The Perfect Baby Blog

“The Best Kids’ Books Ever”—as chosen, in a willy-nilly manner, by Nicholas D. Kristof

Monday, July 6th, 2009



Want to scare parents? Claim that their children’s brains start disintegrating every July, unless the kids are pried away from computers, televisions—and (presumably) diving boards and climb-able trees—and forced to read the 13 children’s books that New York Times’ op-ed columnist, Nicholas D. Kristof, vaguely remembers from his boyhood, or has read to his own kids. He’s horrified by this inevitable cerebral rot:

I was aghast to learn that American children drop in I.Q. each summer vacation — because they aren’t in school or exercising their brains.

Unsurprisingly, his totally unmethodical list, titled “The Best Kids’ Books Ever,” currently tops the “most emailed” story ranking on the Times’ website, as in “Oh my god, Gerald, our offspring’s brains are in jeopardy. Please pick up all 397 titles in the Hardy Boys series—including the graphic novels Abracadeath and Dude Ranch O’ Death! on your way home from the office.”

Yes, bizarrely, lazily, Kristof feels the Hardy Boys belong in the pantheon of children’s literature*:

Yes, I hear the snickers. But I devoured them myself and have known so many kids for whom these were the books that got them excited about reading. The first in the series is weak, but “House on the Cliff” is a good opener.

if Kristof’s list had been called: “Crappy Books that Get Children Reading, Which is a Good Thing in the Grander Scheme of Things,” fine. But I’ve read The House on the Cliff. Recently. I went through a masochistic phase where I wanted to understand the historic appeal of formulaic children’s mysteries, from Judy Bolton to Trixie Belden. (For a fascinating, insider look into just how soullessly the Hardy books, along with The Bobbsey Twins and the [more defensible, proto-feminist] Nancy Drew series, were churned out, read Leslie Garis’ devastating memoir, The House of Happy Endings.)

And if you really want to give your kids a persuasive reason to avoid stupidity, have them read the transcript of Sarah Palin’s resignation speech.

*Kristof, whose middle name is Donabet, also likes Charlotte’s Web. If you have several spare hours, check out the 2000-plus reader comments his hit-and-miss list inspired.

Related Posts:
Studies in imperfect book covers: A Wrinkle in Time
Amy Winehouse to lurchingly scrawl a children’s book
The dark side of the classic kids’ book, Olivia

What people are saying

  1. yes, nick, a 90-year-old book “so full of SAT words it could put Stanley Kaplan out of business” — that’s EXACTLY what underprivileged kids who fall two grades behind in reading level each summer want to read! it’s what rich kids want to read too! it’s what *i* want to read!

    oh wait, no it isn’t.

    so hate this common presumption that if it’s not thorny, it’s not GOOD.

  2. Marjorie refers to “Lad, A Dog,” one of Kristof’s “best” books. (Not to be confused with “Dog, A Lad Whose Brother is Also a Boy Detective.”)

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