Someone asked if I was using this poll as a kind of psychological test. It would make more sense than blots of ink on paper, don’t you think? What a person chooses says a lot about them. I’ve already mentioned the idea that choosing between an artist’s work says something about a person, but as some of today’s winners show, it’s not always an author or illustrator’s best known work that gets the points in the end.
#85: Yoko by Rosemary Wells (1998)
15 points (3 votes) (#5, #9, #10)
“It’s about multiculturalism and acceptance, yet manages to be totally engaging and not preachy or pedantic. Plus, I love these characters.” – Amy Kraft
Case in point, Yoko. First off, I think I should get credit for not giving into my baser needs and writing, "You’re breaking up the list, Yoko!" or something along those lines. Hee hee hee. Yoko is a Rosemary Wells title, and in spite of the fact that she has built an empire on Max and Ruby, Yoko is a worthy adorable successor to the bunny pair.
A summary of the book from my Amazon review: "It’s a normal school day and for lunch Yoko’s mother is packing her daughter all her favorite foods. She gets sushi containing, "the crispiest cucumber, the pinkest shrimp, the greenest seaweed, and the tastiest tuna". At lunch, Yoko enjoys her food but her fellow classmates are deeply disgusted. Mrs. Jenkins, the teacher, tries to convince poor Yoko that by snack time everyone will have forgotten to tease her about her food. Unfortunately, Mrs. Jenkins is underestimating the power of ridicule. Poor Yoko and her red bean ice cream don’t stand a chance. The minute she gets a chance, Mrs. Jenkins decides to have an International Food Day at school. Everyone will bring in a dish "from a foreign country" and Yoko’s classmates will taste just how good sushi is. Everyone makes a dish, and at this point the reader has probably come to the comforting conclusion that everyone will try Yoko’s sushi, decide it’s good after all, and be her friend forever. Not so much. By the end of lunch everyone has tried almost everything, but not a single piece of Yoko’s sushi has been touched. Fortunately, hungry little Timothy is just curious enough to want to try a bit of Yoko’s food. Finding he likes it (and Yoko finds she’s fond of Tim’s coconut crisps) the two happily create their own ‘restaurant’ at school the next day. Yummy tidings for all."
I guess that’s what I’ve always loved about the book. It doesn’t follow the standard picture book rules. Normally the tale is someone is different + someone teaches others about differences = peace and freedom reign. Not so much. I love me my Yoko because kids are cruel little beasts and it takes more than a single teacher’s good intentions to change that. In this case, it just takes a seriously hungry kid.
Said Publisher’s Weekly about the book, "As usual, Wells demonstrates a remarkable feel for children’s small but important difficulties. Like the just-right text, her expressive watercolors, both panels and full-scale, capture a distinctive variety of animal children as well as the nuances in Yoko’s expressions. Wells’s message is clear without being heavy-handed, making this brightly colored schoolroom charmer a perfect book for those American-melting-pot kindergartners who need to develop a genuine respect for one another’s differences."
School Library Journal was a bit more succinct with, "Just as Yoko’s mother carefully crafted the delectable sushi, Wells, too, has tucked a real treasure in this tasty morsel of a tale."
And Kirkus agreed with everybody by saying, "The lesson might have been labored; instead, Wells offers some trusty guidance and a light touch, and leaves the conclusions to readers."
#84: Whistle for Willie by Ezra Jack Keats (1964)
15 points (3 votes #2 & #7 & #9)
" . . . because I never did learn how to whistle." – Eva Mitnick
Our first sequel to hit the list? Hard to say. I guess The Very Quiet Cricket was a sequel of its own, but this book certainly followed on the heels of the monumentally popular The Snowy Day, that’s for certain. As a suburban child growing up in a comfortable environment filled with grass and trees and quiet nights, the city held a weird kind of fascination for me. Sesame Street tapped into that a little, with its brownstones and overwhelming use of cement. And Ezra Jack Keats also knew how to render urban environments not just as accurate portrayals of a late 60s/early 70s time period, but as places of beauty. Graffiti has character and style under his hand. There’s a darkness to his work, which is less obvious in this book, but it still lurks there just below the surface. Waiting. It never won so much as a Caldecott Honor, but Whistle for Willie sticks in the brains of adults and children everywhere.
The synopsis from my Amazon review reads, "Peter would like to whistle. He would like it very much, but try as he might he just cannot figure out how to do it. Though Peter sees other kids whistling for their dogs, when Peter whistles for his daschund Willie he finds he hasn’t the skill. We observe Peter as he goes about his day, trying to whistle between spinning, hiding in boxes, coloring with chalk, pretending to be his father, and walking the cracks in the sidewalk. At long last, and after many failed attempts, Peter successfully whistles for Willie. Delighted, he shows his parents and after being sent to the grocery store he whistles all the way there and all the way back."
It’s remarkable for, if nothing else, the fact that it shows a time when it was cool for young kids to walk by themselves to and from the store in the middle of the city.
Said The New York Times of the book, "Mr. Keats’s illustrations boldly, colorfully capture the child, his city world, and the shimmering heat of a summer’s day".
#83: Chester’s Way by Kevin Henkes (1988)
16 points (#8, #7, #2)
Love his understated style and the momentum of this particular story. – Crystal Barringer
Now here’s a lovely example of a psychological test for you. What kind of Henkes fan do you constitute? Because this man split his own vote time and time again. First one title would start to get some votes. Then another. And if you had asked me to predict the Henkes books that would end up on this list, I have to confess that I wouldn’t have even thought about Chester’s Way. I don’t know why, but I wouldn’t have. Not that I have anything against it, mind. It just wouldn’t occur to me at first.
Chester is a mouse who knows what he likes and what he doesn’t like. He likes his best friend Wilson. He doesn’t particularly like that new mouse Lilly (she of the purple plastic purse, in her first print appearance) and her strange strange ways. However, when Lilly’s peculiarities get all three mice out of a sticky situation, Chester and Wilson come around to understanding how much fun being odd can be.
I once saw a staged production of the Lilly books that began by presenting the story of Chester’s Way at the Children’s Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It makes for good watching, I assure you.
By the way, I’m tempted to start including in these round-ups the absolutely bizarre Amazon.com criticisms these books receive (and they ALL get weirdo criticisms, you know). In the case of Chester’s Way there’s a magnificent example from a woman who writes, "I was searching for a few new quality books to read to my pre-school grandchildren. Chester’s Way was one of 4 books I bought. I was enjoying the story and illustrations, but my heart sank when a character’s solution to neighborhood bullies was to use a squirt GUN. She also states that she always carries one ‘just in case’. I think that the author could have and should have found a more creative way to address the bulling issue. I plan to return the book." Absolutely. Why couldn’t it have been a squirt . . . uh . . . slingshot? Help me out here, guys.
Publisher’s Weekly, in contrast, said of it, "Behind each book is a wide-open heart, one readers can’t help but respond to, that makes all of Henkes’s books and especially this one of special value to children."
#82: The Lorax by Dr. Seuss (1971)
16 points (#8, #7, #2 & write-in vote)
My husband Matt doesn’t tend to read this blog all that often. I have my blog world and he has his. But recently he’s taken to reading these posts, which I find mildly unnerving. So Matt, if you are reading this, we’ve finally gotten to the book you kept asking about.
I wish I could have kept you guys updated on poll results as I got them because the list of Top 100 was a weird kind of rollercoaster ride. Favorite titles would appear, only to be pushed aside when the time came. Titles would push and shove one another aside like some kind of nasty hair-pulling down-and-dirty fight scene. And my husband, through it all, kept his Lorax-watch going. You see, for a while only one Dr. Seuss title was making this list. I’m sure that if I had allowed Easy Reader titles to appear here there would have been plenty others, but there weren’t. There was just one. And it wasn’t The Lorax. And periodically throughout the month Matt would ask, "Has anyone nominated The Lorax yet?", to which I would answer, "Nope." The Lorax may speak for the trees, but Matt spoke for The Lorax.
Then, near the end of the month, loyalties shifted. Seuss started to pop up more and more and at long last The Lorax got the requisite votes needed to make an appearance. So here he is, ladies and gentlemen! The little guy who starred in a made-for-TV movie that I saw when I was eight and have been effectively traumatized by ever since. If I’m a good environmentalist, it’s because The Lorax made me so. Violently.
Basic plot: The Once-ler moves to town, takes advantage of all the natural resources he can get his grubby hands on (and the guy is mostly hands) and ignores the pleas of The Lorax to stop before it’s too late. Too late it becomes and The Lorax takes off for greener pastures. Hope then resides in a small boy and the single seed of a Truffula Tree that The Once-ler has saved in spite of everything.
Said School Library Journal, "The big, colorful pictures and the fun images, word plays and rhymes make this an amusing exposition of the ecology crisis."
#81: Who Needs Donuts? by Mark Alan Stamaty (1973)
16 points (#3, #4, #8)
"A powerful and OK, absurd, story about the emptiness of material wealth. Different from anything else. The pictures are crammed with detail — every time you read it you notice something new." – Anna Hebner
Something tells me that I’m not supposed to play favorites with this list. That I’m supposed to claim to love all the little books on this Top 100 poll equally. But you know what? I can’t help it. I am thrilled THRILLED to see that Who Needs Donuts? made it onto the Top 100. You don’t understand. Once (spoiler alert) The Giant Jam Sandwich was kicked of the Top 100, it broke my heart. I never thought I’d love again. But here, in all its weird, wacky, downright positively INSANE glory is a book that could only have been published in 1973. The strangest, wildest, most madcap book of them all. Glorious Who Needs Donuts? And it couldn’t have happened to a nicer author/illustrator.
Who Needs Donuts? is significant to me primarily because it was the very first children’s book I ever reviewed for Amazon. This will amuse you. I’m going to write the entire review right here in its entirety from December of 2003: "In 1973 Stamaty (best know today for his satirical Washintoons and Boox comic strips) wrote, Who Needs Donuts?, now re-released by popular demand. A virtual cornucopia of images, the story follows the adventures of Sam, a boy obsessed with a need to have, ‘more donuts than his mother and father could ever buy him’. Driven by his donut lust, Sam hops on a tricycle and leaves the suburbs for the big city. Finding a fellow donut enthusiast in the form of Mr. Bikferd, Sam and his new friend begin a citywide donut search. Some parents will wish avoid a tale of strangers promising sweets (a picture of Mr. Bikferd and Sam standing in the doorway of a darkened warehouse will certainly raise concerns). Yet few books can claim to be half as visually stimulating as Stamaty’s vision, one that has not dimmed or become dated since its original 70’s conception."
I was quite the succinct sally back in the day.
I’ll stand by the review too. The aforementioned scene of Mr. Bikferd leading Sam into a dark room hasn’t aged as well as the rest of the book. But that aside you ain’t seen nothing like this. Imagine if you took the wild details of Peter Sis and mixed ’em in with the psychedelic madness of an acid trip. That is Who Needs Donuts? People who love it, adore it. People who don’t… well I’ve never met one, but I’m sure they’re out there somewhere.
And did I mention that author Mark Alan Stamaty is one of the nicest men alive? I mean it.
Publishers Weekly said of it, "Jam-packed pages full of surprises and a vintage 1970s message that love is all you need will delight children, young and old."