And we’re back. Took a day or two break there and now I’m raring to go! More books! More on the countdown! And definitely more classics. We’ve a lot of oldies but goodies on the plate today. Will there be any 1990 – today books on the Top 20? Only time will tell. For now, we’re 30-26ing it.
#30: Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See? by Bill Martin Jr., ill. Eric Carle (1967)
49 points (9 votes, #3, #7, #9, #8, #8, #8, #3, #3, #1)
The cadence of the book is perfect – Kristen M.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, do be so good as to see whether or not they have an exhibit on Eric Carle’s work going at that particular moment (the odds are good). When I visited roughly a year ago there was a simply lovely exhibit at the time (The Art of Eric Carle: Bears and Beyond) that discussed Brown Bear, Brown Bear at length. I guess I’d always been under the impression that the Brown Bear you buy in the bookstores today looks exactly like the original Brown Bear as it was originally conceived in Eric Carle’s shiny brain. Not the case. Brown Bear has seen many incarnations over the years, all of them created by Carle’s guiding hand. Here are two:
This makes particular sense when you discover that Brown Bear was Carle’s debut.
The description of the book from the publisher reads: "A big happy frog, a plump purple cat, a handsome blue horse, and a soft yellow duck– all parade across the pages of this delightful book. Children will immediately respond to Eric Carle’s flat, boldly colored collages. Combined with Bill Martin’s singsong text, they create unforgettable images of these endearing animals."
I was not read Brown Bear as a child. Honestly, I don’t remember it existing at all. The Very Hungry Caterpillar was the known Carle in my part of the woods. So when I became an adult, Brown Bear was introduced to me as a children’s librarian and as an adult. I should note, however, that it is my readaloud staple. Sing it to them to the Baa Baa Black Sheep / Alphabet Song tune and watch their little mouths grow quiet and their little bodies sway in time to the music.
School Library Journal made special note of some of the illustrations’ updates in its review: "In this new edition of the popular classic (Holt, 1983), the same clean design and crisp text remain. Illustrations, however, have been slightly altered. Stronger colors and more texture help delineate animal bodies more sharply. Positions and shapes are slightly changed, resulting in a less static look. Red Bird is shown in flying position with a sleeker body, sharper beak, and more carefully defined tail and wing features. Yellow Duck has webbed feet and an open bill; Blue Horse has black hooves and teeth showing; Green Frog a spotted back and pink tongue; the former Mother with pale pink skin has become Teacher with beige skin tones and darker hair. The overall effect is livelier and more interesting, although changes are minimal enough that the old edition is still serviceable. When replacements are in order, this will be a welcome addition."
Fun Note: Did you know that Bill Martin Jr. wrote a Christian version of this book called Adam, Adam What Do You See? Nor I, said the fly.
Want to use this book in the classroom in some way? Here are some suggestions.
Want to read the book yourself? Go here.
Want to hear Bill Martin Jr. reading his own book? Just watch it here:
Finally, our First Lady digs Brown Bear. Shouldn’t you?
#29: The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (1902)
54 points (8 votes, #7, #5, #2, #1, #9, #3, #4, #3)
A timeless tale that manages to be both exciting and soothing at the same time, no mean feat for an author! And then of course there’s that charming English accent which the voice in my head uses whenever I read this story. – Lori June
The words "… and implored him to exert himself," come to me unbidden at moments they are most needed. – tdjaimes
Introducing the oldest book to appear on the Top 100 list. Not the oldest book nominated, mind you (a German title had that category all wrapped up) but close. I’m a Potter fan myself. The charm of these books, for me anyway, has to do with the fact that Beatrix Potter was a naturalist. She drew realistic animals who just happened to be wearing knickers, breeches, and shiny brass buttons. Somehow, when you draw a realistic animal wearing clothing, that image is infinitely cuter than howsoever many eyelashes and big brown eyes you might choose to bedeck a critter with.
The description from my review reads: "Peter lives, as many of us know, in a large fir tree with his mother and his siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. His father was baked in a pie (a fact that many parents have decried as too dark for children, and that many children have shrugged at without a second thought). Though instructed by his mother NOT to go digging in Mr. McGregor’s garden, he’s a naughty little thing. His tasty trip is brought up short, however, when he stumbles across the farmer himself. In the course of their chase Peter loses his little blue jacket with the shiny brass buttons and must return to his mother (after a series of close shaves) without it or his shoes. He is promptly put to bed with a cup of chamomile tea (a fate we non-chamomile tea drinkers must assume is harsh) while his siblings eat the tasty blackberries they picked that morning."
Now I would love for someone to confirm something for me. In the past I’m fairly certain that I’ve read two separate accounts of people who grew up to become children’s book authors who were terrorized by old Ms. Potter when they were very young. One was Diana Wynne Jones. The other? I can’t remember. This could just be the addled meanderings of a fairly askew brain, but if anyone knows what I am talking about (*cough* Peter*cough*) I’d appreciate it. 100 Best Books for Children says of Potter’s later years (when she married and didn’t write) that "Her creative energies appear to have been sparked by unhappiness rather than the deep contentment that came in her later life," but I’ve heard enough tales to find this a questionable interpretation.
Of course the story goes that these books were printed small for little child hands. Like the Nutshell Library books, the titles were meant to be little. Of course they’ve been expanded since then (there’s money to be made). In fact The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature dedicates quite a bit of time to Peter, discussing his many incarnations over the years. They say, "But despite Peter Rabbit’s iconic status, an unauthorized edition was published in the United States in 1982 with new, distinctly American illustrations." The illustrator in this case was one Allen Atkinson and the pictures are a weird mix of Potter’s color scheme and a more cartoonish take on the animals. Norton goes on to say, "In 1987, Ladybird Books published a new British edition, hoping to broaden the audience by using photographs of stuffed toys and softening the text, on the assumption that children could no longer relate to watercolors and would be upset by Potter’s attitudes toward punishment and death." Got that, guys? Kids don’t relate to watercolors anymore. Time to pack it in. You artists had a good run, but clearly that era has passed. Sheesh. People.
100 Best Books for Children also says that this title is "the second best-selling hardcover children’s book of all time in America." Number one? Well it didn’t even make the list (garnering votes from only two of my readers) but it’s Janette Sebring Lowrey’s The Poky Little Puppy. Sorry Lowrey. The rabbit beat the pup by a mile this time around.
Peter was invoked most recently on The Colbert Report when Stephen was attempting to portray children’s books as sweet and fluffy. As Neil Gaiman pointed out, though, in this particular tale it basically begins with a reminder that Peter’s father was relatively recently baked into a pie (an image that was oddly restored to later printings of the tale).
#28: Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig (1969)
54 points (10 votes, #10, #5, #5, #8, #1, #3, #6, #8, #5, #5 – 1 write-in)
This book packed so much emotion, and such a lesson, into a narrative, without feeling preachy. – Lauren Snyder
Extravagantly beautiful. Tackles with no-holds-barred emotion one of the deepest childhood fears, separation from a parent. – Anna Hebner
I’ve talked about the psychology at work behind loving one children’s book or another. And no author better represents a person’s individual personality than William Steig. When I print the full list of all the nominations that didn’t quite make it onto the Top 100, you’re going to be shocked by sheer amount of Steig on that list. Everyone has their favorite. Sometimes it’s The Amazing Bone (that’s my personal love). Sometimes it’s Doctor De Soto (though not as often as you might think). But nine times out of ten the title that came up the most was Sylvester. That strange little story of magic, loss, and recovery strikes a deep chord in the hearts and minds of children and parents everywhere.
From the publisher: "One rainy day, Sylvester finds a magic pebble that can make wishes come true. But when a lion frightens him on his way home, Sylvester makes a wish that brings unexpected results. How Sylvester is eventually reunited with his loving family and restored to his own donkey self makes a story that is beautifully tender and perfectly joyful."
I mean, just look at that cover image! Name me one other picture book where the defining shot of the book is two parents desperately searching and querying their neighbors about the disappearance of their son. It’s heartbreaking.
Now the reissue of this book did a rather wonderful thing that I’ve not seen repeated in any other picture book. When a "deluxe edition" of the book came out the publisher placed in the back the reprinted Caldecott acceptance speech Steig gave for Sylvester. This strikes me as a brilliant idea. Would that every Caldecott and Newbery Award and Honor winner had this reprinted in their future editions. For just a little bit of ink you get a pretty cool concept.
#27: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (1972) – Judith Viorst, ill. Ray Cruz
54 points (10 votes, #5, #5, #6, #1, #7, #4, #9, #10, #4, #5)
I first had this book read to me when I was in the sixth grade, and I was convinced that it had been written for me. – Kara Dean
Of all the books out there that deal with schadenfreude, none do it quite so well as Alexander. Now there’s a kid who just cannot win. If he isn’t losing his cash in Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday then he’s protesting a new living situation (not in Australia) in Alexander, Who’s Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move. Of course he started life in this book where everything that could possibly go wrong does. The perfect antidote to any adult that claims that childhood is one sweet, blissful, stress free ride of innocence and carefree days.
The plot synopsis from the publisher reads, "He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He went to sleep with gum in his mouth and woke up with gum in his hair. When he got out of bed, he tripped over his skateboard and by mistake dropped his sweater in the sink while the water was running. He could tell it was going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Nothing at all was right. Everything went wrong, right down to lima beans for supper and kissing on TV. What do you do on a day like that? Well, you may think about going to Australia. You may also be glad to find that some days are like that for other people too."
I feel like illustrator Ray Cruz never gets enough credit for this book. I mean, half the time you hear this title mentioned it’s alongside the name "Judith Viorst". Not Ray Cruz. And certainly the case could be made that unlike some other books it’s the writing and concept of this story that sticks in the mind the best. But I also feel that there’s a reason that this 1972 publication has never been republished with a different artist. What up and coming author would get the job if it was written today? Who does miserable kids well? Matt Phelan? Christine Davenier? LeUyen Pham? I don’t even know. I know that Robin Preiss Glasser has some ties to the series, but who else?
As 100 Best Books for Children points out so accurately, "Bibliotherapy rarely produces a classic, but this book describes perfectly a simple childhood and adult phenomenon – a day when things just don’t go your way." So true. And true about the bibliotherapy part as well. On this Top 100 list you will not find books to help kids deal with death, divorce, bad grades, bullies, or new little brothers and sisters. But you will find one book that talks about horrible days and the escapism of Australia (Alexander’s continual line throughout this book is, "I think I’ll move to Australia"). The Aussie travel bureau should use him as their cover boy. Possible slogan for subway cars: "Having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day? Why not go to Australia?" Oh, it would work.
#26: Corduroy by Donald Freeman (1968)
55 points (#3, #7, #4, #4, #5, #7, #2, #1)
How could I leave Corduroy off this list? I love the story of the little bear in the department store and it’s been reissued so many times other people obviously love it too. I think it’s time this bear has his own movie….don’t you? –Amanda Snow
I have a theory regarding this bear. Why do we all find him so cute? One word: Overalls. Overalls are adorable, and not just in a Dexy’s Midnight Runners kind of way.
The synopsis from the publisher reads, "Corduroy has been on the department store shelf for a long time. Yet as soon as Lisa sees him, she knows that he’s the bear she’s always wanted. Her mother, though, thinks he’s a little shopworn-he’s even missing a button! Still, Corduroy knows that with a bit of work, he can tidy himself up and be just the bear for Lisa. And where better to start than with a quick search through the department store for a new button!"
If you want to know the background behind this story there’s a wonderful page on Freeman’s website. Said Freeman himself of the book, "Of course I can’t remember exactly how it started, but I do recall wanting to do a story about a department store in which a character wanders around at night after the doors close. Then I also wanted the story to show the vast difference between the luxury of a department store [and] the simple life [most people live]." I find that fascinating. An examination of class in a subtle fashion within the pages of a seemingly simple book.
One of the other things I love about Corduroy’s creator is how he came to become an artist in the first place. From the man’s biography on that same website: "Freeman supported himself by working as a dance band musician at night, playing the trumpet in nightclubs and at wedding receptions. One night, on his way home from work, Freeman lost his trumpet on the subway. After that incident he decided it was time to concentrate on making a living from his sketches." How does one lose a trumpet on the subway, exactly? And is Freeman’s trumpet still squirreled away somewhere in the deep dark recesses of the New York Metro Transit’s lost and found?
Going back to Amanda’s initial statement. Corduroy did get his own movie. There’s an old filmstrip my library would show every once in a while that was a terribly frightening combination of puppet and full-sized dude in Corduroy costume on a set built to make him look small. Maybe I’m just making it up, but that’s how I remember it.
One of the notable things about this book is that the little girl Corduroy ends up with isn’t white, a fact that doesn’t garner a lot of discussion. Originally written in 1976, this wasn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it was rare enough to stand out in the field. It’s something I’ve always respected about this story, even if the both didn’t cross my path very often as a kid.
FYI, Don Freeman’s website? Awesome. Now there’s a site I wouldn’t mind emulating. The man is dead and he STILL has a blog! Okay, fine. His son Roy runs it. But it’s pretty darn amazing. You can also follow this link to a podcast Roy gave to Susan Raab at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in March 2009 about Don, Corduroy, and various other Freeman-related matters.