100 Chapter Books Project: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

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One of the oldest (1865) but absolutely best books on the Top 100 Chapter Books list is Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. It’s only #31 on the list but, based on its influence on children’s literature (and film) and the multitude of new book versions constantly coming out, I’m sure it really should be in the top ten.

What it’s about: Nonsense.

Age level: Grades 3-∞

Best part: The tea party. And the fact that it’s still quite readable after 150 years.

Worst part: The whole duchess/cook/baby-pig chapter. And the “it was all a dream” crap. Wonderland is real and everyone knows it.

Verdict: Buy

The wonderful thing about this book is that there are constantly new versions being put out, both with new, modern illustrations and also with faithful reproductions of the old ones, so that every reader should be able to find a copy that is visually interesting to them. I own at least three versions and have my eye on a couple more because I love almost all of the covers and artwork that this story inspires. But the best thing is that the words never need change because they are perfect as is. There are a few random British history sentences that modern global kids might not understand but the rest is the perfect type of fancy that never goes out of style.

My next read is The Giver which I have always avoided based on the bleak cover (and the fact that it came out the year after I graduated high school so I wasn’t really picking up chapter books at that time). I’m in the middle of listening to it on audio and I am surprisingly LOVING it. I can’t wait to see how it ends!

*****
Schedule – May through August
 
May 31 – #4 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
June 15 – #80 The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)
June 30 – #70 Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)
July 15 – #7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967)
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)

100 Chapter Books Project: Each Little Bird That Sings

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I’m always thrilled to discover a hidden gem on the Top 100 Chapter Books list and I’ve found another one — Each Little Bird That Sings (2005) by Deborah Wiles. It definitely deserves to be higher than number 71. It’s only ten years old though so there’s still time for it to gain in popularity.

What it’s about: Comfort Snowberger at ten years old is already well-versed in death. Her family owns Snowbergers’ Funeral Home and so it’s her family’s business to take care of the dead of Snapfinger, Mississippi. As it turns out, dealing with the dead is actually easier than dealing with the living, especially friends who are untrue.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best character: Comfort Snowberger — she is an incredible kid, not flawless but able to find redemption once she figures out which are the things that really matter in life.

Worst character: Declaration Johnson — because the worst bully is the one that used to be your friend.

Verdict: Buy

I’ve never read a book that dealt with death in such a straight-forward and thoughtful way. I think if I had read a book like this as a kid, I would have had a better understanding of death and grief thanks to Comfort and her “Life Notices” (she writes positive, friendly obituaries that never get published in the small local paper because they’re not “just the facts”). Just a warning though — there is a major pet trauma toward the end of the story that may be a bit much for sensitive young ones (or me, apparently). Still, it wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm for this fantastic story.

After a little time off for spring break (yay!), my 40th birthday (boo!), and Read-a-thon (double yay!), I’ll be back with an umpteenth reread of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If you’ve never read it, join me. It’ll be fun!

*****
Schedule – May through July
April 30 – Spring Break
May 15 – #31 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
May 31 – #4 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
June 15 – #80 The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)
June 30 – #70 Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)
July 15 – #7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Golden Compass

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The Golden Compass (1995, Northern Lights in the U.K.) by Philip Pullman is number 28 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. Sometimes I think that a series book is appropriately listed separately on the list because it’s either the best in the series or is a fantastic standalone. But, in cases like this one, I think that the book is likely a stand-in by voters for the entire series. The His Dark Materials series works best when all three books are read together and they are all rather good.

What it’s about: Lyra Belacqua is an orphan who lives at Jordan College in Oxford (in a world that is not quite ours), always accompanied by her daemon, Pantalaimon. In Lyra’s world, daemons are bosom companions (souls) that take animal form and are changeable when one is a child but choose a fixed form during puberty. Lyra spies one day on the leaders of Jordan College and her uncle, Lord Asriel, and finds out about an elementary particle called “dust” and about another world that exists across the Aurora Borealis. Lyra soon finds herself fighting against a sinister plot to change her world as she knows it, but she also finds that she isn’t alone when she gains assistance from some very unexpected companions.

Age level: Grade 5+

Best part: Lyra is simply amazing. She’s smart and capable and headstrong but she’s also human and she makes several very tough decisions and is willing to face the consequences to help others. Iorek Byrnison, Serafina Pekkala and Farder Coram are also outstanding characters with depth, flaws and very individual world views.

Worst part: This series is constantly challenged or banned. The reasons touch on politics, religion, and violence. The truth is that this is a book that encourages readers to question authority (especially religious and political authority), to make informed decisions based on science and fact, and to protect those things that are important parts of our core beings and our environment. The likely true reason for so many challenges is that Pullman is a secular humanist.

Verdict: Buy

This was a reread for me and I did it on audiobook with a great full-cast version. I’m on the library waiting list now for the audiobook of The Subtle Knife, book two in the series because I can’t remember everything that comes next in the story. I loved this portion of the tale as much as I did when I read the series a few years back. The characters are so vivid and the plot is intense and compelling. It’s an incredibly thoughtful and substantial book which I’m sure dozens of students have analyzed over the years.

Next up is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This is a re-read for me and it’s a short story so I would like to spend a little time doing some background research and reading on the author along with reading the story itself. There will also be a movie coming out later this year so if anyone hasn’t read this and wants to join me, feel free!

*****
Schedule – January through April
January 31 – #95 The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery (1943)
February 15 – #20 Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo (2000)
February 28 – #49 My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett (1948)
March 15 – #39 The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (2007)
March 30 – #5 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
April 15 – #71 Each Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (2005)