Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Valentine-sized love of children's fiction

School Library Journal is counting down the top 100 Children's Novels of all time right now. Yes, it's yet another list, but I am very much enjoying watching this one unfold. SLJ blogger, Elizabeth Bird, asked readers to submit ranked top 10 ten lists of middle-grade novels. Each novel was assigned a score and now the countdown has begun. What I like about this countdown is 1) that it is reader-oriented--these are books we LOVE--and 2) that Bird, who works as a librarian in the New York Public Library system, has taken great pains to tell us about the books and why people have fallen in love with them. You can't read this list and not want to add to the pile beside your bedside table.

The countdown started Monday. #100-91 are here, #90-86 are here, and #85-81 are here. You can also check out last year's Top 100 Picture Book Poll or if you want to get in on some voting, you can still take part in Comic Book Resources Top 100 Comic Books Poll. I'm betting that this time next year, SLJ will be counting down YA. I can hardly wait.

So, tell me, what some of your all-time favourites when it comes to novels for the 8-12 set?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

In which I 'fess up

When I was a kid I didn't read very many books at all. I was poor and lived in the middle of nowhere. The local library was 5kms away and, with 1 car and a whack of kids in tow, my mom didn't get a chance to take us there very often. The few book shelves we had at home were lined with Reader's Digest Condensed Books and several "A-B" volumes of encyclopedias that were free sample give-aways at the grocery store. It wasn't until I was in Grade 11 that an inspiring English teacher really showed me what it meant to get lost in a book. I haven't quite found my way out yet.

Back then, the not-yet grown-up me devoured Dickens, Bradbury, Huxley, Tolkien, Salinger and John Fowles. A few years later I found myself in the second year of an undergraduate degree. I registered for what I hoped would be an easy elective for an English major: Children's Literature. That class and its instructor, Stan Dragland, changed my life. First off, the course was not at all easy. The reading load was heavy and we were required to submit weekly written assignments in addition to weighty term papers. Over the course of the year my writing improved, my critical thinking skills sharpened and, for the first time in my life, I learned that children's literature is rich, diverse, and complex. Heaven forbid anyone call it a lesser literature in my presence. Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, E.B. White, T.H. White, Natalie Babbitt, Lewis Carroll, Patricia MacLachlan, Louise Fitzhugh and L.M. Montgomery were all on that syllabus. There's nothing diminutive about them.

Since taking that life-changing class, I have read, literally, thousands of children's and young adult books. I do, however, have a shame-faced confession to make.


I've never read The Wizard of Oz.

I've never read Pippi Longstocking.

Nor have I read Little House on the Prairie.

In fact, I've not read any Baum, Lindgren, or Wilder whatsoever. There are others too--gaping holes in my knowledge of the genre that has given me my livelihood. And so this year, I vow to read at least one work by the following:

Lloyd Alexander
Frank Baum
Kevin Crossley-Holland
Peter Dickinson
Ann Fine
Virginia Hamilton
Rumer Godden
Julius Lester
Astrid Lindgren
Tamora Pierce
Laura Ingalls Wilder

Would any of you like to suggest the best individual titles from any one of those authors to get me started? Alternatively, would you like to confess your dirty, secret lapses in reading? C'mon, you can do it. That's why the comment section is there.