Monday, January 3, 2011

Winning Kids: Little Nippers Top 10 (Classic)

Little Nippers Top 10
by Michelle Berg

I have to say that I don’t agree with some of the children’s literature out there today whose main character is a precocious elementary grade-schooler who does nothing except complain about their parents, teachers and siblings. Shouldn’t reading be about imagination? I much prefer the imaginative tales of my youth than the jaded cynicism that seems to have overcome popularity. The following is a list of Classic Children’s literature that are both clever and inspiring. Each book is written for readers ages 9-12; however, they are equally enjoyable to younger children if read out loud.

10. Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Written and Illustrated by Richard and Florence Atwater

After surprised with the great fortune of the most amazing gift, Mr. Popper’s life is changed forever. Written in 1938, this timeless story of one frustrated man and his 12 penguins made my children laugh out loud and beg to hear more! Given the prestigious award of the Newbery Honor, this charming chapter book is perfect for story time!
9. The Twenty-One Balloons
Written by Illustrated by William Pene du Bois

This book is the story of Professor William Waterman Sherman’s unusual voyage. Being rather bored with his chosen profession of teaching arithmetic at a school for boys, he decides to build himself a hot-air balloon to float around in for a whole year. However, fate shortens his trip and he finds himself on the island of Krakatoa just days before its legendary explosion in 1883. To his surprise the island is inhabited with a small and somewhat peculiar group of people who all have to rely on one remarkable invention to flee the island once it explodes. William Pene du Bois does an excellent job weaving facts and fiction to make this fascinating story come to life. Furthermore, his illustrations are nothing less than exquisite.
8. The Secret Garden
Written by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Illustrated by Tasha Tudor.

Although written almost 100 years ago, this everlasting story of a young girl never seems to get old. After becoming an orphan at age 10, Mary is sent to live with her uncle in a grand house on the Yorkshire Moors. She is frightened, lonely, willful and very disagreeable. However, as time goes by, she discovers friendship and happiness. This magical story is rich with mystery and deep with meaning. Most of all, my eight year old daughter finds it completely enchanting.
7. The Cricket in Times Square
Written by George Selden. Illustrated by Garth Williams.

One evening, while working at his parent’s newsstand in a Times Square subway station, Mario spots a cricket and decides to make him his pet. Chester Cricket, as his new friends Tucker Mouse and Harry Cat soon discover, is quite an amazing creature. He is an honorable and noble companion who speaks only the truth and never falters from doing the right thing. Furthermore, like the Legend of Orpheus, he has the ability to make all of Times Square stand still just to listen to his beautiful song. This book mixes Chinese folklore, Greek mythology and good old fashioned storytelling.
6. The Phantom Toll Booth
Written by Norton Juster. Illustrated by Jules Feiffer.

If every 20 year old should read the Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, than every elementary student should read The Phantom Toll Booth, for this is philosophy for youngsters! It is a story of young boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself. Nothing interested him until one day he traveled through a mysterious tollbooth and embarked on a very strange journey. In search of a place called Dictionopolis, Milo travels through the land of Expectations but accidentally takes a wrong turn and ends up in Doldrums where everything is gray and thinking and laughing is strictly prohibited. Later, he is instructed by King Azaz the Unabridged to go on a mission to find the princesses, Rhyme and Reason. This extraordinary story is not only entertaining and clever but its originality makes it utterly spellbinding!
5. James and the Giant Peach
Written by Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake.

A story of magic and fantasy, James and the Giant Peach will take you to an imaginary world only Roald Dahl can bring. When James Henry Trotter inadvertently drops his magical crystals near a peach tree, marvelously astonishing things start to happen. The peach at the top of the tree grows into an unimaginable size as do the insects that were living nearby and James’ life is forever changed. Like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this book is charmingly illustrated by Quentin Blake and complete with Dahl’s signature poetic songs which make it a joy to read!
4. A Bear Called Paddington
Written by Michael Bond. Illustrated by Peggy Fortnum.

Written in 1958, this is the first Paddington book ever written. It is an adorable story about a polite bear that stowed-away from the Darkest Peru and somehow managed to end up in London. He is then, spotted by Mr. and Mrs. Brown in Paddington Station where he is seated on his suitcase with a note attached to his coat stating “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” Soon Mr. and Mrs. Brown bring him home where he later becomes a member of their family. Although Paddington is polite, living in the human world is a bit complicated and he manages to get into quite a bit of trouble. The story is of his many mishaps. Sweet and endearing; read this book over and again.
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Written by Roald Dahl. Illustrated by Quentin Blake.

“There are five children in this book: Augustus Gloop, A greedy boy; Veruca Salt, A girl who is spoiled by her parents; Violet Beauregarde; A girl who chews gum all day long; Mike Teavee, A boy who does nothing but watch television and Charlie Bucket; The hero.” So begins the celebrated tale of Willy Wonka, the Oompa-Loompas and that famous Chocolate Factory. I must say, that I’ve never been a fan of this story until I read the book. Both feature films, the 1971 release with Gene Wilder and the remake in 2005 with Johnny Depp seemed dark and disturbing. The book portrays Willy Wonka as eccentric and less sinister which I find more appealing. Also, the Oompa-Loompas' morality songs are rich with profound messages and I think their significance is lost in the movie. My favorite song is the last one about the dangers of letting your children watch too much TV. Instead, they recommend to read, read, and read!
 2. Island of the Blue Dolphins
Written by Scott O’Dell

There are no illustrations in this book but Scott O’Dell’s powerful description of survival and strength brings forth vivid images. When the village people of an Indian tribe leave the island to sail east, a 12 year old girl is left behind. While she waited for a ship to return, she had to forage for food, fight against wild dogs and build her own shelter. This is an unforgettable story of bravery, endurance and spirit like no other.
1. Charlotte’s Web
Written by E.B. White. Illustrated by Garth Williams.

I recently had the pleasure of listening to this story on CD. As a child, I read it multiple times, but this recording read by the author himself is beautiful. The story of a very lucky pig, first saved by a compassionate young girl and then by an ingenious old spider, has once again brought me to tears. It is a moving and eloquent story about growing up, friendship and loss. Charlotte’s Web is a classic that should be on everyone shelves.
Michelle Berg is a Pre-School Teacher and author of children's book, Miss Mandy Manners.  Please visit her website:

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Happy Birthday Author said...

Great list of books. I agree that many can be read to younger children aloud. Charlie and Chocolate Factory was one of the first chapter books I read to my daughter.