This Used to Be My Childhood

A recent Washington Post article titled “What Do Children Read? Hint: Harry Potter’s Not No. 1” forced me to consider a few childhood titles of my own. Unfortunately, I didn’t read classic literature (i.e. Lord of the Rings, The Outsiders, etc.) when I was younger, and if I did it obviously didn’t make a big enough impact on me since I don’t remember.

Children have welcomed the Harry Potter books in recent years like free ice cream in the cafeteria, but the largest survey ever of youthful reading in the United States revealed today that none of J.K. Rowling’s phenomenally popular books has been able to dislodge the works of longtime favorites Dr. Seuss, E.B. White, Judy Blume, S.E. Hinton and Harper Lee as the most read.

Books by the five well-known U.S. authors, plus lesser-known Laura Numeroff, Katherine Paterson and Gary Paulsen, drew the most readers at every grade level in a study of 78.5 million books read by more than 3 million children who logged on to the Renaissance Learning Web site to take quizzes on books they read last year. Many works from Rowling’s Potter series turned up in the top 20, but other authors also ranked high and are likely to get more attention as a result . . .

The survey, at http://www.renlearn.com/whatkidsarereading, breaks down results by gender and section of the country. Overall, Dr. Seuss’s madly rhyming “Green Eggs and Ham” was the most popular first-grade book. Second-graders preferred Numeroff’s “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” which Donovan praised for its humorous take on cause and effect. White’s timeless tale of a girl, a pig and a spider, “Charlotte’s Web,” was the third-grade favorite. Blume, not surprisingly, won over fourth-graders with her “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing,” the first of several books about Peter Warren Hatcher and his younger brother, Farley, who prefers to be called “Fudge.”

Fifth-graders read most often Paterson’s story of two children and a magical forest kingdom, “Bridge to Terabithia.” Sixth-graders preferred “Hatchet,” about a boy stranded in the wilderness, by Paulsen, whom Donovan called “Jack London for kids.” The most-read book among seventh- and eighth-graders was “The Outsiders,” a story of rival gangs in Tulsa published in 1967 when its author, Hinton, was 18 years old. (Read the full article . . .)

As the article points out, as a child I was one of the many fans of Judy Blume, but Beverly Cleary and Virginia Hamilton also top my lists. Here are a few of the most memorable titles:

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret by Judy Blume

No one ever told Margaret Simon that eleven-going-on- twelve would be such a hard age. When her family moves to New Jersey, she has to adjust to life in the suburbs, a different school, and a whole new group of friends. Margaret knows she needs someone to talk to about growing up-and it’s not long before she’s found a solution.

Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret. I can’t wait until two o’clock God. That’s when our dance starts. Do you think I’ll get Philip Leroy for a partner? It’s not so much that I like him as a person God, but as a boy he’s very handsome. And I’d love to dance with him… just once or twice. Thank you God.

Blubber by Judy Blume

Blubber is a good name for her, the note from Wendy says about Linda. Jill crumples it up and leaves it on the corner of her desk. She doesn’t want to think about Linda or her dumb report on the whale just now. Jill wants to think about Halloween. But Robby grabs the note, and before Linda stops talking it has gone halfway around the room. That’s where it all starts. There’s something about Linda that makes a lot of kids in her fifth-grade class want to see how far they can go — but nobody, least of all Jill, expects the fun to end where it does.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Why is the land so important to Cassie’s family? It takes the events of one turbulent year–the year of the night riders and the burnings, the year a white girl humiliates Cassie in public simply because she is black–to show Cassie that having a place of their own is the Logan family’s lifeblood. It is the land that gives the Logans their courage and pride, for no matter how others may degrade them, the Logans possess something no one can take away.


Ramona Quimby, Age 8 by Beverly Cleary

Ramona Quimby, one of the most loved characters in children’s fiction, has now reached third grade. At school, she acquires a new teacher, Mrs. Whaley, who addresses the class as “you guys.” At home, she helps the family “squeak by” as her father returns to college to become an art teacher. All the Quimbys have their ups and downs, but none feels them more intensely than Ramona. Her low point is undoubtedly reached the day she throws up in class and Mrs. Whaley instructs the children to hold their noses and file into the hall. But three days later Ramona recovers her verve sufficiently to give a book report in the style of a T.V. commercial, bringing down the house with her final ad-lib line of “I can’t believe I read the whole thing!”

The People Could Fly: American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton

Many of the stories in this collection were told among slaves as they dreamt of freedom or remembered their lives in Africa. Hamilton focuses on several themes—animal tales, magical and supernatural tales, and tales of freedom—and following each story is a note explaining its history and meaning. Black-and-white illustrations by Caldecott Medalists Leo and Diane Dillon round out this important book.

Where’s Waldo by Martin Handford

An oversized picture book with hoards of people milling around on each page amidst this humanity readers must try to spot Waldo, identifiable by his clothing and hiking paraphernalia, in a game of concentration. It’s difficult to find him in the middle of a crowd because he does not stick out head and shoulders above the teeming masses of pedestrians, beach-goers or vacationers.

Happy reading ya’ll!

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