Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Once More Into the Breach...

Because I can't resist books, or lists, here's one more, despite have done this twice already.

So all while so many people (including me) spent the month of March talking about the books which had most influenced their thinking, or whatever, my wife has been regularly updating me as to a much bigger project which children's-and-young-adult-literature power-blogger Fuse #8 had taken on: establishing the top 100 children's books (novels or stories, one should say, not picture books) of all time, via a poll of both children and adults. It was a pretty impressive bit of work, and Melissa would excitedly share with me the results as she slowly unveiled them. And now, of course, Melissa and other bookbloggers are talking about how many of the list they've read, which ones they agree with, and which ones they don't. I'm not children's or young adult literature reader myself, these days, but whom am I do deny the lure of one more list?

Thing is, in my previous lists, talking about influential books both prior to my university education and during it, I was able to easily come up with 15 that have really stayed with me. When it comes to kids' books of all sorts, I can only come up with half that number. I simply didn't read a lot of that stuff when I was between the ages of five and ten; half of my reading material then, or at least half that of what I can remember, was actually adult stuff (like Watership Down or The Lord of the Rings) which I struggled with, but which stayed with me all the same. But, after giving it some thought, I can think of eight (well, seven and a half, really) that deserve a place. As always, in alphabetical order

Lloyd ALexander, Taran Wanderer. All of The Chronicles of Prydain are wonderful, but this is the one that stuck with me. Adventure, thrills, and moral introspection, pitched at the perfect level for a 10-year-old. It didn't make Fuse's list.

Roald Dahl, The Fantastic Mr. Fox. The Dahl I like best are his various grown-up short stories, like "The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar," and such. But of all his children's fiction, this was my favorite. It didn't make Fuse's list.

Ingri D'Aulaire, D'Aulaires's Book of Greek Myths. My older brother Daniel and I tore this book apart, memorizing it, and acting out the stories. I got to be Hermes. It didn't make Fuse's list.

Norman Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth. I loved the puzzles in this book, the wordplay and wit. In some ways, it haunted my imagination in much the way Harry Potter came to. It came in at #10 on Fuse's list.

E.L. Konigsburg, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. Simply adored it--in particular, adored the way it situation an adventure and a quest in a world that seemed as close-by to my ordinary life as the local library. It came in at #5 on Fuse's list.

Sterling North, Rascal. Made me want to be more independent, to live in tree houses and be friends with animals, to be able to identify bird calls and be able to smell pine trees. If I was any kind of Boy Scout, it's probably because of this book. It didn't make Fuse's list.

J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit. In many ways, a superior book--if not a superior work of imagination--to The Lord of the Rings itself. It came in at #12 on Fuse's list.

And finally, any or all of Donald J. Sobol's Encyclopedia Brown books. I mean seriously, if Fuse wants her list to be taken seriously, how can you not include these? Sally Kimball will beat you up, otherwise.


Melissa said...

Bah. Her list isn't something she came up with, it was a compilation of lists people nominated. It's not our fault that you have an eclectic taste in books. :-P

Anonymous said...

Did you know Taran Wanderer was an afterthought? After he turned in High King, the publisher came back and said that Taran needed more character development, so her cranked out Taran wandered in something like 2 months. Recently reread Prydain with the eldest daughter (7) and she made it through the first 4, but wouldn't start the High King because she thought it was too scary. The contrast between Alexander and Rowling is really interesting. Alexander is the better sentence level writer, but Rowling wins on plot and character growth over time. (Nobody except Taran really changes). Dialogue is a draw.
Western Dave

Anonymous said...

I love The Phantom Tollbooth - that book had a really profound effect on my childhood; like you, I really enjoyed the wordplay and the punning (the Whetherman, the Spelling Bee and the Humbug, Canby, the Not-So-Wicked Which). I also loved its playful morality-tale aspects, both in the opening chapter with Milo rushing home from school and in the penultimate rescue of the Princesses from the Daemons of Ignorance.

Now I'm going to have to go back and read it again!

- Matt

Russell Arben Fox said...


No, actually, I'm going to blame her! I mean, if she's going to mess with the list to make sure that elementary school votes for various Magic School Bus sequels don't overwhelm everything else, then the least she could have done was check with me to make sure all my favorites were included.


That's fascinating; I would have never thought that myself, because I kind of see Taran Wanderer as being the real linchpin for the series. (And, if you're correct, than he would have had to go back and rewrite High King after finishing TW, because so many characters from that book end up becoming key soldiers in Taran's little army.) I never really compared Prydain and Harry Potter at the time I was really deep in HP mode, and I should have. You're correct that the parallels and contrasts between them are instructive. (I would argue that Rowling isn't actually all that better--if at all--when it comes to character growth, but I'll definitely give to nod to her when it comes to plot details.)


Phantom is, indeed, awesome. Frustratingly, I haven't been able to read it to any of our younger kids yet; they keep getting bored. Maybe it's just one of those books that has be discovered on its own.

Melissa said...

So, next time she does something like this, I'll let you know so you can have a say.

Fuse #8 said...

Indeed. I was a little shocked at how low Encyclopedia Brown came too. Not that the D'Aulaire's book would have counted, of course. That's a collection of myths, not a novel. But with your vote Taran Wanderer might have made it. Lackaday.

Magic School Bus wouldn't have made it either, actually. Those aren't chapter books. You see the difficulty.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth (and I hope you don't take my snarky tone personally; all in good fun, you know). If Taran really was that close to making it, I'll take the blame for the result; Melissa had told me about the poll, but I never thought of voting myself, and I should have. (She should have encouraged me more!) Melissa also told me that the Greek myths books wouldn't have made the qualifications. But would the Encyclopedia Brown books? They aren't chapter books; just collections of little mystery-short stories, without any consistent plot or character development through them. Oh well, I still loved them.