At Bookworm we often get asked about the best fiction books to buy children and young adults, so we decided to look around the web and find a site that gave a compilation that was unbiased as to country of origin. The best of the best is The Ultimate List (booktrust.org/news-and-blogs/news/222). To make it easy the books are listed in age groups: 2 to 5; 6 to 8; 9 to 11; and 12 to 14 and beyond. Better still, instead of being a dry old list, the books are displayed with recent covers to make searching in kids’ bookshops somewhat easier.
Another request we get is from customers who want to get a home library up and running. In this digital age where a large proportion of readers download books onto kindles, actual book home libraries are becoming a thing of the past and bookshelves a non-event in many houses.
We asked some regular customers, readers of quality fiction, about their experiences with home libraries, and a lot came to a consensus that the books on their parent’s shelves had often influenced their adolescent reading choices particularly on days when rain, illness, or boredom set in, and they had taken refuge in the stories they found there.
So we looked around for compilations of the 100 best books of all time to assist these library builders and decided that the list put out by the Guardian in 2003 (theguardian.com/books/2003/oct/12/features.fiction) was about the best around, mainly because a proportion of the books are novels that every intelligent adolescent and young adult should be exposed to in print form — print as opposed to movie interpretation.
The Top 100
For the curious here’s a list of these and their placement on the top 100 list.
Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and his adventures on his castaway island including the famous meeting with Man Friday comes in at number three, with Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift at number four. The part about Gulliver being tormented by the Lilliputians is my favourite section of the book, although I used to get a bit bewildered in Brobdingnag.
In the teens, number 14, is Alexander Dumas’ account of the escape of The Count of Monte Christo from the dungeons of Chateau D’if, an island near Marseille. Dickens’ David Copperfield is at 16 and has some of the best named characters in literature with a happy ending to boot.
The twenties has Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll at 24 and Louisa May Alcott’s moving Little Women is at 25. Although not on the list I’d be tempted to add Geraldine Brook’s 2006 Pulitzer Prize retelling of Alcott’s novel to the library. Told from the father’s viewpoint, March is a moving American Civil War, anti-slavery read.
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and his Mississippi adventures with the un-runaway slave, Jim, comes in at 31 and Jack London’s famous Arctic dog book, Call of the Wild, is at 38. At 40 are the adventures of the toffee-nosed Toad of Toad Hall and his animal minders and their Edwardian countryside ramble through The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Graham. The World War One thriller that once kept young male readers up at nights in a vice-like grip, The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan, gets a nod at 44.
Seven more novels round off the list. Salinger’s adolescent Holden Caulfield who was riddled with angst and was the protagonist of Catcher in the Rye stars at 61. E B White’s Charlotte's Web featuring a pig and a spider spin into 63. Roald Dahl’s illustrated book about Sophie and her giant kidnapper, the BFG, is 88th.
Just scraping in at 98 is Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights, which was named the Carnegie of Carnegies in 2007, thus, according to Americans, the best English language kids’ book ever.
By the time they turn 18 I think that most young people should also be acquainted with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (64), Golding’s Lord of the Flies (66) and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (73).
For more information on Bookworm go to bookwormhanoi.com. Besides their original store on Chau Long, Bookworm have a second, smaller shop in Nghi Tam Village in the West Lake area. Located behind the Sheraton and in the same alley as VilaTom Coffee, it can be found at Lane 1/28 Au Co, Lang Nghi Tam, Tay Ho