Thursday, January 08, 2015

Time Magazine's Almost All White list of 100 BEST YOUNG ADULT BOOKS OF ALL TIME

Let's take a look at Time Magazine's list of 100 best young adult books of all time. Here's how they compiled that list (adding this info a couple of hours after I loaded this post):
To honor the best books for young adults and children, TIME compiled this survey in consultation with respected peers such as U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate Ken Nesbitt, children’s-book historian Leonard Marcus, the National Center for Children’s Illustrated Literature, the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress, the Every Child a Reader literacy foundation and 10 independent booksellers. 

Ninety-one are by white authors. Nine are by authors of color. Two of the nine authors of color have two books on the list (Myers and Yang):

  • Sherman Alexie
  • Isabel Allende
  • Walter Dean Myers
  • Marilyn Nelson
  • Pam Munoz Ryan
  • Mildred D. Taylor
  • Gene Luen Yang 

With only seven authors of color on the list, I think it is fair to say that Time Magazine has put together an Almost All White list. People who study children's books know that my "all white" refers to Nancy Larrick's article from the 1960s, in which she noted that the books in her library were almost all white. Over 50 years ago, she made that observation. We're still there, aren't we? Dismal. Depressing.

Focusing on Native depictions in the books, there's one book on it that doesn't reduce Native people to caricatures or stereotypes (Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian). It stands alone.  Several books on Time's list have problematic content regarding Native people:

  • Alcott's Little Women (character doing "Indian war whoop" and passage about "Indian in full war costume)
  • Anderson's Tiger Lily (see review)
  • Block's Weetzie Bat (see review)
  • Fitzhugh's Harriet the Spy (when Ole Golly blushes, the text reads that she looked "exactly like a hawk-nosed Indian)
  • Green's The Fault in Our Stars (see review)
  • Meyer's Twilight (see review)
  • Paterson's Bridge to Terabithia (characters go to museum to see dinosaurs and Indians; diorama of Indians hunting buffalo is "three dimensional nightmare version of some of his own drawings)
  • Speare's The Witch of Blackbird Pond (talk of fighting Indians and wolves)
  • Twain's Huckleberry Finn (see review)
  • Wilder's Little House on the Prairie (see reviews)

Next time you weed books in your library, consider replacing some of those books (above) with some excellent books by/about Native people. This page of Best Books includes ones that I recommend, and ones that have won the American Indian Library Association's book awards.

For your convenience, here's Time's list of young adult books, and here's my analysis of their top 100 children's books.

Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian 
Allende, Isabel. City of the Beasts
Alexander, Lloyd. The Book of Three
Alexander, Lloyd. The Chronicles of Prydain
Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Tiger Lily
Anderson, Laurie Halse. Speak
Anderson, M.T. Feed
Baum, L. Frank. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Block, Francesca Lia. Dangerous Angels (the Weetzie Bat Books)
Blume, Judy. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret
Bosch, Pseudonymous. Secret (series)
Bradbury, Ray. The Illustrated Man
Bradley, Kimberly Brubaker. For Freedom: The Story of a French Spy
Carroll, Lewis. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Castellucci, Cecil. Boy Proof
Cleary, Beverly. Beezus and Ramona
Clements, Andrew. Frindle
Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games
Cooper, Susan. The Grey King
Cormier, Robert. The Chocolate War
Crutcher, Chris. Whale Talk
Dahl, Roald. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Dahl, Roald. Danny the Champion of the World
Dahl, Roald. Matilda
DiCamillo, Kate. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane
DiCamillo, Kate. The Tiger Riding
Donnelly, Jennifer. A Northern Light
Fitzhugh, Louise. Harriet the Spy
Forbes, Esther. Johnny Tremain: A Story of Boston in Revolt
Frank, Anne. The Diary of a Young Girl
Funke, Cornelia. The Thief Lord
Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book
Green, John. The Fault in Our Stars
Green, John. Looking for Alaska
Golding, William. Lord of the Flies
Goldman, William. The Princess Bride
Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows
Haddon, Mark. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Hardinge, Frances. The Lost Conspiracy
Hinton, S. E. The Outsiders
Hughes, Richard. A High Wind in Jamaica
Jones, Diana Wynne. Dogsbody
Juster, Norton. The Phantom Tollbooth
Key, Watt. Alabama Moon
Knowles, John. A Separate Peace
Konigsburg, E. L. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
LeGuin, Ursula. A Wizard of Earthsea
Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird
L'Engle, Madeleine. A Wrinkle in Time
Leviathan, David. Every Day
Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
London, Jack. The Call of the Wild
Lowry, Lois. The Giver
Lowry, Lois. Number the Stars
McKay, Hilary. Saffy's Angel
Meyer, Stephanie. Twilight
Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables
Morpurgo, Michael. Private Peaceful
Myers, Walter Dean. Fallen Angels
Myers, Walter Dean. Monster
Nelson, Marilyn. A Wreath for Emmett Till 
Ness, Patrick. The Knife of Never Letting Go
Ness, Patrick. A Monster Calls
Nix, Garth. Sabriel
O'Brien, Robert C. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
Palacio, R. J. Wonder
Paterson, Katherine. Bridge to Terabithia
Paterson, Katherine. Jacob Have I Loved
Paulsen, Gary. Hatchet
Poe, Edgar Allan. Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Pullman, Phillip. The Golden Compass
Pullman, Philip. His Dark Materials
Raskin, Ellen. The Westing Game
Rawlings, Marjorie Kinnan. The Yearling
Riordan, Rick. The Lightning Thief
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter (series)
Ryan, Pam Munoz. Esperanza Rising
Sachar, Louis. Holes
Salinger, J. D. The Catcher in the Rye
Scott, Michael. The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel
Selznick, Brian. The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Sis, Peter. The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain
Snicket, Lemony. A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
Speare, Elizabeth George. The Witch of Blackbird Pon
Stead, Rebecca. When You Reach Me
Stewart, Trenton Lee. The Mysterious Benedict Society
Taylor, Mildred D. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry
Thompson, Craig. Blankets
Tolkien, J.R.R. The Hobbit
Tolkein, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings
Travers, P. L. Mary Poppins
Twain, Mark. Huckleberry Finn
Whaley, John Corey. Where Things Come Back
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web
White, T. H. The Sword in the Stone
Wilder, Laura Ingalls. Little House on the Prairie
Yang, Gene Luen. American Born Chinese
Yang, Gene Luen. Boxers and Saints
Zusak, Markus. The Book Thief


Anonymous said...

Another HUGE problem with this list is how in the world did many of them get tagged as Young Adult? There are a boatload of middle grade or younger books. I don't even think it's worth responding to such a slipshod Top 100.

R K said...

1) I agree wholly with Anon#1, this list is pretty sloppy. "I know why the caged bird sings" is more of a YA book than "Wizard of Oz", and higher quality than "Twilight" (by leaps and bounds). Obviously, the compiler had pretty loose qualifications for both of the words "Best" and "YA".
2) That being said, the earliest book published on this list is Wizard of Oz, published in 1900 -- so it's representing 115 years of publishing. I'm not saying it's right, but it is factual that American publishing has greatly favored the educated white male, exponentially more as you go back in history. Considering that authors of color have only been gaining ground in YA publishing over the past 25-30 years, I'd say from a solely numbers perspective, the fact that 9% of this list is made up of non-whites is a high proportion compared to the number of mainstream books published in the past 115 years.
Is it "right"? No, it reflects the racist history our country comes from and highlights the fact that more authors of color need to be published. I understand your disappointment, but acknowledging the mistakes of the past is a good way to change the future. And wouldn't putting more authors of color on a "Best of" list just gloss over the problems of our past?

Let's move forward, with better information, and make sure that in 3015, 90% of this list comes from authors of color. What else can we do?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if the fact that the percentage of "white" writers is much higher than that of "colored". Especially in the time period that some of the books were written. That would obviously make the list apear as it does. Often there is no intent for this to happen. They could make a list Titled "the best politically correct list of authors of all time" That would make people feel better. That wasn't the point was it?

gamma said...

Little Women was published in 1880, and Huckleberry Finn in 1884. Poe died in 1849, so his stories were written before then, although compiled later.

Jukka said...

...but why are the entire His Dark Materials trilogy and its first part, The Golden Compass listed separately?

Charlotte Ballard said...

It's a poor list all around. Some of the books are adult books that cross over, but too many are children's books and for children as young as second grade and no older than fifth grade. Why Twilight made it onto a list of good books when there are so many truly good books is a mystery. Popular is not equal to quality. This is baffling to me. They should post the survey and how they determined the original offerings. Were they so neglectful in the original survey that there were so few true YA novels to choose from?

Fiona McGier said...

I'm a certified English teacher who has been subbing in high schools for 11 years, since teaching jobs are still very scarce...especially for English teachers. It was ever thus.

I share the ALA's Banned Books list with the students each year, and I've been working my way through the top 10 (with the exception of Twilight, which I drop-kicked across the room in frustration at the stilted prose after struggling to get through 2/2 of it.) I've enjoyed most of them, though Alexis' book was the one that truly stood out. I tell the kids I laughed, I cried, it became a part of me. It was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and the idea that some pompous ass somewhere thinks it's too "dangerous" for teens to read makes me angry.

I raised my kids to read anything they wanted to, and to discuss it with me if they didn't understand anything. How are we supposed to teach kids to think, if all they're ever allowed to read is repetitive and dull, so as not to offend anyone's sensibilities? Reading is supposed to open your mind, not nail it shut.