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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

Top 100 Children’s Novels (#50-46)

And down the slippery side of the remaining fifty we go! But first, here are Eric Carpenter’s statistics on the poll results from 100 to 50. My favorite line in his post:

"At my brother’s high school graduation Orson Scott Card claimed that people do their best work before the age of thirty and never top it the rest of their lives (not such a good thing to say when most of your audience is filled with parents and grandparents). The results of the poll so far do nothing to convince me of this."

Well, who knows?  Maybe the remaining fifty will all be by spry twenty-somethings.  Somehow I doubt it, though . . .

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
(#2)(#4)(#4)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#5)(# 6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#9) – 83 points

WHY? Because it is one of the loneliest books I’ve ever read. – Walter M. Mayes

We read this for school and I dreamed of living on an island all my own. I had siblings, so that explains that. – Karen Halpenny, Book Editor, Sesame Street Events Co-Chair

Island and Julie are interchangeable in my little girl survivalist mind… I think I would read one and then move directly on to the other, lather rinse repeat. Both of these books could kick the crap out of George’s mealymouthed boy survivalist turn, My Side of the Mountain. – Dreadful Penny, http://dreadfulpenny.

As Wrinkle introduced kids to Sci Fi, I think this introduced most kids to Historical Fiction.   I remembered how floored I was to discover the basic story was true after I read it. I think this may have been where my love of historical fic started and likely did for many kids. – Joan L. Raphael, Youth Collections Librarian, San Diego Public Library

The publisher’s description of the plot reads, "In the Pacific there is an island that looks like a big fish sunning itself in the sea. Around it, blue dolphins swim, otters play, and sea elephants and sea birds abound. Once, Indians also lived on the island. And when they left and sailed to the east, one young girl was left behind.  This is the story of Karana, the Indian girl who lived alone for years on the Island of the Blue Dolphins. Year after year, she watched one season pass into another and waited for a ship to take her away. But while she waited, she kept herself alive by building shelter, making weapons, finding food, and fighting her enemies, the wild dogs. It is not only an unusual adventure of survival, but also a tale of natural beauty and personal discovery."

She was the Lost Woman of San Nicolas Island.  A woman who had lived there all by herself from 1835 to 1853.  Jan Timbrook, Curator of Ethnography at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History, gives a little background on her true story.  "In the early 1800’s, Russian and Aleut sea otter hunters clashed violently with Indian people living on remote San Nicolas Island. The mission padres requested that these Indians be moved to the mainland for their own safety, and in 1835 a schooner was sent to pick them up. As the ship was being loaded, a woman discovered her child had been left in the village and went back to find it. Meanwhile a strong wind arose. The ship was forced to sail and the woman was abandoned on the island, her child apparently killed by wild dogs. The schooner was unable to go back for her, and she spent eighteen years alone on the barren, windswept island. She never saw her fellow islanders again."  There is more info here.  After she died the DAR (the DAR?) gave her a plaque in her honor.  Here it is:


When O’Dell heard of her he was, according to Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children, a book review editor for the Los Angeles Times.  So he wrote a book about a similar woman but the audience, to him anyway, was unknown.  According to David L. Russell’s book Scott O’Dell, he once said of the book, "I didn’t know what young people were reading and I didn’t consider [Island of the Blue Dolphins] a children’s book, necessarily. [It] was a protest against the hunters who came into our mountains and killed everything that crept or walked or flew.  I sent the story to my agents. They sent it back to me by return mail, saying that if I was serious about the story I should change the girl to a boy, because girls were only interested in romance and such. This seemed silly to me. So I picked up the story, went to New York City, and gave it to my editor, who accepted it the next day. When it won the Newbery Medal, I was launched into writing for children and young adults."

After that O’Dell would never write for adults again.  Which, if we are to believe, C. Anita Tarr’s "Apologizing for Scott O’Dell –Too Little, Too Late" from Children’s Literature 2002, this is not necessarily a bad thing.  Tarr writes, "It has always disturbed me that this author of mediocre historical novels for adults was awarded accolades when he began writing for children."

There was a sequel to this book, actually.  In 1976 O’Dell wrote Zia which Malcolm Usrey in American Writers for Children Since 1960: Fiction said was, "an entertaining story, but it lacks the verve and force of Island of the Blue Dolphins and The King’s Fifth."

The book has met some criticism since we’re talking about a book where an old white man wrote a story about a young American Indian woman.  Elizabeth Hall, O’Dell’s wife, says of the book, "Children in Kotzebue, a town in the far north of Alaska were so taken with Scott’s portrayal of Native Americans that they invited him to accompany their class on a trip to Siberia, to see the land of their ancestors. I do agree that it’s difficult to write authentically about characters from another culture, and I agree that a lot of it has been done badly. It takes an immense amount of research and a huge dose of empathy. Human emotions have not changed since our ancestors were hunter-gatherers in Africa. All that has changed is the situations that evoke those emotions."

Hazel Rochman’s "Another Look At: Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins" found in the April 15, 2007 issue of Booklist makes another interesting point.  "Readers familiar with children’s literature will know that … Scott O’Dell’s Island of the Blue Dolphins, Newbery winner in 1961, also wins the endurance race, but it’s doubtful whether the experts of the day would have predicted it to outlast Walter Edmonds’ The Matchlock Gun, Newbery winner in 1942. Edmonds’ novel had the feel of a classic western, High Noon for kids. What we didn’t know then was that our interpretation of what appeared at midcentury to be an archetypal story, settler versus Indian, would change dramatically in the late 1960s and beyond, leaving readers with zero tolerance for passages describing Native Americans as savages who looked like dogs."  Not to give anything away but The Matchlock Gun does not make it onto this Top 100 Children’s Novels List.  It never even got a single vote.

In the Jezebel article Island of the Blue Dolphins: I’m a Cormorant and I Don’t Care, Lizzie Skurnick considers some aspects of the book with her customary verve.  Tons of great lines to be found there.  One of the best: ". . . this ties into my next vaguely-holiday-related point, which is that girls don’t really want to play with dolls; they want to perform tasks. (They do still care about clothes, however — after she plunges into the sea to swim back to Ramo, she says: "The only thing that made me angry was that my beautiful skirt of yucca fibers, which I had worked on so hard, was ruined.") Because after she is left to fend for herself, Karana displays a dizzying competence that might even trump Ma’s comprehensive mastery over the pig.  She gathers abalones and dries them like a champ. She kills a bunch of wild dogs and tames another one. She builds a huge fence out of whale bones and catches a billion sai sai fish to burn for light. She builds canoes, she outwits Aleut visitors, she almost manages to kill a bull elephant (ummm…hippo?) and a devilfish (octopus!). And best of all, as much as the Tea-tree-candle-copy prose gets on my nerves, it is blessedly free of the cutesy, Up-With-People prose of the American Girl series and other spunk-filled (not THAT kind of spunk, you pervs) books girls have to contend with nowadays."

And he was a first time 60-year-old children’s author who won a Newbery!  The year it won it beat America Moves Forward: A History for Peter by Gerald W. Johnson, Old Ramon by Jack Schaefer, and The Cricket In Times Square by George Selden.  Fifty points to anyone who has read all four of these.

  • You can read some of the title here.

  • You can read more about Scott O’Dell himself here.

  • In 2003 The Mendocino Quilt Artists each selected a book that was important to them when they were young.  Leila Kazimi selected Island of the Blue Dolphins, shown here:


School Library Journal gave it a star and said it was, "
A haunting and unusual story…"

A bunch of covers to pick from this time. 





The cover from Israel:


There was a movie in 1964.  It was apparently just awful.  Gee, can’t imagine why.  After all, with a tagline like "
A Girl’s Incredible Adventure on a Lost Island!" and a pretty clearly white heroine who wears a short buckskin skirt the whole time, what’s there to possibly object to?

frindle#49 Frindle by Andrew Clements (1996)
(#2)(#2)(#4)(#5)(#5)(#5)(#6)(# 6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#9) (#9)(#9)(#10)(#10)(#10) – 84 points

I still cry when I re-read Mrs. Granger’s letter at the end.   This was one of those few books that was a surprise from start to finish. – Kathy Jarombek, Head of Youth Services, Perrot Memorial Library, Old Greenwich, CT 

Nobody does the school story any better than Andrew Clements and this is his best work in my opinion.   I like the fact that Andrew’s characters are not helpless students.    Besides just being a fun story, the book shows the power of one to make a difference. – Heidi Grange, School Library Media Teacher, Summit Elementary, Smithfield, UT

I remember the first time that I read this one aloud to a fourth grade class. They were positively giddy over its subversiveness. They kept stealing guilty glances at their teacher as I read. – Brenda Kahn, School Library Media Specialist, Tenakill Middle School, Closter, NJ

This is a book I discovered as an adult, and boy am I glad I did.   Perhaps better than any other title I can think of, Frindle delights in alternative teaching, the joy of words and the reward that can come from good ideas and sticking to them. – Sharon Thackston

If you’re a children’s librarian then you are probably well and truly familiar with the gaps that consistently appear in the Andrew Clements portion of your fiction shelves.  Talk about a guy who has made his name memorable to kids.  If they’re not devouring School Story then they’re giggling over No Talking or A Week in the Woods.  And it all started with Frindle.  A little book.  A little idea.  A title that never received an ALA Awards and yet is one of the most memorable titles to be released in the last 15 years.

The plot from the publisher reads, "Is Nick Allen a troublemaker?  He really just likes to liven things up at school — and he’s always had plenty of great ideas. When Nick learns some interesting information about how words are created, suddenly he’s got the inspiration for his best plan ever – the frindle. Who says a pen has to be called a pen? Why not call it a frindle? Things begin innocently enough as Nick gets his friends to use the new word. Then other people in town start saying frindle. Soon the school is in an uproar, and Nick has become a local hero. His teacher wants Nick to put an end to all this nonsense, but the funny thing is frindle doesn’t belong to Nick anymore. The new word is spreading across the country, and there’s nothing Nick can do to stop it."

Where did he get the idea for the book?  Well, according to Clements’ website, the idea of creating a word like "frindle" was all part of a talk he’d give when he visited schools.  "I was teaching a little about the way words work, and about what words really are. I was trying to explain to them how words only mean what we decide they mean. They didn’t believe me when I pointed to a fat dictionary and told them that ordinary people like them and like me had made up all the words in that book—and that new words get made up all the time."  When a kid challenged him he had a ready answer. Says Clements, "The kids loved that idea, and for a couple of years I told that same story every time I went to visit and talk at a school or a library. Then one day as I was sitting at home, sifting through my life, looking for a story idea, I wondered, ‘What would happen if a kid started using a new word, and other kids really liked it, but his English teacher didn’t?’ So the idea for the book was born…"

A lot of the charm of this and other Andrew Clements books is entirely in the characters.  As Lisa Von Drasek said of it in the New York Times, "His teachers aren’t ”Charlie Brown”-type monoliths. They’re individuals with their own quirks and anxieties, and they don’t always agree. Clements matter-of-factly demonstrates that teachers can be petty and single-minded; a principal can apologize to a student for overreacting. His kids are cruel, kind, bullying, angry, joyful, delightful, tall, short, impulsive, thoughtful, smart, funny. He captures a broad spectrum of human behavior; the gossipy mean girl can also be surprisingly generous."

  • This is a lot of fun.  If you’re a teacher (or a parent or a librarian, for that matter) why not play a little Frindle Jeopardy with your kids?

Publishers Weekly
gave it a tepid, "Dictionary lovers will cotton to this mild classroom fantasy."

School Library Journal was far more positive with, "Readers will chuckle from beginning to end as they recognize themselves and their classrooms in the cast of characters. A remarkable teacher’s belief in the power of words shines through the entire story, as does a young man’s tenacity in proving his point. Outstanding and witty."

Kirkus agreed, saying, "If there’s any justice in the world, Clements (Temple Cat, 1995, etc.) may have something of a classic on his hands. By turns amusing and adroit, this first novel is also utterly satisfying."

Said Lisa Von Drasek in The New York Times, "Frindle hits every note right."

This particular image was created by Justin Ziegler for a children’s production of the play Frindle, performed at Chicago’s Griffin Theatre Company.


Artist Penelope Dullaghan offered this as a pitch piece for a new Frindle cover:


The Andrew Clements website has quite a few cool covers of his books from around the world too.

The UK











And, my personal favorite, Korea:

#48 The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall (2005)
(#2)(#2)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#5)(# 5)(#5)(#6)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#9) (#10) -85 points

I know it’s new, but I have much love for this one. – Stacy Dillon, Lower School Librarian, LREI – Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School

I put off reading this book for a long time, and I was so mad at myself when I finally did read it. This book made me feel like that 9 year old girl again. It’s just so charming and lovely and delightful. You can’t help but try to decide if you are a "Rosalind" or a "Skye" or a "Jane" or a "Batty".   – Jennifer Sauls

This story reads well for boys as well as girls and adults, too.   The prologue of Mrs. Penderwick’s death breaks my heart every time I read it, but the joy at the end of the book makes it all worthwhile.   Birdsall slips in delightful nuggets for adults too.   When Mr. Penderwick dates "Maryann Dashwood"?   Priceless. – Cathy Berner, Children’s/Young Adult Specialist and Events Coordinator, Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas

A new classic. Paige Ysteboe

When The Penderwicks swept away  the competition at the 2005 National Book Awards for Young People’s Literature it was the first moment I’d heard of this clever mix of homage and downright awesome storytelling.  Some of us still scratch our heads from time to time and wonder why it never got that ALA accredited award it so deeply deserved.

The synopsis from the publisher reads, "This summer the Penderwick sisters have a wonderful surprise: a holiday on the grounds of a beautiful estate called Arundel. Soon they are busy discovering the summertime magic of Arundel’s sprawling gardens, treasure-filled attic, tame rabbits, and the cook who makes the best gingerbread in Massachusetts. But the best discovery of all is Jeffrey Tifton, son of Arundel’s owner, who quickly proves to be the perfect companion for their adventures.  The icy-hearted Mrs. Tifton is not as pleased with the Penderwicks as Jeffrey is, though, and warns the new friends to stay out of trouble. Which, of course, they will—won’t they? One thing’s for sure: it will be a summer the Penderwicks will never forget."

On her website, Ms. Birdsall explains a bit about where some of the ideas for this book came from.  "From my own past, and from the children around me—in particular, my niece and nephew who live nearby. My nephew’s passionate love for animals went right into Batty. His sister’s calm way of going about being the oldest helped me with Rosalind. My nephew was also kind enough to turn into a brilliant soccer player—and is now my expert when I write about Skye and Jane and their antics on the soccer field.  I also borrow from other books, especially the ones I loved best when I was young. The idea of four sisters came from Little Women. Batty’s adventure with the bull came from Emily of New Moon."

The Penderwicks was Ms. Birdsall’s amazing debut, but it didn’t come out of nowhere.  In an interview with The Orange County Register she said, "All my life I had wanted to write children’s books. I spent at least five years in the process of writing ‘The Penderwicks.’  It took so long because I wasn’t just writing – I was learning how to craft a book, how to make chapters, how to create characters. It’s hard! By the time the book was published in 2005, I had been working on it about 10 years."

When Little Willow asked about the subtitle and whether or not the "very interesting boy" might not refer to Cagney, Ms. Birdsall replied, "Aha! Another person with a literal brain. You’re absolutely right. Hound (whom I placated with a bone over his omission) plays a much larger role in the book than the two rabbits. And which boy is more interesting? Skye and Jane would answer one way, and Rosalind the other. And then there’s a father, and a bull, and . . .  My wonderful editor, Michelle Frey, and I struggled mightily with this subtitle. We discovered that there really was no way to include everyone without making it too ungainly. So, in the end, we stopped worrying about details and chose what we hoped would evoke the mood of the book."

People who love the book and those who are indifferent to it both say that the book feels like a throwback to the classics of yore.  Elizabeth Enright and all that.  I would agree that there are classic elements to it, but the book is very much its own beast.  Not a cobbled together set of previously worn out ideas, but a whole new set of stories and characters, written in such a way as to cause folks to fall in love with it.  Which, coming in at #48, they clearly do.

It won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature in 2005 beating out a very teen selection that included Where I Want to Be by Adele Griffin, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch, Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers, and the younger and also lovely Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles.  And when she accepted the award, Ms. Birdsall had this to say: "I’ve gotten many, many wonderful reviews for this book but my very favorite comes from a third grader on Long Island named Scott. He said, ‘This book is about being a good listener even if you’re a grown up’.”  Amen to that.

  • You can read some of the tale here.

Child Magazine
said of it, "Crisp, witty dialogue and supple storytelling propel this happy celebration of sisterhood, individuality, and the simple pleasures of summer."

Said School Library Journal, "Problems are solved and lessons learned in this wonderful, humorous book that features characters whom readers will immediately love, as well as a superb writing style. Bring on more of the Penderwicks."

The Times said, "Although the context is modern, the flavour is traditional, in the mould of Louisa May Alcott and E Nesbit. This is a gentle book, with a philosophy of kindness to others and a message that children should confide their troubles to adults, who should always listen."

And in stiff-upper-lip style, Kirkus said, "Their adventures and near-disasters, innocent crushes, escaped animals, owning-up and growing up (and yes, changes of heart) are satisfying and not-too-sweet."

Ms. Birdsall was kind enough to put some of the foreign Penderwick covers on her website.  You should go and look at them, if only to see the delightful interior illustrations the Italians gave the book.


Purdy.  And Jeffrey’s on the back cover (unlike in the American editions):



And there’s a lovely two-part interview with Ms. Birdsall.  The nice thing about these videos is that the comments are filled to the brim with kids, desperately asking for the release date for Penderwick book #3.  There will be five in total.

#47 Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999)
(#2)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#4)(#4)(#4)(# 4)(#6)(#7)(#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(# 10)(#10)(#10) – 87 points

Fabulous voice.   Great story.   Wonderful main character. – Sarah Sullivan

I often do not reread books but this one I will—funny, funny, triumphant. – Priscilla Cordero, Ocean County Library, Toms River, NJ

A tiny bit more color gets on the Top 100 list.  We had this problem with the Top 100 Picture Books list too, as I recall.  But I am quite pleased to see that this particular Curtis book crested the Top 50.  It was the first book of his I ever read, and is one doozy of a story.

The plot synopsis from the publisher reads, "It’s 1936 Flint, Michigan. Times may be hard, and 10-year-old Bud may be a motherless boy, but Bud’s got a few things going for him: 1. He has his own suitcase full of special things; 2. He’s the author of "Bud Caldwell’s Rules and Things for Having a Funner Life and Making a Better Liar Out of Yourself"; 3. His momma never told him who his father was, but she left a clue: posters of Herman E. Calloway and his band of renown, the Dusky Devastators of the Depression. Bud is sure those posters will lead him to his father. Once he decides to hit the road, nothing can stop him, not hunger, not fear, not would-be vampires, not even Herman E. Calloway himself."

The book won both a Newbery Award and a Coretta Scott King Award in 2000.  In terms of the Newbery, it beat out Newbery Honors Getting Near to Baby by Audrey Couloumbis, Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer L. Holm, and 26 Fairmount Avenue by Tomie dePaola. About the Award, Curtis tells Leonard Marcus in the book Funny Business, "One of my sayings is ‘I get through life by having really low expectations.’  Anything good that happens is a bonus.  If it’s bad, well, I wasn’t expecting anything more, anyway.  The fact that I was older when I won the Newbery Medal made a real difference.  It wasn’t as likely to turn my head.  I have a good friend I’ve got to be careful around, because when I’m with him I laugh so hard I almost choke.  One of his sayings is ‘One day chicken, next day feathers.’  This is now.  Tomorrow may be something different.  Don’t take yourself too seriously."

The Children’s Theatre Company of Minneapolis, Minnesota is one of the finest children’s theatrical troupes in the nation.  You can bank on it.  And so it was with great pleasure that I heard that they produced their own version of Bud, Not Buddy.  I particularly like this photograph from too.

I also liked this image created by Mary Brainard for the show.  You can see another on her website.

The long gone but not forgotten Riverbank Review said of it, "Curtis writes with humor and sensitivity and makes readers care about the characters he creates. In the process, he offers up a significant slice of American history."

Said Publishers Weekly, "Bud’s journey, punctuated by Dickensian twists in plot and enlivened by a host of memorable personalities, will keep readers engrossed from first page to last."

VOYA commented, "Curtis writes with a razor sharp intelligence that grabs the reader by the heart and never lets go. His utterly believable depiction of the self reliant charm and courage of Bud, not Buddy, puts this highly recommended title at the top of the list of books to be read again and again."

And School Library Journal agreed once and for all with, "Curtis has given a fresh, new look to a traditional orphan-finds-a-home story that would be a crackerjack read-aloud."

There are quite a few covers out there, though most of them appear to be variations on a single theme.

This is a change of pace.  Rather than students making a video for a book, this is a group of teachers.  And it’s all thanks to Bud, Not Buddy.

And here you can see Mr. Curtis read a bit from the book.

#46 Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (1961)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#3)(# 3)(#4)(#4)(#10) – 90 points

Anyone whose had a beloved pet can relate to Billy’s adoration of the dogs he works so hard to pay for.   While the setting and characters fit into a specific time frame, the themes of love and sacrifice are universal. – Heidi Grange, School Library Media Teacher, Summit Elementary, Smithfield, UT

My 4th grade teacher (30 years ago) read it aloud, and it completely transformed my vision of reading. I revisit the book every few years, and still cry like a baby. I even read it aloud one year to my class-bawling unabashedly several times. They still remember my reaction and love of the book, and (I hope) it made the same indelible mark on them as it did on me. – Tess Alfonsin, Fifth Grade Reading Teacher, Roosevelt Alexander Elementary

I remember crying so much through this book, and even today I tear up thinking of Big Dan and Little Ann. I also loaned this to my (then) children’s librarian, because the library copy was always out. I even marked the pages, “Get out tissue here.” – DeAnn Okamura

I suppose there might be some question as to whether or not this book belongs on the list since it was initially published (mistakenly, I personally believe) as an adult novel.  However, since 1961 the book has been marketed to kids and that has worked out quite swimmingly.  On this Top 100 Children’s Books List I am counting "classics" that may not have initially sought out kids as their primary audience, but found their way there eventually.  This title certainly slots into that category (and accounts for why it didn’t win any children’s literary awards at the get-go).

The plot from the Scholastic Literature Guide reads, "At age 10 Billy Colman decides he must have two hound dogs.  It takes him two years to save the money, but he finally has enough to order the dogs.  He names his pups Little Ann and Old Dan.  From then on, Billy and his dogs spend most nights hunting raccoons along the river bottom in the foothills of the Ozarks where he lives.  As Billy becomes prouder and more attached to his dogs, it becomes clear that they are a unique team.  Old Dan is a bold fighter and Little Ann is as smart as they come.  The dogs are intensely loyal to one another and to Billy.  The story is packed with hair-raising hunting adventures and glorious moments of triumph.  By the time Billy’s grandpa enters the dogs in a championship coon hunt, they are known all over the county.  Billy and his dogs win the contest but not long afterward, they encounter a mountain lion while hunting.  In killing the lion Old Dan becomes fatally injured.  Little Ann dies soon after from grief, and Billy buries them both in a lovely spot on top of a hill."

How did it come about?  Jim Trelease in Trelease on Reading puts it a funny way: "Not all stories are published as soon as they are written and some take longer to write than others. Robert McCloskey spent a full year writing the 1,142 words in Make Way for Ducklings. E.B. White thought about and revised Stuart Little for nearly 15 years. But Where the Red Fern Grows, by Wilson Rawls, is the only children’s book I know that was completely burned before publication because of embarrassment by its author–after he’d spent nearly 20 years writing it!"  Much of the book was based on Rawls’ own childhood in the appropriately named Scraper, Oklahoma.  He spent much of his life writing, but before he married his wife he burned all his manuscripts up.  She asked him to rewrite one of them, so in three weeks he wrote (or rewrote, depending on how you look at it) Where the Red Fern Grows.  It was sold to the Saturday Evening Post, did poorly because they thought it was for adults, and then in the late 60s teachers and kids got ahold of it and made it a huge hit.

There’s a rather funny "Review of Where the Red Fern Grows" by Robert Wilfred Franson at Troynovant that makes some interesting points about the book that I’d not known before.  For example, the sisters are never mentioned by name, which is a bit odd.  And then there’s this note: "There are other intriguing moral lessons in Where the Red Fern Grows. For instance, during a challenge to find a particularly wily raccoon, a local young bully-boy and his bully-hound come to fatal ends while crossing our hero and his dogs. But nobody worries much about accidental deaths; the bully’s own family is no more excited than they’d be to see a coon fall out of a tree. So that’s all right."

For years I’ve collected information about statues of famous children’s literary characters.  I had no idea until I started researching this book, however, that there is a statue of Billy and his dogs at the Idaho Falls Public Library.  Amazing.



The covers tend to like to place the boy and his dogs in the thick of the night.

There are at least two filmed versions of the book.  The first was from 1974. You can see a bit of it here.

Re: The song that plays at the beginning of that clip…. oh, 1974.  Never change.

I guess I always thought that Dave Matthews made his film debut in Because of Winn-Dixie.  Nope.  It was in the 2003 version of Where the Red Fern Grows, I guess.  The man has a thing for dog movies.

  • The Mississippi lesson plans for this book are particularly fascinating.

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    About Elizabeth Bird

    Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. 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 EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


    1. Jennifer in GA says

      Oh YAY!! Something from my list *finally* made it. I have so much love for The Penderwicks it’s not even funny. And for my little quote to be included? *dies of pride*

    2. I’m almost glad I lost track of time and forgot to send in my 10. I would have spent the past few (and next few) weeks kicking myself for having forgotton so many wonderful titles!

    3. Welcome back from your well-deserved rest, Betsy. This list is a marvel! Today’s choices are great. Where the Red Fern Grows was a favorite of my boys. I read it aloud on a summer road trip to Maine (boo hiss DVD players in cars!), and no one wanted it to end. Thank you for bringing back many warm memories on a snowy winter morning!

    4. My Boaz''s Ruth says

      Something from my list FINALLY made it! Island of the Blue Dolphins! Yay! We read the Laurel-Leaf cover version of it. (I don’t remember the cover of what I have now. it’s HB though so I didn’t wear it out so fast.)

      (And Red Fern would have bumped my #10 but I didn’t think of it until after I sent in the list. My Red Fern was the Random House cover with the yellow stripe on the top.)

    5. It’s wonderful to me in a strange way that so many of these books are ones I recognize as being great contributions to literature that I found extremely boring. I keep trying to explain to the students that not every book is for everyone at any time.

      Although I would feel very sad for anyone who did not delight in Frindle…

    6. Grinning big, that both Frindle and The Penderwicks made the cut after I cut them. So glad others could use them in their count to ten. And may we please see more of Mr. Curtis!

      And Oh my heavens, next visit to my mother in Idaho Falls will include a trip to see Little Ann and Big Dan. Damn! I’ve been so close, so many times and never knew.

    7. It looks like this batch is showing first appearances for several – finally one of my picks has made it! I’m glad to see there is more love out there for “Frindle”.

    8. RM1(SS) (ret) says

      No more of my books yet (three thus far), but The Penderwicks is an excellent book – I’m eagerly awaiting the third book in the series – and so is Island of the Blue Dolphins.

    9. Karen Halpenny says

      I can’t believe I forgot about Where the Red Fern Grows!!! I sobbed my heart out when reading that book — can’t even watch the trailers without tearing up. Love that book.

      And thanks for including my quote! …though I should probably make sure my siblings don’t read this blog…

    10. A great list today … any one of these could have been my number 11 book … And only 11 because my own top ten was heavily weighted toward fantasy.

      Frindle – Yes! … Penderwicks – Yes! Both of those books made me feel like I was ten years old again when I read them. And what is better than coming across a book that feels immediately like a modern ‘classic.’

    11. Yay, Frindle! The first (only?) book on my list to make the top 100! And what was that shriek that was heard throughout the office? Oh, you quoted me — Thanks!

    12. Yay for today’s list! Hurrah for The Penderwicks, such a lovely book for those of us who were big fans of Alcott and Eager and others – I love how it melds the gentle adventure story, the sister story, the summer story, and adds something all its own. My son cheered mightily for Frindle (and even though he’s not enjoyed reading Island at school, he said he could see how others do and it deserves to be on the list), and Bud, Not Buddy was on my list, yahoo! Love the humor in this book, the vampire part being particularly priceless. Just finished reading The Watsons last night, next on my TBR shelf is Elijah of Buxton, which (based on others’ reviews) I’m guessing may appear on this list.

    13. There are some great ones on todays list. I love the Penderwicks, and Island of the Blue Dolphins (though as a kid the first time through I was disappointed there weren’t more dolphins in the story)

      Just so you know, the first two bullets after the last video actually refer to the Penderwick segment.

    14. Beautiful. I loved seeing the Penderwicks here, though I ended up having to cut it from my own top ten. I recommend it to my young reading acquaintance often. And three cheers to know that three more Penderwick books are coming!

    15. It’s funny, but I’m with the others: None of these books made my list, but I’m so glad they made the top 50. Great books! RED FERN I forgot about — Might have made my list if I had remembered. What a wonderful book!

    16. Oh Dreadful Penny, you are dreadfully wrong. I so wanted to be Sam Gribley (with a falcon! live in a hollow tree!) when I was 12. I never, ever wanted to be Julie or Karana, and though I liked parts of their stories, I never had any desire to re-read them. Though I did want the wolf pack.

      I’m looking forward to seeing “My Side of the Mountain” soon. Even if I forgot to vote for it. :-/

    17. Well darn, apparently I missed “My Side of the Mountain” already. Maybe if I’d voted for it, it would have beat “Island of the Blue Dolphins”. Hmpf.

    18. rockinlibrarian says

      DaNae, you too are hoping to see more Curtis? Yay! See, I on the other hand had a more pessimistic reaction, which was Oh MAN, Bud Not Buddy is on here already and this high, no way the Watsons are going to make it, I totally should have voted for them! — which is the first time I had that reaction reading this list! I see books in my Top 20 that I cut and I’m glad to see enough other people voted for them, but this is the first time it occurred to me that maybe one of my Top 20 LOST OUT ON THE LIST ENTIRELY because I didn’t contribute my, uh, one or two points toward it…. Ah well!

      Also, do you know how many times I’ve recommended Frindle… to adults? I can’t help myself, as soon as people start talking about word origins or made-up words, I suddenly start pushing this on them. “It’s short! You can read it in one sitting! You won’t regret it! Come on, do it now!”

    19. Hooray for “Island of the Blue Dolphins”! This was one of those #11 type books for me, too, so I’m so happy to see it here. I read it when I was littler and it made a real influence on my love of reading. The writing is so gracefully beautiful, but still it has just enough adventure.

      I really enjoyed “Frindle” and although I wasn’t expecting to see Andrew Clements so high on this list, I’m glad he gets some recognition. “Frindle” and “The School Story” are his two really good books, in my opinion.

      I was one of those people who personally found “The Penderwicks” middling. Really, I found it entertaining, but I simply can’t understand why people are so impressed with it. It’s really quite unoriginal when you look at it, and although I love Elizabeth Enright and the like and enjoyed the old-fashioned style of this book, it did seem kind of obviously throwback to me. And little bits just didn’t work. Was I the only one who thought the Cagney crush distracting and out of character? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the book. It’s just not Top 50. Just my opinion.

      And hooray for “Bud, Not Buddy”! Another book that I love by a favorite author makes an appearance! I think this is the perfect example of how to write a funny book that is still grounded in reality and a great sense of time and place. Indeed, for me most of the success of the book lies in the outstanding and deeply memorable character of Bud. A great story from first page to last, and so happy to see it included.

    20. Dreadful Penny says

      Please, don’t anybody sic your pet trained falcons on me! I never knew my My Side of the Mountains snark would have a chance of making it into Betsy’s commentary (and I’m fully aware of the cognitive dissonance in putting down one Jean Craighead George book to praise another).

      Here’s why I prefer Island and Julie to My Side: even though I read My Side a bunch of times as a kid, I always found something kinda prissy and condescending about Sam’s Thoreau-esque turn… prissy, like when the Swiss Family Robinson make basins for their running water out of some giant tortoise shells. The girls in Island and Julie weren’t living out some bourgeois back-to-the-land fantasy; they were struggling on the edge of survival, needing every bit of their considerable wit and skill to just get by. While I never could have articulated it as a kid, I think this lasting aversion is a class thing. Sam was wealthy enough to have a life to run away from (and that he could always return to if things got too rough)… a place in the city AND a country farm upstate, and stable parents to rescue him and coddle enough to let him do this semi-crazy thing.

      Plus, I have a thing for wolf-fur hoods and cormorant-feather skirts.

    21. Dreadful Penny says

      Oh, and here’s hoping Julie of the Wolves is yet to come! This is the first day one of my picks has made it on the list!

    22. I happen to agree with you Dreadful Penny. And Hatchet vs. My Side of the Mountain? No contest, to my mind.

    23. Dreadful Penny says

      Oh, Hatchet was one of my #11s. I’m still absolutely terrified of the part where he dove for the plane wreckage and saw the pilot eaten by fish…. ack.

    24. Oh, I love the snark, even when it’s on my childhood favorites.

      I do feel a little bad because I totally forgot about Curtis, and I would have actually booted one of my top ten and put “The Watsons” in there, I like that book so much. I loved “Bud, Not Buddy”, but the portrayal of the sibling relationships in “The Watsons” was just amazing. I can’t be the only one who feels this way, so I’m betting “The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963” is still going to turn up here. (The only thing I don’t love about that book is the unwieldy and unenticing title).

    25. Also, I’ve never read Hatchet! Must rectify that immediately. I don’t why I’ve never read it, since Paulsen’s (adult) “Winterdance” is one of my favorite books of all time.

    26. Yay, 2 of my top 10 make the cut… and a quote to boot! 🙂 Thanks!

    27. Scrumptious says

      Well, here’s the first one from my list to appear: Island of the Blue Dolphins! I have faith that several others from my list are waiting ahead, but now that we’ve passed the #50 mark I am quite sure my lesser-known darlings are not going to make the cut. So sad! I would have loved to see them introduced through this amazing forum! I’ll keep mum for now just in case by some freak miracle they do turn up later (there are certainly a few books in every batch that I’ve never heard of, so who knows what lies ahead?) but once the final post is up I’m going to start shilling for the one that got left behind!

    28. I have to say that “Where the Red Fern Grows” pretty much ruined animal books for me. My 4th grade teacher read it out loud to our class and it was so horrifyingly sad that now I’m afraid to even read “Shiloh” or “Because of Winn-Dixie.”

    29. So satisfying to see Red Fern on the list. Loved, loved, loved it as a child. Have not yet re-read it as an adult. Having recently read The Yearling, which was a hundred times sadder than anything else I’ve read this decade, I’m interested to see how it compares.

      Frindle – yes!!

      It is very exciting to hear that there will be FIVE Penderwicks. I feel happy just thinking about it.