Back in the halcyon days of the late aughts, A Fuse #8 Production’s Top 100 Picture Books and Top 100 Chapter Books polls were daily required reading for any children’s lit supporter worth their salt.
Consider that the warm-up.
Process perfected and team of number-crunchers assembled, the Top 100 lists are making a triumphant return. The call has gone out for votes (submit yours by 11:59 on April 15). Here are the books I’m throwing my support behind.
Top 10 Chapter Books
10. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E. L. Konigsburg
A brother and sister run away to Metropolitan Museum of art in New York City. Is it plausible? Dude, you’re missing the point. For kids, this 1968 Newbery Medal winner is escapist fiction at its best.
9. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
Published on 1990, Maniac Magee is the Cool Hand Luke of children’s literature. A stranger comes to a new, sometimes hostile place, wins people over, and changes lives. And similar to that film’s famous egg-eating contest, Maniac Magee has a memorable unifying challenge – untying Cobble’s Knot. Like the citizens of Two Mills, PA, Jeffrey Magee’s affect on young readers has been a lasting one.
8. The Giver by Lois Lowry
It’s likely that Lois Lowry’s 1994 Newbery Medal winner has introduced more readers to dystopian fiction than any other book. Covering themes of mortality and religion, it’s also a regular on the most challenged list. One thing is for sure – you’ll never forgot it.
7. A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck
If we were to have a memorable characters contest (and we should) I’d take Grandma Dowdel, the central figure in Richard Peck’s 1998 “novel in stories” against any challenger. Bring ‘em on. Dowdel’s voluminous personality carries A Long Way from Chicago (and two follow ups) to unforgettable heights. Tough and clever, but with a heart that oh-so-occasionally comes to the surface, Dowdel is a character the reader can’t help but reckon with.
6. Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis
When you hear that a book is about an orphan during the Great Depression, you might expect an emotional one-trick-pony – sadness to spare. Give Christopher Paul Curtis credit for bringing this era to life with vibrancy and flashes of surprising humor. Flint, Michigan is the setting here and sense of place figures big into this 2000 Newbery Medal winner. For us Michiganders, it feels like we’re sharing our piece of the map with the world.
5. The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
The most noteworthy Newbery robbery in recent memory. Can you give this book three pages worth of your time? Because I promise you, if you do, you’ll want to read more. The mysterious opening of The City of Ember should be writing class standard issue for how to grab the reader. The best part is that the rest of the book lives up to that hook. A dystopian masterpiece that, while tackling heavy themes, never once gets bogged down. An intelligent page-turner.
4. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
It’s refreshing when children’s literature tackles grand themes and trusts that the reader can handle them. Such is the case with Philip Pullman’s landmark 1995 fantasy. What’s more grand than a meditation on the human soul? But maybe Pullman’s greatest feat was to craft a story that is exceptional for all, full of bear kings, cowboy aeronauts, and animal “daemons”, it’s a mind-expanding trip.
3. Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
A level-headed kid among a sea of oddball adults, Homer Price not only bring some of the most delightfully engaging stories in children’s literature, but shows that troublemakers aren’t the only ones who can have fun. McCloskey’s 1943 novel shows his skill at crafting stories that appeal to the imagination while remaining grounded in a reality we all wish we could be a part of. I ask you – who doesn’t want a doughnut machine?
2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
It’s rare for a children’s literature character to become a household name, and Willy Wonka is one of the few. But it isn’t just the eccentric chocolatier that has reverberated beyond the pages of Roald Dahl’s 1964 book. The golden ticket, the glass elevator, and, of course, the darkly comedic fates that befell each child are all part of the public consciousness. With imagery this rich and characters this lasting, it’s not surprising that Hollywood came calling not once, but twice. Final thought: Has there ever been a company in children’s literature that has gone on to become real? ‘Cause you can buy a Wonka Bar.
1. Holes by Louis Sachar
We’re all friends here, so I won’t mince words – Louis Sachar’s 1999 Newbery winner is the closest thing to a perfect book as I’ve ever read. A cast of intriguing characters tied together by an enticing mystery, this is children’s literature at its finest.
How much do I love this book? Halloween costume-level love:
Top 10 Picture Books
When I went back to the list I submitted to the original Fuse #8 Top 100 Picture Books Poll, I realized that I didn’t want to change a thing. So here they are again.
10. Curious George by Margaret and H.A. Rey.
Originally published in 1941, It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Curious George that this title, and its multitude of subsequent books are still widely circulated, and familiar to young readers. I can see why. Kids can relate to George’s innocently mischievous behavior and his relationship with The Man With the Yellow Hat, who acts as parental figure. In a format extended beyond the typical 32 page picture book standard, the simple text and humorous illustrations continue to draw readers in.
9. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola.
I must have a thing for bowls that duplicate stuff. Strega Nona in many ways mirrors the 4th title on this list, The Full Belly Bowl. But unlike Aylesworth’s book, Strega Nona focuses on humor to get its point across. dePaola’s 1979 classic takes an original tale and makes it feel timeless – no small feat.
8. Arnie the Doughnut by Laurie Keller.
An absurdist masterpiece in both writing and illustration. Our hero goes through a lot in one day: being created, finding a home, avoiding consumption, and eventually welcoming his new role in life as a doughnut dog. Hilarious even after multiple readings with subtle themes of belonging, Arnie the Doughnut (published in 2003) has more personality in its publication page than some picture books have in total.
7. Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg.
Look no further than the cover artwork to witness Van Allsburgss eerie, draftsman-like precision on full display. Jumanji (published in 1981) takes a story that could have turned out silly and crafts a hauntingly beautiful title through illustrations that speak volumes.
6. Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! by Mo Willems.
Willems wasn’t the first picture book author to break down the “forth wall” and have his characters speak directly to the reader, he’s just proven to be the best at it. When Pigeon debuted in 2003 it became an immediate read aloud smash and reminded everyone that yes, books are entertainment – and that’s a good thing.
5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.
Never has there been a more universally loved picture book. While other titles on this list may split audiences, Eric Carle’s 1969 classic is bulletproof. Through its perfect story, wonderful pacing, and inventive illustration, this rep has been earned.
4. The Full Belly Bowl by Jim Ayleswoth, Illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin.
Some stories are best read alone, others reach their full potential when shared. Aylesworth’s 1999 tale of an old man who receives a magical gift from a stranger falls squarely in the latter category. A read aloud champion that pulls readers into the story, making them wonder what they would do with a bowl that can duplicate whatever is put inside it – including money.
3. Flotsam by David Wiesner.
There is no finer example of unbridled imagination than Wiesner’s 2006 wordless story about a boy who finds amazing things inside old camera washed up on a beach. As the storyline unfolds, the reader discovers that undersea life may be much more sophisticated (and whimsical) than previously thought. A cyclical ending shows the camera washed up again, ready for the next passerby to continue the story.
2. How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.
Books set during Christmas are akin to songs on top 40 radio – tons of people enjoy them, but critics don’t give them much credit. Don’t get it twisted: Seuss’s 1957 Yule-time tale deserves all the credit it can get, if for no other reason than the creation of The Grinch, one of the most indelible characters in picture book history.
1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
The evolution of picture books can be broken down into two time periods: Pre-Wild Things and Post-Wild Things. Sendak’s 1963 book was that instrumental in ushering in the modern age of picture books. While tackling themes of anger and loneliness, Sendak created one of the few picture books that still seems fresh after decades in print.