I confess that anytime I see some sort of urgent recommendation that you MUST or HAVE TO or SHOULD read/view/see/do anything I get grumpy. And so I was glad that the Independent’s The 50 Books Every Child Should Read, a response to the British Education Secretary recommending that all kids be required to read 50 books a year, stayed clear of that sort of language. Rather they wrote:
We asked three of Britain’s leading children’s authors and two of our in-house book experts to each pick 10 books, suitable for Year 7 students.
The authors chose books that have brought them huge joy, while expressing their outrage at the “great big contradiction” of Mr Gove’s claim to wish to improve literacy while closing libraries across the country.
Among the recommendations are many I love and know kids still appreciate today too. Say Philip Pullman’s suggestions of the Alice books which he calls “Indispensable.” He also recommends two childhood favorites of mine: Eric Kastner’s Emil and the Detectives and Paul Berna’s One Hundred Million Francs, but I have to admit I haven’t recommended them myself to any of my students fearing they’d not take. He also recommended any Moomin book and I’m thrilled to say that I’ve been able to turn some of my students on to this delightful series. I wish I could also get them to read another recommendation of his, one of Joan Aiken, also a childhood favorite, but so far no.
Michael Morpurgo has some interesting choices including another favorite of mine, Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child. But he also writes of the Just William books, “These are a must for every child.” Hmm…there are many around the world who are doing just fine without reading them. He also suggested another childhood favorite of mine, Kate Seredy’s The Singing Tree, but do kids read her today? Again I wonder.
Among others Katy Guest also recommends the Moomin (yay) as well as Diary of a Wimpy Kid (double yay for a douse of reality). I was also tickled by John Walsh’s recommendation of Geoffrey Willams and Ronald Searle’s How to be Topp. An old favorite which reminds me a bit of How to Train Your Dragon in tone and look and style.
The great range and minimum overlap (I believe the Moomins may be the only one) is fascinating and also telling — how can any one person possibly make a definitive list of what EVERY Child SHOULD read?
8 responses to “Books EVERY Child SHOULD Read”
Thanks for the post! I actually enjoy such lists of “best books for children,” not because I agree with them but because we all have to make choices. I’m as suspicious of literary canons as the next person, but I cannot (for example) teach everything: in selecting only certain books for my Literature for Children class, I’m creating my own canon of “books I think are important.” I think about these questions, too, when friends of mine have children. Much as I may want to, I cannot buy them an entire library full of books. So, I think, well, which are the best? Which are the ones every child should have in her or his library?
So, while you’re 100% correct that no one person can “make a definitive list of what EVERY Child SHOULD read,” those of us in children’s literature do make these lists all the time — in teaching, in ordering books for a library’s collection, in recommending books, in buying books for a young friend. So, I say: let’s make our lists, and then (to stave off the grumpiness you mention in your first sentence) let’s have a spirited discussion, in which we debate our choices. We won’t agree, but we’ll learn something and likely expand our lists of “best books.”
Oh, how I love Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken – so glad to see it on the list. My kiddo did like it, and Wolves of Willoughby Chase, but when he was younger (more like 7 or 8). I don’t think it would appeal as much to him now at age 11.
I like these lists, and very smart of them to point to the fact that the same person proposing more reading is cutting libraries.
Oh, Phil, this wasn’t against list-making as such as I too enjoy them very much for the reasons you give. I just dislike anyone saying I “MUST” do something. Often reviewers will say something like “every teacher” or “every” this or that “must” read the book in question. So the idea of coming up with a must-read list is tricky for me. At first I was going to try my hand at it, but decided it made me too uncomfortable. But I do love reading others’ attempts at it as long as they are clear that it is a very personal thing as these folks seem to have done.
Understood! That said, I would also distinguish between “just personal” and “important books.” I’d never teach a book solely because I happen to like it. It would also need to meet some other criteria. But I don’t mean to quibble! I just enjoy these sorts of questions. You know, “What’s a classic?” “What books should be on the syllabus?” Those sorts of questions. They’re tricky questions, but some of the best questions are, I think!
They are great questions and I too always enjoy discussing them.
But I have to say I do think such lists end up being personal no matter what and it is why I decided not to do one. I mean, if it was ten books, I’d pick ten that I loved and also knew many others admired and loved, but at the end of the day it would be a very personal list. A list that would probably have been different at every decade of my life. (Although I suspect Alice would have been on the list every time as I first fell for it at around age 8.)
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I agree on the impossibility of making a “must” list for every child. I’d love to see these kinds of recommendations framed as “books every child should have a chance to read.”
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