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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Children’s Novels (#11)

2549868452 c37ca4dec7 Top 100 Childrens Novels (#11)A quick note before we begin . . . you have until midnight tonight (today is Monday the 29th) to get in your guesses to me of what the Top 10 on this list is.  Folks who get all the books and IN THE RIGHT ORDER will win a fabulous prize, to be determined by me. 


#11 The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (1978)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2) (#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3) (#3)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#5)(#5)(#5) (#6)(#6)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#8) (#8)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#10)(#10) (#10) – 248 points

WHY? Because it is the best mystery ever written, for adults or kids. - Walter M. Mayes

This is always the first book I hand a kid who asks for a mystery, and sometimes even if they don’t ask for a mystery. I remember my brain hurting when I read it when I was young, and upon rereading it as an adult, found the mystery to be just as compelling and twisty as I remembered. – Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Vallejo, CA

As a child reading this book (30 years ago), I was so amazed by the characters. I didn’t know it was ok show adults as selfish, mean people who made bad decisions. The kids are alright! - Tanya (books4yourkids.com)

This book is such a great puzzle. When I was 10, I couldn’t quite put it together all on my own, but I found it so gratifying that when I went back through it, all of the clues were there the whole time. – Amy S. Lappin, Children’s Librarian, Lebanon Libraries, Lebanon, NH

I admit that I originally picked this up because Claudia from the Babysitter’s Club was reading it, and I thought, with my fourth grade brain, that it would make me seem older and wiser to be reading a book on an eighth grade reading list. But I continue to reread this intriguing mystery every few years, long after I’ve outgrown the BC books, and even long after I know the solution to the mystery. I think one of the key factors in determining the greatness of a mystery book is simply: are you just as interested in re-reading the book once the mystery has been solved and that dynamic tension is no longer pushing you forward to turn the page? The Westing Game delivers. – Ann Carpenter, Youth Services Librarian, Brooks Free Library

I still remember the debates my friends had about this when we read it in 5th grade for class. Also, our ideas on what an apartment building would look like still amuse me to this day. – Jennifer Rothschild

Turtle and the other residents of the apartment complex…practically a Christopher Guest movie. – Schuyler Hooke

I was once at a Books of Wonder Christmas party when Peter Glassman started popping some children’s literature trivia at me. I correctly answered his question about Evaline Ness, but then he asked a question that just baffled me. "What is the only Newbery winning jacket illustrated by someone who would later go on to win their own Newbery?" I was stumped. Couldn’t for the life of me figure it out. The answer? Ellen Raskin illustrated the original cover for Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time then later would go on to win a Newbery for The Westing Game. Raskin originally intended to be a freelance commercial artist anyway, and she did about a thousand book jackets in her day. Not too surprising that L’Engle’s would have crossed her plate. Of course, according to Anita Silvey, "she had always hoped to win a Caldecott Medal for illustration."  Instead she got a Newbery.

The plot description from the book reads, "Sixteen people were invited to the reading of the very strange will of the very rich Samuel W. Westing.  They could become millionaires, depending on how they played the game.  The not-quite-perfect heirs were paired, and each pair was given $10,000 and a set of clues (no two sets of clues were alike).  All they had to do was find the answer, but the answer to what?  The Westing game was tricky and dangerous, but the heirs played on, through blizzards and burlaries and bombs bursting in the air.  And one of them won!"  Oddly cheery recap, that.

American Writers for Children Since 1960: Fiction says that the book came about in this way: "It was begun in 1976, the Bicentennial year, which prompted the use of the words of ‘America the Beautiful’ as clues. The death of Howard Hughes was much in the news at the time, which inspired the strange will and multiple heirs. She [Raskin] intended the book to have a historical background and set it on the shores of Lake Michigan, where she grew up. Wisconsin had a history of labor disputes (perhaps she remembered the career of her Grandfather Raskin, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World who was murdered at age thirty-four), so she chose to write about a slain industrialist. Raskin said, though, that as she wrote, ‘My tribute to American labor history ended up a comedy in praise of capitalism.’ It was a true Bicentennial book." Also, the working title was Eight Imperfect Pairs of Heirs.   Proof positive that working titles sometimes bite.

If she was any character in the book, it’s easy to guess which one. "Raskin was certainly Turtle Wexler, and The Westing Game as a tribute to capitalism is not surprising because she was a capitalist herself. She maintained a portfolio of stocks and played the market successfully. She was very proud that she was once asked to manage a mutual fund but felt it would take too much time." I bet.  There is no other American children’s novel out there that has so effectively gotten kids interested in the stock market. Indeed, it’s probably their only encounter with it.

Sadly, The Westing Game would be the last children’s novel she’d Raskin would ever write. She died in 1984 at the age of 56. American Writers for Children Since 1960: Fiction put her life this way. "Her first book was her best picture book, and her last book was her most praised novel."  I suspect that the "first book" they’re referring to is Nothing Ever Happens on My Block which is rather remarkable.  I don’t know that everyone would agree with that assessment, though.

You can learn a lot about Ms. Raskin on the website dedicated to her at UW-Madison. I was particularly interested in the statement that said, "She once indicated that her attitude toward humor was influenced by the Preston Sturges film Sullivan’s Travels ." Good woman. Excellent taste.

jacket1 Top 100 Childrens Novels (#11)
In fact, I would encourage you gigantic authors out there to take a page out of Ellen Raskin’s book. Her Westing Game
wins itself a Newbery so what does she do? Does she hide said manuscript in the back of her closet? Does she hand it over to scholars who will put it in a safe zone where it will never be touched by oxygen or light again? Not a jot. She is a Wisconsin woman through and through and so she offers her manuscripts to UW-Madison for the students to look at. Twice. They say no. Twice. She offers it a third time and this time they say yes, though they worry that they can’t take proper care of it. She doesn’t mind. She just wants the students to see what the writing process is really like.  You can get the full story on the manuscript here at the CCBC site.

Honestly, that’s just for starters.  The site is remarkable because of all the different parcels of information you’re allowed to plow through.  Have you ever wanted to actually hear the voice of Ellen Raskin explaining about her drafts, final manuscript, working notes, and the book design?  Go here and you can hear her voice, originally recorded in 1978.  I think the working notes section is my own personal favorite.  Particularly the scanned sections where she tries to find the perfect name for each character.

There are Westing Game rip-offs or odes (depending on how charitable you’re feeling) in abundance each and every year. From the 39 Clues to this year’s The Billionaire’s Curse by Richard Newsome there’s something about the mix of murder mystery and potential riches that entrances child readers and adults alike.

In terms of the Newbery itself, it won the Award proper in 1979 beating out only one Honor Book. That book was The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (coming in at #55 on our poll).

Which brings us to today.  Back in 2007, Publishers Weekly announced the following:

"Stephanie Owens Lurie and Mark McVeigh at Dutton have acquired five books by Newbery Award–winner and The Westing Game author Ellen Raskin in a major six-figure deal negotiated by Alex Glass and John Silbersack at Trident on behalf of the Raskin estate. The books include two new puzzle mystery novels: The Westing Quest, a sequel to The Westing Game, and A Murder for Macaroni and Cheese, a never-before-seen manuscript nearly completed at the author’s death in 1984. The deal also includes the reissue of three backlist novels, Figgs & Phantoms, The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) and The Tattooed Potato."

Years go by and not a peep is made about these books again.  Now word on the street has it that Dutton will be publishing these books in the fall of 2010.  More information as I get it, folks.

  • Head on over to Collecting Children’s Books and you can see additional information on the book and the original favors from the 1979 Newbery/Caldecott Award dinner.
  • And insofar as I can tell, you are not a true Westing Game fan until you own this t-shirt:


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Sadly, I don’t think she sells them anymore (but if you’re interested you might ask her).

Needless to say, that first Westing Game cover was one that Raskin illustrated herself. Since then, there have been a SLEW of others.  The original is still my personal favorite, though.


westing cover Top 100 Childrens Novels (#11)


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westing Top 100 Childrens Novels (#11)


Alas, it was turned into a movie.  In 1997 Get a Clue, based on The Westing Game, came out.  I won’t torture you with the trailer, but you can see it here if you’re curious.  I don’t know how you could adapt the book and leave out Turtle’s braids, but apparently it’s possible.  Somehow, that seems worse that leaving out Harriet’s glasses in the various Harriet the Spy adaptations.

More amusing is this time lapse video of a staged production of The Westing Game.  I like the set and I like how they incorporate the background.  Fun to flip through.


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Elizabeth Bird About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently New York Public Library's Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of NYPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Paige Y. says:

    I read this book when it first came out and loved it. Then, when I was taking a children’s lit class, we had to read it. I was amazed at the number of adults (who were studying to be future librarians) who simply didn’t understand it. To me, it’s the best mystery ever.

  2. Judith Van Alstyne says:

    I know you mentioned that someone was compiling a list of all the books so far, but I can’t seem to find the link. This would help immensely for trying to come up with the top 10! Could you re-post it please? Thanks in advance and thanks for doing this wonderful poll in the first place!

  3. Eric says:

    Here is that link you requested:

    sixboxesofbooks.blogspot.com/2010/03/top-100-childrens-novels-from-fuse-8.html

    i assumed Westing Game would be top 5 which is where it deserves to be…I am so very confused now.

  4. EM says:

    YAAAYY!!! I read this 147 times between 1984 and 1986. (And yes, I own the shirt.)

  5. rockinlibrarian says:

    Well I didn’t assume top FIVE but there WERE a couple other titles on my top 11 predictions (now top ten mailing it off now) I would have dropped off the final prediction list first… dang, those titles are more popular than I thought, or somehow I’m COMPLETELY wrong…

    Best puzzle mystery ever, and stupid me didn’t read it until I was in college. Something about all the grownups in the book description put me off. How I underestimated the power of Turtle to carry the day. Oh well. When I did finally read it, I actually grabbed paper and pencil to jot down clues. Only time I have EVER done that with a book!

  6. Tom Angleberger says:

    Hooray for this GREAT GREAT book!

    >>i assumed Westing Game would be top 5 which is where it deserves to be…

    Well, maybe this means Leon/Noel is in the top 10.

  7. Wendy says:

    Yes, I really thought this would be higher, too. I’m assuming now that From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler will be higher, although thinking about it, this shouldn’t surprise me; both are superb books, but I don’t think I know a soul who hasn’t appreciated Mixed-Up Files. Maybe some stick-in-the-muds who are bothered that Claudia and Jamie live in the museum illegally and steal from the fountain, *I* don’t know.

  8. Kate Coombs says:

    Just read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, whose MC Flavia seems like a more dire version of Turtle Wexler to me this morning. I adore The Westing Game, but still never imagined it would be so high on the list!

  9. Melissa (Book Nut) says:

    Oh, how could I forget this book? Seriously. I read it, I love it, and I can never seem to remember it. Doh.

  10. Connie Rockman says:

    This was in a tie with about a dozen other titles for my personal #11 spot … and if it had been around when I was a kid, it would have probably moved up.

    OK, I’m convinced now that all the formerly-10-year-olds-who-loved-horse-stories grew up to become veterinarians or run riding stables rather than be librarians and people-who-become-obsessed-with-reading-polls. I’m sending off my top ten prediction list without a single equine title.

    Horses or no, this has been a great ride, Betsy … it feels like we are in the middle of our own ‘Westing Game’ trying to puzzle out the top ten and go for the prize.

    My latest favorite will-reading scene is in the deliciously devilish first Skulduggery Pleasant book by Derek Landy. Even the remarkable Raskin couldn’t have come up with a skeleton detective to play her game. Our field is alive and well!

  11. Monica says:

    Hooray! I absolutely adore Ellen Raskin. The first book of her’s I read was The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I mean Noel) and of course it went downhill from there. I’m so very excited about the reprints, ESPECIALLY The Tattooed Potato, as I absolutely love that book and it had me (briefly) interested in Christina Rosetti which is amazing since I really don’t like poetry.

  12. Susan says:

    I’m STUNNED not to see this in the top 10…I had it in the #4 spot in my prediction list (which, luckily, I hadn’t yet submitted!).

    EM…..there’s a shirt??!!!! Tell me how to get one!

  13. Maggi says:

    Read it as an adult, never felt the love. Looks like it’s time to read it again.

  14. My Boaz's Ruth says:

    The book sticks with me — but not enough to make even my top 20 list that I winnowed down to 10.

    I fear the top 10 still will have surprises due to the nature of the voting population.

  15. Sondy says:

    I, too, read this as an adult, and so thought it was good, but wasn’t blown away. I’m glad it was number 11, because I never would have guessed it in the top ten. (And in the Picture Books poll, if only #11 had traded with #10, I would have had them pegged!)

  16. Genevieve says:

    Love this book so very much – it was in my top ten poll vote until the very last iteration of the list, when I reluctantly dropped it to include something else that I was afraid wouldn’t get enough votes to be on the list, whereas I knew Westing Game would get enough votes to be very high on the list. But it’s the one I was saddest to leave off.

    The clues and the puzzle are just brilliant, particularly how each team interprets their clues so differently. And Turtle Wexler has to be one of my favorite book heroines ever. I love how the characters grow, I love the humor, and the momentum of the story as it builds and races to the finish.

    The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel) is also one of my childhood favorites – I want a shirt that says “In Pomato, in Pomato, you will find no meat . . . “

  17. Jacqui says:

    Okay, now I have no idea what the top ten will be. But I WANT that shirt.

  18. SusanB says:

    Connie Rockman….I think a lot of horse book lovers are still around, it’s just that they tend to collect horse books, and might not turn up for a poll on non-genre children’s books.

    If you’re longing to connect to a few fellow fans, zip over to janebadgerbooks.co.uk and/or ponymadbooklovers.co.uk and chat away.

    I’m actually pretty surprised and saddened at the lack of animal books in general on the poll…..books are often the only contact a city or even suburban child will have with the animal world, and it looks like they’re not getting that anymore. No sign of Felix Salten’s Bambi, Walt Morey’s Gentle Ben, Eric Knight’s Lassie, Jack London’s White Fang….you could go on and on. I thought that at least Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Shiloh books might make the list, but the few animals that have appeard have essentially been anthropomorphic or outright fantasy.

  19. Tricia (Miss Rumphius) says:

    Will I enter the contest for the top 10? NO WAY? I have no clue! (Well, perhaps a small clue.) Guessing the top 10 will be work enough without getting sucked into order.

    I will be very interested to see who pulls it off!

  20. Tamara says:

    I thought I knew children’s books, until this poll. Now it is clear what an amateur I am. I’ve lost so much confidence, I haven’t decided if I should even submit a top ten list. But the good news is, I have so many books to read.

  21. David Ziegler says:

    I’m delighted to see this classic mystery on the list, even though I didn’t think of it either when making my list. Makes you wonder if more oldies will dominate the top 10 or if more newies will jump in. Pretty sure my top 10 guesses aren’t right but it’s fun to guess nonetheless!

  22. Brenda says:

    Oh, I was hoping The Westing Game was in the top 10. I read and reread this book like crazy as a kid and still love it as an adult. When kids come in asking for mysteries this is the first book I go to. Long live Turtle Wexler! I also enjoyed The Mysterious Disappearance of Leon (I Mean Noel). Raskin was great at writing these twisty, topsy turvy books.

    I am waiting patiently for The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler to place in the top 5.

  23. DaNae says:

    I reread this last summer and found it was leaps and bound better than I remembered it. For some reason I was thinking it was all about the mystery, with little character development. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The ending also made me ridiculously happy. I so appreciate when a book will give us snapshots on the futures of its characters.

    I’m pretty sure I have the top 10 (famous last words before going down in flames). I would now like the statistic maven, Eric, to chime in and give the odds of getting all 10 in the proper order, supposing that the guesser has the correct top ten. Just to make us all feel despondent.

  24. Greg Holch says:

    This has become a surprising and really wonderful list of children’s books. Which makes sense because we all helped create it. I am now looking at a list of 15 books that I am positive will be in the final top 10. Plus an additional 15 that should be there, too. And two that were recent movies that are also knocking on the door. Thank you Elizabeth (and Matt). This has been a lot of fun.

  25. Eric says:

    DaNae,
    If you know are 100% sure of the ten books, there are 3,628,800 possible top tens!
    If you can pin down the #1 book but have no clue after that, then there are only 362,880 possibilities. Now if you can somehow lock down the positions of 3 titles (say you know 1, 2 and 10 for instance) then there are a way more manageable 5,040 combinations. And who doesn’t have 5000 phony email addresses you could use?
    To find the number of possible permutations just google the number of unknowns followed by an exclamation point. For example googling 5! returns: “5! = 120″ because(5x4x3x2x1=120).

    Please note: I haven’t taken a math class since high school so this could be incorrect.

  26. DaNae says:

    Thanks for that google tip. Three and a half million dosen’t seem like too many fake e-mails to make up. All I had to do tonight was fight back the Spring that is taking over my yard.

    And I echo Greg: Thanks Elizabeth and Matt, because it can never be said enough.

    If you want an unordered list of books thus far, I’ve been putting them on a GoodReads shelf: //www.goodreads.com/review/list/1002421-danae?shelf=100-top-middle-grade-fiction

  27. jacques says:

    I’m about to start kicking some shins myself. I was almost positive that this would be in the top 5. So disappointed to see it at #11.

  28. RM1(SS) (ret) says:

    I somehow missed this book completely (Leon/Noel I was at least aware of, though I still haven’t read it) until I started reading the Newbery winners three years ago. It’s definitely one of my favourite Newberys!

    SusanB: As I’ve mentioned before, I’m surprised that nothing by Jim Kjelgaard made the list. (It’s a real shame that so few of his books are currently in print!) And, of course, all of the horse books: Misty, Black Stallion, Black Beauty, King of the Wind, &c, &c, &c….

  29. Old Gene says:

    Not in my top ten but I have fond memories of reading Jim Kjelgaard’s books.

  30. Anna says:

    Wow, I’ve never even heard of this book.

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Burnett#9 Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery#10 The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster#11 The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin#12 The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien#13 Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson#14 [...]

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