Saturday, July 11, 2009

Kristof's List: The Best Kids' Books Ever

Earlier this week, the Charlotte Observer ran a column by Nicholas D. Kristof that originally appeared in the New York Times entitled "The Best Kids' Books Ever." Since I love those kinds of lists, I meant to cut it out to add to my folder of other books lists (right next to my folder of best movies, best songs, etc.) In fact, I meant to go online and add comments of my own. Instead, I accidentally threw out the paper and didn't get around to looking for the column online until today.

Using a few key words, I googled and first landed on a follow-up to his column in which he discusses the overwhelming number of comments that followed the column. I also found another column, written just after the originally in which he formally apologizes to Roald Dahl (for omission of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and lists other books that should have made the list.

Anyone who takes it upon himself--or herself--to produce just such a list runs the risk of forgetting one or more books that should have been included. Fortunately, the penalty for that lapse is minimal; in fact, one has much to gain from the responses. Without even looking back at his list, I know I would have included some of my old favorites, books that I believe stand the test of time: Island of the Blue Dolphins, The Borrowers, Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte's Web, and so many more. Such an exercise sends me first to my study, where I can peruse my own shelves, but then I have to go into the attic to shuffle through the boxes stored there (for some of which I have a carpenter beginning a new set of shelves in my bedroom Monday.)

One year, at the end of the school year, my AP English students developed their own top ten lists, and they came up with some great ideas. One boy, Andrew, created a list of his favorite books from each year of school, from kindergarten through senior year.

One aspect of Kristof's column I most appreciated was his promotion of the concept of reading aloud to one's children. Even if they can read themselves, there is something particularly pleasurable in listening to someone else reading. My best memories of fourth grade (maybe my only memories, except for the multiplication tables) are the times Mrs. Knott read aloud to us the entire Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder, followed by every bood she could find that was connected. She always stopped too soon.

My friend Bebe told of reading Where the Red Fern Grows aloud with her daughter Jennifer (now grown and a mother herself.) She said they took turns reading and crying together. You can't reproduce that kind of experience in any other medium--not even watching Steel Magnolias together. I've always believed that even older students loved to have teachers read to them. I have always found it odd that we can justify showing a movie in class, but we have get defensive about reading aloud. When I taught high school, I had some works that just begged to be read aloud: Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory," Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the final chapter of John Gardner's Grendel, for example. My students jokingly called it "Story Time with Miss Nancy," but they didn't fall asleep.

I encourage you, especially if you have young readers still at home, to follow the link to Kristof's column and to look over some of his suggestions as well as those shared by his readers. Maybe you will think of a few that should be there too.

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