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We Ask a Book Blogger: What Backlist Books Do You Think Kids Should Revisit?

November 2, 2012

Each month, we present a panel of book bloggers with a question relating to children’s books and we share their views here on the blog.  If you missed last month’s post on favorite banned books, you can check it out here.

I recently read an article on Publisher’s Weekly’s site wondering how we can expose kids to backlist/midlist gems in classrooms and schools beyond just the Newbery winners and thought it would make an interesting post topic. So I asked our panel of book bloggers what 1-2 backlist children’s book gems they think still hold up and would be great picks for today’s kids to read and enjoy.  Here are their thoughts!

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One backlist gem that I remember vividly is coming back in grand style: Momo by Michael Ende will be released in an illustrated 40th anniversary edition in February 2013 by McSweeney’s Books. I am thrilled to welcome back this childhood friend and introduce it to readers!

It is a timeless fantasy about time and living life well. The titular heroine, an orphan with quiet strength and the ability to bring out the best in people, fascinated me, as did the sinister, mysterious Men in Grey who convinced people to save their time instead of squandering it on daydreams and pleasantries.

Momo showed me how powerful ideas can be couched in a diverting story. I was caught up in Ende’s imagination on a delighted childish level, but as I wondered at the illustrations of the time lilies, I also pondered the true value of Time like a fourth-grade philosopher. I reread this book every year from elementary school through high school, and when I got to college, I was upset that I couldn’t find my copy to share. I am thrilled to have a chance to advocate for it, an overlooked treasure.

- Tegan, T Squared Blog @ttigani

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Two of my very favorite backlist series (I can’t choose just one of the books in either of the series) are The Moffats, by Eleanor Estes, and The Melendy Family books, by Elizabeth Enright. Even though they are a little old-fashioned, I think they still stand the test of time. How much more timely can a single mom as head-of-household family at the brink of losing their little yellow house be?

The Moffat family features four children from the ages of 15 to 4, from sophisticated Sophie to raucous Rufus. My favorite is Janey, a girl after my own heart, a girl who looks at the world upside down when she needs a new point of view.

The Melendy series is another 4 book series that also focuses on the adventures of a single-head-of-household family who must move to the country when the father changes careers, leaving the children in the care of a housekeeper. The children are ages 6-13 and are very much their own people but romantic, dreamy Randi in her cupola room has my heart in her hands.

Each of these series is filled with the adventures that children of distracted parents can have: they get lost, play in dangerous places, get locked in small places, dream in a hidden room high in the trees. The kids always have each others’ backs.

Like The Penderwicks series, by Jeanne Birdsall, these books will give the 8 and up demographic a tall stack of books to dive into and savor for years.

These were the first books I ever bought with my own money. I still read them when I feel like I need a little strength, a break from my life, a look at the world from a point where everything is still possible. Janey and Randi are wonderful characters, two girls on the edge of a wide and wild future filled with promise. I grew up in a single parent home, with a mom who worked late, and a crowd of kids we could play with after school and these were the first books that echoed pieces of my own life.

-Rene, Notes from the Bedside Table

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Recently, I was talking with a group of librarians about how to attract students to older titles on their shelves. This fit right in with the idea of promoting backlist titles. One of the ways that I try to do this is by pairing books together. For example, I might pair up The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson (1979 Newbery Honor) with One for the Murphys by Lynda Mullaly Hunt. Both books look at children in foster care, and though The Great Gilly Hopkins is over 30 years old, it still is relevant and pairs beautifully with Mullaly Hunt’s 2012 release.

I might also cluster a group of books together such as Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko and Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis to expose children to a variety of views from the same time period.

Finally, there is always the trick of encouraging a child to read a book and create a new cover. Isn’t that what publishers do? :)

- Alyson, Kid Lit Frenzy @alybee930

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I highly recommend Bones of Faerie and Faerie Winter by Janni Lee Simner as well Dreamdark: Blackbringer and Dreamdark: Silksinger by Laini Taylor. Both series seem a little drowned under buzz about current trends (including Taylor’s own forthcoming Days of Blood and Starlight), but even if these books aren’t front and center in the media right now, they’re nonetheless incredible stories.

- Rachel, Rachel Ann Hanley

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When I got my job at a middle school library one of the first things I did was go through the fiction collection to update it. In doing this I came across a number of books that look outdated but sounded awesome. One of these books was The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner. I read it and fell in love. Also, my friend Jillian (http://www.heisereads.com) reminded me of the amazing Touching Spirit Bear by Ben Mikaelsen. It’s one of the most popular books in my library so I don’t know how I overlooked it! Both of these books are over ten years old so they’re ancient in the minds of my students!

- Heidi, YA Bibliophile @hmz1505

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When I was growing up, one of my favorite series was the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books by Betty MacDonald.  I read these books over and over again.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle understood kids like no adult I ever knew and I was entranced by her stories and her upside down house, not to mention the treasure buried in her backyard.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle always knew what to do to make kids behave yet celebrated individuality.  I loved the magic of the series and loved the way Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle solved problems in a calm, quiet manner and I think her charm is still relevant today.  If that’s not enough for you, the books were illustrated by the fabulous Maurice Sendak!

- Kathy, Bermudaonion’s Weblog @bermudaonion

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Gosh, this is difficult! There are so many backlist titles I adore, both middle-grade and young adult.  Many of them, of course, already garner the attention they deserve, such as anything by Roald Dahl or Beverly Cleary. And on the far opposite end of the scale are all those forgotten gems that are sadly out of print, like Sylvia Waugh’s Mennyms series and Jane Langton’s wonderful Hall Family Chronicles. Or is the reprint of Diamond in the Window still available? They all should be. These marvelous books about Eddy and Eleanor Hall and their mysterious adventures can awaken any child’s imagination, even children of the internet age.
But you asked for 1 to 2 backlist titles that are definitely still in print, right?

It’s nearly impossible to limit myself to only a few, so I’ll mention the first two that come to mind. For middle grade:Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry. Published in 1979, this was the first in the series about the smart and funny girl from Boston. What I remember most about it was her secret green notebook, and the poem she wrote for school that — horrors!– didn’t rhyme, so she received an F for it. Anastasia always seemed so real to me. I devoured all the other books in quick succession. This wasn’t even the funniest book in the series, but it’s the one that introduced one of my favorite middle-grade characters.

For young adult: Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. The author died in 1973 and the book was first published in 1974. The fact that it’s still in print after all these years should be proof enough of its lasting importance. But you don’t hear much about it in these days of hot new futuristic or post-apocalyptic novels like Life as We Knew It or Breathe. I remember being utterly enthralled by this tale when I first read it. Give this to a teen who’s read everything else and thinks there’s nothing good out there.

- Joanne, My Brain on Books @booksnbrains

We’d love to hear your recommendations. Which backlist books do you think should be re-introduced to today’s kids?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. November 2, 2012 8:20 am

    Lots of new titles for me to explore!

  2. Beth F permalink
    November 2, 2012 8:22 am

    Fabulous group of bloggers with fantastic suggestions.

  3. November 2, 2012 9:48 am

    How wonderful to see The Moffats and the Melendy family books recalled. They are some of my all-time favorites too. Thanks for publishers for keeping them in print. We sell them steadily on recommendation.

  4. November 2, 2012 12:18 pm

    What a great collection! I’ve never heard of Momo, so I’m adding that to the TBR list.

  5. November 2, 2012 10:13 pm

    Great list! Touching Spirit Bear is a book I’ve been meaning to read for a few years now. A backlist book that I would recommend is Mary Downing Hahn’s Daphne’s Book. I read it when I was about eleven and loved it so much. When I bought it last year, I had to buy an edition with the original cover. Now I think I’ll reread it! :-)

  6. November 3, 2012 9:54 pm

    I always get great recommendations from this monthly feature – thanks

  7. November 5, 2012 7:59 am

    Thanks for sharing. I hadn’t heard of most of them. I really liked One for the Murphys so am glad to see it up there.

  8. November 5, 2012 1:34 pm

    Thanks for placing awareness of these great-sounding books on our radars!

  9. November 5, 2012 11:34 pm

    What a great list! You introduced me to a lot of books! I have read only a few on your list. Thanks for sharing. My list is growing!

  10. November 6, 2012 10:36 pm

    Love the concept of this post. Thanks for all the interesting book titles.

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  1. We Ask a Book Blogger: What Books are on Your Holiday Wish List? « Random Acts of Reading

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