the Top 20 list starts to countdown (and it will be one book per day, folks) I will start soliciting you guys for your guesses as to who might be in the Top 10. Mind you, Eric Carpenter has already come up with his Top 10 and it’s a pretty well thought out list. I’m not going to give it a yea or a nay. I’m just saying, he really knows how to justify the old thought process.
And now, the list!
#30 Winnie-the Pooh by A.A. Milne (1926)
(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#4)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#9) – 121 points
I somewhat irrationally associate this book together with Alice’s Adventures in my mind, but there are some similarities. Though not nearly as old as Alice, it is still almost a century old, and incredibly spry for its age. Plus, it engages in some of the same proto-metafictional tricks as Alice. Mainly though, this book makes my list for its powerful evocation of childhood, and especially for Eeyore’s Birthday Party, just about the most perfect thing ever written, to my mind. – Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA
This is a perfect collection for the entire family. Quietly funny, heartwarming adventures, and silly old bears. Timeless. Classic. – Rebecca Fabian, Children’s Department Manager, Odyssey Bookshop, South Hadley, MA
For bringing the read-alouder in on a whole different level of the joke than the listener. – Matthew Wigdahl
Every child should have the Pooh stories read to him, just for the sound of them. “Gaiety, song and dance, here we are and there we are?” – Sarah Flowers
Comfort reading at its best. – Jenn Bertman (From the Mixed-Up Files)
Well. There he is. Pooh bear. My co-worker. And though he came close to cracking the top 20, it’s at #30 where he remains. That’s okay. Some of you may recall that I work in the Children’s Center at 42nd Street for New York Public Library. My reference desk also sits mere feet away from the original Winnie-the-Pooh toys. Which is to say, the toys owned by Christopher Robin Milne that helped inspire his father A.A. Milne to write the books in the first place. Not too shabby, eh? They are also excellent company. Couldn’t be sweeter.
The plot description from Barnes and Noble (forgive me) reads, "Here’s where Pooh’s adventures all began. Published in 1926, this is the original Winnie-the-Pooh with illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard. Beginning with ‘Winnie-the-Pooh and Some Bees,’ here are ten classic tales featuring the whole gang: Pooh, Piglet, Rabbit, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga, Little Roo, and Christopher Robin. Remember when Pooh visits Rabbit and ‘gets into a tight place’ as he attempts to enter Rabbit’s house? Remember Eeyore’s very eventful birthday party? Piglet’s water-filled rescue? The beloved stories are all here, as A.A. Milne wrote them more than 70 years ago."
The Reference Guide to Children’s Literature describes the creation of the first book in this way: "The first Winnie-the-Pooh story was written in December 1925 in response to a request to Milne from the Evening News to write a story for their Christmas number. Milne was asked as the famous author of the bestselling book of poems When We Were Very Young. He found it difficult to comply with the request. His wife suggested he should write down one of the bedtime stories he told his son—but Milne said they were ‘a completely contemptible mix-up.’ Nameless knights and indistinguishable princesses did the usual sort of things. There was just one story that was a bit different—a story about the child’s own toy bear, who already possessed the odd name of Winnie-the-Pooh, though he would also go under the name, not only of Sanders, but of Edward Bear. (It was as Edward Bear or Teddy that he had made his first appearance in When We Were Very Young.) Milne’s story about the bear and a balloon and some bees duly appeared in the Evening News and eventually became the first chapter of the book."
That’s one story. I rather like Anita Silvey’s mention in 100 Best Books for Children of Mrs. Milne’s hand in the books as well, though. Referring to the original Pooh toys she writes, "Like children everywhere, Christopher made up stories about these animals; his mother joined in, giving each character a distinct voice."
When the books were released there was equal parts loving and loathing. The most infamous critic of the book was, of course, Dorothy Parker. In her review in The New Yorker she was beautifully scathing. Even if you love the Pooh tomes, it’s hard not to be amused by her lines "It is that word ‘hunny,’ my darlings that marks the first place in The House at Pooh Corner at which Tonstant Weader fwowed up." Some forward thinking blogger should someday name their site "Tonstant Weader". Or make it their band name. That would work. I would see that band.
Another person who wasn’t a fan of the books? Christopher Robin himself. In Bruno Bettelheim’s The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, Christopher is quoted as saying that, "If the Pooh books had been like most other books–published one year, forgotten the next–there would have been no problem. Unfortunately the fictional Christopher Robin refused to die and he and his real-life namesake were not always on the best of terms. For the first misfortune (as it sometimes seemed) my father was to blame. The second was my fault." Weirder still? Milne didn’t read the books to his son. Maybe that would have changed Chris’s opinion. But according to Twentieth-Century British Humorists, "Milne never read his stories and poems to his son Christopher, preferring rather to amuse him with the works of P. G. Wodehouse, one of Milne’s favorite authors."
From Contemporary Authors Online, one writer in particular was inspired by the book. "[Bruce Coville] was introduced to the possibilities of writing for children by the woman who would later become his mother-in-law. He remembered that she ‘gave me a copy of Winnie the Pooh to read, and I suddenly knew that what I really wanted to write was children’s books–to give to other children the joy that I got from books when I was young. This is the key to what I write now. I try, with greater or lesser success, to make my stories the kinds of things that I would have enjoyed myself when I was young; to write the books I wanted to read, but never found. My writing works best when I remember the bookish child who adored reading and gear the work toward him. It falters when I forget him’."
In 1976 Alison Lurie provided a rather brilliant explanation in the New York Times as to why Pooh’s world remains as beloved as it is: "One day, Christopher Robin is discovered to be missing from the Forest. He has gone to school for the first time and is learning his alphabet, beginning with the letter A. Eeyore comes across this letter A, arranged on the ground out of three sticks, and walks slowly around it: ‘Clever!’ said Eeyore scornfully…. ‘Education!’ said Eeyore bitterly.’ He is right to be bitter. It is Education that will, by the end of ‘ The House at Pooh Corner,’ have driven Christopher out of his self-created Eden. No wonder many readers weep when they read the last chapter of this book. They know that they too have lost their childhood paradise. That is why, I think, they are so grateful to A. A. Milne, who managed to preserve one such world for generations past and those to come."
The Disneyfication of Pooh has led to him becoming their second highest grossing character for that particular entertainment company (number one being, of course, Mickey Mouse). Many Pooh purists dislike these continual adaptations on the part of Disney so it is interesting to note that in 1966, after the release of the first Disney film, The New York Times raved about it. Honest, they did! Said they, "The Disney technicians responsible for this beguiling miniature have had the wisdom to dip right into the Milne pages. … Using the simple, priceless illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard, and expanding them into soft pastel backgrounds the picture sets Pooh [and] his playmates … frolicking. The flavoring, with some nice tunes stirred in, is exactly right–wistful, sprightly and often hilarious."
Disney is hardly the sole appropriator of Pooh, of course. The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff came out in 1982, and sold better than anyone could have EVER imagined. And in 1999 there was Now We Are Sixty by Christopher Matthew too. Most recently David Benedictus wrote the first official sequel (read: sequel sanctioned by the estate of Pooh) called Return to the Hundred Acre Woods. It’s just proof that while there may be Disney Poohs out there by the millions, much of the time folks like to return to their old friend.
Nothing against Shepard, but I’ve always had a great deal of love for the Russian version of Winnie-the-Pooh. He’s just so roly-poly!
Also "in Scots"
And here’s a touch of Esparanto Pooh.
Speaking of the Russian version of Winnie (or Vinni, rather) you can find many fine samples of his adventures on YouTube these days. These films are from the 70s. Quite frankly, they charm me. Utterly.
Now if you know your history then you know that the name of Winnie-the-Pooh came partly from a famous bear cub in Canada called Winnie (short for Winnipeg). Yup. There’s even a statue of it. And that story has, in turn, become its own movie.
#29 The Dark Is Rising by Susan Cooper (1973)
(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#8)(#9)(#10)(#10) – 123 points
It’s always been the one I remember most vividly from the series, with the ominous landscape, the time slip, the Arthurian legend, the epic struggle between Light and Dark. – Jess (garish & tweed)
Susan Cooper’s atmospheric and original fantasy writing knocked my socks off in the ’70s and continues to do so because this volume, especially, holds up to repeated readings. She imbued her fantasy with a startling sense of history and the interconnectedness of people down through the ages and around the world. Steeped in British history and folklore, she still managed to convey a sense of the connectedness of all humanity. – Connie Rockman, Children’s Literature Consultant, Program Coordinator, Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature, Stratford, CT
It’s hard not to take this series as a whole, but if I had to only read one of them again, it would be this one. I found this one when I was fifteen in a tiny rural library in northern Michigan and recognized it from Julia Ecklar’s filk song of the same name. I fell into immediate love and consumed all five in one week. Since then I’ve read them many times and find new things to love every time. – Maggi Idzikowski, Media Specialist, Allen Elementary School, Ann Arbor MI
WHY? Because it is the fantasy series to which everyone from Christopher Paolini to J.K. Rowling owes a big debt of gratitude–they could not have written their great books if Susan Cooper had not written hers first. You also cannot call yourself a fantasy lover if you haven’t read this. – Walter M. Mayes
Part of what I like so much about this poll are the ways in which the votes fell. There are not many times that Winnie-the-Pooh and The Dark Is Rising are mentioned in the same breath. This is one of the few.
The plot from the publisher reads, "When Will Stanton wakes up on the morning of his birthday, he discovers an unbelievable gift — he is immortal. Bemused and terrified, he finds he is the last of the Old Ones, magical men and women sworn to protect the world from the source of evil, the Dark. At once Will is plunged into a quest to find six magical Signs to aid the powers of the Light. Six medallions — iron, bronze, wood, water, fire, and stone — created and hidden by the Old Ones centuries ago. But the Dark has sent out the Rider: evil cloaked in black, mounted upon a midnight stallion, and on the hunt for this youngest Old One, Will. He must find the six great Signs before the Dark can rise, for an epic battle between good and evil approaches."
Anita Silvey says in 100 Best Books for Children that the story came when Susan Cooper lived in America and "found herself homesick for Britain. So she turned to the folklore, fairy tale, and myth of her childhood, notably Arthurian legend, for the material in The Dark Is Rising. Not only did she recreate the setting, Buckinghamshire, England, where she grew up, from a distance, but the ice and cold that permeate the book emerged while she sat in her bathing suit, with her back to the Caribbean Sea, a small lizard standing on her typewriter."
Now if you’re gonna get technical about it, this isn’t the first book in The Dark Is Rising sequence. Technically that honor belongs to Over Sea, Under Stone. Be that as it may be (and due to the fact that the books are called the Dark Is Rising series and not the Over Sea, Under Stone series) most folks associate this book as numero uno. Twentieth-Century Young Adult Writers says that in terms of Cooper’s writing, "Her first work for children, Over Sea, Under Stone, came as a response to a contest designed to honor the memory of E. Nesbit." There she is again! Half Magic was an ode to E. Nesbit and now, incredibly, so was the first of (of all things) The Dark Is Rising books. Most strange.
In Dreams and Wishes: Essays on Writing for Children Cooper says that she didn’t intend to go back to the kids in Over Sea, Under Stone until five years later when she went on a skiing trip and decided, "to write a book, set for the most part in thick snow like this, about a small boy who woke up one birthday morning and found he was able to work magic." Says British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers Since 1960, "A few years after that, rereading the passage in Over Sea, Under Stone about the Dark and the Light gave her the pattern for the rest of the series."
The original title of this book? The Gift of Grammayre. The publisher didn’t like it, to which we say, smart publisher. Thank you.
In Leonard Marcus’s The Wand in the Word Cooper says that much of this book was inspired by her experiences during WWII. "I think the whole Light and Dark thing in the Dark Is Rising books goes back to my being a child during the war. We thought in terms of ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys.’ We were so soaked in that we didn’t have to be taught to feel that way. It was a kind of prejudice, really, and after the dropping of the atomic bombs by the Americans, I realized that the good guys could do bad things too. And so I think the books try to say that extremism of any sort is bad and that at either end of the spectrum you are in danger of damaging people."
During her college years she attended lectures by C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien so no surprises there. She says of that time, "We were all waiting for the third volume of The Lord of the Rings to come out. The grandeur of the whole concept – the scale of the books – impressed me. Also Tolkien’s strong sense of place. I loved Gollum. And I loved the sense of Frodo as a very small person pitted against this huge might of evil. That certainly must be one of the things behind the patterning of the Dark Is Rising books."
It was a runner-up for both the Newbery and Carnegie Medals. On the Newbery side of the equation it lost out to The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (spoiler alert: Not on this Top 100 list). On the Carnegie Medal side it lost out (if I’m reading this correctly) to Mollie Hunter’s The Stronghold.
A filk song (yup, I thought it was a typo too, but that’s how it’s spelled and I’ve just learned the entire filk history) was, as mentioned by Maggi Idzikowski, created for this book series by Julia Ecklar. She set the rhyming prophecy of the stories to music. You can hear a selection of the cover of it here.
For a good time, read D. Keith Mano’s review of the book in The New York Times Book Review. Critiques don’t begin much better than, "This is a muscular fantasy. Characters bounce through time, transcendental yo-yos. ‘The Dark Is Rising’ houses a mail order gift catalogue of magical equipment: six secret signs that must be collected (circles quartered, looking, I judge, like so many jeweled hot cross buns); rings, doorways without walls, grotesque carnival heads; a Manichean world conflict between the dark and the light. The book will thrill children. It thrilled me—and I presume that speaks more for Susan Cooper’s craft than for my somewhat arrested development."
I remember that when I first heard that they were going to make a movie version of this book I got very excited. That happiness was swiftly crushed by what I’m going to take the liberty to call the-most-disappointing-children’s-novel-to-film-trailer-in-the-history-of-man:
Makes me shiver with disgust just rewatching it. Clearly they learned nothing from the success of the Harry Potter films.
#28 A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett (1905)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#10)(#10)(#10) – 124 points
The perfect Victorian-era fairytale. – Els Kushner
All my favorite genres in one: orphans, historical fiction, school story. – Constance Martin
I read it every year. It’s not just an enchanting story–it’s a survival manual for children who are faced with rejection, humiliation, and loss. – Laura Amy Schlitz
The plot description from the publisher reads, "In Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic tale, Sara Crewe learns that deep down, being a real princess is an attitude of the heart. She is a gifted and well-mannered child, and Captain Crewe, her father, is an extraordinary wealthy man. Miss Minchin, headmistress of Sara’s new boarding school in London, is pleased to treat Sara her star pupil as a pampered little princess. But one day, Sara’s father dies, and her world suddenly collapses around her. However, Sara does not break, and with the help of a monkey, an Indian lascar, and the strange, ailing gentleman next door, she not only survives her sufferings but helps those around her."
There were actually three versions of this story in the end. Says Twentieth-Century Children’s Writers, in the publication St. Nicholas the short story, "Sara Crewe [Or What Happened at Miss Minchin’s?] first appeared in 1887. It was a story drawing on some of her experiences as a child at the Miss Hadfields’ school in Manchester, but was set in London. Like nearly all Burnett’s stories, its theme is the reversal of fortune." Still. It wasn’t quite enough. Burnett would later say, "Between the lines of every story there is another story. … When I wrote Sara Crewe I guessed that a great deal more had happened at Miss Minchin’s than I had time to find out just then." In 1902 Burnett turned the story of Sara Crewe into a play. "The following year, her editor at Scribner’s came up with the suggestion that she write a new, longer version of the book under the play’s title, A Little Princess, incorporating the new material she had introduced in the play. He wanted the book quickly, the play was still running and sales would be splendid. Fortunately at that point Burnett was committed to two other plays. The book was not rushed and was not finally finished until November 1904."
Of course, one has to mention the use of Ram Dass, the Indian servant who brings Sara such magic. As Eileen Connell pointed out in the article "Playing House: Frances Hodgson Burnett’s Victorian Fairy Tale" that "Like other discourses of this period, the story represents India as the locus of the exotic. In doing so, Burnett obscures the reality that the imperialist exploitation of India contributed significantly to the economic expansion in nineteenth-century Great Britain that both produced and upheld the ideology of separate spheres informing British domestic life . . . Instead of representing an Indian who gratefully receives the fruits of English civilization, Burnett constructs an Indian who gives Sara the services and commodities representing his subjugation to a country that robs his own country of its resources."
On the flip side, Mitali Perkins had a loving ode to the book in her Paper Tigers piece Books Can Shape a Child’s Heart. After recounting her own childhood response to Sara’s unselfishness when she was nine, Mitali writes, "I read The Little Princess aloud to our twins when they were nine. We reached the narrative about Sara giving away those fresh-baked pieces of bread, and my voice quavered a bit, but I powered through to the end of the chapter. The room was quiet with that listening stillness easily recognized by every reading parent or teacher. Looking up, I saw the thoughtfulness in the boys’ expressions and the compassion in their eyes. I didn’t comment, and we moved on. But I knew that once again, Burnett’s powerful story had accomplished its heart-shaping work. We were one step closer to our goal of raising children to change the world."
This one has an introduction by E.L. Konigsburg. Wouldn’t mind reading that.
There have been many cinematic versions of the movie over the years. First and foremost, the Shirley Temple version. I love this trailer partly because of the grossly interjected romance.
For my part, I best remember the 1995 version of the film.
In 1985 there was also a Japanese animated television show of this book called Sara Kuchulu. And it ran for a whopping 46 episodes. As you can see from the opening (which I could only find in Italian, weirdly enough) they may have added a little padding.
#27 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)/Alice Through the Looking Glass (1872) by Lewis Carroll
(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#10)(#10)(#10) – 129 points
Another game-changer. Raises great questions about what it means to be a child and why we would want to think of children as different from adults, I think. Plus it’s hilarious and deeply weird. –Libby Gruner
Very few of the books on my list are books that I actually remember reading as a child. Alice was unusual for her era. While she does have that crying jag, full of self pity, she is generally outspoken and calls nonsense, nonsense when she sees it! – Janice E. Bojda, Head of Children’s Services, Evanston Public Library
REALLY not anything children like – Carroll’s ability to capture dream-logic and most of the characters are truly unsettling; besides language and society have changed so much that most kids won’t even get the jokes any more. But Caroll thought he was writing for children, so here it is. – Susan Ramsey
I’m not cheating, I’ve always found those two books in one volume: in my head I count them as one book. If you must divide them, go with the first, I guess! It’s so funny, and so bizarre, and so brilliant. One of my best memories is reading this aloud to my little brother and watching him literally fall on the floor from laughing so hard (my brother is a little weird, but still). – A.M. Weir (Amy’s Library of ROCK)
Don’t be thinking that the recent 100+ million dollar grossing Tim Burton film played any part in this appearance on the poll, by the way. Folks were voting for this book long before the Burton ads reached their peak. People just love them some Alice. And how can I object? I love her too. She’s like Dorothy, only she never seems to care whether or not she gets home.
The description of these books’ plots from the publisher reads, "Alice begins her adventures when she follows the frantically delayed White Rabbit down a hole into the magical world of Wonderland, where she meets a variety of wonderful creatures, including Tweedledee and Tweedledum, the Cheshire Cat, the hookah-smoking Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter, and the Queen of Hearts who, with the help of her enchanted deck of playing cards, tricks Alice into playing a bizarre game of croquet. Alice continues her adventures in Through the Looking-Glass, which is loosely based on a game of chess and includes Carroll’s famous poem Jabberwocky."
Foul play, cry the masses. Two books as one? ‘Fraid so. Considering that half the time these books are packaged together as one, I felt few qualms putting them together. Most of the votes were for the two of them anyway, so what does it matter really?
The double quicktime recap of how the books came to be comes via Anita Silvey’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book. "The book originated as a tale invented by Oxford don Charles Dodgson for the three Liddell children on a boat trip. Since Alice Liddell begged him to write down the saga, he did so and chose Lewis Carroll as his pen name." Badda bing, badda boom.
University of California at Berkeley Professor Alison Gopnik summarizes one of the charms of the book quite well. "I think every scientist and every child is the grave, wide-eyed little girl who fearlessly follows evidence and logic wherever it leads – even through the looking-glass and down the rabbit hole."
Alice is one of those cases where you just don’t know where to start when writing a little recap like this. There’s just so MUCH information. You may as well just pick up a copy of Brian Talbott’s fantastic Alice in Sunderland and read that instead. That’ll cover a good chunk of your Alice basics. After that there’s The Annotated Alice to read (the most recent edition if it’s handy). And maybe you could join the Lewis Carroll Society here in America. I wonder if their numbers have spiked recently . . .
And then there’s the whole was-he-a-sicko-or-wasn’t-he? question surrounding Mr. Dodgson. A recent book came out on the topic and was quite the topic of conversation on the child_lit listserv too. The novel Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin was covered on NPR but not really critiqued by an Alice scholar. Most objections point out that when he took photographs of Alice it was always with grown-ups present and with the permission of the family. Also, the Victorians were just weird. Not just this guy. It’s a debate, certainly.
On the children’s literature side of the equation there are multiple different editions of Alice out there. I’ve always been rather partial to the Helen Oxenbury ones (though I know more than one detractor who refers to those books as GAP Alice). Recently there was the lamentable (sorry teenage fans) Looking Glass Wars and the surprisingly good graphic novel Wonderland which takes the point of view of the rabbit’s maid MaryAnn. I keep putting that graphic novel out for folks to look at and it gets snatched up double quick time!
- On the National Book Foundation site author Richard Peck (I came this close to typing Gregory Peck, which I’m sure would please him) gives a lovely personal recollection of his first encounter with Alice.
- You can view a whole bunch of different artists’ interpretations of Alice here.
It would be a touch difficult to show every Alice cover in creation. Here then is a nice smattering to give you a taste of the whole. Note when the books list the title as "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" and when they simply say "Alice in Wonderland".
There are lots of movie versions of Alice too, so how to choose? To begin with, here’s a silent film circa 1903. As you can see, it’s fairly self-explanatory.
We follow this up with a 1933 film. And who, might you ask, is the man playing the White Knight in this scene? Might it be the star of High Noon, one mister Gary Cooper? It just might. I recently saw Gary in the bizarre film Ball of Fire (a straaaange adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs), so I felt this change of venue especially weird.
I’ve saved the best for last. It’s 1983. You are producing a PBS special production of Alice. You cast an oddly older woman in the lead. So whom do you give a starring song to? Would you believe a young Nathan Lane?
#26 Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (1989)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#10)(#10)(#10)(#10)(#10)(#10) – 129 points
Allows urban dwellers to experience wilderness without leaving their chair. – Chris Vollmer, Librarian/ITL/Lit. First Coordinator, Browning School, Milwaukee, WI
My dad used to read us books each night before bed. Hatchet was a favorite for both of us. It lead to many camping trips and even a hatchet for Christmas one year. – Katy Ross
I like to call Gary Paulsen the Ernest Hemingway of children’s literature. Without the bullfighting, of course.
The plot from the publisher reads, "Brian Robertson, sole passenger on a Cessna 406, is on his way to visit his father when the tiny bush plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness. With nothing but his clothing, a tattered windbreaker, and the hatchet his mother had given him as a present, Brian finds himself completely alone. Challenged by his fear and despair — and plagued with the weight of a dreadful secret he’s been keeping since his parent’s divorce — Brian must tame his inner demons in order to survive. It will take all his know-how and determination, and more courage than he knew he possessed."
In 100 Best Books for Children Anita Silvey says that, "the book was actually inspired by a visit to the Hershey, Pennsylvania, Middle School in April 1986. While talking to students about their passions, Paulsen realized that he should write the survival tale that had been brewing in his mind, and he dedicated the book to those children." A lot of the trials Brian endures in the course of the novel actually happened to Mr. Paulsen as well. Everything from the mosquitoes to the fire to the turtle’s eggs (Silvey writes, "Although he was not successful at getting them down, he decided that Brian, being much hungrier, would be able to do so.")
In an interview with School Library Journal in June of 1997 Paulsen said that when writing this book, "I didn’t think of boys at first. At one point, I actually toyed with the idea of writing Hatchet with a girl protagonist." Later, when asked which of his books are his favorites he says, "Hatchet is in the sense that it struck some nerve that I still don’t understand, and that has made it one of my favorite books. It was not when I wrote it."
And talk about sequels. Let’s see here. There was Brian’s Winter, The River, Brian’s Return, and Brian’s Hunt (not necessarily in that order). There was even a nonfiction title called, Guts: The True Stories Behind Hatchet and the Brian Books. Roger Sutton, when he reviewed that book, said of it, "Although he is absolutely candid about the dangers of the wild (such as his eyewitness account of a little boy killed by a young deer) and the consequences of hunger (‘I have eaten grub worms wrapped in fresh dandelion greens’), the writing is never sensationalized, and the tone is always modest."
Hatchet made the news in a very different way in 2007 when a 12-year-old boy lost in the North Carolina mountains used his knowledge from Hatchet to help him survive for four days on his own. "…the boy’s father had talked about one of Michael’s favorite books when he was younger, a story titled ‘Hatchet’ about a boy whose plane crashes in the Alaskan wilderness, and how the boy survives on his own. ‘I think he’s got some of that book in his mind,’ said Kent Auberry, whose son had camped overnight several times."
It won a Newbery Honor, losing out that year to Russell Freedman’s Lincoln: A Photobiography.
Zena Sutherland in The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said, "It is weakened by stylistic flaws (speaking of a coil of wire, ‘it sprung into a three foot long antenna’) and by the melodramatic treatment of ‘The Secret,’ the fact that Brian had seen his mother, prior to the divorce, kiss a man whom she later ‘continued to see,’ as explained in an epilogue after Brian’s rescue; but as a story of boy-against-nature, it’s deftly conceived and developed."
VOYA said of it, " Paulsen ‘s knowledge of our national wilderness is obvious and beautifully shared. Beyond that Paulsen grips Brian (and the reader) by the throat, shaking him into enlightenment and self-confidence after having endured several life-threatening events."
The review from The Junior Bookshelf read, "Gary Paulsen ‘s young hero is no Crusoe, no Family Robinson moving facilely from one project to the next. He has no kind climate or fertile land to assist his self-sufficiency. He must outwit the fish and the birds—and the elements—be patient and—brave. There is talk nowadays of ‘grace under pressure’ as a cardinal virtue. Perhaps this is where Brian scores."
Said The School Librarian, "The passionate, repetitive rhythms of the writing, though sometimes a little overdone, powerfully communicate his terrors and triumphs, and could well make this Crusoe-story accessible to slow or reluctant readers, without disturbing others."
And this one reminds me of the television show LOST.
Other Top 100 Children’s Novels Posts Include
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.
SLJ Blog Network
Notes on May 2023
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