Betsy Bird over at FUSE#8 is compiling the mother of all lists - The Top 100 Fictional Children's Chapter Books - with the help of her readers. She asks that you vote for your top 10 favorite middle grade books of ALL TIME and submit your list (IN ORDER OF PREFERENCE) to her at Fusenumber8@gmail.com. and submit by 11:59 am on January 31. If you are unsure if a book is a middle grade reader, she suggests you check out the website for the most amazing bookstore in America and one of the best parts of my college years, Powell's City of Books.
This got me to thinking about my list and what makes a book really, truly, memorably GREAT for me. Here is my criteria:
1) The author creates a world that, when I am reading and for a good time after, I inhabit, most happily. I can visualize the geography, if not always the characters (a personal flaw of mine, not the authors', which is probably why I am such a slavish fan of illustrations), of a fabulous book.
2) The author creates at least one character that I fall in love with, meaning I either want to BE the character or have him/her/it as a best friend. Now that I am an adult and parent, I also find myself experiencing maternal love and concern for characters from time to time.
3) The book leaves the reader with a feeling of hope, a new view of all possibilities, a new appreciation for human kind (or animal kind and alien kind) and perhaps even inspiration or encouragement to try something new or return to something old.
With that in mind, here are my TOP TEN in the order by which they meet my criteria -
Harry Potter - JK Rowling created a complete world that I want to live in. I'm sorry, I know that almost every other book on this list, for one reason or another, is better written, but this series was my first experience with something epic and all encompassing and was made all the more meaningful because my daughter, who is now 16, was along for the ride right from the start. It was an amazing first time experience as a parent to be swept up by a book that my child was reading and swept up by also. Rowling really broke through a literary barrier with these books.
The Golden Compass - Philip Pullman created a complex, complete world that MADE ME THINK about my world in new and different ways. I often reflect on scenes and characters from these books. (I will review these books soon. I want to do them justice, so I have to read them all again...)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. By some amazing feat, Gaiman manages to make the story of a boy raised by ghosts and pursued by demons completely, emotionally compelling, human and ultimately uplifting.
The Time Travelers - Linda Buckley-Archer - The characters in this book are so well drawn, from the children to the adults, historical and present, that I felt like I had lived another life after reading. Their thoughts, hopes and actions were so compelling to me. Great historical writing, as well.
The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame's world is magical, and all the more so because it exists. The lives Ratty, Mole, Toad & Badger help the reader to see things in a new way, hopefully.
Fly By Night - Frances Hardinge creates a complete world, and alternative history where the ability to read is punishable. Her characters and names for them, as well as for the geography of the book, are truly inspired and unforgettable, as are their machinations.
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler - EL Konigsberg - As a child reading this book, I wanted to BE Claudia and follow in her footsteps. As an adult, I empathize with her and marvel at the human connections Konigsburg renders so brilliantly.
The Giver - Lois Lowry - So many reasons why this book is a masterpiece - Lowry shakes up the puzzle pieces of our existence and lays them out in new and different ways that make you see your life and life choices differently. A book that MAKES YOU THINK.)
The Westing Game - Ellen Raskin - As a child reading this book (30 years ago), I was so amazed by the characters. I didn't know it was ok show adults as selfish, mean people who made bad decisions. The kids are alright!
The True Meaning of Smekday - Adam Rex - Funny, sardonic, ironic, parodical and great social commentary. And a really great heroes all kids can look up to in both Tip and J.Lo. A lot like The Giver,in terms of a dystopian society, but SOOOOO different.
Books I wish I could squeeze in there somewhere...
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle. A huge part of my childhood literary experience, my entre into the world of science fiction and the possibility that girls in books weren't always pretty or smart but could still be likable and brave.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. An incredible combination of things with a brilliant link to A Wrinkle in Time. Read my review if you haven't already.
Inkheart - Cornelia Funke creates a dark and magical world that feels like a fairy tale gone a bit wrong. A brilliant, haunting book with complex, flawed characters
Thanks to Robin at The Booknosher for tuning me in to Betsy Bird's poll.
And, since I'm in a reflective mood, here is my list of the best middle grade fiction I read in 2009 that was published that same year: