All Time Favorite Books for Young People
My brother claims that I'm prone to hyperbole. Often when informally book talking titles to young people needing reader's advisory or chatting about different titles during a book discussion group, I declare that a book is my "favorite book ever!" (to my credit I really believe that statement while I'm making it) Last week one of the members of my Bookworm Club (thank you, Ben!) asked me, "Mrs. Nafz, you always say this or that book is your favorite. What really is your favorite book?" Hmmmm...Ben put me on the spot as I mentally scrolled through 45 years as a reader and 21 of them as a youth service's librarian. I realized picking one book was hopeless, but promised Ben I would narrow it down to ten and have the list ready for the next meeting. Ben promised to also make me his list, which I will post once he hands it over. So, here are my choices. The first title is my hands-down favorite if I was forced to pick just one book. The books after that are listed alphabetically by title.
All Time Favorites:
1. From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Koningsburg
All time favorite! Growing up in a small town in upstate New York I was raised to believe that New York City was evil. In fact, despite growing up in New York State, I first visited the city as a college student...and a love affair began. As a child I felt isolated, claustrophobic and weirdly bookish. I feel strongly that reading changed my life: it exposed me to other worlds and ideas outside my homogeneous small town. I related to Claudia and envied her adventures. She was the girl I wished I could be. Jamie was so much like my younger brother and I could imagine us running away together. I could talk him into anything and he also always had money and liked "complications". I read the book over and over again as a child and dreamed of making a similar escape. Imagine my delight when I finally entered the Metropolitan Museum of Art and discovered that it was just as wonderful as promised. I now live right outside of New York City and visit the city often. Whenever I go to the MET I still feel that excited wonder and can't help looking for the sights that Claudia and Jamie encountered. My dream is still to hide in the rest room and have my own nocturnal adventure in the museum. To me this book represents "hope" and I still love it today.
2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
I'm not sure if this book counts. Its really an adult book, which over time has become a teen book. Precocious children would also enjoy it (be aware there is some strong language). Enders Game celebrates the capabilities and complexities of youth, all within a science fiction/video game story. I love a boarding school story and this one is set at a battle training school. The first time I read it my jaw dropped at the surprise ending. A favorite pick for teen book clubs, I still enjoy every rereading, even knowing that the twist is coming. I always thought this book would make a great movie. Finally the movie came out last year and I was, as usual, disappointed. I was also disappointed in the many sequels to the book, as well as other books by this author. The only exception is Enchantment, which I also love, even though it is very different from Ender's Game.
3.Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
Again, this is a childhood favorite and another book set in New York City (could this be a pattern?). I read this book so many times that my paperback copy literally fell apart. Why did I relate to this book so much? It was the first time I read a book with a character who wasn't sweet and cute and eager to please. Harriet was as snarky as I was and it was a welcome relief hanging out with her. The part where she loses her friends was so sad and relate-able. The characters are flawed and realistic and Harriet is independent and does interesting and fearless things. I reread this book with my own children a few years ago to see if it still holds up. I still loved it and they didn't hate it (which is a win!). Do kids still read Harriet the Spy? Not really, only when their parents remember the title from their childhood and suggest it. I don't care. It got me through my childhood and I still love it. And its my list, so it stays. Besides, it has Ole Golly. Ole Golly is the coolest cat in children's literature and I still want her to come to my house and be my nanny.
4. Holes by Louis Sachar
A tightly written book of amazing plot twists and coincidences. This is one of the few Newbery predictions I made that actually came to fruition. Every kid who reads this book loves it. Its a great story with interesting characters all written conversationally and with a hint of humor. And its very original. The first time I read this book I was so surprises at the uniqueness of it. Holes is like reading Kurt Vonnegut-lite.
5. Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynn Jones
Fairy-tale fantasy, humor, romance, and adventure all rolled into one. The coolest part of this book is when the Wizard Howl walks into our reality present and then returns to the fantasy land. The characters are colorful, multidimensional and lovable. This is the only movie based on a book that I like as much as the book itself, which is pretty cool. The movie is much different. Its an anime by Japanese filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki and is the same story made a bit differently with a steam punk vibe. The movie is like a really great cover of a classic song where you can't decide which one you like better because they are both so different, but both are great. This book is less well known than the others on my list, so if you never read it, check it out.
6. Matilda/The Witches by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl is a genius and possibly the best author of children's books of all times. I appreciate that he never talks down to children and offers them fun, intelligent, and marvelously creative tales.The first time I read Matilda I was on a bus and kept laughing out loud. The book is clever, as all his books are, and makes a great statement about respecting children. I also really love The Witches and can't decide between the two. The Witches is a modern day fairy tale, also written in Dahl's characteristic humor and outrageousness. As movies go Matilda is a waste of time. The Witches is a bit better (Anjelica Husten is wonderful as the head witch), but the ending is changed, which I take exception to .
7. Mr. Was by Pete Hautman
I love, love, love time travel books. They make my brain hurt in a perfectly delicious way. Mr. Was is the granddaddy of all time travel books for young people. It involves a magic door, creepy characters, World War II, and romance. So much happens in this book, its impossible to summarize, but when I get to the end (and I've read this book a lot) I always put it down and say "wow"! I have used this book for book discussion so many times and its always a hit. It is the perfect book for a plot-intensive reader, such as myself, who loves time travel and complications. If you haven't read this book, and many people out there haven't, read it. I promise it will make your brain hurt. Warning: there is a very violent scene early on that may be disturbing to sensitive readers.
8. Out of my Mind - Sharon Draper
Not many books make me cry. This book made me cry three different times. It is hard to read Out of My Mind and not be affected. Melody is one of the most courageous and heartfelt characters in children's literature. You will never be able to get her out of your mind once you read this book. Kids love the book, as well as adults. Its a great book club choice and classroom read aloud. A true winner!
9. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskins
Another favorite from childhood. After reading countless Nancy Drew-style mysteries what a breath of fresh air when The Westing Game came out. It is a super-smart scavenger hunt/mystery celebrating kid power and featuring zany characters. The plot moves quickly and is infused with humor. The mystery is get-able and the book becomes impossible to put down. Raskin respects her readers and this book shows it.
10. Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
As I read this book I kept saying "wow"! The illustrations are stunning, the text is well written and when the two plots come together its magic. I thought Hugo Cabret was amazing and then Selznick created Wonderstruck. This book is the whole package.
1. Running out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix
This is a great "concept" book. A girl in the 1800s pioneer days discovers that she is part of a living history exhibit and its really present day. The children in her small town are dying from diphtheria and its up to her to put on her mother's old "modern clothes" that no longer fit and escape the museum to find help. I love the idea of this book so much and its a great book for discussion and kids enjoy it too. It doesn't make the actual list because the second half doesn't live up to the overall concept, when the girl is dashing around, avoiding bad guys, and trying to find help. Still, its an original story, a lot of fun and an easy sell to kids.
2. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Its no accident that my number one favorite book was one that I discovered as a child and two other titles are also favorites from childhood. The Mixed-up Files gave me hope for a future out of my small town and a promise of adventure. Reading this book brings me back to that young girl I once was and comforts me like a warm blanket. I am a huge fan of the Harry Potter series and have read (or more accurately listened to the amazing audio narration by Jim Dale) at least three times. The young Harry Potter fans I know (my daughter included) who grew up with the series are more passionate about the books than I can ever be. To them the world of Hogwarts is real and part of their personal story. I feel that the books are theirs more than mine and it would not be right to add them to my list.
3. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Time travel, major plot twist, New York City. Need I say more? Should have made the list, but I ran out of room.
What makes in my opinion a great book for young people? I tend to prefer plot heavy books, which I find that kids also prefer. I also love a plot twist and a book that surprises me. Overall, a great book for kids has to blend high writing quality with read-ability. I love a book that helps us to see the world in a different way and makes our imaginations soar. What a great way to end the year by making a list of favorites. Try it for yourself!