Few subjects can get people more riled up than politics, religion--and the best books of childhood.
Some weeks ago, National Book Critics Circle VP for online (and columnist for BBC.Com) Jane Ciabattari contacted dozens of book critics around the world (including me), asking us to send her a list of our top ten children's book titles. It should be no surprise to those who know me that I sent my list in immediately, before anyone else; as soon as I got her e-mail, my brain started whirring.
Suddenly I was eight years old again, and sitting on the green chenille couch in my parents' house in Duluth reading "Little House in the Big Woods."
The first-draft of my list was far longer than ten, of course.The term "children's books" covers such a range--do I include Ezra Jack Keats' picture book "The Snowy Day," as well as Eloise Jarvis McGraw's young-adult novel, "Greensleeves"? (No, said Ciabattari; stick to books for kids 10 and under. But what about precocious kids?)
And still, how do I pick among all of Edward Eager's magic books or all of Noel Streatfeild's Shoe books?
A few were no-brainers: "Harriet the Spy." "Because of Winn-Dixie." And, of course, "Charlotte's Web."
Ciabattari aggregated the lists from all of us and came up with the top-eleven children's books for all-time, which she posted today on BBC.Com and which I of course immediately took exception to.
Here's the list, in reverse order:
11. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
10. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L'Engle
9. A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin
8. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
7. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
6. The Little Prince, by Antoine Saint-Exupery (really? for kids 10 and under?) (see, I argue, I argue)
5. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
4. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
3. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (again, I ask you: for kids under ten? Then bring on Anne of Green Gables!)
1. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White
Well, there's no arguing with No. 1, anyway.
Here's the list I sent to Ciabattari:
1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: A timeless book for any age. White writes about birth and death, growing up and growing away, courage and resourcefulness, the fertile farm, the thrilling county fair, first love, greed, selflessness, loyalty, poetry and prose, all in one charming story about a (radiant) pig. Told with humor and wisdom in White’s famously clear prose, and bookend by an unforgettable opening line (“Where’s Papa going with that ax?”) and an ending that is quoted endlessly by authors everywhere. (“It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”) Kate DiCamillo called this a perfect book, and she is right.
2. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
3. Half-Magic by Edward Eager
4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
5. Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
6. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
7. Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
8. Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
9. Henry and Ribsy by Beverly Cleary
10. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg.
What's your list? Let's fight.