50 Books Every Eleven-Year-Old Should Read
April 7, 2011 2:24 PM   Subscribe

The Independent (UK) proposes a list of fifty books that every eleven-year-old should read.

The list, created by a committee which includes Philip Pullman, comes in response to UK Education Secretary Michael Gove's proposal that every eleven-year-old should set a goal of reading fifty books in a year, an idea which he got from a charter school in Harlem. The Independent notes that the list makers are not uncritical of Gove making the suggestion at a time when hundreds of UK libraries are set to close (previously on the blue). Some wonder why the goal should be limited to schoolchildren; others at a rather notable omission from the list.
posted by Halloween Jack (96 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
It looks more as if five different people proposed ten books each. That's rather different from a committee of five people producing a single list of fifty books. Moreover, it doesn't seem as if any of the five people thought that the list of ten books he or she produced was a list of books every eleven-year-old should read, rather than a list of ten good books suitable for eleven-year-old readers.
posted by kenko at 2:29 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Awesome list. I'm always on the lookout for stuff to read to my 10 and 12 year old.

(Also, is there any 11 year old who would read anything that hasn't read, or had read to them, Harry Potter?)
posted by DU at 2:30 PM on April 7, 2011


Alternately titled "The Independent ruins summer vacation"
posted by Hoopo at 2:31 PM on April 7, 2011 [10 favorites]


It's even a pretty good mix of "good books for kids" and actual good books for kids.
posted by DU at 2:32 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I usually don't do this for list threads, but...no Tom Sawyer?
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:33 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Independent ruins summer vacation

I loved summer because I could read all day instead of having to stop for school.
posted by DU at 2:33 PM on April 7, 2011 [26 favorites]


I usually don't do this for list threads, but...no Tom Sawyer?

I haven't read the list yet, but I bet there's some quintessentially British equivalent on there somewhere.
posted by padraigin at 2:34 PM on April 7, 2011


I think it's a pretty good list. It's a journalistic exercise, so it's not a syllabus as such, but it's a very imaginative and challenging list. I've read about 12 I think, but I'd gladly read those again, and all of the rest.

(I haven't thought about Paul Berna for years, but One Hundred Million Francs is great. He's almost a French children's Dickens, if that isn't too tortured an analogy)

I also really like how they feature supposedly grown up books like Carry On, Jeeves, rather than plump solely for books that feature kids.
posted by DanCall at 2:35 PM on April 7, 2011


What, no Tender Buttons, Finnegans Wake, or Phenomenologie Des Geistes?
posted by The Emperor of Ice Cream at 2:36 PM on April 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


....aaand now I've read the list and yes, it's super Brit-centric. But pretty spot-on as far as books that would interest and intrigue an eleven-year-old who already has a taste for reading. And a few on there I've never read and one or two I've never heard of, so that's always exciting, finding new books that I can read and then pass on to my daughters.
posted by padraigin at 2:39 PM on April 7, 2011


I loved summer because I could read all day instead of having to stop for school.

I guess you just had to make sure you kept out of the way of Axl & Sue...
posted by i_cola at 2:42 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


These are fairly Anglo/Euro-centric. Which is certainly all I ever read at age 11. And maybe that's fine for 11-year-olds, no need to trouble them yet with some kind of global reading list. But a few books by Indian, Hispanic or Asian authors wouldn't hurt.
posted by beagle at 2:42 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is no Roald Dahl on this list.

There is no Roald Dahl on this list.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:45 PM on April 7, 2011 [20 favorites]


If I had to choose a British book for an eleven year old to read it would be Susan Cooper's Dawn of Fear. I read it at about that age. It both scared the hell out of me and made me think. Which is what I think a book about war should do.
posted by Quonab at 2:48 PM on April 7, 2011


I don't know how the rest of his output holds up, but Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is #1 with a bullet on the list of books I loved to death when I was 11 but found absolutely appalling when I re-read it as an adult.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:48 PM on April 7, 2011


The Joy of Sex
posted by mrgrimm at 2:48 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I read The Old Man and the Sea in seventh grade, which would have made us 12 or 13 and mostly convinced the class that Ernest Hemingway was so horrible and boring that we should not look further into his oeuvre. It may be simply written—simple enough for an 11-year-old—but that doesn't make it a good book for one. (I am a girl. Maybe boys were more interested in old men and marlin-fishing?)
posted by purpleclover at 2:49 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I hate this kind of thing. 11-year-olds are people. They have taste. They have interests. They should read whatever the hell they enjoy and find interesting. This kind of list is a good way to make books into the cultural equivalent of taking your medicine.
posted by craichead at 2:49 PM on April 7, 2011 [11 favorites]


A lot of these are either "my parent read this story to me and I remember it as being very good" or "here is something random my kid likes." And most of the rest is "thou ought read: _____" Eng101 stuff.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:49 PM on April 7, 2011


Aww, no love for The Graveyard Book?
posted by OverlappingElvis at 2:50 PM on April 7, 2011


In addition to the deficits already noted, I'd have suggested any of Pratchett's children's/YA books--the Johnny Maxwell books, or the Tiffany Aching books if you really wanted your Discworld--ahead of Moving Pictures.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:50 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am saddened by the lack of Pratchett but delighted by the double barreled Moomin recs.
posted by elizardbits at 2:51 PM on April 7, 2011


I think I spent more time per day reading books when I was 11 than any time in my life before or since. I'm not sure whether that's something to appreciate or regret.
posted by theodolite at 2:53 PM on April 7, 2011


elizardbits: I am saddened by the lack of Pratchett

You skimmed to quickly.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:55 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Great books, and power to everyone. But does Michael Gove or anyone else involved actually know any 11-12 year olds? 50 books? I was a wild mad reader when I was young. I loved and love books. I work with books today. Maybe I got somewhere near 50 books or even 60 in a time with no telly, no computers, no games, no videos and generally a very prescriptive schedule of homework, sports and nothing. Even then, I was extraordinary. And not necessarily healthy.
50 books a year for every single child in 2011? Or is he imagining pixi books? Or cartoons?
I am the mother of two bright teens who like (not love) books, but who also have a wide range of other wonderful and educational interests. Most of these interests include reading and writing. Strangely, my girls don't like Harry Potter, even though I've tried to inspire them. I wouldn't put too much into that. The big one is reading and enjoying Jonathan Foer in English, not her native language.
posted by mumimor at 2:56 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


mumimor: Strangely, my girls don't like Harry Potter, even though I've tried to inspire them.

It seems that you are taking this as a sign that they are not adept readers.

I would suggest an alternate interpretation.
posted by paisley henosis at 2:58 PM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was going to complain about the absence of The Westing Game because it seemed like the right age group, and then craichead's comment reminded me that I read Ringworld right around the time I turned 12, which means I would have read Westing (and The Mysterious Disappearence of Leon (I Mean Noel)) at least three years before then. Those are great books, but adults (myself included) so often seem to forget how lame the recommended age ranges on books can be. I think most 11-year-olds who would be inclined to read 50 books in a year would already have chewed through a number of the ones on this list, and will definitely have their own sense of which "grown up" books they want to be reading.
posted by nickmark at 3:00 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Michael Gove is just another of the deranged fantasists that have been let loose in government over the last year. He thinks he can return England's educational system to a mythical past of well-behaved, scrubbed-up boys and girls fluent in Latin and poring over endless Victorian novels. Perhaps the world map on the wall will be mostly pink again.

Anyway, he's deluded, which he might find out one day, but not before breaking an already shaky system and costing the taxpayer a lot of money.
posted by Grangousier at 3:01 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


* Animal Farm by George Orwell. Smart 11-year-olds won't need any pre-knowledge of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and 1917 to appreciate this brilliantly-told fable

As a 13-year-old without any pre-knowledge of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, and 1917, I thought this was a big dumb animal story and would have very likely appreciated knowing more about the historical events behind the allegory.

I don't mean to come off as a grouch here, because I was a book-loving kid who read mostly what she found on her parents' bookshelves, age-appropriate or not (pro tip: Watership Down has rabbits on the cover, but is not a good book for when you're 9). I ended up reading a lot of stuff, though, that I just didn't understand or appreciate and wouldn't for years.

on preview: the opposite of what nickmark says.
posted by purpleclover at 3:02 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm having trouble imagining an eleven year old reading 50 books in a year. I was a voracious reader at that age, but 50 books is a lot of books for a kid in a year.
posted by jabberjaw at 3:07 PM on April 7, 2011


I think I was 11 when I read 'Salem's Lot for the first time. Also Shadowland.
I've read maybe one or two books on this list. The Phantom Tollbooth is pretty wonderful.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 3:13 PM on April 7, 2011


I was eleven the summer I went to stay with my grandparents and signed up for the Pretty Prairie (KS) Public Library Summer Reading Program. I read over fifty books in three months and the librarian gave me a silver dollar, which I still have. [/nerd]

I am a pretty fast reader though. But I think it can certainly be done in a year by a pretty average reader. My kids are both reading at approximately the level of an average eleven year old, and while they mix in some age-appropriate but lower-skill-level books, they easily each read a book a week on average.
posted by padraigin at 3:13 PM on April 7, 2011


purpleclover - can you elaborate on a little? Based on your comments I'm not sure we're in such complete disagreement; maybe I wasn't clear before.
posted by nickmark at 3:17 PM on April 7, 2011


What, no Johnny Tremain? Those rotten Brits.

*runs off, joins Sons of Liberty*
posted by norm at 3:19 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


DU, have they read Bone? I read it last year and thought it was fantastic, so I gave it to my neice for her 10th birthday and to quote her: "The best book I've ever read". I know, I know, but you can't expect her to have read "Zorba the Greek" at that age.
posted by Elmore at 3:21 PM on April 7, 2011


I just remembered that Pullman edited Detective Stories, a terrific little anthology that I read as a kid. It was my first exposure to Calvino, Runyon, Leacock and Sayers. I'll always think kindly of Pullman for those introductions.
posted by Iridic at 3:29 PM on April 7, 2011


In all seriousness, by 11 I was easily reading/devouring two or three books a week, reading them in class when I should have been doing the crap busywork there, and 50 books doesn't seem like a stretch to me at all.
posted by norm at 3:30 PM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


The most notable book I remember reading when I was 11 was Lois Lowry's Number the Stars, which I would recommend to any child trying to make sense of what the greater world can do for both good and ill.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:31 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Moving Pictures is a weird choice for Pratchett. It's one of the mid-period Discworlds that a) have a lot of character history in them and b) contains lots of real world references. It would be out of context in two different was for a 10-year-old firstime Pratchett reader.

Personally, I'd go with Good Omens (about kids) or the purpose-built The Wee Free Men and sequels. Tiffany Aching is crack for girls.
posted by bonehead at 3:32 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I don't know how the rest of his output holds up, but Charlie and The Chocolate Factory is #1 with a bullet on the list of books I loved to death when I was 11 but found absolutely appalling when I re-read it as an adult.

Really? I love Dahl's children's books because they're appalling-- all of the characters are so horrible and unlikeable. Dahl was a wretched misandrist who hated everybody, and that's why his characters are so delightfully icky. Perhaps you'd prefer his fiction for adults?
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:37 PM on April 7, 2011


Where's The Story of O?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:38 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


Eleven is, what, year seven? And there's no Hitchhiker's Guide? I am disappoint.

(also, of course, the lack of Biggles is disturbing, but I suppose that's probably not done these days...)
posted by pompomtom at 3:40 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


Tiffany Aching is crack for girls.

And apparently middle aged men for the joy with which I devoured them. As much as I love Pratchett's Discworld stuff (and I really, really do), I might actually suggest that this is a perfect candidate for his Bromeliad trilogy. It's hugely captivating, reads easy, yet still has a poignancy, and includes one of my favorite, oft-used quotes:

"I think you do not appreciate what it is that space contains"

"What's that then?"

"Nothing. It contains nothing. And everything. But there is very little everything and more nothing than you could imagine."

posted by quin at 3:42 PM on April 7, 2011 [6 favorites]


I think at 11 I was passionate about Wrinkle in Time and Anne of Green Gables. (I think I read Animal Farm at 12...being a bit of a young history nut definitely helped.)

padraigin, I did the summer reading club at my hometown library every year. You had to read 10 books over the summer to get some sort of prize; I can't remember ever not winning the prize. I think it was the summer I was 12 going on 13 when I finished the 10 books in like a week and a half or something crazy like that, and the librarian suggested that maybe I'd like volunteering. Ended up working there as children's department page from 14 until I went off to college!
posted by epersonae at 3:44 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


And at 12 or so I fell in love with Sherlock Holmes, maybe a bit more literally than was appropriate. :\
posted by epersonae at 3:45 PM on April 7, 2011


The Cay is a great tale for kids.
posted by snsranch at 3:45 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


What! No Atlas Shrugged?
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:51 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


No The Giver by Lois Lowry?
posted by pointystick at 4:02 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


In all seriousness, by 11 I was easily reading/devouring two or three books a week, reading them in class when I should have been doing the crap busywork there, and 50 books doesn't seem like a stretch to me at all.

I agree completely; at that age I stamped through roughly a book a day (not particularly thick books, mind you, maybe 300-350 pages each). However, they were books I wanted to read, and was interested in. I'm not sure how it would have gone had I been given a long list like this. Still, 50 books in a year seems easily doable.
posted by TheMidnightHobo at 4:07 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Alternatively titled "White authors for kids".
posted by hal_c_on at 4:13 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have read exactly one book on the list. I am, however, considerably older than your average eleven-year-old.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 4:13 PM on April 7, 2011


One of the best reading lists for kids is the newberry winners.

Thats some good shit.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:14 PM on April 7, 2011 [5 favorites]


Also, yeah...I think kids can do without harry potter books. Its half literature and half marketing to get you to buy a whole bunch of other shit dvds.
posted by hal_c_on at 4:16 PM on April 7, 2011


I'm having trouble imagining an eleven year old reading 50 books in a year. I was a voracious reader at that age, but 50 books is a lot of books for a kid in a year.

A book a week? I did that easy. I was getting through (kid-length) novels in a night at that age. (Living in the country in the days before the internet helps. Bor-ing).
posted by bonaldi at 4:21 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


At eleven I'd read every single interesting book in the school library, plus I was into sports, so I wasn't reading much. At 13 I was in a new school with a bigger library, and was squeezed out of sports by the boys who hogged the field at recess. I read 180 books over the course of the year - one for every day we were in school - I know because we had to write reports on them. But then, I did almost nothing else that year, and probably wouldn't have read so many books if my homeroom teacher hadn't been buulying me (which of course meant that all the other teachers and my classmates were also bullying me, etc).

Also, my grandma was a children's librarian and used to give us boxes of books to read in the summer, so I'm really not the best person to judge how many books the average 11 year old can read. But I'll note that books for 11 year olds are much shorter than books for adults.

All that said, I agree with mumimor - kids these days have a lot of other ways to spend their time outside of class.

When I was 11, my favorite authors were Roald Dahl, E. Nesbit, William Sleaton and Bruce Coville. My favorite book was Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper.
posted by subdee at 4:22 PM on April 7, 2011


A book a week? I did that easy. I was getting through (kid-length) novels in a night at that age

I still don't, but mostly because I get bored easily. The only book I've ever read entirely in one sitting was The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Even Roald Dahl books took me weeks because I'd only read them when I was in bed and only until I fell asleep. And they were my absolute favorites at that age.

Also, yeah...I think kids can do without harry potter books. Its half literature and half marketing to get you to buy a whole bunch of other shit dvds

weren't half of them published before the movies were even released in theatres?
posted by Hoopo at 4:31 PM on April 7, 2011


The name nobody will ever put on their recommended reading list that absolutely needs to be on every one is Daniel Pinkwater.
posted by darksasami at 4:44 PM on April 7, 2011 [7 favorites]


Here are the books that the eleven-year-olds I teach most enjoy:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Captain Underpants
Bone
Percy Jackson and the Olympians
the Bluford High Series
the Princess in Pink Series

With the exception of the last one, these appeal to both boys and girls.
posted by mai at 4:44 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Kids sitting indoors spending summer reading about Kids playing in the summer.
posted by sgt.serenity at 4:49 PM on April 7, 2011


I'm having trouble imagining an eleven year old reading 50 books in a year. I was a voracious reader at that age, but 50 books is a lot of books for a kid in a year.

I read lots of cheap Star Wars tie-ins. sorta wish i'd read less, actually
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:51 PM on April 7, 2011


I'm glad Phillip Pullman is on the committee, but I'd rather he be on the reading list.
posted by gurple at 5:11 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Irresistible puzzle-solving tales of the chilly Victorian master-sleuth and his dim medical sidekick.

Dim? I don't think someone has read the canon. Maybe they would prefer some jam.
posted by Wossname at 5:18 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


Michael Gove says he wants 11-year-olds to read the equivalent of a book a week.

Other have pointed out the flaws in this prescription, but I have to add: The year I was eleven I probably read two hundred books, but they were what Michael Gove might call self-directed learning. Using this sort of laundry list and firing off the metaphorical stopwatch with a year to read all fifty is, if anything, worse than the way universities assign reading lists. When you try to cram that much reading in a short time, you get people who have skimmed books and believe they have read them. A lot of these books were written in a much less frantic age, when it was assumed readers would saunter through books and linger over them, rather than sprinting for the back cover.

To take an example: Katy Guest's list includes "The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein [sic]." I am pretty sure that most eleven-year-olds, given a week to digest a series with a word count somewhere north of 500,000 words, could probably tell you it was about elves.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:22 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Harry Potter books were NOT written in the service of marketing tie-ins. That said, they don't need to be on the list as kids will read them anyway.

And love them.
posted by Navelgazer at 5:22 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


I am saddened by the lack of Pratchett

You skimmed to quickly.


And yet, I've tried to get more than one eleven year old into Pratchett, and I think he's just a touch beyond them, a little too sophisticated. On the other hand, I had no problem getting an eleven year old all wound up about Robert Rankin's Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocalypse, which got a bit awkward when one of the parents took exception to ...

... SPOILER ALERT ...

... a few of the more bloodthirsty murders.

And then, thinking back, there's eleven year old me who read SE Hinton's THE OUTSIDERS and LOVED IT, and by the end of that school year (Grade Six) had discovered that my best friend's dad tended to leave books he'd read just lying around untended. This got me into the likes of LITTLE BIG MAN, THE GODFATHER andall the JAMES BOND stuff ... and that was more or less it for me and kid's stuff ... until I got into drugs in my mid-teens and started to fall in love stuff like Tolkien and Narnia.

And so on.
posted by philip-random at 5:29 PM on April 7, 2011


I have to chime in, too, that I was a voracious reader as a kid because library and used bookstore trips were a regular weekend event in my family. I was usually allowed to buy 3 or 5 books at a time at the bookstore, and the library... well, I was allowed to checkout as many books as my little arms could carry.

And if I was extra good, I was allowed to read at the dinner table*, after we all told each other about our day.

* One of the greatest tragedies of my 11-year old life was when, while suffering a nasty bout of flu, I dropped a paperback novel into a full bowl of chicken soup. I tried microwaving it to dry it out, which only made the spine come undone and all the pages slip loose. Still, I held the book together with a rubber band and kept it well into college.
posted by Wossname at 5:31 PM on April 7, 2011


Also, yeah...I think kids can do without harry potter books. Its half literature and half marketing to get you to buy a whole bunch of other shit dvds

weren't half of them published before the movies were even released in theatres?
...

The Harry Potter books were NOT written in the service of marketing tie-ins. That said, they don't need to be on the list as kids will read them anyway.

And love them.


potato-potahto, lets agree to disagree regarding the marketing.

and yeah...kids will love them, until the next fad in kids reading comes out. I'm guessing some kind of miley cyrus type nubile girl with magical powers and a fabulous wardrobe. She's going to have this AWESOME necklace/ring that you can buy to be like her.

Then again, my old school ass is all about encyclopedia brown and cam jansen.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:34 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


No Roald Dahl, and no Wind in the Willows. Pathetic.
posted by CunningLinguist at 5:46 PM on April 7, 2011


In all seriousness, by 11 I was easily reading/devouring two or three books a week, reading them in class when I should have been doing the crap busywork there, and 50 books doesn't seem like a stretch to me at all.

I agree that 50 books doesn't seem like a lot. I read so much as a kid that my dad would go to library sales all over the city and just buy boxes and boxes of used books for pennies per book. My brother and I could plow through a box a week if my parents didn't limit the number we could read at a time.
posted by pecknpah at 6:07 PM on April 7, 2011


I think my son was 11 when we read Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell trilogy. We both loved them, especially the time-traveling Johnny and the Bomb. Neither of us has ventured into any other of Pratchett's works, though.
posted by rocket88 at 6:14 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


50 books a year is less than a book per week. When I was 11, I read around 200 books a year and the only reason I didn't read more was that I constantly reread certain favorites like Lord of the Rings and Interview with the Vampire. I used to have two hours of swim team practice after school, and then I was allowed to do whatever I wanted, so I read. Some of my Wodehouse books still smell faintly of chlorine.

The Old Man and the Sea was on the 6th grade reading list, but I never read it. Somehow I knew it wouldn't be about vampires or elves or butlers.
posted by betweenthebars at 6:22 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I hate this kind of thing. 11-year-olds are people. They have taste. They have interests. They should read whatever the hell they enjoy and find interesting. This kind of list is a good way to make books into the cultural equivalent of taking your medicine.

Yeah, but they may well have tastes and interests that they are so far totally unaware of. Which is where a list like this can be a useful crutch for parents; chuck a couple in with whatever else the child is inclined to pick up for themselves and see what takes.

Also, can I just say that I am very impressed that people can remember specifically what they were reading when they were 11. My brain appears not to work that way so I'm not sure if that would have been the Dick King Smith period, or maybe when I was getting into David Eddings or something else entirely. Whatever it was, a book a day would be a reasonable bet so a book a week for most kids seems pretty doable.
posted by MUD at 6:24 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm glad that there are so many parents these days who are willing to fill their houses with good, kid-accessible books. I was starving for reading material during those years; the public library was too far away, and otherwise I only had once a week trips to the elementary school library where we were allowed one lousy book each. So, I read whatever my parents had lying around, age-inappropriate as it was, but I would read whatever I could get my hands on.

There were not a ton of kid-friendly books in my house growing up, so by 11 I had read (in order of inappropriateness):
- Helter Skelter
- Breakfast of Champions
- Moll Flanders
- Huckleberry Finn
- Robinson Crusoe

I have no doubt that most of the richness of those books went over my head, but I still carry little bits of each around with me (I still note the time every time I hear a gunshot thanks to Helter Skelter).

I love the fact that grown-ups now take the time to think about children's literature, even if some of their suggestions may sound like a stretch. I hope kids today get the number and quality of books they deserve.
posted by Alison at 6:31 PM on April 7, 2011 [4 favorites]


(also, of course, the lack of Biggles is disturbing, but I suppose that's probably not done these days...)

So? Where the hell was Biggles when you needed him last Saturday?
And where were all the sportsmen who always pulled you through?
posted by hippybear at 7:12 PM on April 7, 2011 [3 favorites]


by 11 I had read (in order of inappropriateness)

Oh, man.... when I was 11 and 12, I read the Clan of the Cave Bear series. That was... eye-opening.
posted by cider at 7:31 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, can I just say that I am very impressed that people can remember specifically what they were reading when they were 11.

I have the "advantage" of having moved around a lot as a kid, so I can remember which friends I talked about a given book with and work backward from there ("Oh, I knew him in that town, so it must have been between nine and eleven..."). In the case of a few favorites, I remember more specifically because of how I acquired the book - I got a John Bellairs trilogy for my ninth birthday from my dad, for example, and loved them.

I've recently been going back to a few books I remember liking as a kid, with mixed results. I remember being fascinated by Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising around age 12 or 13 - but I read it a couple years ago and was mostly, "Huh?" But I probably didn't give it a fair shake, as most of my reading lately tends to be late at night and with a drink - I get distracted or drift off to sleep, so it took me about a month to read something I first read in less than a week. I'm going to have to carve out more time for reading (and re-reading) as my kids start learning to read...

Oh, and for (especially American) kids a little older than this list is aiming at, I'd recommend the Octavian Nothing books.
posted by nickmark at 7:58 PM on April 7, 2011


I honor your capacity to listen to your body and its needs for food, rest and playtime.

I... wow. I didn't realize that as a man I wasn't allowed to eat or sleep.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 8:39 PM on April 7, 2011


When I was 11, I was pretty much obsessed with Connections, and soon thereafter Cosmos. So, yeah, I had the books and was devouring those pretty avidly over and over.

I'm pretty sure I discovered my mother's Annotated Alice around that time, too.

And I'm pretty sure I was reading through my elementary school's fantastic collection of original version Hardy Boys / Nancy Drew / etc around that time, however many zillion books that was. Damn those original versions are good.

Trying to remember when I got into Thornton Burgess, but it was either 10 or 11-ish.

Had I read anything really inappropriate at that age? Um... My mother's deeply annotated college edition of Le Morde d'Arthur was probably about it. Although I can't say I really grasped everything about it. I was motivated to read that by having seen The Sword In The Stone and then reading The Once And Future King.
posted by hippybear at 8:42 PM on April 7, 2011


I just realized that this list didn't contain one of those books that just sort of needs to be there: To Kill a Mockingbird.

Because of the ages of the characters. I originally read it when I was maybe nine or ten, and I identified with Scout. Then a year or two later I saw myself as Jem. And five years later, I understood Boo much better.

Hell, I should probably read it again just so I get Atticus, now that I'm an adult.

The reason it is so important to me as a work, is that it showed me early on, that you can see different things in art and different times in life, and that simple fact has had me revisiting some of my favorite things again and again, to great and happy effect.

Seems obvious as a grown-up. As a kid, it was like being struck by lighting made of pure awesome; books could change and get better.
posted by quin at 9:06 PM on April 7, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was 8 or 9 when I first read The Stand....and God love my parents for never restricting what I read. Helps that we lived in an area with no cable and no TV reception...wasn't much else to do.

But I really came in here to bless this list for reminding me about Joan Aiken...I had forgotten how much I loved her, and am now going to have to go hunt up some of her books to read again.
posted by purenitrous at 9:20 PM on April 7, 2011


My 11-year-old daughters begged me to read Louis Sachar's Holes, and I was so glad when I finally did. It's such a clever, delightful, perfectly-constructed book.

Salman Rushdie wrote Haroun and the Sea of Stories for his 11-year-old son when he was hiding in exile during the fatwa. It is beautiful, witty, silly, and fun.
posted by straight at 9:26 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


re Harry Potter: "Its half literature and half marketing terrible writing." There are some moments/scenes that I thought were really interesting, but the writing made me crazy.

Seconding the Tiffany Aching books - my sons loved them, and Maurice and His Educated Rodents. We've tried other Pratchett books, but either the themes or the writing has been too difficult. Now they want me to read them the Silmarillion...

When I was 11, I read Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny. It's a SF dramatization of the (imaginary, for all I know) historical & social relationships between Buddhism and Hinduism. My dad bought it because he thought it was about, you know, GOD.
posted by sneebler at 9:38 PM on April 7, 2011 [1 favorite]


@Icola +1 Brick reference
posted by MidSouthern Mouth at 11:09 PM on April 7, 2011


Gove is delusional. As a father of a three year old who adores being read to, I'm strongly in favour of children reading and being read to.

That he's suggesting this as that fat, ignorant shit Eric Pickles is closing public libraries all over the country makes my blood boil.

I console myself with the notion thY Gove has lost his department which leaks like a sieve and is actively working to sabotage much of his agenda. I had had a few quid on him as the first cabinet minister to go (although I'm busy putting money on Lansley and Warsi presently).

Gesture politics for middle class consumption of the very worst sort. I'm not above a bit of populism myself but this is stomach churning.
posted by dmt at 1:51 AM on April 8, 2011


(I still note the time every time I hear a gunshot thanks to Helter Skelter)

A useful tip.
posted by ovvl at 4:34 AM on April 8, 2011


The Joy of Sex

Where's The Story of O?


Don't give up hope! Someone might take a wrong turn when picking up The Secret Garden.
posted by fullerine at 5:14 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, he's deluded, which he might find out one day, but not before breaking an already shaky system and costing the taxpayer a lot of money.

Make the system 'British society' and this will be the legacy of the Con-dem govt.
posted by Summer at 5:21 AM on April 8, 2011


Patrick "Knife of Never Letting Go" Ness's List of Ten Unsuitable Books for teenagers.
posted by Grangousier at 6:00 AM on April 8, 2011


Patrick "Knife of Never Letting Go" Ness's List of Ten Unsuitable Books for teenagers.
Ooh. I like that list so much better! Stephen King was what I was actually reading when I was 11, and I don't think I've ever admitted to anyone how much I loved Tom Robbins when I was in high school. (I first read Cathcer in the Rye when I was fifteen, though, and I still wanted to slap Holden Caufield. Actually, I wanted to slap J.D Salinger for thinking that giving Holden a dead-brother tragic backstory would somehow make up for what an entitled little shit Holden was.) I still don't love the idea of a list, which seems to assume that kids can be defind by their ages, but the Guardian list doesn't seem as irritatingly worthy as the Independent one.
posted by craichead at 7:11 AM on April 8, 2011


Oh, I remember being elevenish and reading all summer--I was still short enough to lie comfortably on the porch swing of the porch which was somewhat inexplicably built onto our garage, and I'd go out there after breakfast with a couple of books and read until lunch...those were happy times.

I read a lot of Madeline L'Engle one of those summers--I'd read the Swiftly Tilting Planet ones before, but I read The Moon By Night and A Ring of Endless Light and The Young Unicorns....even then I thought they were a bit goody-two-shoes but they seemed to describe a young-adult world which made sense.

I secretly read Dashiell Hammett, who my parents thought too adult...and honestly, after reading Red Harvest I kind of agreed with them. The Poirot stories, Sherlock Holmes, Robert Benchley, Jane Eyre, the first parts of David Copperfield and Oliver Twist (when the protagonists were adults I lost interest), Roald Dahl, who I hated but whose short stories were queasily fascinating, Tanith Lee's short stories, I Am The Cheese...I read a bunch of non-fiction, too, some pop histories about Victorian England, that kind of thing. Lots of junk science fiction that I've mostly forgotten now, Elizabeth Scarborough, Piers Anthony....

I also happened across a James Tiptree anthology around then. Sometimes I wonder whether I would have been different if I hadn't read The Girl Who Was Plugged In....that story was a kind of conversion experience for me, but in a bad way--it convinced me that my body-shame, my ugliness, my loneliness were the inevitable way of the world and that if I were very, very lucky I could hide them and have a half-life pretending to be someone else. And the James Tiptree story about the girl who has the deformed face and is horribly abused and dies on another planet, but she's happy because an alien cares for her while she is dying and she finds a kind of love. Those stories seemed so absolutely true and descriptive to me; they robbed me a bit of the will to be alive.

I read a lot of Harlan Ellison, because that whole cynical/sentimental thing really hit the spot. The stories about the civil rights movement and getting locked up in jail in New York and the one about driving a girl to get an abortion in Mexico, even though they had some bad politics, were fairly important in making me an activist later.
posted by Frowner at 9:04 AM on April 8, 2011


I, too, read tons as a kid -- usually with a tube of Pringles in hand. Mostly my big brothers' scifi classics (Heinlein, Niven, etc.) but also...well, everything else. Howard Pyle's ancient "Robin Hood," Reader's Digest and Smithsonian issues, a peek into James Clavell (boooring), Stephen King (everything of his at the Merriam Park branch library), my dad's 1940s adventure story "Black River Captive" by West Lathrop, YA animals stories by Jim Kjellgaard (and all of James Herriots's books, too), and pretty much anything else with words on it.

I have four kids now, little to pre-teen, and, like my parents did for me, I let them read whatever they will pick up. Sometimes I tell them what I think is wrong with a book (whether it's wordy, shallow, or a blatant marketing tie-in), but they can read what they like. I sure hope I am doing the right thing!
posted by wenestvedt at 10:00 AM on April 8, 2011


Kids sitting indoors spending summer reading about Kids playing in the summer.
Actually, I often went outside to read or went for a walk to some cool place in my neighborhood to sit and read. Even better, most of the books I read inspired me to get up and do something cool like draw, build a fort, explore a creek, make up a game to play with friends, or write my own story. It's a worthwhile pursuit.
I hate this kind of thing. 11-year-olds are people. They have taste. They have interests. They should read whatever the hell they enjoy and find interesting. This kind of list is a good way to make books into the cultural equivalent of taking your medicine.
I agree that enforcing a reading list is a terrible idea, but as an 11-year-old I very much appreciated recommendations. I had taste, and I read what I wanted to read, but that didn't stop me from wanting to hear about what other people enjoyed. Simply having a list would be a great tool for parents/guardians, but I agree that you shouldn't force kids to read the books. Just let them browse and discover.
posted by willhopkins at 10:26 AM on April 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


And my final comment: how is Diana Wynne Jones not on that list?! Howl's Moving Castle, Dark Lord of Derkholm, or the Chrestomanci books would be perfect!
posted by willhopkins at 12:27 PM on April 8, 2011


I agree that enforcing a reading list is a terrible idea, but as an 11-year-old I very much appreciated recommendations. I had taste, and I read what I wanted to read, but that didn't stop me from wanting to hear about what other people enjoyed. Simply having a list would be a great tool for parents/guardians, but I agree that you shouldn't force kids to read the books. Just let them browse and discover.
Oh, I have no problem with recommendations, and I don't even really have problems with lists. What I'm not crazy about is the idea that there are books that "every eleven-year-old should read," as if "eleven-year-olds" is a meaningful category for book recommendations. Once upon a time I worked the children's desk in a bookstore, and I can't imagine asking a kid his or her age and then proceeding right away to recommend a book. Instead, you have to treat each kid as an individual. What do they usually like to read? If they don't like to read, what movies, TV shows or games do they like? Do they want a book that tells a story, or would they prefer a book that explains something? Do they like stories set in the past, present or future? Do they like realistic stories or stories with an element of fantasy? Animals: fascinating or boring? Do they want a book that is funny or serious? Once you've got a sense of the kid, it's easier to recommend a book that you think that particular kid will like.

Nobody would publish a list of "perfect books for twenty-eight-year-olds." But we treat kids like they're walking, talking developmental stages, not like they're individuals. And I think that recommending books to developmental stages, rather than children, can take some of the joy out of reading.

Having said that, I think it's totally awesome to give kids books that you loved when you were their age. It's a way of sharing something about yourself. But I would frame it as "when I was eleven, I loved this book," not as "this is a perfect book for an eleven-year-old."
posted by craichead at 8:16 AM on April 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


What I'm not crazy about is the idea that there are books that "every eleven-year-old should read," as if "eleven-year-olds" is a meaningful category for book recommendations.

I'd agree completely if, as noted already in this thread, eleven hadn't been a significant turning point for me as a reader (and thus a human being). It was definitely the year that I started picking up adult stuff and LOVING it (not getting much of it, but still loving this uncharted universe of higher sophistication and significance). Brings to mind an opinion that an old friend used to throw around rather passionately: that eleven (still pre-puberty, for most boys anyway) was the last chance we really have as a culture to prepare the young human mind (and soul) for all the crazy-weird-wonderful-confusing stuff that's about to come ...
posted by philip-random at 10:51 AM on April 9, 2011


Oh, I have no problem with recommendations, and I don't even really have problems with lists. What I'm not crazy about is the idea that there are books that "every eleven-year-old should read," as if "eleven-year-olds" is a meaningful category for book recommendations.
Totally fair point, and I agree. I apologize if I misinterpreted your comment. Obviously there are problems of scale, where educators or institutions can't always individualize their care. Of course, it's a legitimate argument that they should. Staying on topic, your discussion of categories and specificity is great and I think would make a list like the above more usable. A wiki-based list might be a good exercise for schools, so kids could weigh in and help build a list for each other to use. Such a practice might have real value for the educational system and address some of your concerns about letting children speak for themselves.1

1Not that I'm suggesting that we can solve problems with the education system through the power of discussion on MetaFilter, but I think it's useful anyway.
posted by willhopkins at 8:42 AM on April 12, 2011


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