What Makes a Great Book?

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I finished reading a book yesterday that, although it is not a children’s book, brought children’s books to mind. The book is Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton.  Near the end of the book there is a discussion about what makes a classic work of art, and this passage caught my attention:

Great art is essentially work that has proven inexhaustible in terms of the value it gives to those who pay attention to it.  It says, “I am in the present tense despite the fact that I was made five or fifty years ago.”

I have been looking at a list of the Top 100 Children’s Fiction Chapter Books compiled by the most well-known children’s literature blogger, Fuse # 8. ( Fuse # 8’s blog appears on the School Library Journal web site).  And, it occurred to me that this quote applies to every book on the list.  Think about why kids still read:  The BFG Charlotte’s Web, The Giver and A Wrinkle in Time, to name 4 out of 100.  Inexhaustible is the best word to describe them.

When Fern asks” Where’s Papa going with that ax?” the scene is urgent.  I hear kids talk about how funny Roald Dahl is every day.  Older students understand that The Giver is asking them hard questions about their own lives.  And Meg Murray is alive for every child who has read A Wrinkle in Time.  For the kids who love them, these books are in “the present tense” regardless of their publication date.


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