April 13, 2007

Classic children's literature, revisited: a special place in the heart

At the Yahoo nonsectarian Charlotte Mason group I started the other year (and where I tend to feel like a Well-Trained impostor), some members were discussing Horn Book editor Roger Sutton's recent post about The Baldwin Project and Charlotte Mason, and one member, Julie, wrote,
I use the AO [Ambleside Online] program. I also make substitutions when I feel it is necessary. I am very open to using really good contemporary lit. We are reading My Side of the Mountain (pub. 1959) now. I would love to compile a list (by grade) of more contemporary books to supplement what we are doing now. Does Roger already have this kind of a list? It would be interesting to see what he recommends.

What would the rest of this group recommend as not to be missed, "twaddle-free," contemporary children's lit? (For K-5 or so)
When Julie said she had trouble posting her questions to his blog, I started racking my brains and bookmarks and remembered that yes, indeed, the Horn Book Magazine does have a page of lists, which is here, and which appears on the web page with the following explanation:
Promoting good books for children and young adults is the heart of the Horn Book’s editorial mission. Listed below are annotated booklists of recommended, mostly recently published titles [subjects listed include African-American, Fantasy and Science Fiction, Halloween, History, Paperbacks, Pet Stories, Poetry, Science, Translated Books, and Winter Holidays]. Also below are links to our Fanfare lists and Boston Globe–Horn Book Award winners and honor book recipients. Our most popular booklist, Children’s Classics, prepared by Mary Burns, has achieved it own classic status as essential reading for all new parents, teachers, and librarians. For additional ideas, visit our Web Extras page, which regularly features booklists developed around current magazine articles.
Ms. Burns's Children's Classics list is available as a PDF; from her introduction:
Since it was founded in 1924, The Horn Book Magazine has celebrated notable achievements in the writing and illustrating of books for children. A logical consequence of this emphasis is the periodic compilation of lists of classics, beginning with an article by pioneering librarian Alice M. Jordan in 1947. Jordan
was particularly distinguished for the contributions she made as Supervisor of Work with Children at the Boston Public Library. In that position, she had ample opportunity to observe, to reflect, and to comment on the qualities that allow some books to endure for generations, thus becoming classics.

More than fifty years have passed since that first list was prepared. Tastes have changed; so have demographics and publishing. This list, like its predecessors, has been modified to reflect those changes. Yet many of the titles cited earlier have been included. Still read and enjoyed, they are indeed classics.

Preparing a list of classics involves some basic assumptions—not to mention a certain amount of presumption. It is hoped that these selections will provide some guidelines for developing a home library of books that are as accessible to young readers as they are worthy. The final choices are not the only possibilities; many a favorite has been eliminated so that the list would be useful rather than overwhelming.

Classics written before 1920 have been placed into separate categories, calling attention to books that are part of the literary heritage from times past. All other entries are arranged by genre with suggested audience levels. But, in the final analysis, a list is only the beginning. The real test of a classic is the individual
child’s delight in reading, sharing, and rereading a book again, again, and again.
The annotated list contains no major surprises for most book-loving home educators, especially the "living book", Sonlight, and Five-in-a-Row crowds, but it might come in handy printed out and kept near the computer (for those who can order interlibrary loan titles online) or in the library bag.

New on the classic children's literature front -- and a thanks to Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace and A Tea Cozy for the head's up -- are the plans by Gina MarySol Ruiz, who blogs at AmoxCalli, to "review and recommend some of those great children's books from the past". As Gina writes in her last month's call for guest bloggers,
I spend so much time these days trying to review so many great children's books out there, that I've sadly neglected what I originally wanted to do - review and recommend some of those great children's books from the past. You know, books like Little Women, The Secret Garden, The Little Prince, The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, Oz books, etc. Any book you came across as a child or adult that made a profound impact, the ones that made you love kidlit.

If you're interested in reviewing, add a comment with the title of your book/s that you want to review and then I'll get you set up with a guest account so you can post away. It's that simple. There is no deadline and no end date.

I'm hoping some of the wonderful Children's Lit bloggers on my blogroll will contribute.
Gina posted her first review, of one of her favorites, Little Women, yesterday,
When I started AmoxCalli a couple of years ago my main goal was to get classic children’s literature in front of a new audience. I’m always surprised and dismayed when I talk to people about books that I think everyone grew up with and I get blank stares. It breaks my heart.

There is so much out there. I love all the new books that are coming out, books I’ve reviewed and recommended like Octavian Nothing, Hattie Big Sky, Anahita’s Woven Riddle, The Lighthouse Land, etc but I have a special place in my heart for the books that made me a lifelong reader, the ones that moved me and introduced me to new worlds. Because AmoxCalli is a book recommendation site (you won’t find any bad reviews here – if I don’t like it, I don’t post it), what better to recommend than those wonderful old books? I’ve been so busy reviewing the new stuff (not complaining, I love it) that I recently realized that I’ve not done what I set out to do with the blog – get people informed and interested in those old classics.
I think "a special place in my heart..." is a wonderful way to describe the favorite classics of our childhood. AmoxCalli and its new passionate, enthusiastic feature are a terrific resource for those of us who want to expand our children's hearts, as well.

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