I’ve just come across a @TES post from July 2015 — a hundred books our children should read before leaving primary school. I’ve just spent the last nine years posting my children through primary school and I’m not done yet, so am interested to hear what TES recommends:
Rightio, time to air my inner bumptiousness (shakes out opinions, drapes them over blog)… OK, I read it and it felt like a list of “first books that sprang to mind” — what you might get if you galloped into a busy classroom and shouted, ‘Quick, gimme a children’s book title!’
And they’d shout, ‘Hobbit,’ or, ‘Pooh.’ You know?
Still it’s a good list, of course it is. We have the usual culprits — Pooh, Black Beauty, War Horse, Velveteen Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland, Treasure Island, The Hobbit, some Narnia, Coraline, Stig, Swallows and Amazons, a Hodgson Burnett, some Blytons, Potter, Paddington, Hairy Maclary, a bunch of Dahls, a Gruffalo, and Where The Wild Things Are. It was good to see the Grimm brothers and Kipling still up there, and kudos to whoever voted for Asterix.
So there were no surprises, at least until we came to the omissions. I appreciate 100 books aren’t very many, but some of the omissions were notable, especially considering the content of the rest of the list — there’s no Watership Down*, or even its modern, voley equivalent, The River Singers — both would be great, especially since they bracket a few decades but have lovely parallels. No Charlotte’s Web? No Peter Pan? No Carrie’s War? Surprised. There’s no Skellig; Skellig should be up there, and the kids should be asked to compare it to Stig of the Dump. No Ende — Momo and The Neverending Story would both have been good to include (Momo in particular, as TNS is just massive). No JK Rowling? Did Harry not appeal, or have we all just over-Harry-Pottered for a moment? Nah. They’ve included a few old staples so was a bit surprised not to see Anne of Green Gables up with the Stigs and Peter Rabbits — seriously, those puff sleeves and gingham frocks were good stuff. And let’s face it, Little Rabbit Foo Foo — come on, if you’re going to include Rosen’s We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, worthy in itself, then why not also throw in Foo Foo for the parental jolly? (Finally, kid-lit with kick!) And Goodnight Moon — now, this one might be understandable. Yes, it’s one of my favourite books for children ever, its cadence and illustration are exquisite, the perfectly crafted book for lulling a child to sleep. Really, it’s a work of art. But the incredible skill in the darkening pictures and the slowing of words from page to page really are only apparent when you use it to calm an over-tired child to sleep. Not so useful in a Monday morning classroom. Still though, you parenty teachers, did you not want it? Awww.
And what about some diversity? Could we not have some new books, to include wider cultural reference and more children with disabilities? It’s time. And much as I love Hodgson Burnett and the like, I mean some modern stories so that if we read about children in wheelchairs, we’re not assuming they’ll leap up in a Lazarus spring at the end — but in fact will have a happy ending all the same — think Katy (Jacqueline Wilson).
*No Watership Down, no Watership Down! Not getting past this.
On the flip side, did they include any mistakes? I’m not sure I can be that harsh… OK, I can. Of the books I know or have read on the list, there were no bad ones. However there were however quite a lot of middling, “nice-but-no-biscuit” books. I’d leave out Zoo (which is a lovely book, just not a top 200 for me) and that bleddy tiger who came to tea, really no, just no, stupid tiger. And Kipper? That reminds me of some Kipper A-Z flash cards I read to my eldest as a tiny child, and under the picture of the dog there was a giant “K”. Yes, Kipper is sweet, but Pingu could take him out in three seconds and neither of them makes essential reading. Ditto the Hungry Caterpillar. Is that a great book? Well, it’s OK. It’s really OK. But it’s not Each Peach Pear Plum, or even Brown Bear, Brown Bear, IMO. (I’m a sucker for cadence and rhythm, more on that in a mo.) And what about Briggs’ The Snowman… yeah, it’s a lovely Christmas thing… but for wordless books, I prefer Where Is The Cake because of the myriad plot combinations (and the retro art). And Flat Stanley — yawn — was nowhere near as fun as, e.g., The Extincts by Veronica Cossanteli. Sure I’m being a bit picky, such is the nature of book list reviews — all opinion. Hot air. Gas.
And so to the dreaded, looming TBR — those books that I have been meaning to read and haven’t, and should really, really read with my kids so I don’t have to wait for grandchildren. Here goes, the list of books I’ve heard good things about but have not read:
- Alice in Wonderland (I have, my kids haven’t, how shameful is that?);
- Goodnight Mr Tom;
- The Iron Man;
- The Borrowers;
- Pig Heart Boy.
Finally, the books that the list put in mind, as I dredged the annals of memory… does anyone remember something called The Peppermint Pig from a million years ago? I’m squinting through the years, pretty sure it was a story I used to like, and also the Grimm-like (Grimm?) story of a witch who kidnapped a little child in a Mercedes Benz — what was that?
I could go on. I could go on for years, but it’s time to go and read the dead pheasant book, before it bungs up my reading list foreeevvvvvvverrrrrrr. Another story.
Dead pheasants, happy reading.