Kids pick their top 100 books

The National Education Association did an online poll a while back and here’s what kids picked as their favs.

1. Harry Potter (series) by J. K. Rowling

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – AR 5.5
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – AR 6.7
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – AR 6.7
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – AR 6.8
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – AR 7.2
  6. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – AR generic 7
  7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – AR 6.9

2. Goosebumps (series) by R. L. Stine

Beware, The Snowman by RL Stine
The Haunted School by RL Stine

3. Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Accelerated Reading level – 1.5

4. The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss
Accelerated Reading level – 2.1

5. Arthur (series) by Marc Brown

6. Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
Accelerated Reading level – 4.4
(read aloud edition)

7. Shiloh (trilogy) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
(boxed set)
Accelerated Reading level – 4.4, 4.8, 4.9

8. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Accelerated Reading level – 5.7

9. Holes by Louis Sachar
Accelerated Reading level – 4.6

10. The Giver by Lois Lowry
Accelerated Reading level – 5.7
by Lois Lowry

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“Chester Cricket’s Tale of the City” by David Ulin

From David Ulin’s LATIMES blog.  January 5, 2011 |  6:00 am.  My mom sent me this review when it was reprinted in the Chicago Tribune. It reminded me how much I love both Cricket in Time Square and Charlotte’s Web by Garth Williams.  It’s a classic that stands the test of time from generation to generation.  Perfect bedtime reading for you and your kidlets.

CrickettimessqMy favorite books for kids are those that start out naturalistically and then go quietly, gently off the rails. “Charlotte’s Web” is a perfect example: E.B. White’s descriptions of New England farm life are so precise, so deftly rendered, that it seems entirely believable when the animals start talking and Charlotte begins to spell out words in her web.

This, of course, is one of the wonders of children’s literature, its sense of the world as mysterious, even magical, its recognition that there is much in daily life beyond our reach. At its best, childhood is like that also, although more often, it can be a landscape of arbitrary rules and inexplicable adult tension, in which too much happens (literally and figuratively) above our heads.

George Selden’s “The Cricket in Times Square,”which celebrated a quiet 50th anniversary in  October, is another book that, like Charlotte’s Web, takes place in a recognizable universe that has been tweaked to make a place for the wondrous alongside the mundane. It hasn’t been overlooked exactly — it won a Newbery in 1961 and was made into a 1973 animated film by Chuck Jones — but somehow, I think, it’s never quite received its due.

Maybe that’s because of its similarities to “Charlotte’s Web” — both are evocatively illustrated byGarth Williams, and both involve, in part, a child developing an intense relationship with a creative insect — or maybe that it takes place in Manhattan, where I grew up. It’s hard, as a kid, to see the miraculous in the familiar, or at least that’s how it seems to me.

Either way, “The Cricket in Times Square” is a subtle masterpiece, a story that unfolds almost entirely in the Times Square subway station, where a family named Bellini owns a small, beleaguered newsstand. One evening, the Bellinis’ young son Mario hears the chirping of a cricket and makes the displaced insect his pet. We see the development of a bond between them, as well as the growing friendship between the cricket, whose name is Chester, and two other animals who call the station home: Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat. The first time, Chester sees Harry, he is terrified that the cat is after Tucker, but the two city-dwellers set him straight.

“Hello,” said Chester. He was sort of ashamed because of all the fuss he’d made. “I wasn’t scared for myself. But I thought cats and mice were enemies.”

“In the country, maybe,” said Tucker. “But in New York we gave up those old habits long ago. Harry is my oldest friend. He lives with me over in the drain pipe.”

This is my favorite scene in the book, with its understanding of the urban promise, the idea that in the city, we can (must) somehow set our tribalism aside. It’s as hopeful a moment as can be imagined, because if cats and mice can get along, why not human beings?

The same is true of the rest of the book, which is expansive, optimistic, marked by a sense of New York as a place of wonder, “full of the roar of traffic and the hum of human beings,” in which “Times Square were a kind of shell with colors and noises breaking in great waves inside it.”

That’s great writing, concrete enough for kids yet nuanced enough for adults, and each time I read it, I fall in love with Manhattan all over again. How could I not, especially after Chester begins to play arias and pop standards that draw hundreds of customers to the Bellinis’ newsstand? Fifty years later, the message remains consistent: Everything is possible, after all.

— David L. Ulin

Image: A Garth Williams illustration from “The Cricket in Times Square,” in a limited-edition lithograph available from Every Picture Tells a Story. Credit: Used with permission of Every Picture Tells a Story.

“The Adventures of Nanny Piggins” by R.A. Spratt

Mary Poppins, move over—or get shoved out of the way. Nanny Piggins has arrived!

Why didn’t I come up with this idea?  The Adventures of Nanny Piggins by R.A. Spratt (grades 3 – 6) is irreverent fun that is impossible to resist.  This is a most excellent choice for out loud bedtime reading that I guarantee will have both parent and child giggling.

As the story opens we learn that Nanny Piggens was most recently employed at the circus as the pig shot out of a cannon.   She assumes the title Nanny when she spies a “Help Wanted” sign on the lawn of the Green family.  Mrs. Green is dead, and Mr. Green is so tight-fisted he refuses to pay a human nanny. So when a pig with no criminal record who will work for ten cents an hour applies, Mr. Green is delighted.

The children—Derrick, Samantha, and Michael—promptly fall in love with Nanny Piggins because she lets them eat sweets all day, watch as much TV as possible and stay up quite late.  She also comes up with the most marvelous ideas, like taking a boat to China to get Chinese takeout.

Even when things don’t exactly work out as planned (and they rarely do), the high-jinks and hilarity make them excellent adventures. Stuffing adjectives into this review is as easy as watching Nanny Piggins stuff pies into her mouth. This smart, sly, funny book is marvelously illustrated with drawings that capture Nanny’s sheer pigginess.

Readers may worry that this first novel is so full of stories about Nanny Piggins that there won’t be enough left for sequels. Never fear!  The last line of the book predicts Nanny will be stirring up more adventures, possibly even before breakfast. (synopsis excerpts stolen directly from Booklist)

“The Golden Compass” by Phillip Pullman

Read the book.   Don’t see the movie.

“The Golden Compass” by Phillip Pullman (grade 7 and up) is the first in the “His Dark Materials” trilogy.  It’s easily the best of the three books and can confidently stand alone.  In a landmark epic of fantasy and storytelling, Pullman invites readers into a world as convincing and thoroughly realized as Narnia, Earthsea, or Redwall.

Here lives an orphaned ward named Lyra Belacqua, whose carefree life among the scholars at Oxford’s Jordan College is shattered by the arrival of two powerful visitors.  First, her fearsome uncle, Lord Asriel, appears with evidence of mystery and danger in the far North, including photographs of a mysterious celestial phenomenon called Dust and the dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora Borealis that he suspects is part of an alternate universe.

He leaves Lyra in the care of  Mrs. Coulter, an enigmatic scholar and explorer who offers to give Lyra the attention her uncle has long refused her.

In this multilayered  narrative, however, nothing is as it seems. Lyra sets out for the top of the world in search of her kidnapped playmate, Roger, bearing a rare truth-telling instrument, the compass of the title.  All around her children are disappearing, victims of so-called “Gobblers” being used as subjects in terrible experiments that separate humans from their animal daemons, creatures that reflect each person’s inner being.  And somehow, both Lord Asriel and Mrs. Coulter are involved in this horrible experiment.

If you have a teen who likes to read and hasn’t read this series, buy it for them for the holidays.  But be warned, once they start reading you may not see them again for the rest of winter break.

As an aside, I must also confess that while glued to this book, I fell head over heels in love with a polar bear.  Read it yourself, and you’ll know why.

“The Invention of Hugo Cabret” by Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (ages 8 and up) is a novel in words and pictures, an intriguing mystery set in 1930s Paris about an orphan, a salvaged clockwork invention, and a celebrated filmmaker.  It takes the illustrated novel to a whole new level.  Or it puts a spin on the current resurgence of graphic novels.  I’m not sure exactly which one.  Not that it matters because it’s a bit of a quiet masterpiece.

Once you open this book, you”ll understand how it can become addictive.  You want to pick it up over and over, paging back and forth, studying the illustrations, scanning the details and searching the character’s faces.

It’s the story of orphan boy, clock keeper, and thief named Hugo who lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life and his most precious secret are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

The result is somewhat similar to a graphic novel, but experiencing its mix of silvery pencil drawings and narrative interludes is ultimately more akin to watching a silent film.  This hybrid creation, which also includes movie stills and archival photographs, is unexpected and often poignant.

It’s no surprise that movie titan Martin Scorsese is directing the film adaptation to be released next year.  Please don’t tell Mr. Scorsese that I said this, but I sort of doubt even he can do cinematic justice to this fanciful tale.   Either which way, please please please read the book before you see the film.

“Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

I didn’t see it coming.  The ending took me completely by surprise.  Which I admit seems silly in hindsight.  I can only postulate that I became so intimately bonded to Pi and Richard Parker that it never occurred to me to consider any alternate reality.  Simply, I wanted it to be true.

Yann Martel’s imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi (12 and up) is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and faith.

The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting “religions the way a dog attracts fleas.” Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter.

Peter Kasim

After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker , “His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth.”

It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don’t burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat’s sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination.

In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: “It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I’ve made none the champion.”

At one point in his journey, Pi recounts, “My greatest wish–other than salvation–was to have a book. A long book with a never-ending story. One that I could read again and again, with new eyes and fresh understanding each time.” It’s safe to say that this heartbreaking fable Life of Pi is such a book.  (amazon review)

This gorgeous tale is on my top-ten list.  A word of warning — this beautiful but brutal tale is not for the overly sensitive teen.  Or adult, I guess.

“Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker

Clementine is having not so good of a week.
– On Monday she’s sent to the principal’s office for cutting off Margaret’s hair.
-Tuesday, Margaret’s mother is mad at her.
-Wednesday, she’s sent to the principal…again.
-Thursday, Margaret stops speaking to her.
-Friday starts with yucky eggs and gets worse.
-And by Saturday, even her mother is mad at her.

As Clementine says, “Spectacularful ideas are always sproinging up in my brain.” All the better for the young readers who like to laugh. Reminiscent of Ramona, Judy Moody and Junie B. Jones, “Clementine” by Sara Pennypacker (ages 7 -11) is an ingenuous third-grader with a talent for trouble and a good heart.
Her best friend is her neighbor Margaret, a fourth-grader who experiences both qualities firsthand.
After all, plenty of kids may have had their hair chopped off by a helpful friend in an effort to get the glue out, but how many of those friends would think to improve matters by drawing hair back on the scalp, forehead, and neck with a Flaming Sunset permanent marker?
“It looked beautiful, like a giant tattoo of tangled worms,” Clementine observes in the fresh, funny, first-person narrative.
Marla Frazee’s expressive ink drawings capture every nuance of the characters’ emotions, from bemusement to anger to dejection. Sometimes touching and frequently amusing, this engaging chapter book is well suited to reading alone or reading aloud to a roomful of children.  (Booklist)

Clementine has loads more charm than some of the other “girl” series. It’s a wonderful choice if you have a 2nd or 3rd grade girl who isn’t clicking with other series books.

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