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Top 100 Children’s Novels (#25-21)

Think of it this way.  If there have been books on this list up until this point that you do not like or don’t think should have ranked as high as they did, you can always say to yourself amidst the gnashing of teeth, "At least it didn’t make the Top 20". *whistles to self*

#25 Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868 & 1869)
(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3) (#3)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#5)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#7) (#8)(#9)(#10)(#10) – 136 points

I didn’t just read Little Women as a child, I inhabited it. I read it over and over again, beginning at around the age of nine, and never seemed to tire of returning to the fictional world and family that Alcott had crafted. I wanted to be Jo March more than anything. When as an adult I finally got visit Orchard House in Concord (the house she based the March’s house on, and the house where she wrote Little Women) I honestly had a deep sense of homecoming. – Beth Priest (Endless Books)

Again, a book I have reread since childhood and still love. Of course growing up in a family of four girls, like the Marches undoubtedly influenced my love of the book. It is the first book I remember reading where a main character died. Oh how many tears I’ve shed for Beth. It is also the first where my expectations were defied. Until I saw the modern film version, where Gabriel Byrne played the professor, I just couldn’t believe Jo would choose him over Laurie. You can’t help but think that the Marchs have inspired the Penderwicks and McKay’s Exiles. – Janice E. Bojda, Head of Children’s Services, Evanston Public Library

And every time I read it I’d get so mad about Jo not marrying Laurie! And then by the end I’d be reconciled to Professor Baer. – Sally Engelfried

I still think Jo should have married Laurie. – Jennifer Sauls

Early on there was a little speculation as to what the oldest book on this Top 100 Children’s Novels list might be. I am happy to report that coming in at #25 is Alcott’s finest. It is the oldest book you will find in this collection (sorry, The Tales of Peter Parley About America fans).

The plot from Anita Silvey’s Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book reads, "The four March girls – determined Jo, beautiful Meg, saintly Beth, and artistic Amy – experience first the problems of the Civil War years and then the period after the war.  All struggled with character defects (Meg vanity; Jo tempter ; Beth shyness; and Amy selfishness); all deal with the problems created by their family’s poverty.  Without question one of the saddest moments universally acknowledged in children’s fiction comes when Beth dies.  And that, of course, underscores the great strength of Alcott’s work; she brings these characters to life.  But Jo carries the story.  She refuses to accept what society tells her to be.  She is generous and loving, cutting off her own hair to provide money for the family, but she is never a victim.  She finds her own path and becomes what she wants to be, a writer."

And its origin story?  The Reference Guide to American Literature describes the creation of the book(s) in this way: "Alcott’s purpose in writing Little Women was not to create a nostalgic portrait of an idyllic childhood, though the book is often read as such. She wrote it to make money." Horn Book‘s article "Introduction to the Centennial Edition of Little Women" by Cornelia Meigs goes into a bit more detail on the matter. "In September, 1867, [Alcott] mentions in her diary that Mr. Thomas Niles of Roberts Brothers had asked her for a book for girls. It seems to have been somewhat of a shot in the dark even for him; for her it was even more unpromising than that. She agreed to try, but linked the task so little that she did not go on with it. Other and easier-seeming undertakings were allowed to come in the way and in May, 1867, she sent her father to Mr. Niles to ask him if he would not be interested in a fairy book. Thomas Niles answered firmly that he wanted a book for girls." And so, dear reader, she did.

The second part of Little Women was originally published in 1869 as Good Wives. Usually that book is paired with the first into one great big Little Women, though. Part one was drawn quite a bit from Alcott’s own life (even to the point where Amy was simply the rearranged letters of Louisa’s actual sister). Elizabeth, Lousia’s sister, died at twenty-three. Louisa was very disappointed when the family broke up. The Alcott girls donated their Christmas breakfast to a needy family once. Louisa won a hundred dollars in a writing contest. The girls often performed their own plays.  It’s all there! I was particularly pleased to find a letter in the May 1903 edition of St. Nicholas from Annie Alcott Pratt, otherwise known to the world as "Meg". She clarifies a couple points. " ‘Meg’ was never the pretty vain little maiden, who coquetted and made herself so charming. But ‘Jo’ always admired poor, plain ‘Meg,’ and when she came to put her into the story, she beautified her to suit the occasion, saying, ‘Dear me, girls, we must have one beauty in the book!’ So ‘Meg,’ with her big mouth and homely nose, shines forth quite a darling, and no doubt all the ‘ little women’ who read of her admire her just as loving old ‘Jo’ does, and think her quite splendid. But, for all that, she is nothing but homely, busy, and, I hope, useful ‘Annie’ who writes this letter to you." It goes on from there. Fascinating reading.

In her critical essay on Little Women in Novels for Students, author Jennifer Bussey explains a lot of the book’s appeal at the time. "Because most characters in children’s books at the time were too perfect, readers were less interested in what eventually became of them. In Little Women, however, readers saw themselves in the pages of the story and longed to know how things turned out for the March girls. Thus, being character driven is part one’s strength." It’s true. The sermonizing in this book has nothing on the average everyday 19th-century novel of the time. Alcott allowed her characters to be a little more than merely "good" or "bad".  A novel notion, no?

It’s the honesty of the writing that folks (adult folks anyway) tend to love. In Intent Upon Reading: A Critical Appraisal of Modern Fiction for Children author Margery Fisher writes, "How many family stories there are in which the plot centers round poverty: how few in which you can really smell that poverty. Little Women has a permanent place on the bookshelves of the young because of its sterling honesty."

There is great lamenting and gnashing of teeth when people discuss the fact that Jo and next door neighbor boy Laurie don’t hook up. I rather like Bussey’s explanation of why that is, though. "While it is tempting to imagine that Alcott wrote for Jo a fate she had hoped for herself, the author’s correspondence proves otherwise. She knew that readers desperately wanted to see Jo marry, but Alcott was unwilling to make the obvious choice of Laurie as a husband. Alcott understands Jo so completely that she cannot allow her to marry Laurie, even though it disappoints most readers. Jo loves Laurie as a brother, not as a husband, and she knows that he does not fully appreciate how important her writing is to her. As his wife, she would be expected to socialize in high society and behave like a lady. Knowing herself well enough to know that the marriage would not be fulfilling, Jo refuses his proposal." She later goes on to speculate that Professor Bhaer was inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but that’s neither here nor there.

  • Download the book here.
  • Here are some lesson plans.
  • It seems appropriate that at the same time I put this book up on the list, I get this other book in the mail: Little Vampire Women.  Actually . . . it makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

A review in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine at the time said of it, "It is natural, and free from that false sentiment which pervades too much of juvenile literature. Autobiographies, if genuine, are generally interesting, and it is shrewdly suspected that Joe’s experience as an author photographs some of Miss Alcott’s own literary mistakes and misadventures."

The Nation was a little more snide, saying "Miss Alcott’s new juvenile [novel, Little Women,] is an agreeable little story, which is not only very well adapted to the readers for whom it is especially intended, but may also be read with pleasure by older people. The girls depicted all belong to healthy types, and are drawn with a certain cleverness, although there is in the book a lack of what painters call atmosphere—things and people being painted too much in ‘local colors,’ and remaining, under all circumstances, somewhat too persistently themselves."

Re: The covers – Sing, my pretties!  Sing!

The most dramatic cover by far:

If Little Women were set in the early1960s.  Or maybe 80s.  Geez:

I wonder why Laurie never makes the cover cut?

Oops!  Spoke too soon.  And that’s some jaw.

With this one I like to play a little game I’m calling Spot-the-Jo.

Spot-the-Jo Part II:

The appearance of the mysterious 5th sister in, what appears to be, Edwardian England:

Chinese (they all look kind of nervous):


And let us not forget the multiple filmed versions of this book for countless generations. In 1933 Katherine Hepburn was Jo.

Elizabeth Taylor played Amy in the 1949 version.

Then came 1978. The big star was Meredith Baxter Birney as Meg, Susan Dey as Jo, and . . . William Shatner as Professor Bhaer? Hoo boy.

The inevitable 1987 Japanese animated series:

And finally, I confess that as a kid who grew up watching Beetlejuice, the Winona Ryder was always my favorite.

#24 Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (2007)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3) (#3)(#4)(#4)(#5)(#7)(#7)(#7)(#9)(#9) – 137 points

I couldn’t resist placing this on my top ten. Rowling’s conclusion is a work of mastery. I could write for hours on why I love it, but I will be brief: in Rowling world’s, there is nothing more powerful than love. And that is a beautiful thing. – Sharon Thackston

Totally wrong that we had to divide up the series, as it really is more than the sum of its parts! However, for me, this is THE Harry Potter book. It’s the culmination of everything. Every plotline, every character, every action was leading to this book. It’s only after reading this book that you can fully realize just *how much work* Rowling put into these books, and it paid off one hundred fold for me as a reader. There are still passages I can’t make it through without losing it completely. – Jennifer Sauls

Couldn’t have asked for a more satisfying ending to the Potter series. – Amy Farrier

It is with great interest that I note how every person has a different favorite Harry Potter book.  It’s like a literary litmus test.  Children’s librarians should ask their dates this very question the minute they meet.  If the date says their favorite book is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, they’re probably okay.  If they say, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince?  Run for the hills, m’dear.  Run for the hills.

The plot from the bookflap reads, "Harry has been burdened with a dark, dangerous and seemingly impossible task: that of locating and destroying Voldemort’s remaining Horcruxes.  Never has Harry felt so alone, or faced a future so full of shadows.  But Harry must somehow find within himself the strength to complete the task he has been given.  He must leave the warmth, safety and companionship of The Burrow and follow without fear or hesitation the inexorable path laid out for him … "

Maybe my favorite look at this book was, in all things, the journal Books & Culture. In it author Alan Jacobs wrote "The Youngest Brother’s Tale" where he takes in all the critiques of the HP book and comes to the conclusion that the book must be a penny dreadful. Later after sifting through the plot and implications he says, "It should be obvious at this point that the Harry Potter books amount to something more, far more, than your average penny dreadful. But they belong, firmly, to that moral universe, even as they expand it beyond what we might have thought possible. Many years ago Umberto Eco wrote that the greatness of Casablanca stems from its shameless deployment of every narrative cliche known to humankind: ‘Two cliches make us laugh. A hundred cliches move us. For we sense dimly that the cliches are talking among themselves, and celebrating a reunion.’ The Harry Potter books are like that: every trope and trick of the penny dreadful raised to the highest power and revealed in all their glory."  That pretty much summarizes what I love best about Harry Potter. We’ve seen it all before, but we ain’t never seen it done like this!

I figured I couldn’t have been the only one to detect more than a small whiff of Christian metaphor in this final HP.  Indeed, in the January 2009 edition of Notes on Contemporary Literature one Bill McCarron writes, "When Harry enters the Forbidden Forest alone he thinks he is about to be ‘cruciated’ just as Christ was. Harry is just as willing to die for others as Jesus was. Even though Rowling does not overlay her novels with any direct Christian theology, it is undeniable that Harry is a Christ figure, just as Voldemort and his serpent are symbolic emblems of Satan." Of course then he gets into comparing Hagrid to John the Baptist and it all kind of falls apart for me, but I’m totally with that earlier point. Dying for others. Coming back. The whole nine yards.

Then again the aforementioned Mr. Jacobs argues vehemently against this interpretation. "Many readers have already exclaimed that Harry ‘s final quest marks him as a clear Christ figure. This is wrong, seriously wrong, and I think J. K. Rowling goes out of her way to tell us so. People (characters in the books as well as readers) think that Harry is a unique person of unique power, but at a dozen points in the series we are clearly shown that he is not: he is called the Chosen One, but he is chosen by Voldemort, and Dumbledore emphasizes to Harry the sheer contingency of this choice. The work of the Cross is done by Christ alone; Harry always has help. (It’s worth emphasizing that while each of the Horcruxes is destroyed, each is destroyed by a different person.) At his moment of agony Christ was abandoned; at the end of his quest Harry is supported and comforted."

On the non-religious debate side of things Charles de Lint took issue with Rowling’s writing here and there ("While her prose always gets the job done, it’s sometimes clunky, and it rarely sings.") but concluded his piece in the January 2008 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction by saying ". . . in a culture that is fractured as much as ours is with information overload–as well as how that information comes to us–the publication of these last few Potter books has been, perhaps, one of the last instances we’ll see of a massive audience, all enjoying the same entertainment phenomenon at the same time. The complex splintered structure of how entertainment is delivered to us these days makes that element of the release of this last book certainly something to celebrate." Not sure as I believe him, but it’s certainly one way of looking at it.

When the final Harry went to press he wasn’t the only fictional character bowing out. Tony Soprano on the HBO show The Sopranos also met his own end.  Melinda Henneberger had a fun article in the July 13, 2007 edition of Commonweal drawing parallels between the two. She finally concluded, "So even if David Chase’s bad guy was more endlessly fascinating than Rowling’s good fellow, it’s the kid wizard I’ll miss more."  I think a lot of folks miss him right now.

Publishers Weekly said of it, " Harry Potter has finished growing up, and even the most ardent fans will know that it is time to say good-bye."

Spectator said, "J. K. Rowling has done a remarkable thing in making children love books again. Now that it’s over, it’s as if her readers have been released into that larger republic, like prisoners blinking into the light."

And said Christopher Hitchens in The New York Times, "The distinctly slushy close of the story may seem to hold out the faint promise of a sequel, but I honestly think and sincerely hope that this will not occur. The toys have been put firmly back in the box, the wand has been folded up, and the conjuror is discreetly accepting payment while the children clamor for fresh entertainments. (I recommend that they graduate to Philip Pullman, whose daemon scheme is finer than any patronus.) It’s achievement enough that ’19 years later,’ as the last chapter-heading has it, and quite probably for many decades after that, there will still be millions of adults who recall their initiation to literature as a little touch of Harry in the night."










Ukraine (somebody clearly read the book cover to cover):

United Kingdom:

United States:

(my vote as to how they’ll end the first of the two final Harry Potter movies)

#23 Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932)
(#1)(#1)(#1)(#2)(#2)(#2)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#5)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#10)(#10) – 137 points

I’m not usually a big fan of historical fiction, but these books are the exception. Laura’s family feels like a piece of my own history, not of my country and my ancestors, but as a child growing up in a family. In today’s world, when families are more likely to seem disconnected, it doesn’t hurt to take the Ingalls as role models. They aren’t perfect, but they work together, handling life in such a sturdy, dedicated way. Laura and her family are real and dimensional as they laugh and cry over things like harvesting maple sugar, playing ball with a pig’s bladder, getting through the winter, and making music together. And that’s just the first book! – Kate Coombs (Book Aunt)

I often wish they were not marketed quite so pointedly at girls; there’s a lot of gritty, realistic bits to the books (from wild panthers to killing bears in this first one) that I think help fuel their longevity. – Beth Priest (Endless Books)

So cozy and familial and good. – Sherry Early

The standard story of the books’ creation is that when Laura was in her 60s her daughter Rose urged her to write down her stories of her youth. According to American Writers for Children, 1900-1960: "From 1924 to 1931, Rose Wilder Lane spent a good deal of time in Mansfield and probably offered her mother encouragement and editorial assistance. Rose first conducted negotiations with the children’s editor at Alfred A. Knopf for them to publish the manuscript ‘When Grandma was a Little Girl’."

Anita Silvey’s 100 Best Books for Children picks it up from there.  "She [Rose] then prepared a twenty-page third-person narrative, ‘When Grandma Was a Little Girl,’ that she and her mother saw as picture-book text. They sent that book to a children’s editor at Knopf, Marian Fiery.  Fiery, however, wanted the book expanded to 25,000 words and filled with details of pioneer life.  Rose instructed her mother, ‘If you find it easier to write in the first person, write it that way.  I will change it into the third person later’."

Said the August 10, 2009 New Yorker article Wilder Women, "The book business, hard hit by the Depression, was cutting back drastically, and a first draft of Wilder’s memoir, ‘Pioneer Girl,’ was passed over by several agents and publishers, who felt that it lacked drama. But she persisted—less interested, she later said, in the money than in the prestige of authorship—and when Virginia Kirkus, an editor of children’s books at Harper & Brothers, received a new version of the material, now recast as a novel aimed at readers between the ages of eight and twelve, she bought it."

That same editor, Virginia Kirkus, when recalling the book said, "the depression was making its impress on our sales; people were thinking that new books for children were unnecessary, while the old ones could serve. And all of us were hoping for that miracle book that no depression could stop." Ask and thou shalt receive.

Slate senior editor Emily Bazelon gives a rather good summary of what it was she loved so much about this and other Little House books growing up.  "Behind all the enterprising pioneer doings, and even the gleeful moments of tossing a pig’s bladder, is real suffering.  But the beauty of the books is that child readers don’t have to experience the upheaval on this level.  They can learn from Laura to marvel at the wonder of the ordinary.  That is the gift her parents’ hard life gave her, and she has passed it on."

In 1993 the book A Ghost in the Little House: A Life of Rose Wilder Lane came out by William Holtz. This cast quite a bit more light on what Holtz called Laura’s ghostwriter. Indeed in the aforementioned New Yorker article it says that, "Mother and daughter essentially divided that labor [of writing]. One has to suspect that the delicious minutiae of the books’ famous how-to chapters on molding bullets, pressing cheese, digging a well, making a rag doll, drying plums, framing a house, and smoking a ham, among dozens of daily activities, were mostly Laura’s contribution." And later, "Rose had proved that she could romanticize whatever material she was given. She did some minor tinkering with ‘Pioneer Girl,’ but, once it was decided to fictionalize the memoir as a children’s story—the idea had come from an editor who rejected the memoir—she took a more aggressive role. It varied in intensity from book to book, but she dutifully typed up the manuscript pages, and, in the process, reshaped and heightened the dramatic structure. She also rewrote the prose so drastically that Laura sometimes felt usurped. ‘A good bit of the detail that I add to your copy is for pure sensory effect,’ Rose explained in a letter."  Definitely read this New Yorker article for more information.

As of right now it has sold about sixty million copies in thirty-three languages.

The Junior Bookshelf said of the title at the time, "[Little House in the Big Woods] is an extremely good book, with an excellence which is so unobtrusive that it may well go unnoticed."

#22 The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo (2003)
(#1)(#1)(#2)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#4)(#4)(#5) (#5)(#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7)(#8)(#8) (#8)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#10) – 141 points

One of my all-time favorite writers. I almost gave this spot to Because of Winn Dixie, but that mouse wouldn’t let me.. I really fell for the unique voice and the narrator speaking to the reader. The story itself sings! – Nicole Schreiber

DiCamillo is one of my favorite junior fiction author working today, and her Newberry medalist is the perfect example why—poetic language, delightful characters, and a hint of magic mixed into a delightful story. – Christi Esterle, Youth Librarian, Douglas County Libraries, Parker CO

Everything I love about this book can be summed up in this quote: "Stories are light. Light is precious in a world so dark. Begin at the beginning. Tell Gregory a story. Make some light." – Sharon Thackston

The synopsis from the publisher reads, "Welcome to the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is in love with music, stories, and a princess named Pea. It is also the story of a rat called Roscuro, who lives in the darkness and covets a world filled with light. And it is the story of Miggery Sow, a slow-witted serving girl who harbors a simple, impossible wish. These three characters are about to embark on a journey that will lead them down into a horrible dungeon, up into a glittering castle, and, ultimately, into each other’s lives. What happens then? As Kate DiCamillo would say: Reader, it is your destiny to find out."

From her Newbery Award speech DiCamillo once said of creating the book, "Four years ago, when he was eight years old, my friend Luke Bailey asked me to write the story of an unlikely hero. I was afraid to tell the story he wanted told: afraid because I didn’t know what I was doing; afraid because it was unlike anything I had written before; afraid, I guess, because the story was so intent on taking me into the depths of my own heart. But Luke wanted the story. I had promised him. And so, terrified and unwilling, I wrote The Tale of Despereaux."

The starred Booklist review said, "Forgiveness, light, love, and soup. These essential ingredients combine into a tale that is as soul-stirring as it is delicious."

The starred Kirkus review said, "And so unwinds a tale with twists and turns, full of forbidden soup and ladles, rats lusting for mouse blood, a servant who wishes to be a princess, a knight in shining–or at least furry–armor, and all the ingredients of an old-fashioned drama."

School Library Journal said, "This expanded fairy tale is entertaining, heartening, and, above all, great fun."

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books said, "There is a classic charm to this picaresque tale of an idealistic mouse suffering unrequited love for a princess; that and a pace that lends itself to reading aloud will make this novel a favorite among those ready for some gentle questing."

Horn Book said of it, "The metaphor becomes heavy-handed only in the author’s brief, self-serving coda. Many readers will be enchanted by this story of mice and princesses, brave deeds, hearts ‘shaded with dark and dappled with light,’ and forgiveness."

And The New York Times said, "Here we might see DiCamillo’s own career, her ascent from full-time clerk in a store selling used books to author of a much-praised first novel for children, ‘Because of Winn-Dixie,’ which won a Newbery Honor Award and climbed the best-seller lists. Some might see kinship with G. I. Gurdjieff’s mystic parable about humans being captives in a prison but only a few recognizing this is so and, hearing rumors of another place, arranging an escape. In any event, she sets the stage for a battle between the forces of Darkness and Light in ‘The Tale of Despereaux,’ and the book is a terrific, bravura performance."

I could find only one other cover out there of this book, and that would be the British edition:

And there was a movie as well:

#21 Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan (2005)
(#1)(#2)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#3)(#4)(#4) (#5)(#5)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#6)(#7)(#7) (#7)(#8)(#8)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#9)(#10) – 142 points

Hooked on the first person voice and inner dialogue by page one. – Michele Gawenka

My knowledge of Greek Mythology was wanting until I read of Percy Jackson’s adventures – Sharon, The Head Chick in Charge (Reading Chick)

One of my favorite books when I was a child was D’Aulaires Greek Myths. To read the Lightning Thief (and the entire series) and to see Riordan bring the gods to life in the modern world was such a pleasure. And the fact that my children clamored for those books and still read them over and over again only adds to the joy. – Cathy Berner, Children’s/Young Adult Specialist and Events Coordinator, Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Texas

Now now.  Calm down.  I know that there are a fair amount of you right now screaming at your computer screens.  Maybe you wouldn’t have minded Percy Jackson ending up on the Top 100 list, but at #21?  Is that a little high?  All I’m going to do is remind you that children were allowed to vote on this poll.  That means that the poll is mostly going to consist of old classics with the occasional modern twist thrown in as well.  And like it or not, with the release of the filmed version of The Lightning Thief out, kids really wanted their love of Percy to be known. 

The plot synopsis from the publisher reads, "Twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is about to be kicked out of boarding school . . . again. No matter how hard he tries, he can’t seem to stay out of trouble. But can he really be expected to stand by and watch while a bully picks on his scrawny best friend? Or not defend himself against his pre-algebra teacher when she turns into a monster and tries to kill him? Of course, no one believes Percy about the monster incident; he’s not even sure he believes himself.  Until the Minotaur chases him to summer camp.  Suddenly, mythical creatures seem to be walking straight out of the pages of Percy’s Greek mythology textbook and into his life. The gods of Mount Olympus, he’s coming to realize, are very much alive in the twenty-first century. And worse, he’s angered a few of them: Zeus’s master lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect.  Now Percy has just ten days to find and return Zeus’s stolen property, and bring peace to a warring Mount Olympus. On a daring road trip from their summer camp in New York to the gates of the Underworld in Los Angeles, Percy and his friends–one a satyr and the other the demigod daughter of Athena–will face a host of enemies determined to stop them. To succeed on his quest, Percy will have to do more than catch the true thief: he must come to terms with the father who abandoned him; solve the riddle of the Oracle, which warns him of failure and betrayal by a friend; and unravel a treachery more powerful than the gods themselves."

On his website Rick Riordan provides plenty of answers to the common questions he receives.  So how did he come up with the idea for the Percy Jackson books?  Rick says, "My son Haley was studying the Greek myths in second grade when he asked me to tell him some bedtime stories about the gods and heroes. I had taught Greek myths for many years at the middle school level, so I was glad to comply. When I ran out of myths, he was disappointed and asked me if I could make up something new with the same characters.  I thought about it for a few minutes. Then I remembered a creative writing project I used to do with my sixth graders — I would let them create their own demigod hero, the son or daughter of any god they wanted, and have them describe a Greek-style quest for that hero. Off the top of my head, I made up Percy Jackson and told Haley all about his quest to recover Zeus’ lightning bolt in modern day America. It took about three nights to tell the whole story, and when I was done, Haley told me I should write it out as a book.  I had a lot to do already, but I somehow found the time to write the first Percy Jackson book over the next year. I just really enjoyed writing it. The story was such fun, and so different from my adult fiction, that I found myself spending a lot of time on it. Now, I’m sure glad I did!"

The New York Times said of it, " ‘The Lightning Thief‘ is perfectly paced, with electrifying moments chasing each other like heartbeats, and mysteries opening out in sequence."

You may be wondering why I made that ugly as all get out Lightning Thief cover the one to represent this book.  Whenever possible, I put the original cover of a title at the start of its post.  And like it or not, John Rocco’s beautiful cover (seen here) was cover number two, not one, when the book first came out.  Hyperion learned quickly from its mistake. 

The Blue Trident fan site is a wonderful source of worldwide Percy Jackson covers, by the way.  For example there is:






United Kingdom:

Rumor has it there was a movie of some sort too.

Other Top 100 Children’s Novels Posts Include








Thanks again to Matt for giving me the idea for the poll in the first place.
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. Ed Spicer says

    A surprising group of five. Can’t say that I appreciate this group as much as the others. Percy Jackson is not one that will stand the test of time although this is the best of them. I do love books that remind me of my classical studies college major. And now that no one is reading, I can finally confess that I am a closet Little Women reader as a ten year old boy. I read both Little Women and Little Men and, don’t tell anyone, I liked Little Women much more. However, this book is not a book that would ever make my top ten. And final confession that will invalidate all the voting results. I forgot to vote for THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH! I love that book. I reread it regularly. I must go and do penance!

  2. Ed,
    Don’t feel bad, I forgot to vote for the Secret Garden!

  3. Chrisin NY says

    Sighing in satisfaction here. This is a rollicking good list (although have not read the adventures of the little mouse). As one of the commenters said, I inhabited Little Women. (And my shameful secret is that I adored Beth, not Jo,. What was I thinking?) I also am so glad to see HP 7 here. Maybe the the Lightning Thief won’t be here in 25 years, but it is an engaging book for young readers so it really belongs on a best loved list to which children contribute. (I liked it too.)

  4. and I forgot to vote for HAROUN AND THE SEA OF STORIES… we must all do penance, Ed!

  5. Does this mean we need to save space for Greg Heffley and Captain Underpants?

  6. Carl in Charlotte says

    Sighing in satisfaction also. A good list so far and good choices. Especially Percy Jackson. I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s one of the best new series in a long time. Not perfect, but head and shouldres above many others. Besides, who knows what people will read 50 years from now? Today’s bestseller may be tomorrow’s classic or forgotten dust-gatherer. We’ve seen plenty of examples of both in our lbraries and bookstores.

  7. Wow, three of my votes in one block, and two others I don’t mind! It’s almost too much to ask. I’m heartened to see Deathly Hallows so high. Sometimes it feels as if there aren’t as many who love that book as I do. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.

    I’m now crossing my fingers for Mrs. Basil and The Secret Garden! Keep up the good work, Betsy!

  8. That’s a good point. I’d wager that the librarians of the 1930s would be shocked beyond measure to see that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is still known. Let alone Nancy Drew.

  9. My Boaz's Ruth says

    🙁 Little Women being the oldest book means Swiss Family Robinson is not making an appearance 🙁

  10. rockinlibrarian says

    Wow, surprising! I figured today would be the day Prisoner of Azkaban made the list– I wasn’t expecting Deathly Hallows at ALL! And The Lightning Thief I adore, but I gave up on that one long ago– never expected it to be this high. Little Women I expected higher up, but maybe before Alice in Wonderland only made the last list instead of the top ten I was expecting. Big Woods and Despereaux, on the other hand, maybe the only ones I would have expected to be at this point in the list!

    My name is Amy; before I read Little Women, people were always telling me I had a nice literary name. What they didn’t tell me is that I would HATE AMY MARCH FROM THE BOTTOM OF MY SOUL. Like the reviews said, that is a book of Real People characters, and that one just made me mad. I don’t know if I would have hated her less if I didn’t have to share my name with her.

  11. this installment is gonna make my 8-year-old very happy. The Lightning Thief was #3 on her list (and fwiw, she LOATHED the movie, and bonded with a group of slightly older girls in the theater bathroom afterward, all PROFOUNDLY OFFENDED by Dionysus’s omission from the film, among other sins).

    having read both The Lightning Thief and Despereaux very recently, i’d argue that The Lightning Thief is by far a better book. (and i say this as someone who thinks Because of Winn-Dixie is brilliant.) Despereaux has moments of twee, flabby self-consciousness as well as some good storytelling. i’d never say any other Percy books belonged on this list (tho Riordan sounds like a mensch and a half in real life) but i do think that first installment is a triumph.

    onward: at this point i fear i’m gonna have to steel my Jo (and i’d be lying if i didn’t say her name was influenced a little by Ms March, btw) for the likelihood that her beloved Eva Ibbotson is not likely to make the list at all. i THINK all our other books have a good shot. except one…if Letters from Rifka doesn’t make the final accounting you will find us both sitting in the corner holding our breath til our faces turn blue.

    (and rockin’ librarian, i’m with you. amy was ugh.)

  12. David Ziegler says

    An interesting five. Ed, I was another boy who read Little Women (tho it didn’t make my ten here), Little Men and Jo’s Boys. Wonder how many students voted for Alcott? I meant to vote for Little House in the Big Woods but wrote Little House on the Prarie. Also wonder about students vs. adults votes for Despereaux. I like Percy Jackson, but wish Rangers Apprentice and Keys to the Kingdom could get as much love.

  13. Genevieve says

    So happy to see Little Women up high – that was one that I very reluctantly cut from my list. Like others here, I inhabited that world as a child. (Rockinlibrarian, I detested Amy at first but appreciated her growth and attempts to conquer her selfishness – though I will never think that it’s fair that she got to go to Europe instead of Jo, and she certainly was my least favorite of the four.)

    I’m wondering if The Long Winter (another one I had to cut) will show up int the top 20? It seems stronger in characterization and plot (though I feel funny commenting on plot in what are basically true stories) than Big Woods or Prairie (though I did highly enjoy Plum Creek and Silver Lake as a child).

    And I wonder if the kids’ vote will get Greg Heffley in there — I could see a large number of kids including Wimpy Kid on their lists. I don’t think we have to fear Captain Underpants.

    Thank you, commenters, for three books/series I haven’t heard of or knew very little about – I just put a hold on Letters to Rifka, and will tell my Percy Jackson-loving son about Ranger’s Apprentice and Keys to the Kingdom.

  14. I also loved Little Women and actually wept over Beth’s death. My least favorite character was Father. I so resented his appearance in the book. He just didn’t feel like he belonged in the story.

  15. Laurel, you should read Geraldine Brooks’s “March”! An adult book, showing Mr. March during the Civil War. Though I had to skim through the battle atrocities. But it did a good job of showing Marmee as resenting his time at war, and his selfishness more than heroicism that made him go. (Hmm, there’s the link to Amy.)

    Also, reading some bios of Louisa May and Bronson Alcott, it sounds like Louisa had quite a bit of deserved resentment about her father. He put his whole family through a lot, philosophizing in his Transcendantal commune while they did all the work to harvest enough food etc. So she might approve of your feelings!

  16. Big Woods did make the list. So, I’m expecting nine out of ten of my choices to be somewhere in your 100. Not bad, huh?

  17. What a delightful group of books today! I’ve read and loved them all except for Lightning Thief. I’ve been thinking I should read it — and if that many kids helped to get it this high on the poll, I’m thinking I definitely should.

    And I’m so happy that my quote about inhabiting Little Women made it into the posting, and that other readers resonate with it. I love that book.

    Surprised but delighted to see Deathly Hallows here. I’m now wishing I’d gone with my gut on Harry and chosen either Chamber, Azkaban or DH (though as you can see, my gut is undecided!). I went with Sorcerer’s Stone because I thought it made most sense to choose the first book in the series. I am in awe whenever I go back to it and see both the great world-building JKR begins there and the clues already laid down for the rest of the series.

    Yay for Big Woods, and Desperaux too!

  18. Jennifer in GA says

    YAY! Two more of my picks, plus a Little House book (I’m pretty sure my LH pick- These Happy Golden Years- won’t make it).
    But I’m SO happy that Deathly Hallows made it this high!!

    Desperaux has been on my bookshelf for three years now, still waiting to be read, and my girls and two of my brothers remind me on a daily basis that I need to start reading Percy Jackson.

  19. I love the Gallimard covers! Stunning.
    Someone affirm for me that Despereaux’s book is far better than the movie? I found the movie insufferable.

  20. My Boaz's Ruth says

    I’m with you, Anna. I would not be interested in the book based on the movie.

  21. RM1(SS) (ret) says

    So much for my theory that Little Women would be in the top ten…. Actually, I liked Little Men the best of the three. And I also was around nine or ten when I read those books, along with The Eight Cousins. (I keep telling myself I really ought to reread Eight Cousins so I can read Rose in Bloom.)

    Looks like Azkaban will be in the top twenty!

    I read Despereaux along with the rest of the Newbery winners; it was okay, but not really exciting. Haven’t seen, and have no real desire to see, the movie.

    Haven’t read the other two (in fact, I haven’t read any of the Little House books), though my 14-year-old daughter loves the Percy Jackson books. I may try them someday….

  22. I can’t believe Little Women did not make it to the top 20. I am so disappointed. However, I am also very curious about that cover with the fifth sister. Who is she? Did she get booted out of the story? Did the illustrator imagine Laurie to be a girl? How did it get past the editing process? So many questions.

  23. Constance says

    Surely the cover with the fifth sister is meant to be Marmee? (Think Susan Sarandon cavorting with her daughter this past weekend)
    This group is somewhat disappointing, although I had read all of them. I thought at first it was because I do not like books about mice but then I remembered how much I like Mrs. Frisby, Anatole and Reepicheep. I just wasn’t thrilled by Despereaux.
    I liked Percy Jackson very much although think it is very derivative; would not have rated it this high.
    Did not vote for Little Women although might argue it should be higher. My favorite Alcotts are Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom, and perhaps An Old Fashioned Girl.
    Little House in the Big Woods – can’t argue with this although I like the last three the best.
    I too forgot to vote for The Phantom Tollbooth which I love. Not sure it would have been in my top ten but maybe.
    Should I start thinking about my top ten YA?

  24. Some stats and graphs for titles 100-21.

  25. Joan, not Jo, but loved Jo says

    Yikes, I forgot the Phantom Tollbooth too! I hope we all didn’t ruin its chances. I’m going to be unpopular and take the side of Lightning Thief. It has many classically popular themes: the weak underdog against the strong, family arguments (“parents”), travel theme to discover his roots, sibling rivalry, school theme (as does a certain other male character on this list). While I don’t know that I’d take bets on whether it will appear on Fuse’s next poll, I think it has more staying power than many seem to think. Besides, there are so few books that have dyslexic characters that I’ll give a few points for that too. I’ll also give it points for renewing interest in Greek mythology again. I love HP7 but am still hoping for Azkaban. Say Fuse, any chance we could borrow an idea from Battle of the Books and resurrect Phantom on a vote of the forgetful majority?

  26. Chrisin NY says

    Betsy- At the end of this process, if you are not sick of it by then, I want to know what your biggest surprise was.

  27. Oh, and perhaps the mysterious fifth sister on the cover of Little Women came about because of someone who watched the *very* short-lived television series that followed the 1978 film (a film I actually liked quite a bit). Does anyone else remember the t.v. show? They wanted to bring Eve Plumb back, but she’d played Beth in the film (and hence had died). So they made her a cousin who looked *just like* Beth. Hmm. Any wonder that the series didn’t last long?!

  28. Aaron Mead says

    My wife and I read The Deathly Hallows aloud to each other on a long road trip this summer (don’t worry, only the non-driver read…), and now we are reading the rest of the series aloud to each other from the beginning. Great fun!

    I’m surprised at the resistance to the view that Harry is a type of Christ in The Hallows. I mean, could it be any more obvious? And yes, he has help, he is comforted and not alone, etc., etc., but when you push too hard on any type it begins to crumble: that’s what makes it a type and not the real thing. So what do you want? He dies and rises again for crying out loud!

    And of course the God-hating Hitchens would recommend the anti-religious Pullman series post-Potter. Classic. Sounds like another vote for the Christ-type interpretation of Harry to me.

  29. Blah. Little Women gets beat out by PERCY JACKSON???

    I mean, LW wasn’t even on my LIST and I’m annoyed.

  30. Deathly Hallows would have to be my #1. Yes, they go camping forever–but it’s the only book I’ve ever read where I could not read or write for a week afterward because I was still suspended in its spell. And I love the adult German cover on it–I think it was you who suggested they should’ve put the doe on it. (Love the American HP7 cover, too, though.)

  31. Debbie Reese says

    Did you all, when reading LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS, note that Pa, as a kid, played that he was hunting Indians?


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