Friday, August 20, 2010

Top 10 Children's Books

It does not mean that because children’s books have children as the targeted audience, the themes and flavor of the genre are second-rate to adult standards.   Sure, plot is often uncomplicated for adult tastes, which is a la “Angels & Demons”, but there is always beauty in simple but thought-provoking plots.  Some of the greatest and most insightful stories are found in children’s books.  In my years of being a bookworm, this fact has been proven true to me.  I even read children’s books up until now.

Note: It does not necessarily mean that the books on this list I was all able to read in childhood.  No.  As I’ve said, I read children’s books even up to now, and some of these books I was only able to read in my post-childhood years.  Just as I did not include in the list any books that were mostly meant for the grown-up audience (e.g. classics, mysteries, thrillers, sci-fi, etc.) just because I have read them during my childhood.  So, with that out of the way, the list…


Before I read “The Little Prince”, I first read de Saint-Exupery’s “Flight to Arras”, an old book that my father owned before he gave it to me.  It was a biographical account of his stint as a pilot in the World War which has lots of philosophical discussions by the author, using his experiences as background and analogy references.  I find de Saint-Exupery’s writing style brilliant, and I was delighted that he applied it on a children’s book.

The plot is about a boy that lives in a moon (with his flower), and his adventures that led him to other moons, until he got the Earth.  On Earth, he met the narrator – a pilot (probably Antoine meant it to be himself), in which they shared plenty of philosophical discussions.  Climax came when the boy decided to go back to his moon (and his flower).                   

I had first encountered “The Little Prince” in my senior year in high school, as my English teacher was a great fan of it that she spent a quarter (or more) of the school year discussing it and the rich philosophical undertones in the story.  And when I say “rich philosophical undertones”, I mean RICH.  Lots of moral, lots of quotable quotes, lots of heavy and touching emotional moments, lots of wisdom, and lots of meaningful life reflections. 

So, I owe that English teacher of mine for sharing this classic.  And when I say classic, I mean CLASSIC.


I read dozens of “Goosebumps” books when I was kid, borrowing from friends or purchasing some.  “Goosebumps” is a series of “horror” books for kids.  But they are not really “horror”, more on “weird fantasy” – all about ghosts, werewolves, aliens, monsters, possessed puppets, cryptids, etc. –  though the twists and heavy suspense in “The Headless Ghost” freaked me big.

Stine’s “Goosebumps” series made me appreciate the genius of a plot twist in a story, which was the trademark of the series.  Sometimes, Stine puts not only one twist, but layers of twists in a story.  This book series would prepare me for my love of the “The Twilight Zone” TV series.    

My favorite titles were “The Girl Who Cried Monster”, “Why I’m Afraid of Bees”, “the “Monster Blood” series and, yes, that book that freaked me out, “The Headless Ghost.” 

Really, just talking of “Goosebumps” makes me remember how I really loved this book series.


The entire concept of anthropomorphic animals as characters is the main charm here.  I don’t know if anyone thought of this idea prior Grahame (aside from fairy tales), but this book was my first encounter of such concept.  And I easily loved the idea of animals talking and acting like humans.      

The book is divided into several episodes, but the most popular part was those of Mr. Toad’s adventures (or misadventures).  I especially love how he and his friends took back Toad Hall from the weasels.  The main themes of the book is clearly how one will always suffer the consequences of one’s foolishness and good friends would do their best to help or save someone from his follies.

Though animals were the characters here, the behavior and emotions projected or illustrated are clearly human.  Because of this, we can easily connect with the characters, but not be offended by any criticism because of the characters being animals.  The book showed plenty of human characteristics in it, both good and bad, like foolishness, arrogance, camaraderie, mischief, courage, and ingenuity.     


Really, these two titles go hand in hand.  It is almost presumed that if someone has read “Hardy Boys”, he or she has also read “Nancy Drew”, or vice versa.  There are already many – not only of books – kinds of series of both titles, from the blue or yellow hardbound classics (the first series), to the pocketbook series set in a more modern timeline, to the more serious Casefiles and Files book series.  A series of mystery adventures where the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew work together also exists.  This makes sense because the two titles have the same source: the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  The names “Franklin W. Dixon” and “Carolyn Keene” are just pseudonyms of the Syndicate’s founder, Edward Stratemeyer, and other writers of the syndicate.

Yes, now, I find Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books uncomplicated and, sometimes, silly.  Lots of clichés, absurd coincidences in the events, and sometimes redundant plots with each other.  The format is usually about lots of sleuthing early on while establishing the guest characters for that sequence, lots of legwork with actually very little logical analyzing, the realizations they derive from the clues are often obvious, strange phenomena that seemed to be irrelevant to the case that was encountered earlier is found out to be an integral piece of the puzzle, the characters get captured by the bad guy/s when they are close to or had solved the mystery, the characters manipulate the bad guy/s to yap about his or her or their plans to buy time and/or to learn more, and just as the characters are about to be killed the cavalry arrives to rescue them and/or they figure out a way to escape or overpower their captors.  Mystery solved.  Plot and loose ends gets closure.  The end.  Kind of makes me wonder why I loved these books.

But I did love the books.  Really.  They were not that bad.  In fact, when I was reading them as a child, I had fun and was drawn to the stories.  And not all volumes are clones of each other.  There are also unique adventures as well.  The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries were a big impact on my early years as a bookworm. They would cater to wanting to read more mysteries and adventuring or any genre that has the same effect.   I tried “The Bobbsey Twins” and “The Three Investigators”, until I “leveled up” to the “for grown-ups” mystery stories, like Agatha Christie books, other mystery pocketbooks, to Sherlock Holmes, etc... all I read before I hit my teenage years.        


The world is fortunate because the bedtime stories Milne imagined and brought to life for his son (Christopher Robin) were able to be published to be enjoyed by the rest of us.  If you find the Disney’s version of Winnie the Pooh and his friends cute, well, the book’s version is more special.  Pooh and his friends' childlike naivety is very charming... cute... and funny... source of several thought-worthy and comical lines. There are only two “Pooh” volumes, which is a pity.  Probably because Milne actually did not like it much, since he wants to be known as an excellent serious playwright rather than an author of a popular book for children. 

In the “Winnie-the-Pooh” volume, my favorite dialogue is:
“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
 Pooh nodded thoughtfully.
"It's the same thing," he said.
In the “House at Pooh Corners” volume, it would be:
"Rabbit's clever," said Pooh thoughtfully.
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit's clever."
"And he has Brain."
"Yes," said Piglet, "Rabbit has Brain."
There was a long silence.
"I suppose," said Pooh, "that that's why he never understands anything."


Critics say that this is the magnum opus of “America’s Greatest Humorist”, Mark Twain (my favorite though is “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court”).   In a popular anecdote, it is said that one man approached him and said roughly, “I would give a hundred dollars to not have read Huckleberry Finn.”  Mark Twain asked, “Why?”  The man softened and replied, “So I will have the pleasure of reading it for the first time.”  If that is not the best compliment one can give to a piece of literature, then what is?

Sure, at the first time I read it, in which I was about seven, I found it hard to read and understand the context and themes.  Though, I understood the story in general way, I can’t see what’s special in it or comprehend the details.  “Huckleberry Finn” is definitely richer and deeper than “Tom Sawyer.”  As I re-read it when I was a little older, and being able to get more familiarity with the Southern Americanism and culture of that time, I saw how beautiful and witty the book really is.   

“Huckleberry Finn” was a major reason why I rank Mark Twain as one of the greatest writers ever.


The Bunnicula books are all excellent reads, but the best is still the first: “Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery.”  The series chronicles the adventures of the Monroe pets consisting of Harold the dog, Chester the cat, and Bunnicula the rabbit.  They would be joined by a Dachshund puppy named Howie later on the series.  The running subject matter of the series is of Bunnicula being a vampire bunny, shown by his appearance (a stereotype of a Count Dracula-appearance) and of the appearance of vegetables getting ghostly white after the juices were drained from them, and Chester's attempt to prove that the rabbit is a vampire and "neutralize" him.

There are plenty of fun quips from Harold’s (being naïve and slow) narration (since he’s the “author” of the book) and from the dialogues and quotes of the characters.   The format of the episodes is mysteries with “horror-feel” (found in and proposed by the titles) in it but entirely comedic.  The adventures/mysteries are robust and entertaining roller coaster rides with lots of amusing absurdity fashioned by the characters throughout the series.  


“Little Women”, “Good Wives”, “Little Men”, and “Jo’s Boys.”  Those were the books in the series about the March sisters and their friends and family.  “Little Women” and “Good Wives” are the stories that detailed the March sisters – Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – transition from being girls to women, while “Little Men” and “Jo’s Boys” chronicled the story of Jo’s school.  It took me nearly six or seven years before I could collect and read all of them. “Jo’s Boys” being the last book I found and got… and that was when I was already a college freshman. 

Yes, it’s a “girl's book" (well, at least, for the first two books).  But there is a reason it is ranked this high in the list.  It is because I really liked it, even though it’s a girl’s book.  It has plenty of morals and the “heartwarming” factor is high.  The storytelling is fluid and absorbingly comprehensible.  And, yes, there is romance in it – something I tried to avoid in literature – but the romance here is reasonable and appropriate, the emotions not exaggerated but sensibly essential to the context.  Alcott managed to project the romance, and its offshoot themes like heartbreak, without being thickly and ridiculously melodramatic. 

The “Little Women” books are touching and wholesome, and full of lessons and themes that a child should learn, like overcoming childishness and character flaws, being content and thankful of what is available, and the importance of loyalty and friendship. 


This book has tremendous impact in my reading because it is the book that catapulted me to entirely love literature.  Before this, I was already an avid reader but limited to books with illustrations like comics and encyclopedias.  Alice in Wonderland made me start reading about novels which are usually non-illustrated.

I fell in love with both the Alice character and the place of Wonderland.  Wonderland is full of wackiness and fantasy, and Alice’s response to each the extraordinary events or characters that unfold is quite charming.  Reading this book was my first encounter with the “journey to the unknown”-feel in fiction which I quickly like.     

The “Curiouser and curioser” would also become one of my most favorite quotes of all time.  A perfect line when things start getting interesting or changing in the story.  Which is also applicable in life, as the line seems to give the hype of the excitement for what’s the next thing life will showcase.


Lewis is a master of words, discussions, and storytelling.  And an artist in inserting Christian undertones in fiction.  Which he perfected in his Narnia books.  The books themselves are all excellent piece of fantasy storytelling.  Full of action and color.  Has excellent character depth and creative situations.  Lots of raw fantasy charm that would make the story easily loveable to a reader.  Add the ingenuity of being able to metaphorically discuss Christian principles in it, and the seven book series is more than a classic.  In a sense, Narnia is a deeper philosophical work than “The Little Prince.”  More than philosophical, Narnia is spiritual.  Discussing Christian concept by means of children’s fantasy allegory…. the concept is pure genius.  And Lewis pulled it off brilliantly.  Genius.  Narnia is a work of genius.  Genius.  I got nothing more to say.     

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No list for children can be complete without including the 'Anne of Green Gables' series by Lucy Maud Montgomery! Otherwise, great list.