Nicholas D. Kristof two-time Pulitzer Prize winner from the NY Times has come up with a list of “The Best Kids’ Books Ever.” I do not mean to dispute Mr. Kristof, but I have to stay that there seems to a bit of a disconnect between his list and reality. He has listed the Hardy Boys, The Prince and Pauper, and Anne of Green Gables on here. I think maybe the title of this piece should be, “The Top Children’s Books Kids Were Forced to Read That Made Them Hate Reading.” This title would more accurately represent what Kristof is pointing to. Just because a children’s book was read doesn’t mean it was the most liked.
In fact, I would argue, until just recently, children’s books were written to reflect how people saw children. Let’s remember that until 1946, when Dr. Spock, first published Baby and Child Care most people didn’t think all that highly of a child’s opinion. It took another 20 years after this book was published for people even to begin to get over the idea that children “Should be seen and not heard.”
Mr. Kristof says that he was “aghast” to find that children regress during the summer months, when they are not in school, and he offers this list to help parents find things for children to read. Ugh. The dates of these books were published (that he did not include) are 1952, 1927, 1908, 1927 round our the top 4. Harry Potter is on here and a couple others kids might like to read, but honestly, not knowing the age group he is targeting, I would guess that many of these books will drive kids away from reading, not draw them to it.
I would like to suggest my own “top list” here. I’ll do 5 for each age groups, having kids myself ages 2, 7, 15, I’ve seen what usually catches their fancy. I have also taught a reading program for teens. I don’t mean to disrespect Mr. Kristof here. I just respectfully disagree.
In the 0-3 age range I would go with the following books to encourage reading.
1. Any of the little I Spy series. They have more or less pocket books for babies and toddlers. These books are excellent for kids to get the feel of reading. They love to look at the pictures.
2. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a given on this list. It was published in 1969 an is a classic. My kids loved this book.
3. Good Night Moon is another classic that most kids love, my kids included. It was published in 1947.
4. Dr. Seuss has a bunch of “pocket” books that kids really like to read. They are durable and 0-3 year olds can bang and rip at them all they want, and they hold up great. There are a bunch to pick from, but the one I and I think my kids like most is The Foot Book. It was published in 1968.
5. Lastly, I’m going to go with a series of pocket books from “Elmo’s World.” Generally kids today have seen and heard Elmo. They most-likely have gotten a fury little Elmo for Christmas, so to connect here really helps to get them interested. I like Stars. It has a squeaky ball on the front and my kids really liked the tactial attraction. It kept them interested.
For kids 3-7 I would say the follow books are the ones that kept my kids interested and reading:
1. Go Dogs Go. I don’t know what it is about this book, but all of my kids love or loved it. It was written in 1961, and it was a consistent book that kept them sitting while I was reading, and later it kept them sitting while they were reading.
2. If you Give a Mouse a Cookie. Again I don’t know what it is about this book, but kids love it. It was written in 1985.
3. I’ll Love You Forever. This book is a book you can sing to your kids if you want to. All of mine love it. It was written in 1986.
4. Any of the Clifford the Big Red Dog series. Again, I’m not sure why my kids like these books so much, but they kept them reading. The series was started in 1963.
5. Where the Wild Things Are. You can’t get a better book for a kid or an adult in my opinion. I love it and my kids love it. It was published in 1963.
For kids 8-12 here are my picks (some of these need to be read to some kids):
1. The Lion the Witch and Wardrobe. This is a great book. This is a great book to read with your kid. It was written in 1950.
2. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. Both of my sons loved this book. It speaks to them, I think, and it is so funny. It was written in 1972.
3. James and Giant Peach. This book is just plain fun. It was written in 1996.
4. Where the Sidewalk Ends. Younger kids can enjoy this book too, but I have found that kids who are a little older like the idea of being able to read in short spurts like this. It also helps them get the concepts of line breaks and other poetic devices. It was written in 1974.
5. Stuart Little. This is where I want to make a point. Many kids from the 60s, 70s, and 80s have loved Charlotte’s Web (from Kristof’s list) . My kids didn’t like it. They were not interested. I read it and like it when I was little, but there has been a shift and a change in what kids like. My kids loved Stuart little. Both were written by E. B. White. Stuart Little was written in 1945.
For 13 and 14. My knowledge here is not only based on my son, but also working with struggling readers.
1. Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. It’s a great book for kids, and it gets them talking about really issues in the real world. It was written in 1977.
2. Harry Potter Series. Kids love this book. They love to read it and for you to read it to them. The first book published in 1997.
3. The Watson’s Go to Birmingham. This is another great book that gets kids talking about issues. This reflects what they will be doing an talking about in school, and it is good practice. It was published in 1997.
4. Bridge to to Terabithia. This is a great novel and it again deals with starting issues for this age group. It was published in 1977.
5. Are you There God? It’s Me, Margaret. This book has to get my nod. It’s awesome, and many kids will still read it. It was published in 1970.
Kids 14 and up. It should be noted that teen trends in reading come and go as quickly as adult trends in reading, so I’m picking those that have been around for awhile but kids will still read and like to read. For instance Twilight is about the biggest book out there right now for kids. I didn’t put it on the list because in 2 years it might be out of style.
1. The Hobbit. It’s still a great starter from some teen readers. Many really like reading it. It was written in 1937.
2. The Outsiders. There are very few kids that read this book, even today, that do not like it. I am shocked sometimes at which of my students have liked it. It was published in 1967.
3. Holes. Kids really like reading this book. It’s been around since 1997, but it’s still going strong.
4. To Kill a Mocking Bird. Oddly enough even when some kids do not have to read this book, they do. I don’t know why, they made me read it in high school, but a lot of kids will pick this book up, read it, even when given a choice. It was published in 1960.
5. Of Mice and Men. I think a lot of kids pick this book up because it is so short, but it only takes about 10 pages before they are reading it like they are addicted. Most really like it, both male and female. The book was published in 1937.
If you want to keep your kids reading over the summer go out and find a book YOU think they will like. You know them. Making a list like this I think can point parents in the right direction, but if your kid doesn’t want to read it, find something else. When a kid tells me they don’t like reading, I tell them all my buttons are worn off my remote for my tv because it is so hard to find something I like to watch. Reading is the same way, you have to keep flipping through the channels to find something good.
As for the NY Times article, if you think that your kid will like some of those books, try them. If they hate them, don’t say that a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner recommended them and they must be good. I don’t think they are, and I most of them I wouldn’t even recommend.