At the end of each school year our children's librarian, Sara, asks each elementary class to create a list of their favorite books. In the past our top ten choices have been fairly predictable - and by fairly predictable I mean that they reflect my influence.
This year the final cut is reminiscent of the Tony Award nominees - notable as much for the omissions as for what was included. To my horror Curious George was nudged out, as was my man Todd Parr. No Gingerbread Man, Lorax or English Roses!
Lauren's all time favorite children's book The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein wasn't even in the top 20! Nor was anything in the Lisa & Gaspard series by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben. However, Rotten Ralph did make the short list so one of her favorites was represented.
The number one pick this year was The Incredible Book Eating Boy by Oliver Jeffers. This book was a new discovery for Lauren and I as well. It tells the tale of a young boy who literally eats books - he simply can't get enough of those delicious words. When he eats he 'digests' the words on the page to acquire the knowledge contained therein.
However, this habit gets out of hand when all of the ideas and words overwhelm him. He gets mixed up and confused. Finally he realizes that it is better to gain knowledge the old fashioned way through reading (not eating) books.
There is a bite taken out of the back cover which proved amusing to our students. It is a good book but I was a bit surprised by the #1 status.
Mercer Mayer was well represented in our top ten with three books coming in at numbers 2, 4 and 5. Number 2 is There's a Nightmare in my Closet, # 4 is There's An Alligator Under My Bed and # 5 is There's Something In My Attic.
All three revolve around similar themes of combating your fears and finding out they are not as scary as you first believed them to be. The only difference I find between them is that the main character in two of the stories is a boy and in the Attic book it is a girl.
Our students loved to be scared this year. A book entitled Tell Me a Scary Story...But Not Too Scary by Carl Reiner was just edged out of the final ten. I would have included it, but who am I? These are the kids picks (and I must add that they have fantastic taste).
Once Upon a Potty (boy) by Alona Frankel was a hit at # 3. Just as they loved to be scared they loved to be grossed out. This book is about one boy learning how to use the potty. Sample lines include descriptions about body parts like a 'wee-wee for making pee-pee' (or is it the the other way around) and a hole for making poop (or something like that). His poorly aimed attempts to make it to the potty are illustrated with a mound of poop sitting right next to the potty.
This was one of two books this year (the other was In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak) that depicted drawings of a little boy naked. I'm not sure if I should be appalled at the giggles and pointing to the private parts or if I should just ignore it.
It did provide us with an opportunity to connect to our trips to the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we were surrounded by naked statues. We treated it as rather matter-of-fact and kept it simple. We figured if we didn't make a big deal out of "oh, look they are naked" then the children wouldn't either. I think they know what's what.
Our first true book series came in at #6 with George and Martha by the super-duper James Marshall. This is my 13th year of teaching elementary school (PreK - 1) but my first introducing this book series to my students. How was this gem hidden from me for so long?
Each book contains 5 short stories about the friendship between these two hippototami who find that honesty is the best policy. The books contain rich vocabulary that can be used to promote discussion as well as important lessons regarding trust and sensitivity. Plus who doesn't enjoy seeing a hippo all dolled up in a dress or sporting a gold tooth?
One of Lauren's favorites came in at #7 and is the second book series in the top ten. Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos and Nicole Rubel made a lasting impression on our 5-and-6-year-olds.
Ralph is indeed a rotten cat who does spiteful, mean and hateful things all in the name of fun (and sometimes just to be rotten). Thank goodness his owner, a little girl named Sarah, is quick to forgive his antics. It took me a while to warm up to this naughty kitty - I am more of a dog person - but I think I finally have accepted him for who he is. There is something lovable underneath all that menace.
Number 8 brings us to the Fly Guy series of books by Tedd Arnold. This is a case of he's so ugly he's cute. This series was another new discovery this year that happened quite by chance. Our school librarian sent up a bunch of these books for us to keep in our classroom library and the children were instantly smitten.
These are chapter books with large print, known vocabulary and basic sight words. They are perfect for the emergent reader who wants to read 'chapter books' but lacks the stamina needed to sustain reading of books with many, many words.
Fly Guy is funny, endearing and helpful. I like him.
Another book series, Nate the Great by Marjorie Weinman Sharmat comes in at #9. These are fantastic books with instantly likable characters. There is dark, brooding, (goth?) Rosamond with her four cats - Super Hex, Big Hex, Little Hex and Hex who is always staring out from under her bangs and uttering strange statements.
There is optimistic and sunny Annie with the dangerous dog Fang that she only sees as a cutie pie. There is Nate's own dog Sludge who provides Nate with the key to solving his mysteries by just being Sludge.
And, of course, there is Nate himself. Pancake loving, serious talking, overly dramatic Nate. In each book (and we have read quite a few this year) Nate solves a new mystery - nothing is refused, nothing is too small.
We went to see a production of Nate the Great: The Musical at Town Hall in Manhattan this year. What a hoot!
The Wanda Witch book series by Katherine McEwen rounds out the top ten. I like these books. Lauren is not a fan. Obviously our students like them because they beat out some other deserving titles for the coveted spot in the top ten.
Wanda is a witch in training who can't seem to get her spells right (think Bewitched's Aunt Clara). Wanda is brought back on track by Cat-a-bogus, her guardian of sorts who makes all things right again.
I guess these are silly, strange books but they strike a chord with their magic, charms and spells.
So there you have it. The top ten books for the 2008-2009 school year for first grade class 201. I wonder which ones will make the cut next year.