Have you seen the Great American Read program that PBS is doing? After conducting a poll in which people were asked to name their favorite novel, PBS came up with Americans’ 100 most popular books. They limited the selections to only one novel by any given author and counted a series as one book. After all they couldn’t have the whole list taken up by J. K. Rowling, James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, George R. R. Martin, and J. R. R. Tolkien. Finally they launched the program with a televised special, open the voting, and will air several more programs in the fall culminating with the choice of America’s most popular book. (There will be a link to the program and the voting at the end of this post.)
I was struck as I looked at the list by how many books written for children and teens (or at least predominantly read by them) are on the list. One quarter of the books listed fall into these categories. Since the people polled were asked to name their favorite novels, none of the picture books that people hold dear are on the list as they wouldn’t have qualified as novels. Also not included would be any nonfiction so no Anne Frank. Also, by limiting the list to only one book by any given author, there are titles that are surprisingly not on the list like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which I imagine wasn’t on the list because Tom got more votes than Huck.
In addition to the children’s and YA titles listed below, there are some titles that are often read by young people including And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. There are also titles on the list that are “supposed” to be read by teenagers because English teachers assign them, but that is fodder for another post.
C. S. Lewis once said, “A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.” He also said that “No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.” These thoughts are profoundly true. I have found great joy in recent years reading books for children from picture books through intermediate books and into the young adult titles. The writing in these books is phenomenal. The characters and stories are engaging and not simplistic. In addition to the tried-and-true titles, the books that have been published in the last few years offer a diversity, complexity, and creativity that will surprise many of you who haven’t dipped your toe into kiddie lit for a long time. A great summer read should have the characteristics mentioned above and be just plain enjoyable, and this list fills all of these criteria.
Check out the list of books below that include only the young people’s titles from the list of 100. How many of them have you read? If there are titles on there that you haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing, this might be a great start for you.
CURIOSITY ABOUT THE WHOLE LIST PIQUED?
If so, take a look at the full list of 100 titles on the website, but remember that these are the favorite novels not necessarily the critically acclaimed works of fine literature (How else can you imagine Their Eyes Were Watching God on the same list as Fifty Shades of Grey?) I’m sure that each of us could add a title or two. Where is Fahrenheit 451 or my beloved Pat Conroy? And I know that there are some I wouldn’t have put on there…I mean, really, Moby Dick? However, after looking over the list there are bound to be many of your favorites included. There are also likely to be titles that are new to you. If so, watch the special and find some new books to add to your TBR pile.
From the Great American Read: (T) indicates a young adult title
- (T) A Separate Peace by John Knowles
- Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
- The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
- Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
- (T) Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
- (T) The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
- Call of the Wild by Jack London
- (T) Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
- Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
- The Chronicles of Narnia series by C. S. Lewis
- Ghost by Jason Reynolds
- The Giver by Lois Lowry
- Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling
- Hatchet series by Gary Paulsen
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- (T) Looking for Alaska by John Green
- The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
- The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
- Lord of the Rings series by J. R. R. Tolkien
- (T) The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
- (T) To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- (T) Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer
- Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
To watch the PBS special, view the full list, find out about upcoming specials, and to vote for your favorite(s), go to: