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Children’s Books: Top 10 in Britain

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I’m a huge fan of children’s books. I raised a daughter, helped raise four nephews, and am currently helping to raise a grandson (he’ll be 4 in July), so I’ve spent a lot of time in the children’s section of libraries and bookstores — and frankly, there’s no place closer to Heaven for me.

As the kids grew, I read what they were reading so that we could talk about books and authors — sharing stories, notes, and opinions. This means I got to sample everything from “Jazz Fly” for toddlers to Phillip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy — aimed at your average brooding, intellectual-existential teen.

I’m also of the opinion that the best contemporary art being produced today is not to be found in art museums or galleries, but more likely to be found among children’s books; I believe the current crop of children’s illustrators produces more high quality, innovative art than all the Whitney Biennials combined. (That will be the subject of a future entry — but for the impatiently curious, go find a Peter Sis book.)

So here’s what’s happening among kids in England these days; a recent survey in Britain asked children between ages 7 to 14 to name their three favorite books.

(7 – 14 is bound to turn up a wide variety of favorites; there’s quite a difference between “Lord of the Rings” and “Cat in the Hat” — but this list is a good sample of books that have become ‘children’s classics’ — and an excellent starting point for a new parent who wants to build a library for that special little soon-to-be-literate arrival.)

CHILDREN’S TOP 10 (British survey, 2004)

1. Harry Potter
2. The Lord of the Rings
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
4. The Cat in the Hat

5. Matilda
6. The Twits
7. Tracy Beaker books
8. The Jungle Book
9. The BFG
10. Winnie the Pooh

The kids apparently answered, “Harry Potter”, so the entire series by gazillionaire author J.K. Rowling only gets listed as one entry. Same goes for the “Lord of the Rings” series, but you knew that.

Roald Dahl has four books on the list: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, The Twits and The BFG. Dahl has been well-known among parents and children for decades; obviously, he’s created many great childhood classics, including a few not on the list such as “James and the Giant Peach” and “The Witches”, both of which have been made into films.

Among the books on the list that have been made into films (um, which haven’t?), I suggest you check out “Matilda” — one of the best kids’ movies ever made. Directed by Danny DeVito, ‘Matilda’ bombed at the box-office and has been relatively overlooked ever since. But like the book, it’s funny, intelligent, subversive, and entertaining. (It also contains the most evil character since Hannibal Lechter!)

(The other film adaptations are consistently good, the one exception being “The Cat in the Hat” — which is to be avoided like an Ebola-infested coughing kitten.)

The other books/movies are so ubiquitous that they don’t need much in the way of explanation, although “Tracy Beaker” is an exception. This series of books by Jacqueline Wilson is a marketing phenom in Great Britain (books, TV, film, etc), but virtually unknown in the US. I haven’t read any, so I’ll have to trust the kids on this one.

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About Mark Shark

  • Eric Olsen

    another excellent list, thanks Sharky!