Sunday, August 11, 2013

NPR's 100 Must Reads for Kids

You may have recently heard or seen the list that NPR has created of the 100 Must-Reads for Kids 9-14.  (It was one of their most shared stories last week--many of them coming to me from friends and other sources.)  I have read it several times now and want to say that I think it is a great list and then add the caveat that so many others noted in the comments.  Nine to fourteen is a huge age range and some of these books are clearly at the top of this range while others skim the lower reaches.  Look on a library catalog (such as Emerson School's catalog which can be found in the library section which is under  of the school website) or even Amazon or the like.  (Amazon is great for information gathering but whenever it is possible I will argue for shopping at your local bookstore because bookstores are worth saving.)

That said, there is one choice of best books that I feel needs a comment.  Please, if you are going to read The Little House Books by Laura Ingalls Wilder,  be sure to balance those stories with The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich  along with the others in the trilogy.  (You will find The Birchbark House on the NPR list, too.)  Erdrich's children's books are often compared to Wilder's books as they describe daily life for an Ojibwas family in about the same time and place.   They add balance to the often stereotypical and negative images of Native Americans that Wilder includes in her books.  I understand that Wilder was writing in a certain time and of her childhood memories.  There is much to be said for these books that are classics for good reason.  However, I cringe at the thought of young people still harboring these biases in today's world.  (Full disclosure here--I never have particularly enjoyed the Little House books, not even as a young girl growing up in the foothills of Montana. Or perhaps I was a young girl growing up in the middle of nowhere.  Almost everyone I have ever discussed these books with has had a very different impression, even women who grew up in the rural West.)

 I want to applaud a few of the titles from this list that I think are outstanding and often overlooked.

A Long Way From Chicago by Richard Peck is something of a hard sell in my library but if you want a good chuckle combined with historical insight and a heartwarming family, it would be hard to find a better book than this one.  I would suggest grades four and up as the best audience to enjoy one of the quirkiest grandmothers in children's literature.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan offers up both cultural and socio-economic differences in a touching story that will be enjoyed by grades 4-7 or so.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate  won this year's Newbery award.  I was skeptical about it when I read the descriptions and probably would have been a little put off by the description given on this list, but I promise you that it is much better than any description I have seen and is very worthy of the award.  Grades 4-7 are good for this one.

Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater is a classic for a reason.  Don't think that seeing the movie means you have any idea of how wonderful this book is.  Anyone of any age will enjoy this book.

The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden falls into the classic category, too, and is a story that has passed the test of time for good reason.  Be sure to find a copy that gives ample recognition to the wonderful illustrations by Garth Williams (whose work you will also find in other classics such as Charlotte's Web and Little House on the Prairie).

Half Magic by Edward Eager was one of my favorite books as a child and started me on the grand adventure of reading fantasy.  Read all of the books in the series. These are great for reading aloud at any age and many second graders can tackle them alone.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton left me incapable of ever looking at little things ribbons, toys, nuts, and such without wondering how a tiny person would put it to use.  I am going to say their readership begins at about grade three.  (As [almost] always, they are better than the movie or the Disney books of the same title.)

The Watsons Go to Birmingham--1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis should be required reading for everyone--no I would never really require everyone to read any given book, but that is how highly I regard this novel of family, the realities of racial relations, and a big slice of American history. There are some harsh scenes of racial conflict but there are also some amazing scenes of family love and humor, all of which are appropriate for grades four and up.

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia also has themes of family and racial tensions and a good dose of humor though it is very different from that of the Watsons.  I think people, especially girls, will enjoy this most beginning in grade five.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Edwards is a book that kids come across years after it was read to them in first or second grade to tell me that it was the best book they ever heard and then they read it again and confirm that they still love it.  Yes, Julie Edwards is better known as the Julie Andrews who sang her way into the hearts of millions as Mary Poppins and Maria Von Trapp.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin is simply beautiful.  Don't miss it if you are in grade three or above.

Inside Out and Back Again  by Thanhha Lai is so much more than poetry.  It is a beautiful story of a girl finding her way without losing her roots.  I suggest it for grades five and up.

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer is for middle school and up as it is a harsh, almost too real-sounding dystopian novel that may be the best of this genre that I have ever read.  A sequel is set to come out in September of this year.   Nancy Farmer has many other books that should not be missed.  The Warm Place is for slightly younger readers, grade three or four and up, but the rest are really aimed at older readers.

The 21 Balloons by William Pene DuBois is another classic that seems dated at times but is a rollicking good story that will win readers in grades three and up in a vary short time. I have fond memories of reading it with my children and having take many breaks to laugh or to think about some of the wild ideas that make this story so unique.