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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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Ernest Hemingway’s Guide to Life, In 20 Quotes
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Central Press/Getty Images

Though he made his living as a writer, Ernest Hemingway was just as famous for his lust for adventure. Whether he was running with the bulls in Pamplona, fishing for marlin in Bimini, throwing back rum cocktails in Havana, or hanging out with his six-toed cats in Key West, the Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning author never did anything halfway. And he used his adventures as fodder for the unparalleled collection of novels, short stories, and nonfiction books he left behind, The Sun Also Rises, A Farewell to Arms, Death in the Afternoon, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and the Sea among them.

On what would be his 118th birthday—he was born in Oak Park, Illinois on July 21, 1899—here are 20 memorable quotes that offer a keen perspective into Hemingway’s way of life.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF LISTENING

"I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen."

ON TRUST

"The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them."

ON DECIDING WHAT TO WRITE ABOUT

"I never had to choose a subject—my subject rather chose me."

ON TRAVEL

"Never go on trips with anyone you do not love."

Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. [1], Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INTELLIGENCE AND HAPPINESS

"Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know."

ON TRUTH

"There's no one thing that is true. They're all true."

ON THE DOWNSIDE OF PEOPLE

"The only thing that could spoil a day was people. People were always the limiters of happiness, except for the very few that were as good as spring itself."

ON SUFFERING FOR YOUR ART

"There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed."

ON TAKING ACTION

"Never mistake motion for action."

ON GETTING WORDS OUT

"I wake up in the morning and my mind starts making sentences, and I have to get rid of them fast—talk them or write them down."

Photograph by Mary Hemingway, in the Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston., Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON THE BENEFITS OF SLEEP

"I love sleep. My life has the tendency to fall apart when I'm awake, you know?"

ON FINDING STRENGTH 

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places."

ON THE TRUE NATURE OF WICKEDNESS

"All things truly wicked start from innocence."

ON WRITING WHAT YOU KNOW

"If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one ninth of it being above water."

ON THE DEFINITION OF COURAGE

"Courage is grace under pressure."

ON THE PAINFULNESS OF BEING FUNNY

"A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book."

By Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection, John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston. - JFK Library, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

ON KEEPING PROMISES

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut."

ON GOOD VS. EVIL

"About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after."

ON REACHING FOR THE UNATTAINABLE

"For a true writer, each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed."

ON HAPPY ENDINGS

"There is no lonelier man in death, except the suicide, than that man who has lived many years with a good wife and then outlived her. If two people love each other there can be no happy end to it."

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Scientists Study the Starling Invasion Unleashed on America by a Shakespeare Fan

On a warm spring day, the lawn outside the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan gleams with European starlings. Their iridescent feathers reflect shades of green and indigo—colors that fade to dowdy brown in both sexes after the breeding season. Over the past year, high school students from different parts of the city came to this patch of grass for inspiration. "There are two trees at the corner I always tell them to look at," Julia Zichello, senior manager at the Sackler Educational Lab at the AMNH, recalls to Mental Floss. "There are holes in the trees where the starlings live, so I was always telling them to keep an eye out."

Zichello is one of several scientists leading the museum's Science Research Mentoring Program, or SRMP. After completing a year of after-school science classes at the AMNH, New York City high school students can apply to join ongoing research projects being conducted at the institution. In a recent session, Zichello collaborated with four upperclassmen from local schools to continue her work on the genetic diversity of starlings.

Before researching birds, Zichello earned her Ph.D. in primate genetics and evolution. The two subjects are more alike than they seem: Like humans, starlings in North America can be traced back to a small parent population that exploded in a relatively short amount of time. From a starting population of just 100 birds in New York City, starlings have grown into a 200-million strong flock found across North America.

Dr. Julia Zichello
Dr. Julia Zichello
©AMNH

The story of New York City's starlings began in March 1890. Central Park was just a few decades old, and the city was looking for ways to beautify it. Pharmaceutical manufacturer Eugene Schieffelin came up with the idea of filling the park with every bird mentioned in the works of William Shakespeare. This was long before naturalists coined the phrase "invasive species" to describe the plants and animals introduced to foreign ecosystems (usually by humans) where their presence often had disastrous consequences. Non-native species were viewed as a natural resource that could boost the aesthetic and cultural value of whatever new place they called home. There was even an entire organization called the American Acclimatization Society that was dedicated to shipping European flora and fauna to the New World. Schieffelin was an active member.

He chose the starling as the first bird to release in the city. It's easy to miss its literary appearance: The Bard referenced it exactly once in all his writings. In the first act of Henry IV: Part One, the King forbids his knight Hotspur from mentioning the name of Hotspur's imprisoned brother Mortimer to him. The knight schemes his way around this, saying, "I'll have a starling shall be taught to speak nothing but 'Mortimer,' and give it him to keep his anger still in motion."

Nearly three centuries after those words were first published, Schieffelin lugged 60 imported starlings to Central Park and freed them from their cages. The following year, he let loose a second of batch of 40 birds to support the fledgling population.

It wasn't immediately clear if the species would adapt to its new environment. Not every bird transplanted from Europe did: The skylark, the song thrush, and the bullfinch had all been subjects of American integration efforts that failed to take off. The Acclimatization Society had even attempted to foster a starling population in the States 15 years prior to Schieffelin's project with no luck.

Then, shortly after the second flock was released, the first sign of hope appeared. A nesting pair was spotted, not in the park the birds were meant to occupy, but across the street in the eaves of the American Museum of Natural History.

Schieffelin never got around to introducing more of Shakespeare's birds to Central Park, but the sole species in his experiment thrived. His legacy has since spread beyond Manhattan and into every corner of the continent.

The 200 million descendants of those first 100 starlings are what Zichello and her students made the focus of their research. Over the 2016-2017 school year, the group met for two hours twice a week at the same museum where that first nest was discovered. A quick stroll around the building reveals that many of Schieffelin's birds didn't travel far. But those that ventured off the island eventually spawned populations as far north as Alaska and as far south as Mexico. By sampling genetic data from starlings collected around the United States, the researchers hoped to identify how birds from various regions differed from their parent population in New York, if they differed at all.

Four student researchers at the American Museum of Natural History
Valerie Tam, KaiXin Chen, Angela Lobel and Jade Thompson (pictured left to right)
(©AMNH/R. Mickens)

There are two main reasons that North American starlings are appealing study subjects. The first has to do with the founder effect. This occurs when a small group of individual specimens breaks off from the greater population, resulting in a loss of genetic diversity. Because the group of imported American starlings ballooned to such great numbers in a short amount of time, it would make sense for the genetic variation to remain low. That's what Zichello's team set out to investigate. "In my mind, it feels like a little accidental evolutionary experiment," she says.

The second reason is their impact as an invasive species. Like many animals thrown into environments where they don't belong, starlings have become a nuisance. They compete with native birds for resources, tear through farmers' crops, and spread disease through droppings. What's most concerning is the threat they pose to aircraft. In 1960, a plane flying from Boston sucked a thick flock of starlings called a murmuration into three of its four engines. The resulting crash killed 62 people and remains the deadliest bird-related plane accident to date.

Today airports cull starlings on the premises to avoid similar tragedies. Most of the birds are disposed of, but some specimens are sent to institutions like AMNH. Whenever a delivery of dead birds arrived, it was the students' responsibility to prep them for DNA analysis. "Some of them were injured, and some of their skulls were damaged," Valerie Tam, a senior at NEST+m High School in Manhattan, tells Mental Floss. "Some were shot, so we had to sew their insides back in."

Before enrolling in SRMP, most of the students' experiences with science were limited to their high school classrooms. At the museum they had the chance to see the subject's dirty side. "It's really different from what I learned from textbooks. Usually books only show you the theory and the conclusion, but this project made me experience going through the process," says Kai Chen, also a senior at NEST+m.

After analyzing data from specimens in the lab, an online database, and the research of previous SRMP students, the group's hypothesis was proven correct: Starlings in North America do lack the genetic diversity of their European cousins. With so little time to adapt to their new surroundings, the variation between two starlings living on opposite coasts could be less than that between the two birds that shared a nest at the Natural History Museum 130 years ago.

Students label samples in the lab.
Valerie Tam, Jade Thompson, KaiXin Chen and Angela Lobel (pictured left to right) label samples with Dr. Julia Zichello.
©AMNH/C. Chesek

Seeing how one species responds to bottlenecking and rapid expansion can provide important insight into species facing similar conditions. "There are other populations that are the same way, so I think this data can help [scientists],” Art and Design High School senior Jade Thompson says. But the students didn't need to think too broadly to understand why the animal was worth studying. "They do affect cities when they're searching for shelter," Academy of American Studies junior Angela Lobel says. “They can dig into buildings and damage them, so they're relevant to our actual homes as well.”

The four students presented their findings at the museum's student research colloquium—an annual event where participants across SRMP are invited to share their work from the year. Following their graduation from the program, the four young women will either be returning to high school or attending college for the first time.

Zichello, meanwhile, will continue where she left off with a new batch of students in the fall. Next season she hopes to expand her scope by analyzing older specimens in the museum's collections and obtaining bird DNA samples from England, the country the New York City starlings came from. Though the direction of the research may shift, she wants the subject to remain the same. "I really want [students] to experience the whole organism—something that's living around them, not just DNA from a species in a far-away place." she says. "I want to give them the picture that evolution is happening all around us, even in urban environments that they may not expect."

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