100 Best Books of the 20th Century

Adams. Watership Down
Ardizzone. Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain
Averill. The Cat Club
Babbitt. Tuck Everlasting
Banner. Ant and Bee and Kind Dog
Bemelmans. Madeline
Bishop. Five Chinese Brothers
Boston. Children of Green Knowe
Brown. The Runaway Bunny
Brown. Goodnight Moon
Burton. Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel
Burton. The Little House
Cannon. Stellaluna
Carle. Very Hungry Caterpillar
Clark. The Poppy-Seed Cakes
Cooper. The Dark is Rising
Dahl. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Daugherty. Andy and the Lion
D'Aulaire. Ola and Blakken
De Brunhoff. L'Histoire de Babar
Dickinson. A Bone From A Dry Sea
Du Bois. Lion
Du Bois. The Twenty-One Balloons
Eager. Half-Magic
Enright. Thimble Summer
Estes. The Moffats
Ets. Mister Penny
Farjeon. Martin Pippin in the Daisy Field
Fenton. Penny Candy
Field. Hitty
Fitzhugh. Harriet the Spy
Flack. The Story About Ping
Freeman. Corduroy
Gag. Millions of Cats
Garner. The Stone Book Quartet
Hale. Orlando Buys A Farm
Hamilton. The Magical Adv. of Pretty Pearl
Heide. The Shrinking of Treehorn
Henry. King of the Wind
Heyward. The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes
Hoban. Bedtime for Frances
Holling. Paddle-to-the-Sea
Jansson. Finn Family Moomintroll
Johnson. Harold and the Purple Crayon
Keats. The Snowy Day
Konigsburg. Throwing Shadows
Langton. The Diamond in the Window
Lawson. Ben and Me
Leaf. Wee Gillis
Leaf. The Story of Ferdinand
L'Engle. A Wrinkle in Time
Lenski. [The Small Transportation series]
Lindgren. Pippi Longstocking
Lionni. Little Blue and Little Yellow
Lionni. Frederick
Lovelace. Betsy-Tacy
MacDonald. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Mahy. Memory
Mayne. Earthfasts
McCloskey. Blueberries for Sal
McCloskey. Burt Dow, Deep Water Man
Milne. Winnie the Pooh
Milne. When We Were Very Young
Mosel. Tikki Tikki Tembo
Munari. The Circus in the Mist
Newberry. Herbert the Lion
Newberry. April's Kittens
Norton. The Borrowers
Oakley. The Church Mouse
Paterson. Bridge to Terabithia
Paton Walsh. Unleaving
Pearce. Tom's Midnight Garden
Pullman. Northern Lights/Golden Compass
Ransome. Swallows and Amazons
Sandburg. The Wedding Procession of the Rag Doll and the Broom Handle
Sendak. The Nutshell Library
Sendak. Where the Wild Things Are
Seuss. Green Eggs and Ham
Seuss. Horton Hatches the Egg
Sleator. The Angry Moon
Slobodkina. Caps for Sale
Speare. Witch of Blackbird Pond
Steig. Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Stong. Honk the Moose
Streatfeild. Ballet Shoes
Sutcliff. Knight's Fee
Taylor. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry!
Thurber. Many Moons
Tison. Barbapapa
Tolkien. The Hobbit
Travers. Mary Poppins
Ungerer. Crictor
Vipont. The Elephant and the Bad Baby
Ward. The Biggest Bear
Wells. Max's Breakfast
White, E.B. Charlotte's Web
White, T.H. The Sword in the Stone
Wilder. The Long Winter
Zindel. The Pigman
Zion. Harry the Dirty Dog

Comments? Additions?    books@cattermole.com

Cattermole 20th Century Children's Books

Daffodil, April 2003

Why We Chose Them

It is classic because of a certain eternal and irrepressible freshness. -- Ezra Pound

In celebration of the end of our century we thought it would be fun to publish a catalog of the most important modern books, read "those we had as children", yet, ones which children still read and enjoy.

Why 100 books? This seemed plenty when we began with a list of 40-50 classics. We were wrong, of course. Put it down to the FAHRENHEIT 451 syndrome; a feeling that one or a handful of books could suffice for the proverbial desert island. Hundreds of books were nominated for our list, by editors, publishers, authors, illustrators, librarians, and teachers, even children themselves. We tried to review all of the suggestions, and we found many to be as good as any we had already included. Titles with multiple nominations almost always made the cut. In the end we realize that selection of a hundred is no less arbitrary a criterion than some others which also shaped this catalog. So we begin with an apology and a caution; we regret that your favorite book is missing from our list, but perhaps this will discourage anyone from using this list as a definitive basis for a collection of high spots.

Usually, booksellers' catalogs are limited to the books they happen to have in stock; happily, we ignored what we had. You will find collectible copies of only half the books in this catalog, despite our diligence. Fortunately, a surprising number of these titles are now in print. The very scarcity of first editions of these titles is partly a measure of their success. And almost all are extremely rare, being known by fewer than a handful of copies.

Cattermole deals in books published since 1924, the reasons for this date have been discussed in several earlier catalogs. This gave us a reason for excluding a solid chunk of children's literature which we arbitrarily consider less than modern, even if THE STORY OF LITTLE BLACK SAMBO, THE TALE OF PETER RABBIT, and PELLE'S NEW SUIT are today enjoyed as much as ever. At the other end, we guessed that the best modern books were published by 1976. We were partly wrong, of course. There are still marvelous books being published, and we were surprised by how many recent books appear on the list. In fact, modern books now seem to us much better written than books of 40-75 years ago. The older ones need to be very much better to hold their own against today's literature. Yet allowance has to be made for priority of expression. Consider L'Engle's RING OF ENDLESS LIGHT (1980), which is much better written than A WRINKLE IN TIME (1962). Although intended for a different age of child, it is obvious that the author has improved significantly during these years; yet, WRINKLE made the list, while RING did not....a hard choice.

Another problem is that of selecting a single best title among a number of outstanding alternates. Dr. Seuss presented the toughest challenge in this respect. We stretched things in a few cases, but, this is a catalog of individual books, not a catalog of the 100 best authors, or 100 best illustrators. These would be quite different lists, and we invite the reader to consider, which individuals would appear on all three lists. Ultimately, this catalog is about literature, a selection of the best writing for children, which generated some fierce internal debate over several wordless picture-books that ultimately didn't make the list.

A more complex issue is how certain books fit with the reader's emotional age. Some books are flexible, others, relatively fragile in terms of the age at which one encounters them. Some we remember with particular fondness from our childhood, but others which we missed as children we found difficult to appreciate with the wholehearted enthusiasm of yesterday, Masefield's MIDNIGHT FOLK and even WRINKLE IN TIME come to mind.

We had a few other arbitrary criteria as well. All of the non-fiction we examined seemed too ephemeral in content; the best of these books, like Steichen's FIRST PICTURE BOOK are impossibly dated. As Ezra Pound so aptly put it: "Literature is news that STAYS news." We also decided to eliminate a class of books which Munari has called "pre-books;" titles such as PAT THE BUNNY having the attributes of toys as much as books. We have consciously steered away from books with a moral, or with any agenda other than pure delight.

We have appended contemporary reviews of the 100 books wherever possible. These are most often from The Horn Book, deferring to its long history of supporting and promoting literature for children. They sometimes stumbled over the leading edges, but they have proved remarkably astute for 75 years, from the beginning of the modern children's book.

Colt's foot, March 2003