100 Best Books for Children: A Parent's Guide to Making the Right Choices for Your Young Reader, Toddler to Preteen

100 Best Books for Children: A Parent's Guide to Making the Right Choices for Your Young Reader, Toddler to Preteen

by Anita Silvey

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From classics to new favorites, 100 Best Books for Children “points parents in the right direction [to] 100 titles no child should miss” (Booklist). With thirty-five years of experience at the heart of children’s publishing, Anita Silvey is better equipped than anyone to help parents make the right reading choices, given the enormous range of


From classics to new favorites, 100 Best Books for Children “points parents in the right direction [to] 100 titles no child should miss” (Booklist). With thirty-five years of experience at the heart of children’s publishing, Anita Silvey is better equipped than anyone to help parents make the right reading choices, given the enormous range of children’s books available today. From board books to titles for older readers, Silvey narrows the field to 100 “best books,” organizing them by age and providing essays on plot summary, along with fascinating insights into the story behind the story that only an insider would know.
Essential and inspiring, 100 Best Books for Children is a perfect handbook for parents who want to help their child develop a passion for reading that will last a lifetime.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"Divided into age groups, Silvey lists classics old and new, from Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd's Goodnight Moon to Virginia Hamilton's The People Could Fly to Louis Sachar's novel Holes," wrote PW. All ages. (Aug.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Following the "books of the century" trend, publishing veteran Silvey (ed., Children's Books and Their Creators) offers an insider's perspective in this compact guide to the best of children's literature. In addition to providing plot summaries of the 100 selected books (published between 1902 and 2002), she incorporates anecdotes about the authors and others involved in publishing. For example, she discusses Margaret Wise Brown's getting approval for the text of Goodnight Moon after reading it over the telephone to her editor and the flight from the Nazis of Hans Rey, the creator of Curious George. Silvey organizes the titles into categories according to six age groups, starting with board books, and alphabetizes them by author within each category. The annotations are further supported by a lengthy bibliography as well as a section labeled "Personal Interviews and Correspondence." While no author has more than one title on the list, some do repeat on Silvey's supplemental list, "Beyond the Hundred Best." Teachers, librarians, and homeschoolers will particularly enjoy the way Silvey spices her annotations with entertaining anecdotes. However, some parents may prefer either a simpler list, such as School Library Journal's "One Hundred Books That Shaped the Century" (SLJ 1/00), or a more comprehensive book with shorter annotations, such as Walter Mayes and Valerie Lewis's forthcoming second edition of Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children. Recommended for professional development collections and larger public and academic libraries.-Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
What makes a book a classic? Silvey, a longtime children's book specialist and literature lover, addresses that question in order to identify books that represent a "basic literary heritage." The result is a highly select list of 100 titles published from 1902 to 2002. These are titles that have been or likely will be enjoyed by children for generations: "The canon of children's books remains the best gift we could ever give our children." And the short essays that introduce this canon are likely to engage adults in surprising ways. There is, of course, a brief synopsis of each book's content plus information about the creation or creator of the book. Written in a conversational tone, these stories "behind the story" provide insight, humor, and passion for the books presented. Additional titles are presented in "Beyond the 100 Best," organized by age (birth through age 12) and also by genre. An extensive bibliography of adult references provides not only documentation but also allows for follow-up by those interested. Silvey notes that a reader's response to a book is part of its story, hence the inclusion of a section entitled "Reading Journal." Altogether, this is a highly useful book for anyone who is interested in the best of children's literature and the fascinating tales behind these books.-Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at Washington DC Public Library Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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Read an Excerpt

Board Books Birth to Age 2

Goodnight Moon

Written by Margaret Wise Brown (1910–1952) Illustrated by Clement Hurd (1908–1988) Published in 1947 by Harper & Row Birth to age 2 32 pages

Upon awakening early one morning in 1945, Margaret Wise Brown wrote down the entire text of Goodnight Moon in almost final form, and called it “Goodnight Room.” That morning Brown, or “Brownie” as she was known, telephoned her editor, the legendary Ursula Nordstrom, to read her the text, which Nordstrom accepted immediately for publication. In those days, editorial taste rather than publishing committees determined the fate of geniuses.

Margaret Wise Brown, who would write more than a hundred books for children in her short career, claimed that she dreamt her stories, and Goodnight Moon appears to be a case in point. However, Brown’s creative dreaming followed years of intense training.
A student at Bank Street College’s School of Education, Brown began to explore writing books that incorporated the revolutionary ideas of Lucy Sprague Mitchell, the visionary founder of Bank Street. Both Brown and Mitchell believed that books should expose young children to the “here and now” world of their own home surroundings.
Children need to hear about and see all the things that they feel comfortable with in their own world. So in Goodnight Moon, the mother and child say good night to all the familiar objects around them. Everything present in the great green room is part of a child’s real world and reflects Brown’s “here and now” philosophy.
After the telephone call,Nordstrom began searching for an appropriate artist for the text, but Brown insisted she wanted no one other than Clement Hurd. Goodnight Moon demonstrates how great books are made, and almost unmade, by seconds and inches.
For his original sketches for the book, Hurd drew his protagonists as a human grandmother and a young boy. This version went through several proof stages, but eventually Margaret Wise Brown and Ursula Nordstrom insisted that the characters be bunnies.
Hurd relented; as the illustrator of The Runaway Bunny (also by Brown), he could draw rabbits like an angel. In fact, those close to him often said he looked like a rabbit. Hence, the resulting book, rather than being tied to a human environment, achieved an otherworldly, timeless dimension.

Hurd also accepted Brown’s and Nordstrom’s criticism of the cow in his original picture. He altered it anatomically so that no one would object to the udders. And on Nordstrom’s suggestion, he replaced a map with a bookcase because she wanted to promote the idea of children having books in their rooms. However, Hurd worked out many innovative concepts that remained in the final art. Half-page black-and-white illustrations display all the objects in the room; but Hurd used only one piece of color art for the main scene of the book. That art was simply darkened, by degrees, by the printer. As the story moves forward — “Goodnight bears / Goodnight chairs / . . . Goodnight mush / And goodnight to the old lady whispering ‘hush’” — the child and parent keep going back to exactly the same room, but each time a little more light has been removed.
Goodnight Moon met immediately with the kind of criticism that all too frequently welcomes our great books. A Harper sales representative wrote, “Frankly I’m having a tough time with [Goodnight Moon]. . . . As soon as [most buyers] see the size of it for $2.00 they throw it at me. They like the color, story, and idea, but will not touch it at that price. . . . I don’t think we’ll even sniff the quota. At $1.00 it would really move.” But the book was not reduced to $1.00, and it did not really move for another twenty years or so.
Goodnight Moon remained a quiet book; not until the 1970s did it gain a significant audience.

Although some critics dismissed the book as overly sentimental when it appeared, future generations have grown to appreciate the crisp language, clear geometric forms, and bright, bold colors.
Children as young as eight months can appreciate the appearance of familiar objects in the art — such as the moon, the fire, and the mouse. A timeless book, almost like a child’s evening prayers, Goodnight Moon has lulled millions of children around the world to sleep.

Mr.Gumpy’s Outing ..........................................................................
By John Burningham (b. 1936) Published in 1971 by Holt, Rinehart, and Winston Birth to age 2 32 pages

After graduating from Central School of Arts and Crafts in London, John Burningham began searching for work as an artist. Because no one would hire him, he tried developing a children’s book. Fortunnately for both Burningham and for children, that first book, Borka: The Adventures of a Goose with No Feathers, won Britain’s prestigious Kate Greenaway Medal, given too the best picture book of tttthe year.

Seven years later, Burningham produced another book that won the Greenaway Medal. In Mr. Gumpy’s Outing, the hero, who lives on a river, first appears wearing a hat and huge boots. Mr. Gumpy travels along in a boat, picking up animals and children who promise to make no trouble. But, of course, they cannot avoid breaking their promises, and the whole crew ends up in the river before going to a sumptuous high tea.

Wonderful to read aloud, the book can be, and often is, acted out by a group of children. The predictability of the story sequence — “‘Will you take me with you?’ said the dog. ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Gumpy.
‘But don’t tease the cat.’ / ‘May I come please, Mr. Gumpy?’ said the pig. ‘Very well, but don’t muck about.’” — encourages children to join in; it also gives them confidence as they begin to read for themselves. Burningham deftly balances brown pen sketches, quite free and expressive, with brilliant full-color art. He deliberately gives the drawings an unfinished look — so the child can have maximum freedom to imagine events.

Although Burningham had an opportunity to extend Mr.
Gumpy’s adventures further, which he did in Mr. Gumpy’s Motor Car, he deliberately avoided creating a series. Fond of his characters, he is still more interested in a new project than in repeating something he knows.

John Burningham believes that really great children’s books “contain as much for adults as for children.” Certainly, parents and teachers have enjoyed this watery outing every bit as much as children.
And at the end, when Mr. Gumpy says, “Come for a ride another day,” the child and adult reader will probably do so — many, many times. Mr. Gumpy’s Outing reminds us that readers of all ages can be charmed by simple things.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar ..........................................................................
By Eric Carle (b. 1929) Published in 1969 by World Publishing Company Birth to age 2 24 pages

A young graphic designer, Eric Carle had been tinkering with the germ of an idea for a book called A Week with Willi Worm.
He wanted to use a unique book design, with holes cut into the pages, to show the progress of a very hungry worm working his way through all kinds of foods until it grows fat. But his editor Ann Beneduce was less than enthusiastic about a green worm as a protagonist and believed that Carle should use a more sympathetic character. When she suggested a caterpillar, Carle answered simply, “Butterfly.” With these new elements, Eric Carle completed The Very Hungry Caterpillar, a book that has become popular all over the world.

In the story a winsome caterpillar eats a variety of foods until he finally turns into a butterfly. While showing a simple story of transformation, the book presents very young children with such concepts as counting, days of the week, and the life cycle of a butterfly, in bold, graphic art.

Carle made his debut as a children’s book illustrator in a school textbook story, written by Bill Martin, called Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? Later reissued for bookstores, the title has enchanted millions of children with its simple rhythm, rhymes, and brilliant art. For The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Carle played with the form of the book and developed pages of different shapes and widths — an experiment influenced by the books he read as a child in Germany. Although no printer in the United States could be found to manufacture economically a book with so many die cuts, Beneduce located a printer in Japan who was able to produce the book. Since that time, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has sold a copy a minute somewhere in the world, more than 20 million altogether.
Over the years Carle has gone back to reillustrate many of his popular volumes, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, aiming to get a wider variety of colors and a cleaner design. In his studio, he spatters colored tissue papers with paint to create special textures and effects. After cutting the papers into the desired shapes, he then pastes them in layers on cardboard. Sometimes he uses crayons or ink to make the final touches. Carle works and reworks each piece, aiming both for scientific accuracy and for visual excitement.
In November 2002, Eric Carle, his wife, Barbara, friends, and colleagues opened the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art.
Tucked in the hills of western Massachusetts, at Amherst, the museum has quickly become a travel destination for families and school groups who want to look at Carle’s original collages as well as rotating exhibits of other artists’ work. After presenting children with one popular book after another, Eric Carle gave all of the children of the United States and the world another unique gift — our first permanent American museum to house original picturebook art.

Copyright © 2004 by Anita Silvey. Reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.

Meet the Author

Anita Silvey has spent more than thirty years in the children's book field, including eleven years as editor-in-chief at the Horn Book Magazine. She is the editor of Children’s Books and Their Creators and the author of 100 Best Books for Children and The Book-a-Day Almanac.

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