Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Top Ten Middle Grade Books - Answering Betsy's Call

Following on the heels of last year's Top 100 Picture Book Poll, Fuse #8 (Betsy Bird) has created a new poll to discover our views on the Top 100 Children's Fictional Chapter Books. I thought I'd share my books with you here, though not in the rank order I submitted them. Hey, a girl's got to have some secrets, right?

Okay, first things first. Here's how the rules begin.
Vote for your top ten middle grade books of all time (not just this year or last year) by 11:59 Eastern on January 31, 2010.
See the your I highlighted. This means that what follows below is MY list. Mine, mine, mine! I can say without hesitation that this also means there are books you will love that will NOT be on my list. (I'm talking about you, Wilbur.)

So, how does one decide on the best middle grade books of all time? I made a list, pulled dog-eared copies of books off the shelf, made another list, reread some books, and then did the painful job of cutting titles and whittling favorites down to 10. It wasn't easy, but it was fun.

Somehow all the "animal" books fell off the list. I said goodbye to Charlotte's Web, The Mouse and His Child, Rabbit Hill, and The Cricket in Times Square fairly early in the process. I gave up Ann Frank: Diary of a Young Girl at the bitter end, but only because nonfiction is not allowed on this list. I also dumped The Hobbit because it seemed like it was right on the edge of YA and I didn't want to waste a vote.

Without further ado I present my selections, alpha by title. Kudos to you if you can guess which is number 1.
Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo - I love Opal and the bond she forms with Winn-Dixie. I also love the crazy cast of characters. But most of all, I love how through the dog Opal finds friends and begins to understand that everyone carries some kind of baggage, and how this helps her to settle into her own place in the world.

Half Magic by Edward Eager - A magical coin--oops, make that a half magical coin, four precocious children (Jane, Katherine, Mark and Martha), and a slew of wishes, few of which turn out as planned, make this one a witty, entertaining read.

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh - Harriet made me want to write everything down, and once I did, I then fretted over who would find my notebook and how I might be tortured if my "real" feelings were discovered.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
by J.K. Rowling - Yes, I've read them all, MULTIPLE times. Book 3 is my favorite of the lot. (Yes, I know there would be no series without the first!) All I can say is, "I solemnly swear I'm up to no good."

Holes by Louis Sachar - Stanley Yelnats is down on his luck, and after his latest misfortune is sent to Camp Green Lake, a juvenile detention center. Camp Green Lake is neither green nor wet, but a dry, flat wasteland where boys dig holes for rehabilitation. Or is it something else? In telling the story of the present and the past, while introducing a host of memorable characters, Sachar has crafted a book that is quirky, mysterious, and a lot of fun.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster - I stole this one from my older brother's bookshelf and never gave it back. Oh how I wanted one of those tollbooths! As a lover of words and numbers I was thrilled with every new character and adventure Milo encountered.

Tom’s Midnight Garden by Phillipa Pearce - What's a curious boy to do when the clock in the hall strikes thirteen? Why investigate, of course! Tom goes to the first floor and opens the back door, only to find himself faced with a garden, and not the alleyway that exists there by day. In this new world Tom meets a girl names Hattie, but what's he to do when he faces leaving the home that houses the entry to this other world?

The Watson’s Go to Birmingham—1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis - While plenty of folks may be choosing Bud, Not Buddy or Elijah of Buxton, I'm hanging with Kenny and his family. This book moves between laugh-out-loud funny and heartbreaking. It also oozes characters with strength who have a whole lot of love for one another, regardless of the circumstances they find themselves in.

The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowry - You have to love a book that by page 2 says, "The Willoughby parents frequently forgot that they had children and became quite irritable when they were reminded of it." While the Willoughby children plot to make themselves orphans, Mr. and Mrs. Willoughby are doing some plotting of their own, and it isn't good.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle - First there's Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which. There's also a tesseract, the planet of Camazotz, and the power of love. And really, it begins with what must be one of the most famous line in children's literature--"It was a dark and stormy night."
It's not too late if you want to join in the fun. You have until 11:59 Eastern on January 31, 2010 to send Betsy your list.


  1. I will have to give this some thought and then send Betsy a list. These four of yours make my list for sure (in no order): Because of Winn-Dixie, Holes, A Wrinkle in Time, and HP & the Prisoner of Azkaban (my fave of the series as well, even though it's only by a whisker in front of #1, which ranks high for the reason you mentioned - plus it has a killer opening line: "Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much." - But the Patronus in Azkaban slays me every time I read it (over 12 times and counting), so #3 is my fave).

    Also on my list: Rules by Cynthia Lord and A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban. Still need to ponder four more titles (which may end up including the Willoughbys, but may not) and their order.

  2. You've made some great selections. I just sent my list in today. Half Magic and Harriet the Spy made my list too.

  3. I agree with Holes and Watson's. I went with the 1st HP because, well, it was first and drew me in but I did like the third one. The Dementors were definitely something new.

    Just sent her my list, thanks!

  4. I came to the Phantom Tollbooth too late, I'm afraid...I am very cross that it was never given to me when I was young!

  5. Phantom Tollbooth! How could I have forgotten? *smacks head* Dang. I put a few of yours on my list, too -- Prisoner, Watson's, and Harriet the Spy. I regret to say I've never even heard of Tom's Midnight Garden. I should rectify that.

  6. None of yours were on my list, but certainly Harriet the Spy and Phantom Tollbooth might have made the next ten. Can't remember everything I wrote but (in no special order here)
    Thurber's Thirteen Clocks, Stevenson's Treasure Island, Jarrell's The Bat Poet, Jones' Archer's Goon, and Babbit's Tuck Everlasting were among them.