It's Happy Dance Time!!!
Yes, I have finally made it to the last 10 books of my Top 100 Children's Chapter Books! I was starting to believe that I would never finish this countdown. Now, if you know me my top ten will probably not be too surprising. Especially, considering I have tattoos of my favorite two books (for the record both tattoos are visible and in perfectly respectable areas). Another hint, the use of initials is very popular amongst these 10 authors.
10. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
First and foremost, I decided that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz trumps Alice's Adventures in Wonderland because there is an actual plot. Dorothy's trek across Oz is a quest during which she makes friends and enemies. In the culmination of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Dorothy must triumph over the villainous Wicked Witch before she can return to Kansas. Let's be truthful, as much as I adore Alice, her meandering tour through Wonderland is more like a bizarre, drug-induced hallucination than an epic story of adventure. Not saying that Charles Dodgson was a habitual or even recreational drug user, which is a topic of debate, but proven to be unfounded.
|Whose idea was this costume?|
It is not possible to talk about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz book without at least mentioning The Wizard of Oz movie starring Judy Garland. I remember being terrified of the flying monkeys as a kid which were incredibly creepy looking. Also, am I the only one that noticed that Dorothy's pigtails keep changing length during her journey along the yellow brick road? And my husband didn't even believe me when I told him that the scarecrow carries a gun into the spooky forest. Who cares about scary winged monkeys and weird inconsistencies when you have the lollipop guild and Somewhere Over the Rainbow?
|Baum in Macatawa|
|The Sign of the Goose, Macatawa Park, Michigan|
|The Castle of Castle Park|
9. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
MORE CHOCOLATE!!!! Throw in a main character more sympathetic than a three legged, blind puppy, a wonderfully, wacky setting, and a genius candy maker that is a complete loon and you have a SCRUMDIDDLYUMPTIOUS story (I love that nearly every book by Dahl has made up words thrown in. We can call it Dahlish or Dahlese).
Last year Charlie and the Chocolate Factory celebrated its 50th anniversary and the original book is believed to have sold over 20 million copies! How many children during that half century have fantasized about owning their own chocolate factory complete with oompa loompas and a glass elevator?
Movie adaptations of books are usually sub par, but the 1971 version starring Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka is one of the most beloved movies of all time. I don't think that there are enough adjectives to describe how spectacular Gene Wilder is as Willy Wonka. Unfortunately, that makes Johnny Depp's peculiar portrayal of Willy Wonka in Tim Burton's remake even more tragic. You have no idea how much it hurts me to say that, because Tim Burton rocks, but my recommendation is stick to the original.
8. Holes by Louis Sachar
The men in the Yelnats family have been cursed for generations and Stanley is just the latest Yelnats to be leading a life fraught with ill fortune. In his latest mishap Stanley is accused of stealing a very famous pair of shoes and as a result ends up in Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center in the middle of a hot and dusty Texas desert.
Stanley's story is brilliantly interwoven with flashbacks of the history of Camp Green Lake and Kissin' Kate Barlow as well as the tale of how the Yelnats family came to be cursed for all time by Madame Zeroni. It is nothing short of masterful how Sacher takes so many diverging characters and story lines and combines them into one fantastic book that is part mystery, adventure, historical fiction, humor, and dramatic realistic fiction.
The film adaptation of Holes starring Shia LeBeouf, Sigourney Weaver, Jon Voight, Henry Winkler, Patricia Arquette, Dule' Hill, and Eartha Kitt is superbly acted (as if you couldn't tell from the names on that list). Is it as good as the book with the same level of detail? Of course not, but it was really well done. Just make sure you do not just watch the movie without reading the book.
7. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
As with all of White's books, Charlotte's Web is a perfect marriage of human and animal characters. Each character from the humans like Fern and Avery Arable to the animals such as Charlotte A. Cavatica and Templeton the rat (my personal favorite) has a unique and believable voice. Based on the premise, Charlotte's Web could have been overly sappy and precious, but White does not sugar coat farm life. The almost dry realism mixed with fantasy is what help makes Charlotte's Web a children's classic.
Either my second or third grade teacher read Charlotte's Web aloud to the class and then we watched the animated, musical version of the book. The cartoon came out in 1973 and kids still love it. My favorite part has always been when Templeton is gorging himself at the fair.
6.The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
By definition fantasy novels are unrealistic flights of imagination. Even among other books containing fabricated worlds The Phantom Tollbooth stands out as unconventional and there in lies its lasting appeal to readers.
I read The Phantom Tollbooth multiple times as a kid and as an adult I read it to my own children. Juster's writing is just so incredibly smart without ever making the reader feel stupid. Just thinking about Milo driving through the Doldrums in his little red car makes me smile. And then there are all of the puns. If you have read any of my previous posts you will have realized that I have a penchant for puns (even bad ones). The Whether Man; Tock, the Watch Dog; Dr. Dischord. the scientist who studies unpleasant sounds; and the Awful Dynne who collects them. I could go on and on. Did I understand every detail of The Phantom Tollbooth when I first read it as a kid? Probably not, but that made rereading it when I was older all the more fun. You may have to explain some of the words if you read it aloud, first and foremost what a tollbooth is, but trust me that it is worth the effort.
If you do not have time to read it yourself David Hyde Pierce performs the audio version and it is fantastic! Here is just a little snippet.
5. Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
There are probably not too many guys jumping up and down about Anne of Green Gables. However, if you were a young girl who loved reading Anne Shirley was one of your heroes. I actually asked my mother if I could dye my hair red, because I wanted to be like Anne Shirley. That may have had something to do with being completely moony-eyed over Gilbert Blythe. Admit it, you were too and it was torturous waiting until book three for Anne to finally admit that she loved Gilbert back.
In addition to having Gilbert (be still my beating heart) Anne of Green Gables is just beautiful storytelling about a spunky, indomitable heroine. Despite early hardships and living during a time period when young women were not encouraged to be intelligent, ambitious, or outspoken; Anne just barrels ahead with complete confidence in who she is and what she wants. Over a century later do girls have more freedom and opportunity? Absolutely, but countless young women still struggle with low self-esteem and Anne Shirley can be a tremendous role model.
If you have never watched the PBS miniseries of Anne of Green Gables do so immediately! You can even borrow it for free from the Portland District Library and afterwards you can watch Anne of Avonlea. Because this is a miniseries it is able to include so much more detail than the typical movie based on a book and the casting and acting is beyond perfect. I don't think that I have ever watched a movie based on a book in which the actors were exactly how I imagined them.
4. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
When the millionaire, Sam Westing, dies the 16 residents of the recently built Sunset Towers are surprised to discover that they are heirs to his fortune. There is a catch, though. In order to inherit they must solve the puzzle as to who murdered the the wealthy tycoon. Leading the pack of amateur detectives is 13 year old Tabitha Ruth "Turtle" Wexler who is wickedly smart, a master of the stock market, and quick to kick anyone in the shins who annoys her. Of all the literary characters that I read about as a kid I always felt the most akin to Turtle. Similar to Turtle, I grew up with a sister several years older who was beautiful and popular while I was a book smart, gawky dork. In addition, I had to spend an entire week standing by the wall during recess because I kicked two boys very hard (but I didn't kick them in the shins). Obviously since we were both ignored little sisters and violent kickers Turtle and I were kindred spirits.
I won't give away any more details about the plot, but The Westing Game is an incredibly clever and funny puzzle and I guarantee that you will never guess the ending!
3. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
You are probably wondering why Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone is way up here at number three when I have already said that The Prisoner of Azkaban is my favorite book in the Harry Potter series. Well as far as being the top 100 chapter books for kids it is hard not to include the book that first sparked a world-wide mania for everything Harry Potter.
At a time when kids (and adults) were becoming more and more engrossed with technology, Rowling came along and rekindled an interest and excitement about good old fashioned books. Suddenly kids who rarely read for pleasure were willing to wait hours in line to purchase a book. Rowling also inspired countless other children's authors and really breathed new life into the fantasy genre.
It has been nearly 20 years since the publication of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (oh my God I am old!) and we are still enamored with Hogwarts, Quidditch, Voldemort, and the Boy who Lived.
2. Matilda by Roald Dahl
First and foremost, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is one of my favorite books so part of me was screaming NOOOOOO! when Napoli talked about wishing the plot was different. It is also an adult book, so I think that in some ways this example was inappropriate. What is okay to publish in an adult or teen book is a far cry from what is in a children's book. That point aside, I completely respect Napoli as an author and I understand some of what she was trying to say. If every book was about perfect characters frolicking happily in a sun drenched meadow with unicorns while eating cotton candy and cupcakes reading would quickly become very boring.
As a child who did experience bad things, though, books for me were an escape from that reality. Did I want to read about other kids suffering what I had? No, I was already living it and that was awful enough.When I read books I wanted hope, fantasy, and to be transported out of my reality. As Matilda says to the local librarian when asked about how she liked a book: "I was flying past the stars on silver wings. It was wonderful."
I honestly do not know if I would have made it through childhood without the books of Roald Dahl, which were always my favorites growing up. Dahl is a genius at taking traumatic events and childhood fears and attacking them with humor and outrageousness. In Matilda you have a young girl with absolutely atrocious parents who do not love or care for her and unfortunately there are many children in the world who also lack a stable and loving home. Dahl addresses this issue with a tremendous amount of humor and empowerment. Matilda takes her growth, education, and general happiness into her own hands and she is able to conquer every hardship and fear in her life.
People may be more familiar with Charlie and the Chocolate factory, but I believe that Matilda is Dahl's greatest triumph. Is it hilarious? Yes, but it is also a book about hope, inner strength, and the magical power of reading.
1. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
"This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!" thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her...A moment later she found that she was standing in the middle of a wood at night-time with snow under her feet and snowflakes falling in the air.
How many closets did you go in hoping to find a hidden passage to Narnia? Oh how I dreamed of being Lucy Pevensie so I could have tea with Mr. Tumnus, ride on the back of Aslan, and live in Cair Paravel as a queen. The only change I would make is that I would stay in Narnia rather than return to England.
Although chronologically book 2, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was the first book that Lewis wrote about the fantastical world of Narnia. In an essay titled It All Began with a Picture Lewis explains that:
"The Lion all began with a picture of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood. This picture had been in my mind since I was about sixteen. Then one day, when I was about forty, I said to myself: 'Let's try to make a story about it.'"
Lewis persevered through writer's block, self doubt, and criticism from fellow writers who were so negative about the story that he burnt his first draft. One of these fellow writers was none other than J.R.R. Tolkien who was extremely harsh (how could Tolkien not love Narnia?) Finally after a full decade, Lewis brought the Pevensies, the magnificent Aslan, the White Witch, Cair Paravel and the countless other extraordinary characters and details that compose Narnia to life.
I love all of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia, but The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the zenith of the entire series. There is adventure, fear, wonder, sorrow, redemption, humor, and hope all perfectly woven together into a masterpiece that is not even 200 pages. Is there a childhood dream that can transcend stepping into a wardrobe and stepping out into an otherworldly, snowy wood and seeing the ethereal glow of a lone lamp post? Not in my opinion.
So, there you have it. My top 100 children's chapter books. Please feel free to share your thoughts since I am quite certain that not everyone will agree with my choices. My hope is that you have found some new books to read and share with your children.