This is it. The last of the countdown by fives. After this I’ll be creating individual posts for the remaining Top 20. I know that a fair amount of you have expressed your hopes of what will appear there. We’ll see how you feel when all is said and done . . . .
#25: The Little House by Virginia Lee Burton (1942)
61 points (8 votes, #1, #6, #2, #4, #6, #5, #1, #2, one write-in)
For the flowing intergenerational connectedness of life, history, and the seasons. – Jeff Faville
I remember Captain Kangaroo had feature in his program where he read children’s books. That is where I first was introduced to the book. Then I couldn’t believe it when as a visit to my branch library in Brooklyn I found it! That must have been the reason I became a librarian and into historic preservation. Hope it makes the list. It needs a revival. – Rocco Staino
If you had sat me down, placed The Little House and Mike Mulligan in front of me side-by-side, and asked me to pick which one of the two would make it into the Top 25, the answer would have been Mike all that way. I love me my Little House but certainly when I was growing up Mr. Mulligan had the most sway. After all, 100 Best Books for Children says that of all her books, Ms. Burton’s, "greatest contribution to the American landscape remains the saga of Mary Anne and Mike Mulligan." Not anymore, it seems. Certainly when one takes into account the current housing crises and the various dilapidated and forgotten homes around the country, the tale of The Little House has a lot more to say to us than that of a guy building a basement. Plus it has the extra added advantage of featuring a house that’s just as depressed about its situation as its occupants would be.
The plot from my review: "Long ago a little house was built in the country. The man who built her decided that this house, special as it was, could never be bought and sold. Instead, he planned on leaving it to his children, his children’s children, and his children’s children’s children. Etc. The house was pleased with the arrangement. It watched the seasons go by. It watched the children that played in it grow up and move away. It even watched the changing fashions and modes of transportation. Horse and buggies one day, automobiles the next. This is all well and good until a new asphalt road appears. Suddenly it’s a heckuva lot easier for people to reach the area in which the little house lives. Things get faster and suddenly the little house is surrounded by tenement houses. Then there are trolley cars (oh the trolley cars). Next comes elevated trains, and subways, and (worst of all) gigantic skyscrapers on either side of the now seriously dilapidated little house. One day, a descendent of the original owner sees the house and inquires after it. Since it turns out she owns it (I guess… the book’s a little shaky on the legal aspects of ownership at this point) the house is summarily picked up by movers and taken to the country she loves so much. Happy house. Happy family. The end."
Just prior to writing The Little House, Burton actually attempted to write a book that can only be described as far and away ahead of her time. In the late 30s, early 40s she noticed that her nine-year-old son loved his comic books. The answer? Calico the Wonder Horse; or, The Saga of Stewy Slinker was an honest-to-goodness picture book in a comic-book format. As Minders of Make-Believe puts it, the book was a "gallant though futile gesture." The Little House was made soon thereafter and got itself a Caldecott Medal in 1943, so there you go.
And then, of course, there was the Disney animated short of the same.
#24: Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, ill. Lois Ehlert (1989)
61 points (10 votes, #2, #5, #7, #10, #7, #3, #1, #4, #2, #8)
I’m going with this one instead of Brown Bear because of every time I see a coconut tree I skit skat skoodle doot flip flop flee. It’s addictive. – Sharon Hrycewicz
I pity the child who never has the chance to shout, “I’ll meet you at the top of the coconut tree.” – Faith Brautigam
With its 1989 publication date I was way too old for this picture book when it was first released. That’s too bad since a person with rhythm and tone could really make this a memorable little number. Now a lot of people forget John Archambault’s contribution to the book, but he was right in there alongside Bill Martin Jr. when it came to writing it. And then, of course, there is Lois Ehlert. She’s done just fine in her own right, but this may well be her best known book to date. It is also, as far as I can ascertain, the only alphabet book on this Top 100 list.
The plot (such as it is) from my review: "Telling a tale of alphabetic foolhardiness, a troop of lower case letters (all of them, in fact) go bounding up the nearby coconut tree for a variety of reasons. When the tree can no longer support their weight the little letters find themselves splayed out on the ground. Fortunately the big letters come along to comfort the little ones, though it’s obvious by the end that not all have learned their lesson."
According to 100 Best Books for Children, Ehlert came close to passing on the manuscript. "She read the text, which she found rather strange, and she thought, What would I ever do with this? She was about to send the manuscript back, but upon rereading it she suddenly was struck by the rhythm and dancelike quality of the text."
Publishers Weekly said of it, "Children will revel in seeing the familiar alphabet transported into this madcap adventure."
Here’s the Weston Woods produced video of it, in case you need a tune to tell it to.
If you ever want to feel old, I recommend reading the number of comments following that video on YouTube that talk about loving this books years and years ago when they were young. Oy.
FYI, this is my favorite storytime outfit of all time. Very clever. Full credit to Lorenzo de Zavala Elementary School for having a book character dress up day in the first place. And I like the cake too.
#23: Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban (1964)
63 points (12 votes, #2, #9, #7, #5, #10, #6, #3, #5, #3, #1, #10, #8)
My mom used to get so mad at me, because we had shelves and shelves filled with books and this is always the one I handed her (until we acquired my #1 title of course). I wasn’t a picky eater, maybe that’s why I loved reading about one! All the Frances titles were popular in my house, but this was definitely my favorite. – Amanda Snow
Frances is just so cool. As a kid I aspired to be that spunky, but I was too shy – Emily G. Jones
The Hobans. We saw them edge onto the list long at #71 with The Little Brute Family. And though it took them almost 50 numbers to pass, we finally get to see them again with the introduction of the world’s most beloved . . . she’s a badger, right? Yeah. Badger. Sorry, Wind in the Willows. This badger’s way cuter.
The publisher’s summary of the plot reads, "In this memorable story, Frances decides that bread and jam are all she wants to eat, and her understanding parents grant her wish at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and even snacktime. Can there ever be too much bread and jam?"
Two books on the Top 100 talk about eating more than just one kind of food. The first was Yoko by Rosemary Wells, which was probably less a call for variegated eating than a call for variegated thinking. Frances is a little more straightforward. As a picky eater myself, I sympathize with Frances’ instincts. Part of the dangers of growing up to become an adult picky eater is that if you want to eat bread and jam and nothing BUT bread and jam, not only do you have the resources to do so, but you could probably even mix it up a bit. Homegrown organic jams from the Farmer’s Market with thick homemade wheat bread. Exotic spiced jams alongside a rustic Italian loaf. Regional jams of Britain with the bread rolls of the southern Yucatan. Maybe you might get sick of one kind of bread and jam, but for the forward thinking picky eater the possibilities are endless.
This book pops up in odd areas too. For example, would you really want to name your latest album after this title?
#22: The Monster at the End of this Book by Jon Stone, ill. by Mike Smollin (1971)
63 points (14 votes, #9, #2, #10, #6, #6, #2, #6, #2, #5, #10, #9, #7, #10, #7)
Metafiction for preschoolers. – Rachael Vilmar
My first example of a book "breaking the fourth wall." – Sharon Falduto
Brilliantly puts the child in the role of knowing (at least, after the first reading) that there’s no need to be afraid of the monster. Also, the child gets to disobey orders and be right to do so. And the timing is perfect all the way through. – Anna Hebner
You will not find The Monster at the End of This Book in The Norton Anthology of Children’s Literature. It does not appear in 100 Best Books for Children, or within the pages of Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush. It has never won a Caldecott. You cannot find it on most Top 100 Picture Book lists, nor in New York Public Library’s collection.
And yet . . . .
And yet here we find at #22, almost making it into the Top 20, the one and only truly successful Sesame Street book ever to touch the hearts and minds of readers everywhere. Sesame Street has a history of frustrating libraries and educators with its sometimes tepid literary production, but there was at least one notable exception to this. And it involved a furry blue monster.
The description of the plot from the publisher reads, "Generations of kids have interacted with lovable, furry old Grover as he begs the reader not to turn the page . . . for a monster is at the end of the book! ‘Oh, I am so embarrassed,’ he says on the last page, for of course the monster is Grover himself!"
I think Anna Hebner made a magnificent point, by the way, when she pointed out that this book is built upon the premise of disobeying orders. A similar and more recent book, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems works on an almost opposite premise. In that book you are given your orders at the start and then you (the tiny reader) can feel powerful and justified by denying the Pigeon what it wants. The moral superiority is completely lacking here. True, the kids know perfectly well that Grover is in the wrong, and so they delight in both the naughtiness of going against his wishes and the humor to be plumbed by his increasing breakdown. Even more remarkably, Grover is still a sympathetic character. Unlike the gator (croc?) in the picture book Don’t Make Me Laugh by James Stevenson, you aren’t disobeying Grover because you don’t like him. You do like him! He just doesn’t have all his facts in place (and besides, it’s fun to see him flail).
How does the book capture Grover’s voice so effectively? The answer is in the author. Jon Stone was the Emmy-winning writer, director, and producer of Sesame Street until about 1996 (after which the show went rapidly downhill, but that’s another story). In his New York Times obituary, Joan Ganz Cooney said of Stone that he was, "probably the most brilliant writer of children’s television material in America." Is it any wonder that he had a knack for a good picture book as well? Those of you hoping to know more about Stone can check out the mentions of him in the recent behind-the-scenes look at Sesame Street in the book Street Gang. Those of you looking for something a little faster and can check out the piece on him in the Muppet Wiki.
This is also the only Little Golden Book that I am aware of that’s on the Top 100. No mean feat. You can read the whole thing here, and in beautiful big, bright colors too.
The title also inspired two sequels, one good and one evil. I won’t tell you which is which but the books were Please Do Not Open This Book and Another Monster at the End of This Book starring Elmo. And according to its wiki the original sold over two million copies in its first year alone.
Fun Fact: There was an episode of the television show Supernatural that was called The Monster at the End of This Book.
I wonder vaguely if Frank Oz has ever read it aloud to any children. Hm.
#21: Bark, George by Jules Feiffer (1999)
65 points (11 votes, #2, #2, #10, #5, #4, #10, #1, #9, #10, #1, #2)
The artwork here is loose, and the text is minimal, but there is so much life in Feiffer’s cartoons, and such a great payoff at the end. Making the animal noises is the best fun. – Kathe E. Douglas
My favorite readaloud book of all time. I mean it. It’s true. To my mind, it’s a perfect book. The plot, the characters, the simplicity, and the sheer amount of use you can get out of it. I have read this book to five-year-olds. I have read this book to teenagers. I have read this book to adults. I have even read this book to tweens (who, in a way, are even harder to please than teens) and everyone agrees; George is great. George is tops. George is here to stay.
Horn Book describes the plot as, "When George, a lanky puppy, is told by his mother to bark, he answers with a ‘meow’ and then a series of other animal noises. When she takes him to a human vet, the man pulls animal after animal out of George’s throat. The problem seems to be solved, until the last page when George opens his mouth and ‘Hello’ comes out."
Strange to think that my favorite readaloud would come from such a hip satirist. Though he began as a playwright, screenwriter, and cartoonist (he was the first cartoonist commissioned by The New York Times to create comic strips for their Op-Ed page!) lately Mr. Feiffer has been turning his attention to the child side of things. And according to his website, "His forthcoming memoir, Backing into Forward, relates how persistent failure inspired him to reinvent himself as an artist over and over." I would like to read that.
I think Publishers Weekly put its finger squarely on why this book is so amazingly popular. "Feiffer reverses the old-lady-who-swallowed-a-fly plot and boosts the giddiness with every barnyard animal removed from tiny George." I never really thought of it that way. Better yet, he did it will animal sounds to boot. Better BETTER than that, the book’s gags are perfectly aligned. I mean, when the vet puts on his longest latex glove and reaches [enter here an innumerable series of "deep"s] into George’s mouth, I always like to pause for just half a second before I turn the page to reveal the cow that has somehow emerged from the canine’s miniscule gullet.
Best of all the book gets the maximum amount of use out of the page turns. You can ratchet up the tension depending on how slowly or quickly you turn them while reading the book.
Publishers Weekly said of it, "This pairing of an ageless joke with a crisp contemporary look will initiate many an animated game of animal sounds."
And Horn Book called it, "A clever, catchy story from a master cartoonist."
Library Journal said, "A pack of fun, with droll illustrations and deadpan text."
You can read the full story here if you so choose, or if it’s easier just look at it here: