Fun Reads for Friday: BTBA Finalists / 100 Great Books for Kids

25 Days of the BTBA (Three Percent)

As you may remember, Three Percent recently announced this year’s long list for the Best Translated Book Award (BTBA). Leading up to the announcement of the short list of ten titles on April 10, 3P is running a daily series of posts explaining why each of the 25 books on the long list should win the award. All of the posts are archived here, and many are rather compelling. (I’ll actually be writing one of these myself for the only book on the list that I’ve read–Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion?) Chad Post’s pithy one-liners on why each book should win are also pretty fun. Some of the more amusing examples:

On Upstaged by Jacques Jouet, translated by Leland de la Durantaye:

Why This Book Should Win: Oulipians have the most fun.

On New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani, translated by Judith Landry [Ed: and this book sounds awesome]

Why This Book Should Win: Because Marani invented Europanto, a “mock international auxiliary language.”

On Funeral for a Dog by Thomas Pletzinger, translated by Ross Benjamin

Why This Book Should Win: Two reasons: 1) during Thomas’s reading tour, three consecutive events were disrupted by a streaker, a woman passing out and smashing a glass table, and a massive pillow fight amid a Biblical thunderstorm; 2) the phone number. [Ed: Not sure about this reason…]

On Lightning by Jean Echenoz, translated by Linda Coverdale

Why This Book Should Win: Tesla, duh. And Linda Coverdale. But mostly Tesla.

Scholastic’s Parent and Child Magazine’s “100 Greatest Books for Children”

A friend who works at Scholastic brought this list–which actually includes Young Adult titles, as well as those for children–to my attention on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day. While drunken faux-Irish bar patrons sloshed about around us, we had quite a nice time of guessing books which were included on the list. I was happy to have guessed several in the top twenty, and was surprised at some of the omissions (Ed Young’s Lon Po Po; anything by J.R.R. Tolkien, but mostly The Hobbit). Since authors were only represented once on the list, some of the representative selections were also a bit suprising (Green Eggs and Ham over Cat in the Hat, even though I like the former better; Matilda for Roald Dahl over James and the Giant Peach or The Witches; The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznik instead of Wonderstruck; The Magic School Bus at the Waterworks over basically any other Magic School Bus book…)

Of course, the question of what makes something a “great” book for kids is a big and incredibly vague one. P&C attempts to clarify their selection process here, although I think there is still some ambiguity. But here’s the gist:

“To create our list, we asked several highly respected literacy experts, educators, and parents for suggestions. (See “Contributors” on our bookshelf.) They came through in a big way — nearly 500 books were in the running. We used a variety of criteria to narrow down to 100 and then rank our titles, including diversity of genre, topic, format, ages and stages, authorship, and cultural representation. Factors such as literary and/or illustration excellence, popularity, and longevity or innovative freshness were all qualities of books in the final round.

Along the way, a few familiar and well-loved titles made way for fresh, unique books that children today know and love. Some authors’ secondary works stepped aside to allow for a greater variety of names and faces who may be new to you. We also included nonfiction, a rarity among these kinds of lists, but a must, given the high demand for it in schools today and the great quality of these works. In the end, we came up with a diverse range of timeless titles, classic and new, that children of all ages will learn from, grow through, and enjoy.”

And here’s the top 10:

  1. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  2. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown / Illustrated by Clement Hurd
  3. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle
  4. The Snowy Day written/ illustrated by Ezra Jack Keats
  5. Where the Wild Things Are written / illustrated by Maurice Sendak
  6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling / Illustrated by Mary GrandPré
  7. Green Eggs and Ham written and illustrated by Dr. Seuss
  8. Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  9. The Giving Tree written / illustrated by Shel Silverstein
  10. Frog and Toad Are Friends written / illustrated by Arnold Lobel

See any glaring omissions/terrible choices? Especially happy about a selection? (I was thrilled that The Phantom Toll Booth and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH were included, myself.) Discuss…

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In Honor of Stan and Jan: My Top Five Berenstain Bear Books

Young Stan and Jan via pbase.com

Sad news today for those of us who grew up learning a whole lot about life from the Berenstain Bears: Jan Berenstain has died, after suffering a stroke at the age of 88. Her husband and writing/illustrating partner, Stan, died (of complications from lymphoma)  in 2005.

While this is sad news, of course, the couple certainly seemed to have a wonderful life together, doing what they loved. From the CBS News piece linked to above:

Stan and Jan Berenstain, both Philadelphia natives, were 18 when they met on their first day at art school in 1941.

They married in 1946, after Stan Berenstain returned home from serving as a medical illustrator at a stateside Army hospital during World War II. During that time, Jan Berenstain worked as a draftsman for the Army Corps of Engineers and as a riveter building Navy seaplanes.

Before their family of bear books was born, the young couple had already built a successful career in periodicals. A cartoon series they produced called “All in the Family” ran in McCall’s and Good Housekeeping magazines for 35 years, and their art appeared in magazines including Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post.

Mike Berenstain said his mother worked daily at her home studio in an idyllic part of Bucks County, north of Philadelphia, which served as inspiration for the books’ setting. He said he will continue writing and illustrating future Berenstain books.

In honor of Jan and Stan, here’s a quick list of my top five favorite Berenstain Bear books, in no particular order:


Please post your own favorites! If you’re having trouble remembering the titles, Wikipedia has a comprehensive list here, along with some summaries.

Spontaneous Reads: Wonderstruck

Illustration by Brian Selznick, via the website of the Queens Museum.

On the incredibly enthusiastic recommendation of my mother and ten-year-old sister (my mom actually surprised me by sending me a copy of the book–that’s how much she wanted me to read it), I picked up Wonderstruck. I was not familiar with Brian Selznick’s previous novel, The Invention of Hugo Cabret, but I will definitely be reading it now. This book was an absolute treat, and I finished the whole (rather extensive) book in two days–less than two if you consider that I was working/sleeping for much of that time.

Wonderstruck tells the two parallel stories of Rose, a young deaf girl in 1927 who runs away from her home in Hoboken to New York City, and in 1977, of Ben, a young boy from Gunflint, Minnesota who was born deaf in one ear and then loses hearing in his other ear after being indirectly hit by lightning in a rainstorm. After his mother’s death, Ben runs away to New York to find the father he’s never known. And although the two stories are separated by 50 years, they run surprisingly parallel throughout the novel, until they eventually–and beautifully–connect.

Selznick excels on so many levels: his pencil drawings are vivid and richly detailed, and are have an incredible nuance with light that I would not have expected from pencil drawings. He also has a very cinematic way of leading you through the visual part of his stories–he uses close-ups particularly well.

His writing is also fantastic–what a great vocabulary to find in a kid’s book! Selznick’s characters are full realized, three-dimensional people and he balances tough themes (a parent’s death, an unknown parent, loneliness, isolation, an inability to communicate) with a general sense of hope and well-bring. The children in both stories have their fair share of problems and need to both grow a lot throughout the story, but Selznick is able to capture these transformations without trauma. I didn’t spend the whole book worried that something terrible was going to happen to both of these kids on their own in New York City, without money or friends, or really any way of communicating with most people. I knew that they were going to be okay–that everything was going to turn out for the best. And sometimes, that’s exactly what you need from a book. Enough reality and seriousness so that it isn’t total fluff, but balanced with a general feeling of ease and enjoyment. These kids are, after all, both on huge adventures.

Illustration by Brian Selznick, via the website of the Queens Museum.

The other great thing about Wonderstruck is all the great references and intricate details. Selznick obviously did extensive research (his acknowledgments and partial bibliography in the back are impressive) and he’s not only folded in accurate portrayals of things like the Museum of Natural History in both 1927 and 1977, but also of the blackout in 1977, and tons of factoids about Deaf culture, wonder cabinets, and more. He’s got lines from “Space Oddity” by David Bowie all over in the first part of Ben’s story (loved that) and also–apparently–makes a lot of references to E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. (I haven’t read that book, but my sister is reading it right now in her 5th grade class and it is definitely on my list now.)

Selznick also makes me want to discover and rediscover parts of New York now. I want to go back and see all the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History and I finally want to get out to Queens and see the Panorama. And there’s a high commendation: a book that makes a jaded New Yorker get excited all over again about all the wonders there are in her city.

***

It bears noting that an exhibition of Brian Selznick’s drawings from the book is ongoing at the Queens Museum until January: “Wonderstruck in the Panorama: Drawings by Brian Selznick.”

Also, in October, the website for the book will feature “a collection of brilliant essays written just for you by experts, illuminating the world of Wonderstruck.” Topics will include essays on New York in 1977, Deaf history and culture, the transition from silent to sound film, the inspirational source material of From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and a piece on Hoboken by none other than David Levithan. Nice to see a book website that adds to the content in such a useful, interesting way.

Snape Dominates All Other Harry Potter Characters in Incredibly Scientific Study Conducted by MTV

I will not descend into Pottermania, I promise, but in honor of the forthcoming release of the last epic film in the Harry Potter series, I must bring this to your attention:

Severus Snape Crowned Greatest Harry Potter Character of All Time

Well, I’ve been saying it for years, but now there’s this helpful data pool to back me up:

Professor Severus Snape has been crowned the winner of the Harry Potter World Cup. Over at MTV News, 64 characters were pitted against one another to determine who is the greatest Harry Potter character of all time.”

And you have to love The Rickmaster as he accepts the large tin cup award saying, “And it doesn’t weigh nothing.” Also, to quote Sir Deadpan further:

Interviewer: What does that mean to you? The fans–seven and a half million votes said he was the best.

The Rickmaster: It’s a vote for, em…ambiguity. And things where you don’t know quite how things are going to turn out. And all sorts of values that you can’t talk about without ruining the film, but…things like courage, and loyalty, and determination, and love, actually.”

I’ll leave you to watch it yourself–there are many highlights.

Fun for Friday: What Your American Girl Doll Says About You

What Your American Girl Doll Says About the Rest of Your Life

I’m posting this because it is, ostensibly, related to the American Girl book series, and although I know not many young girls/tweenagers read them these days, they (and the amazing American Girl catalogs) made a *huge* impression on me as a child. Some snippets that appealed to me, who did not have an American Girl doll, but balanced an adoring sort of love of Samantha with a far more practical affinity with Molly:

On Samantha: “a Samantha doll was the designer jeans of third grade”

On Molly: “If you had Molly, you probably wanted Samantha instead, but contented yourself with Molly because you too wore glasses, liked books, were bad at math, and would concoct various schemes to get attention…As an adult, you’ve developed a carefully honed aptitude for sarcasm. You’ve gotten contacts, and a slightly edgy haircut.”

On No Doll: “Your parents wouldn’t buy you an American Girl doll because $80 is a ridiculous price to pay for a toy, which would then inevitably lead to the purchase of multiple accessories ranging from the overpriced ($18 for “Winter Accessories,” consisting of tiny doll mittens and a hat), to the exorbitant ($56 for an “Ice Cream Set,” consisting of tiny plastic scoops of ice cream), to the highway robbery ($349 for a “doll’s chest,” a.k.a. tiny wooden box). You grew up to be financially independent, level-headed, unspoiled, and still just a little bit resentful whenever you walk by American Girl Place.”

The Babysitters Club: Where Are They Now?

I don’t think this really needs any preamble. Just too much fun: The Babysitter’s Club: Where Are They Now? Ten points to anyone who can remind me who this Shannon is, though…

This is also an excellent excuse to draw your attention to What Claudia Wore, which is (was? it hasn’t been updated in awhile) one of the best ideas for a blog ev-er.

Kids Books: Not Just for Kids

In preparation for the publication (tomorrow!) of Mockingjay–the last, highly anticipated installment in Suzanne Collins Hunger Games Trilogy–I thought I’d draw your attention to an article in The New York Times entitled “The Kids’ Books Are Alright.” This article picks up on a discussion that’s been batted around by many over the last few years, one concerning the fact that adults are progressively buying and reading a greater and greater amount of books published for and marketed towards Young Adults. Check out these statistics:

“According to surveys by the Codex Group, a consultant to the publishing industry, 47 percent of 18- to 24-year-old women and 24 percent of same-aged men say most of the books they buy are classified as young adult. The percentage of female Y.A. fans between the ages of 25 and 44 has nearly doubled in the past four years. Today, nearly one in five 35- to 44-year-olds say they most frequently buy Y.A. books. For themselves.”

The author, Pamela Paul, doesn’t try to decipher, as many have tried before, whether it’s “okay” that adults are reading ‘kid’s books’ more avidly–which actually, I appreciate. She does, however, talk to a lot of literary-minded people and publishing types who are enthusiastic fans of young adult lit and try to explain the draw. The genre’s attention to emotion, its timeless themes of self-discovery and maturation, and its focus on plot are all suggested as being particular draws, along with Paul’s notion that “Y.A. may also pierce the jadedness and cynicism of our adult selves.”

Whatever the appeal, I’m looking forward to picking up Mockingjay tomorrow and ferreting it home with me to read, in one setting, on my couch after work. If you will be doing the same, let me know what you think! I haven’t been this excited about a series since Harry Potter.