Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Showing posts with label children's literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children's literature. Show all posts

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fantasy Series (and standalones) for kids/YA

I'm giving a talk later this morning to families here for Parents' Weekend, and as a takeaway I made a list of books I like to recommend. These are almost all fantasy, almost all for pre-teen and up, almost all series. They are all also books I've read and therefore can recommend with some confidence--which is why, for example, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan isn't on the list even though Nick tells me it should be. I really want to read it, but just haven't yet. Also missing from the list are my "usual suspects": Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling. That's because they're in the talk.

So here's the list:

Some Terrific (Mostly Fantasy) Books for Kids and Young Adults

A highly idiosyncratic and partial list of books you may have missed, for people who’ve exhausted the Harry Potter and Twilight series

Most of these books are appropriate for kids 10 and up; starred books might be better for 12 or 13 and up.

*Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy. Most book-loving teens have already discovered this devastating dystopian fantasy, starring a fierce teenaged hunter, Katniss Everdeen.

Sarah Beth Durst, Into the Wild and Out of the Wild: fairy tale characters enter our world with devastating, but often comic, results.

Cornelia Funke, the Inkheart series: in a world where stories can become real, readers and writers become dangerous and powerful. See also her unrelated The Thief Lord, in which a pair of orphans must make a new life for themselves in a magical Venice.

Neil Gaiman, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, *Stardust, Odd and the Frost Giants. Gaiman’s books are infused with a sense of the magical and the mythic; these standalone novels are all influenced by fairy tales and earlier literature, but bring new life to them. Coraline terrifies even my college students, but lots of younger kids adore it. The Graveyard Book has one of the scariest opening chapters I’ve ever read, but most readers are comforted by what follows

Frances Hardinge, Fly By Night: a book-loving girl teams up with a con man in a tightly controlled culture of folk deities and mysterious conspiracies. See also Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy, an unrelated tale of a magical realm where “the Lost” travel outside their bodies to keep the peace.

Diana Wynne Jones, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: six novels all set in the same multiverse; not a sequential series but a loosely linked chronicle of the rules of magic in many different worlds. See also Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Ice, and other standalone fantasies.

*Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness trilogy: math may be magic and there is a mysterious portal between Sydney, Australia and New York City; Larbalestier’s Liar and How to Ditch Your Fairy are also terrific, and quite different—Liar is darker, for older kids, while How to Ditch Your Fairy is a fairly light-hearted exploration of a high school for athletes where some kids have personal fairies.

Kenneth Oppel, Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber: adventures in the air and outer space in an alternate-history version of Victorian England.

James A. Owen, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: a five-book series about a map of imaginary places that turns out to be real; C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other literary figures are characters in this adventure series.

Terry Pratchett, The Bromeliad Trilogy, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, the Tiffany Aching books. Pratchett’s books are always funny and often very literary in their references; the Tiffany Aching books include the always-hilarious Nac Mac Feegle, a band of tiny but immensely fierce warriors, while the Bromeliad trilogy deals with a race of people who live in the spaces between floors in a large department store. The Amazing Maurice retells the Pied Piper story, with a surprising twist. See also Nation, a novel of exploration and attempted conquest in an alternate version of Victorian England and the Pacific.

Philip Reeve, Larklight series: Victorians in space.

*Michael Scott, The Alchemyst series: a twin brother & sister team up with figures from history and myth to combat mythic evil staging a return to power.

Rebecca Stead, When You Reach Me: last year’s Newbery award winning book; time travel, A Wrinkle in Time, and New York City in the late 1970s.

Jonathan Stroud, The Bartimaeus Trilogy: alternate history and magic combined with a smart, snarky djinn; this series will get kids reading—and enjoying!—footnotes. A fourth book is apparently due out this fall.

Laini Taylor, Dreamdark series: so far there are only two of these novels set among fairy creatures who must reweave the fraying tapestry of the world; a third is anticipated.

*Megan Whalen Turner, Attolia series: theft, conspiracy, murder, romance, and intrigue in a Greek-inspired magical realm.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

and one more...

The last book I read for the 48 hour book challenge is another series book, Here There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen. What a great way to end! It's a terrific quest story, with a similar mix of characters and motifs as the Alchemyst books has, but put to entirely different effect--more comic, and more directly intertextual. There's great pleasure to be had in trying to puzzle out the references and connections, some of which come as quite a surprise at the end--though, really, they shouldn't, now that I know what they are. And there are three more books in the series, so I have plenty of fun to come...

(Nick told me I'd enjoy this one. Why is he always right?)

Friday, June 04, 2010

48 Hr book challenge

I haven't participated in Mother Reader's 48-hour book challenge in a while, but I'm trying it this year. I'm home alone today with no car--perfect way to start out!--and I warmed up with three picture books this morning. But now I've got two novels sitting by my right hand and a bunch of other things I've been meaning to get to--so here goes!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Keeping Score

So now that the list is out, it looks like folks are trying to see whether they've kept up with their reading. Like Tea Cozy's Liz B, then, I'll bold the ones I've read. How'd you do?

100. The Egypt Game - Snyder (1967) [honestly? This one I hadn't even heard of...]
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe - Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane - DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950
94. Swallows and Amazons - Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn - Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted - Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School - Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall - MacLachlan (1985)
89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King - Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday - Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse - Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief - Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three - Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon - Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book - Gaiman (2008)
79. All-of-a-Kind-Family - Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain - Forbes (1943)
77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust - Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father's Dragon - Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning - Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy - Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society - Stewart ( 2007)
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher - Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins - Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes - Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago - Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake - Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock - Keene (1959) [I must have--I had a serious Nancy Drew habit at one point--though I really couldn't tell you anything about it now...]
61. Stargirl - Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle - Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart - Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase - Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars - Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins - Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows - Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays - Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins - O'Dell (1960)
49. Frindle - Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks - Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy - Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows - Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass - Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest - Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie - Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me - Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix - Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry - Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It's Me, Margaret - Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire - Rowling (2000)
34. The Watsons Go to Birmingham - Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach - Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH - O'Brian (1971)
31. Half Magic - Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh - Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising - Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess - Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II - Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet - Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women - Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows - Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods - Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux - DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief - Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting - Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda - Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee - Spinelli (1990)
16. Harriet the Spy - Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie - DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Rowling (1999)
13. Bridge to Terabithia - Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit - Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth - Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables - Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden - Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes - Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe - Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 - Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time - L'Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte's Web - White (1952)

Looks like I've read 83--B-, but still that feels pretty reasonable. Maybe I'll work on the rest over the summer!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Almost an anti-climax

Our long season of waiting is over, and Betsy Bird's countdown of the Top 100 Children's Novels has finally made it to #1. Are you shocked? For some reason, it was #2 that surprised me most--it hadn't occurred to me that Madeleine L'Engle could beat out J.K. Rowling in this day and age.

Seven of my top ten made the final list, by the way, with my top three in the top ten. And, for what it's worth, four books (and five series) I taught this semester were all in there as well. Not so much of an iconoclast as I thought, I suppose--though, on the other hand, three books I nominated didn't make the list at all, somewhat to my surprise.

Congratulations to all who made it, all who played, and especially to Betsy for that amazing labor of love. You can also see the whole list, minus comments, at Six Boxes of Books, as I mentioned before. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 03, 2010


Finally a book I chose has cracked Betsy Bird's Top 100 Children's Novels List, over at Fuse #8. She even used my comments--hurrah! (And if you read the comments, you can see that her initial post for April 1 was, yes, a joke. I was so mad I didn't even click through to read the comments...)

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

100 Best...

If, like me, you're having trouble remembering which books have already been mentioned in Betsy Bird's fabulous series of posts on the Top 100 Children's Novels, you can check out this wonderful resource--just the list, provided by Six Boxes of Books. It's about two days behind at the moment, but I'm sure it will catch up soon.

(Kicking myself that I forgot The Phantom Tollbooth; but what would I have dropped? Maybe The Painted Garden? Maybe?)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Top 100 Children's Novels ...

Can you believe Alice in Wonderland didn't even crack the top 10? Ah, well; at least one more of my choices made the list. But I'm thinking at least two of mine won't, now. Maybe more...

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

another lazy post

When You Reach Me When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Miranda's getting weird letters, and her mom is practicing to be on the $25,000 Pyramid, and her best friend doesn't seem to want to talk to her anymore. Middle school is bad enough--this all seems much, much worse.

I loved this book. Miranda's connection to A Wrinkle in Time makes her my kind of protagonist--nerdy, emotionally interesting, on the outskirts of popularity (but still fascinated by it and even hopeful that she might find it one day). The book raises some of the same kinds of questions that Miranda's favorite book does without seeming at all imitative or derivative. A keeper.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, March 01, 2010

a very lazy, and belated, review post

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1) The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Like everyone else in America, I enjoyed this book--a clever way to introduce kids to Greek myths and a fun adventure as well.

View all my reviews >>

but should we see the movie?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Top 100 Children's Novels (#45-41) - still going strong

I'm pretty sure this is the first time one of my top ten has made it onto Betsy's list, so I'm excited to share this chunk of the list here. Scroll to the bottom to find the other installments--this is seriously a labor of love here, one that goes way above and beyond mere list-making--it's well worth checking them all out.

Top 100 Children's Novels (#45-41) - A Fuse #8 Production - Blog on School Library Journal

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Monday, February 08, 2010

100 Best

So that ten best list I gave you last time was just a teaser for Betsy Bird's list of the 100 best children's novels, voted on by her readers. Here are numbers 91-100, with all kinds of great commentary and links. None of mine are on this list...let's see if any of them break in a little higher.

Friday, May 08, 2009

The multiple glories of Diana Wynne Jones

From The Guardian, my favorite newspaper for book news:

Diana Wynne Jones has a unique record of producing books you can't forget. Her intelligent, imaginative brand of fantasy is, at root, down-to-earth – heroes win humanly, by acknowledging their weaknesses and playing to their strengths, and by behaving nicely to other people and giving them the benefit of the doubt even when they appear to be revolting. The fact that the heroes in question might be nine-lifed enchanters with power over space and time is incidental.

Read the rest:
The multiple glories of Diana Wynne Jones | Books |

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Monday, April 13, 2009

watch the president read

President Obama read Where the Wild Things Are to children at the White House egg roll. OK, so maybe there are better Easter picture books, but it's one of the best read-alouds of all time, and he looks like he had fun doing it. What a great moment!

Monday, March 23, 2009

How Children's Literature Changed my Life

Wow, that sounds portentous, doesn't it? But I mean it quite literally. I have a very different life--ok, a sort of different life--than I had before I was teaching children's literature. One big difference is that these days I occasionally--even, often--write about living authors. One of the big perks, frankly, of being a Victorianist is that the authors are all dead. I mean this in the nicest possible way. They died many years ago, most of them of natural causes, having already written many wonderful (and sometimes not-so-wonderful) books, and I don't have to feel bad about anything I say about them because they don't know I've said it. (Or if they do, I think I'm safe in assuming they don't care.)

When you write about living authors, however, you can't just irresponsibly say whatever you want. (Not that I ever did that, of course...) You feel responsible. You can even occasionally wonder what they think. And, sometimes, you can even find out. Now, so far, this has actually been all good. I still have the message on my voicemail that John Green left me after he read my review of Paper Towns. (Yes, I'm a nerd that way. Or maybe a nerdfighter.) (He liked it. That's why I kept the message.) And the other day Neil Gaiman linked to my column on Coraline (scroll down), and said he liked it, and that made my day.

So actually of course I'm really glad to be writing about living authors. It's exciting and unpredictable. And it makes me feel like part of a community.

I'm giving a talk about Stephenie Meyer this weekend. Do you think she cares?

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Kids' books for adults

I had the pleasure today of leading a discussion on "children's classics for adults" at the West End branch of the Richmond Public Library. A committed group of grown-ups gave up the most beautiful day in months--well, an hour of it--to talk about Bud, Not Buddy, Becoming Naomi Leon, A Single Shard, and The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place. We talked about art, families, agency, and finding a home--and left all kinds of things unsaid.

Which is just as well, as there are two more meetings, over the next two Saturdays, at two more branches (Ginter Park and Belmont, for those of you in town). I'll have a different group at each discussion, but some folks today said they wanted to come to the others, too. I hope they will--I want to hear more from them!

A fascinating sidelight: three out of the four books have important scenes in libraries. My favorite is in Bud, Not Buddy: the title character's first impulse when he's in trouble is to seek out his local librarian, a Miss Hill, who has (to his dismay) just married and moved to Chicago. I hadn't known this before, but a little research revealed that Miss Hill is in fact a historical figure, Charlemae Hill Rollins of the Chicago Public Library. I'm sorry I hadn't known about her sooner; read a little more about her here, and here, and you'll see why I'm glad to know about her now.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Secret Keeper

I so wanted to review Mitali Perkins' Secret Keeper, a copy of which I received thanks to the author herself (I believe) some time ago. I read it over the weekend, when I was sick, and it kept me engaged and occupied (actually, it had me riveted!) as well as keeping my mind off of my increasingly nasty cold. So all is good.

But (you knew there would be a but) I should have reviewed it Monday. The week has intervened, a week full of committee meetings and class meetings and financial aid forms (not to mention tax forms) and recovery, and I just completely lost momentum.

So I'll leave you not with a review but with a question: is it a happy ending if the main character gets one thing she wants by giving up another? I am still struggling with the ending of this novel, which strikes me as more realistic than the endings of many children's and YA novels (but especially children's). There's just not a smidge of wish-fulfillment in it that I can see--tough choices and some significant pain, rather. But, still, (or, maybe, therefore?) it troubled me.

Do read it. I'd love to talk about it further, and maybe then I can write a real review.