I’ll confess to you that I was familiar with the bulk of the titles that appear on this Top 100 list. However, a couple books that I would personally call obscure (though perhaps you’ve all been reading them for years) got on. Today’s five titles are a lovely example of that. A mix of the well known and the near forgotten, clearly these titles have the power to remain in the human brain long past the usual expiration date.
#80: Possum Magic by Mem Fox, ill. Julie Vivas (1983)
16 points (#9, #2, #6)
“Mem Fox is my hero and I adore her books. Julie Vivas is one of my very favourite illustrators. No wonder this books has sold millions.” – Susan Stephenson
“A long favorite of mine. I’m glad the kids like it too. Hush’s invisible adventures are so charming at first, and then we feel the thrill begin to pall. A delicious tour of Australia.” – Kathe Douglas
Possum Magic was one of those titles that fought, bit, and clawed its way back onto this list. As I tabulated votes Possum Magic was one of the first to appear on the Top 100. But then, horrors! It was booted off as more popular titles jostled and shoved their way past. On that final day of tabulation, however, it made a head-over-heels lunge and here it sits at #80, smug in its certainty that it belongs here. It marks the second Mem Fox title to appear on this list thus far (Where Is the Green Sheep? coming in at #96).
This description of the plot comes from the School Library Journal review: "Grandma Poss uses bush magic to make Hush invisible, but when Hush wants to see herself again, Grandma can’t remember which particular Australian food is needed to reverse the spell. Traveling around the continent in search of an antidote, Grandma and Hush sample Anzac biscuits, mornay, vegemite, and pavlova until the right delicacy is found."
And the writing is great. Sure it is. But I am personally very pleased to see Julie Vivas appearing on this list. There’s no real way to describe her style, except perhaps to say that it’s unlike anyone else’s out there.
SLJ said of it, "A perfect choice for storytimes, but also useful for curriculum enrichment, thanks to a simplified map and glossary."
#79: The Jolly Postman: or, Other People’s Letters by Allan Ahlberg and Janet Ahlberg (1986)
16 points (#7, #8, #7, #6)
I first happened on this book, by Janet and Allen Ahlberg, when I was teaching the second grade. The kids loved the way you could pull the letters (from one fairy tale character to another) out of the book and read them. I loved that, too, and also the witty way they expanded on the familiar fairy tale world. – Stephany Aulenback
We would have gone there if we could have. – Susan Moorhead
Perhaps the Brits had a hand in the Ahlbergs’ title appearing on this list. In any case this British import has a strong fan base, and while Mem Fox was the first Aussie to make it onto this list, unless I miss my guess the Ahlbergs are the first denizens of fair England. Essentially, this book was the Griffin and Sabine of its day. What could be more fun than getting to peek into the mail of other people? Particularly when those people are fantastical?
PW described the plot like so: "The Jolly Postman goes from home to home in a fairy-tale kingdom, delivering letters to such familiar addresses as "Mr. and Mrs. Bear, Three Bears Cottage, The Woods." Every other page is an actual envelope, with a letter tucked inside. The letter to the three bears, for instance, is from Goldilocks, who apologizes for the trouble she’s caused and invites Baby Bear to her birthday party. Some authors would stop with this cute concept, but the Ahlbergs have given this book their all. The story of the postman’s travels is told in charming verse; the pictures are delightful, full of clever detail; and the results are frequently hilarious."
Publishers Weekly called it, "A real treat at a good price."
#78: Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm, by Alice and Martin Provensen (1974)
17 points (2 votes, #1 & #4)
What was the biggest surprise I received when people started sending in their favorite titles? Easy. The mad love folks feel for the Provensens. For some reason, at the beginning of the month when people sent me their Top 10 lists, the Provensens appeared again and again. And the crazy thing? It was never the same two titles. If it wasn’t their An Owl and Three Pussycats then it was Shaker Lane. If it wasn’t Shaker Lane then it was What is a Color? The nuttiest part? It’s not like Alice and Martin didn’t win a couple awards in their day. In 1984 they got a Caldecott for The Glorious Flight: Across the Channel with Louis Bleriot, to say nothing of their 1982 Caldecott Honor for A Visit to William Blake’s Inn: Poems for Innocent and Experienced Travelers. But are those the books people love and nominate? Nope. It’s the more obscure, and coming in at #78 this is a good example of just that. Note too the change in title for its relatively recent rerelease.
Like The Jolly Postman, Our Animal Friends at Maple Hill Farm was created by a duo. Says its product description, "Who lives at Maple Hill Farm? Two dogs, five horses, a pig, some geese, lots of chickens, a few cows, a few goats, several sheep, and four special cats — these are the animals at Maple Hill Farm. With simple text that is both affectionate and wry, and irresistible illustrations that burst with personality, Alice and Martin Provensen bring their barnyard friends to life for the delight of animal lovers both young and old."
Mind you, don’t confuse this book with The Year at Maple Hill Farm. Similar idea. Different package.
Publishers Weekly said of the book, "one of the Provensens’ loveliest books. Those privileged to experience it are sure to be convinced that country life has special rewards."
#77: How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss (1957)
17 points (#2, #5, #9)
Books set during Christmas are akin to songs on top 40 radio – tons of people enjoy them, but critics don’t give them much credit. Don’t get it twisted: Seuss’ 1957 Yule time tale deserves all the credit it can get, if for no other reason than the creation of The Grinch, one of the most indelible characters in picture book history. – Travis Jonker
You tell, ‘em, Travis! He makes a good point. Seuss appears for the second time on the Top 100 list (The Lorax coming in at #82) along with one of his iconic characters. When you stop to consider the sheer number of memorable folks that appeared out of the Seussian brain, it’s quite impressive. Of course, my husband (spoiler alert) was disappointed to find that not a single person nominated I Had Trouble Getting to Solla Salew, which he considers Seuss’s most underrated text. Solla Salew aside, hardly anyone can fault The Grinch for making his stand on this list. And we’re not talking about the overblown musical or the lamentable Jim Carrey production (rivaling only Mike Myers’ The Cat in the Hat as worst children’s picture book to film adaptation in history). No we’re talking about the book. A book that should be shown to more kids, particularly when you consider how much better known the Chuck Jones Grinch is these days.
#76: The Library by Sarah Stewart, ill. David Small (1995)
18 points (#3 & #1)
This is my daughter. This is me. We don’t care about dances, or even doing our chores other than haphazardly, it is all about the books. And in the end, we find that kindred spirit who shares our same tastes and we spend our time together drinking tea and reading books. What a life! – Christine Sealock Kelly
When I read this book long ago (the publication date says 1995 so maybe not THAT long ago) I was a bit disturbed by this title. A 20-something year old will be. I mean, it’s about someone who spends the best hours of their life reading. But as I got older I came to understand the Elizabeth Browns of the world. This is one of those picks that appeals particularly to the librarians and booksellers of the world.
The description from my Amazon review reads, "Our heroine is Elizabeth Brown and our heroine’s method of entering the story is to fall from the sky into her mother’s outstretched laundry linen. Says the text, ‘Elizabeth Brown/ Entered the world/ Dropping straight down from the sky/ Elizabeth Brown/ Entered the world/ Skinny, nearsighted, and shy.’ From the beginning the girl is an avid reader. With her constant companions at her side (a stuffed teddy bear and a continually serene housecat) we watch as Elizabeth Brown goes to school and breaks her own bunk bed with the weight of her books. She lends them to friends and eschews the lure of the opposite sex. Older still, she starts tutoring and lives on her own, reading all the while. Then one day there’s no denying it any longer. ‘She had to face the awful fact.’ There are just too many books in the house. Without further ado her house becomes a library and she moves in with a female friend. To the end of their days they continue to read, ‘And turned page… after page… after page’."
School Library Journal (which is to say, Trev Jones) said of it, "This is a funny, heartwarming story about a quirky woman with a not-so-peculiar obsession. Cheers for Elizabeth Brown, a true patron of the arts."