Tuesday, January 22, 2008

100 books every child should read

The Guardian has come up with a list of 100 books every child should read, and like all such lists, it's both good and really, really bad.

Every "top 100" list invariably incorporates the compilers' nostalgia. The list is heavily weighted towards the Victorian era through World War One (national nostalgia for England) and the end of World War Two through the sixties (personal nostalgia for the Baby Boomers). There's a subboom in the late seventies and early eighties, but it's almost entirely due to Roald Dahl. The list picks up again after the post-Rowling YA boom, with Harry Potter, His Dark Materials, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Holes.

My own childhood is hardly represented at all. From my prime young-adult reading years (ages 7 to 14, 1984-1991), there are a grand total of three books, none of which I'd actually read back then. (I've since read Howl's Moving Castle.) I think this is due to the youngest of the compilers being slightly older than me, and the oldest of the compilers' children being slightly younger. The Westing Game isn't on the list. Neither is the Wayside School series. Same goes for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankwelier, Bridge to Terabithia, and The Giver. There's no Madeliene L'Engle. There's no John Christopher. No Shel Silverstein (not novels, but that didn't stop them from putting Hiawatha and Beowulf on the list). Hell, there's no Judy Blume.

In addition, this list brings up the debate that any list of great books does about what goes into the canon and what doesn't. Gender seems to be hamhandedly equalized through the inclusion of "boys' books" such as The Call of the Wild and Treasure Island and "girls' books" such as Little Women and Anne of Green Gables. More importantly, the list is almost entirely white authors (Mildred Taylor being the only exception at first glance). Apparently "every child" doesn't need to be concerned with race.