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Fun Facts About the 11 "Greatest Books for Kids"

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Scholastic's Parent & Child magazine recently released a list of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids. Spanning a variety of genres and target ages, the editors made the selections from a population of around 500 submissions from literacy experts and "mommy bloggers." Here are the top 11 along with some flossy tidbits about each:

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (#11)

The best-selling book in the top 11, Anne has sold more than 50 million copies and has been translated into 20 different languages. Only 16 single-volume works of fiction have sold more copies. Canadian journalist and former Governor General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson credits Montgomery's novels with introducing her to Canadian customs and cultures when she was a nine-year-old immigrant from China.

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel (#10)

Frog and Toad author Arnold Lobel was married to a fellow children's book author, Anita Kempler. They had a daughter, Adrianne, and here's where stuff gets really awesome: Adrianne Lobel is married to actor Mark Linn-Baker. That's right, Cousin Larry from Perfect Strangers. If you don't walk around the rest of the day saying "Balki Bartokomous" in your head repeatedly (and occasionally out loud), that's just strange to me.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein (#9)

For a book considered one of the top 10 greatest children's books of all time, The Giving Tree sure took a long time to be published. Its appeal to many levels of reader made it difficult to categorize and most publishers just went ahead and categorized it as "too sad." The most fun Shel Silverstein fact I know I recently learned on here: he wrote the lyrics to the Johnny Cash hit "A Boy Named Sue." Silverstein was really a rather prolific songwriter and even wrote a song version of The Giving Tree that was included on country singer Bobby Bare's 1974 album, Singin' In the Kitchen. The song is too sad, too.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (#8)

The inspirational diary of this teenaged Dutch girl written during the Nazi occupation has been translated into more than 60 languages. Can you identify the language of the titles of these translations? (Answers at the bottom of this post.)

a) Anne Frank’in Hatira Defteri
b) Ana Franks Togbukh: 12 Juni 1942 – 1 Oygust 1944
c) Das Tagebuch Der Anne Frank: 12 Juni 1942 – 1 August 1944
d) Ana Frank: Dienorastis
e) To Hemerologio Tes Annas
f) Nuoren Tyton Paivakirja
g) Ube-zisce Dnevnik v Pismach
h) Kan Thyg Khong Enn Frenhgk
i) Ena Phremkako Daeri
j) Dnevenik Ane Frank
k) Anna Franki Oragire
l) Het Achterhuis – Dagboekbrieven 14 juni 1942 – 1 augustus 1944

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (#7)

Have you ever noticed that Green Eggs and Ham only uses 50 words? Well, it does, and that fact put Dr. Seuss on the winning side of a $50 bet with his publisher, Bennett Cerf, who said that he could not do it. What's more, 49 of the 50 words used in Green Eggs are one-syllable words. The lone multi-syllable word is "anywhere." Trivia trivia: The fact about Seuss's bet with Cerf is the most-linked-to bit of trivia in our Amazing Fact Generator.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (#6)

There were some vocabulary changes from the original British English version of the book to the American English version. For one, the title was changed from the original Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone because someone at Scholastic suggested that children would not be drawn to read something with the word "philosopher" in the title, and that the meaning of "philosopher" is slightly different in Britain and America. (J.K. Rowling is regretful of the change and says that, had she been in a better position at the time to make demands, she would have taken a stance on this one.) Other changes included "mum" to "mom," "motorbike" to "motorcycle," "jumper" to "sweater," "trainers" to "sneakers," "car park" to "parking lot," "jacket potato" to "baked potato," "chips" to "fries," and "crisp" to "chip."

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (#5)

Lots of people know that Spike Jonze directed a film version of Where the Wild Things Are that was released in 2009. But before that, the children's classic became an opera. Sendak himself wrote the libretto and the music was written by British composer Oliver Knussen, who conducted the first performance featuring the completed score in London in 1984. Roles in the opera include Max and Mama (of course) as well as Moishe (Wild Thing With Beard), Bruno (Wild Thing With Horns), Emile (Rooster Wild Thing), Bernard (Bull Wild Thing), and Tzippy (Female Wild Thing).

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats (#4)

More than 20 years before releasing The Snowy Day, illustrator Ezra Jack Keats came across a series of images in a May 1940 issue of LIFE magazine depicting a young African-American boy about to go through a blood test. (See them here.) Even as he continued his career as an illustrator, the images wouldn't leave his mind and he began to recognize a lack of African-American protagonists in children's literature. But, more than filling that void, The Snowy Day was meant to express the universality of some childhood experiences. According to the author, "I wanted to convey the joy of being a little boy alive on a certain kind of day—of being for that moment."

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle (#3)

This book actually begins, "It was a dark and stormy night..." The phrase, which was first infamously used by British author Edward Bulwar-Lytton in his 1830 novel Paul Clifford, has become synonymous with the overly flowery style of writing known as "purple prose." In fact, since 1982, San Jose State University has hosted an annual Bulwar-Lytton fiction contest in which its thousands of participants submit one-sentence entries in various categories, hoping to be deemed the purplest of the purple. The official deadline for submission is April 15 because, as the official contest website states, this is a date that "Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories."

We shouldn't be so hard on old Bulwar-Lytton, though; he did coin the phrase, "the pen is mightier than the sword." Have you ever wondered who coined the phrase "coin the phrase"?

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown (#2)

A few things to notice the next time you read this classic:

Through the course of the book, the time on the clocks changes from 7:00 p.m. to 8:10 p.m.
*
The mouse can be found on every page that shows the room.
*
The book on the bedside table is Goodnight Moon.
*
The open book on the shelf is The Runaway Bunny and the painting of the fishing bunny is very similar to a picture in The Runaway Bunny.
*
The red balloon disappears and reappears at the end of the book.
*
On the last page of the book, the mouse has eaten the mush.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (#1)

Of course, Charlotte's Web is an amazing book and Charlotte is one of the most wonderful characters in all fiction. But did you know that E.B. White is the "White" of "Strunk and White," who penned the classic 1918 style guide, The Elements of Style? (Strunk was one of White's professors at Cornell.) Not at all too shabby for Mr. White, who finds himself at the top of this list with Charlotte's Web and on Time magazine's list of the 100 best and most influential books written in the English language since 1923 with Elements. White only wrote three children's books in his life but he believed strongly in the importance of the imagination, writing to one young reader, "In real life, a spider doesn't spin words in her web...But real life is only one kind of life—there is also the life of the imagination."

***

So, all in all, just a really fun list. How awesome would a baby shower gift of the top ten be? (Am I mommy blogging right now?) Additionally, there are some interesting choices and topics raised for discussion and debate among the prepubescent literati: "Why was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone only number six on the list?"; "Why was The Cat in the Hat not on the list at all?"; and "Why is A Wrinkle in Time still one of the best books I've ever read?" You can find the rest of the list here. Happy reading.

Answers to translation titles of Anne Frank's diary:
a) Turkish, b) Yiddish, c) German, d) Lithuanian, e) Greek, f) Finnish, g) Russian, h) Thai, i) Nepalese, j) Croatian, k) Armenian, l) Dutch (the language in which the diary was originally written)

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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
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literature
25 of Oscar Wilde's Wittiest Quotes
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By Napoleon Sarony - Library of Congress, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

On October 16, 1854, Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde was born in Dublin, Ireland. He would go on to become one of the world's most prolific writers, dabbling in everything from plays and poetry to essays and fiction. Whatever the medium, his wit shone through.

1. ON GOD

"I think that God, in creating man, somewhat overestimated his ability."

2. ON THE WORLD AS A STAGE

"The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast."

3. ON FORGIVENESS

"Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much."

4. ON GOOD VERSUS BAD

"It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious."

5. ON GETTING ADVICE

"The only thing to do with good advice is pass it on. It is never any use to oneself."

6. ON HAPPINESS

"Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go."

7. ON CYNICISM

"What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

8. ON SINCERITY

"A little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal."

9. ON MONEY

"When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is."

10. ON LIFE'S GREATEST TRAGEDIES

"There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it."

11. ON HARD WORK

"Work is the curse of the drinking classes."

12. ON LIVING WITHIN ONE'S MEANS

"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination."

13. ON TRUE FRIENDS

"True friends stab you in the front."

14. ON MOTHERS

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That's his."

15. ON FASHION

"Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months."

16. ON BEING TALKED ABOUT

"There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about."

17. ON GENIUS

"Genius is born—not paid."

18. ON MORALITY

"Morality is simply the attitude we adopt towards people whom we personally dislike."

19. ON RELATIONSHIPS

"How can a woman be expected to be happy with a man who insists on treating her as if she were a perfectly normal human being?"

20. ON THE DEFINITION OF A "GENTLEMAN"

"A gentleman is one who never hurts anyone’s feelings unintentionally."

21. ON BOREDOM

"My own business always bores me to death; I prefer other people’s."

22. ON AGING

"The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything, the young know everything."

23. ON MEN AND WOMEN

"I like men who have a future and women who have a past."

24. ON POETRY

"There are two ways of disliking poetry; one way is to dislike it, the other is to read Pope."

25. ON WIT

"Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit."

And one bonus quote about Oscar Wilde! Dorothy Parker said it best in a 1927 issue of Life:

If, with the literate, I am
Impelled to try an epigram,
I never seek to take the credit;
We all assume that Oscar said it.

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History
P.G. Wodehouse's Exile from England
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You don’t get more British than Jeeves and Wooster. The P.G. Wodehouse characters are practically synonymous with elevenses and Pimm’s. But in 1947, their creator left England for the U.S. and never looked back.

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G., was living in northern France and working on his latest Jeeves and Wooster novel, Joy in the Morning, when the Nazis came knocking. They occupied his estate for a period of time before shipping him off to an internment camp in Germany, which he later said he found pretty pleasant:

“Everybody seems to think a German internment camp must be a sort of torture chamber. It was really perfectly normal and ordinary. The camp had an extraordinarily nice commander, and we did all sorts of things, you know. We played cricket, that sort of thing. Of course, I was writing all the time.”

Wodehouse was there for 11 months before being suddenly released to a hotel in Berlin where a man from the German foreign office named Werner Plack was waiting to meet him. Wodehouse was somewhat acquainted with Plack from a stint in Hollywood, so finding him waiting didn't seem out of the ordinary. Plack advised Wodehouse to use his time in the internment camp to his advantage, and suggested writing a radio series about his experiences to be broadcast in America.

As Plack probably suspected, Wodehouse’s natural writing style meant that his broadcasts were light-hearted affairs about playing cricket and writing novels, This didn’t sit too well with the British, who believed Wodehouse was trying to downplay the horrors of the war. The writer was shocked when MI5 subjected him to questioning about the “propaganda” he wrote for the Germans. "I thought that people, hearing the talks, would admire me for having kept cheerful under difficult conditions," he told them in 1944. "I would like to conclude by saying that I never had any intention of assisting the enemy and that I have suffered a great deal of mental pain as the result of my action."

Wodehouse's contemporary George Orwell came to his aid, penning a 1945 essay called “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse." Sadly, it didn’t do much to sway public opinion. Though MI5 ultimately decided not to prosecute, it seemed that British citizens had already made up their minds, with some bookstores and libraries even removing all Wodehouse material from their shelves. Seeing the writing on the wall, the author and his wife packed up all of their belongings and moved to New York in 1947. They never went back to England.

But that’s not to say Wodehouse didn’t want to. In 1973, at the age of 91, he expressed interest in returning. “I’d certainly like to, but at my age it’s awfully difficult to get a move on. But I’d like to go back for a visit in the spring. They all seem to want me to go back. The trouble is that I’ve never flown. I suppose that would solve everything."

Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack before he could make the trip. But the author bore no ill will toward his native country. When The Paris Review interviewed Wodehouse in 1973, they asked if he resented the way he was treated by the English. “Oh, no, no, no. Nothing of that sort. The whole thing seems to have blown over now,” he said. He was right—the Queen bestowed Wodehouse with a knighthood two months before his death, showing that all was forgiven.

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