One-Minute Book Reviews

May 22, 2007

Three of My All-Time Favorite Books for Adults and Children

Filed under: Children's Books,Classics — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 9:30 pm
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What’s on the used-book table at a school, library or church book sale?

By Janice Harayda

May is the month when used-book sales bloom in my town along with the irises. So I went bargain-hunting and picked up a half-dozen books that I loved years ago, want to reread, and may review on this site this summer. Here are three of my favorites:

Books for Adults
How to Read a Book: Revised and Updated Edition (Simon & Schuster, 1972) by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren. I read an earlier edition of this as a high school student, and it ‘s helped to shape how I’ve read books ever since. Adler begins with sections on each of the four levels on which he believes we read (“elementary,” “inspectional,” “analytical” and “syntopical”). He then offers separate chapters on how to read each of seven kinds of books: “practical books,” “imaginative literature,” “stories, plays, and poems,” “history,” “science and mathematics,” “philosophy” and “social science.” His section on analytical reading includes a chapter called “Criticizing a Book Fairly” that was my introduction to literary criticism. (I noticed when I picked the book up at a church fair that Adler emphasizes “the importance of avoiding contentiousness.” Did I miss that part?)

Books for Children
Madeline (Picture Puffins, 1977) by Ludwig Bemelmans. First published in 1939, this narrative poem has never stopped delighting children. Its opening lines are its best-known: “In an old house in Paris / that was covered with vines / lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.” But the rest of the book just as good. I’ve been planning to review Madeline in the “Classic Picture Books Every Child Should Read” series on this site. So when I saw it going for 50 cents at a library sale, I whisked it to the check-out desk and handed over two quarters. If I had a preschooler who hadn’t read this book, this would have been the best 50 cents I’ve spent this year.

Junior Kroll (Harcourt Brace, 1993) by Betty Paraskevas and Michael Paraskevas. This children’s picture book consists of a witty cycle of rhyming poems that together tell the story of a mischievous little rich boy in a setting that resembles the Hamptons. Junior Kroll isn’t the classic that Madeline is. But it’s hilarious in its own way and ideal for a child who loves Bemelmans’ book. The first lines of a poem about Junior’s dog, Max, set the tone: “Crazy Max, the Krolls’ Great Dane / Was a time bomb ticking on the end of a chain … ”

© 2007 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. I’m going to have to pick up ‘How to Read a Book’ and ‘Madeline’.

    I’ve noticed that my reading has changed in the past few years. More notes (there were never any to begin with), more inspection of words and feelings conveyed and inferred.

    Comment by P — May 23, 2007 @ 5:37 am | Reply

  2. One of the sections of my edition of “How to Read a Book” is called “Three Kinds of Note-making.” It’s very helpful in that respect (and others).

    “Madeline” is one of the all-time great books for preschoolers and some young school-age children. The second book in the series (“Madeline’s Rescue”) won a Caldecott Medal, and this was clearly a case of the American Library Association playing catch-up with what children and their parents had figured out years earlier.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 23, 2007 @ 11:53 am | Reply

  3. My last job came with the glamorous title of Director of Children’s Literature. The little indie bookstore couldn’t pay us much in cash, so they made up for it in resume fodder.

    Barbara Park’s Junie B. Jones series were among the most popular. While I don’t feel these books were among the most educational for lower grade kids, the children read them voraciously. I wonder if, maybe, the best books for kids aren’t simply the ones they will actually read.

    Comment by The Bagel of Everything — May 25, 2007 @ 8:00 am | Reply

  4. There’s a lot of truth in your last point: the best books for children are the ones they’ll read. I haven’t read the Harry Potter series (though I’m planning to start soon), but many reviewers have suggested that they aren’t great literature. And they’ve clearly more children excited about reading than any books of their generation. Thanks so much for your comments on this. I appreciate having a booksellers’ perspective.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — May 25, 2007 @ 11:35 am | Reply

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