This is a companion post to the Nancy Drew column in Tuesday's (Feb. 4) News-Gazette.
As fun as they are, Nancy Drew’s adventures don’t necessarily stack up as great literature.
Other enduring children's books offer more heft, and if you’re looking for advice Champaign’s librarians have put together a list called "110 Books for Every Child."
Their original list of 100 books was developed in 1999 to celebrate the centennial of the children’s department, said children’s librarian Mike Rogalla. It was updated, and expanded by 10, for the 110th anniversary in 2009. The list is geared toward fourth- and fifth-graders.
You can peruse some of the titles in a permanent display near the children’s desk, alongside the section for new books. The list is also available on the library’s website, with a printer-friendly PDF version, and includes a brief description of each book.
“It’s a good place to start,” Rogalla says.
On the list are titles from long ago that remain popular – "Little Women," "Old Yeller," "Treasure Island," "Swiss Family Robinson" -- as well as newer entries like "The Lightning Thief" and "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone."
It includes science fiction like "A Wrinkle in Time" and "The Giver." Fun fantasy like "Matilda" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Mystery series like "The Boxcar Children." Animal stories like "Misty of Chincoteague and "The Black Stallion." Social commentary like "Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry."
There's also a poetry section, including “ A Light in the Attic,” by Shel Silverstein.
"We wanted to have a good selection for families, so they could find something that speaks to them," says librarian Kristin Hungerford.
“You’ll be well-read if you read off of this. You’ll be incredibly well-read if you read all of them,” Rogalla says.
What makes a children's book resonate with children for a century or more? We asked the experts at the library for their thoughts -- and their favorites:
"Classics stand the test of time because their themes contain essential human truths. Children’s classics must also continue to appeal to adults as well as children. They have powerful themes, but also must be fun to read!"
Among her favorites: "The 'Little House' books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That was one series my mom was excited about when I found it at school. My grandma brought the series down to our house -- they were the ones she read aloud to all her kids. They're great family books."
"And 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,' because of the messages you get, coupled with the candy factory, the creativity of Willie Wonka and how anything was possible in his factory. It really supports kids’ imaginations. An old-fashioned rags-to-riches story."
"If the book is part of a series, it is the reassurance that the second, third, tenth or hundredth title in the series will deliver the enjoyment experienced when the first story was read. In general, a detailed setting or well-crafted fantasy world, characters with which a child can identify, a plot that drives one forward from chapter to chapter, and skilled writing derived from the author’s hard work in preparing text focused on a child’s interaction with events.
"I have fond memories of one of my elementary school teachers reading my class the Pippi Longstocking books. I so much wanted the independence found in those stories."
Molly MacRae, former manager of an independent bookstore in Tennessee:
"When I was a kid, I loved E.B. White, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Dr. Seuss. . .
"My boys also loved White, Wilder, and Seuss. They also had the joy of discovering Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events and Brian Jacques and his "Redwall" series. Jacques writes about a pseudo-medieval land populated by good and wicked creatures – mice, moles, otters, badgers, rats, stoats and cats. They are heroic, swashbuckling tales with terrific descriptions of feasts and battles. . .
"One of my favorite memories of selling books, though, is of a little girl coming into the shop, finding "Charlotte’s Web" on the shelf, picking it up and saying with utter reverence 'Oh, this is my favorite book in the world.' I know exactly how she feels. I love seeing books I loved being picked up year after year and treasured."
Do you have fond memories of a favorite book or series that you read as a child? Tell us about it below and you'll be entered in a drawing for a free book!
Julie Wurth blogs about families and kids and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Leave a comment below or contact her at 217-351-5226, email@example.com or twitter.com/jawurth.
Photo: Johnny Depp starred as Willy Wonka in the 2005 Tim Burton film, 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.' Photo courtesy Warner Bros.