R5 The New Classics

Sure, everyone loves The Wizard of Oz and Winnie the Pooh, but what books or films have come out recently that can be placed on the shelves next to those heavyweights and hold their own? We asked Judith Rovenger, director of youth services for the Westchester Library System, John Sexton, teen services consultant and specialist for the Westchester Library System, and Emily Keating, director of education programs at the Jacob Burns Film Center. Their recommendations follow.

Pre-School, Kindergarten, & Elementary School

Judith Rovenger’s Picks

[Picture Books]

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato
By Lauren Child (Candlewick, 2000)
When Lola refuses to eat certain foods, her older brother, Charlie, devises clever ways to change her mind. “The charm of the book is the relationship between Lola and Charlie—his inventiveness and her determination,” Rovenger says.


The Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
By Mo Willems (Hyperion, 2004)
In this Caldecott Honor-winning book, young Trixie loses her beloved stuffed bunny, and somehow needs to communicate this to her father. The book, Rovenger says, “captures the drama and frustration of a toddler trying to make herself understood.” It’s also famous for its inventive mixed-media style, which puts drawn illustrations against photographic backgrounds.

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The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
By Mordicai Gerstein (Roaring Brook, 2003)
Philippe Petit’s 1974 tightrope walk has been immortalized in legend and in film, but you’ve never seen it like this. The poetic Caldecott Medal winner is, she says, “breathtaking in its beauty and power to inspire.”

No, David!
By David Shannon (Blue Sky/Scholastic, 1998)
“Shannon nails the parental frustration and unconditional love for a child who is always doing something he’s not supposed to,” she says. We’re sure some of you can relate.

By Ian Falconer (Atheneum, 2000)
Who doesn’t love the delightful pig? Says Rovenger, “Olivia is a welcome new addition to the pantheon of picture book characters with personalities that can hardly be contained within the pages of a book.”

 Continue reading for Chapter Books, Films, and our Middle School and Young Adults section

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[Chapter Books]

Bud Not Buddy
By Christopher Paul Curtis (Delacorte, 1999)
This coming-of-age tale follows a 10-year-old in Flint, Michigan, who heads off to find his father during the Great Depression. “The added bonus,” says Rovenger, “is the underlying story of the Depression and growing up black in the era of Jim Crow.”


By Neil Gaiman (HarperCollins, 2002)
This beloved book from fantasy author Neil Gaiman follows a young girl who discovers a secret door in her house, which leads to a world that’s almost exactly like her own—but with some disturbing differences. “It has the whimsical appeal of Alice Through the Looking-Glass, with a deliciously eerie and macabre tone to suit modern sensibilities,” she says.

https://westchestermagazine.com/images/2009/WM%20September%2009/Kids%20books/the-giver.jpg The Giver
By Lois Lowry (Houghton, 1993)
The Giver takes place in a futuristic world where all of society’s ills have been eliminated. However, there are consequences to perfection. Chilling and thought-provoking, The Giver has received the Newbery Medal, the Regina Medal, and was named “Best Book of the Year” by the School Library Journal.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
By J. K. Rowling (A.A. Levine/Scholastic,1998)
It’s inconceivable that you haven’t heard about the young wizard and his attempts to avenge his parents and stop the evil Lord Voldemort. “Part of the series’ appeal is the proximity of the magical world to our world,” Rovenger says.

Love That Dog
by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins, 2001)
In a book that’s both humorous and serious, a boy named Jack learns to get over his hatred of poetry, which eventually gives him a way to process his grief for his deceased dog. “This book resonates with kids,” Rovenger says.

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Emily Keating’s Picks

Directed by Andrew Davis (Walt Disney Pictures, 2003)
This film, based on the award-winning book and starring a young Shia LaBeouf, is about a young boy who tries to deal with a family curse while at a summer camp for delinquent children. The action shifts between the boy’s present, his family’s past (and that dang curse), and the story of a 19th-century bandit who pulled her heists near the current campsite. “It plays with sequence,” says Keating, “and for many viewers, it’s the first time they’ve experienced that.”

The Iron Giant
Directed by Brad Bird (Warner Bros Animation, 1999)
Like E.T., this animated film is a touching tale of a boy who befriends a being from outer space—only this being is a humongous alien robot that just might be a weapon out to destroy Earth. Directed by Ratatouille’s Brad Bird, “this was right at the beginning of computer animation,” says Keating, “and you can see it as a turning point.”

Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events
Directed by Brad Silberling (Paramount Pictures, 2004)
Based on a series of books (written by the mysterious Snicket himself), the film follows the three Baudelaire orphans in their attempts to find a new home—away from the influence of the evil Count Olaf. “It has an epic quality,” she says. “There’s enough fantasy to make the story larger-than-life.”

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory
Directed by Mel Stuart (Paramount Pictures, 1971) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Directed by Tim Burton (Warner Bros Pictures, 2005)
These two takes on Roald Dahl’s classic book couldn’t be more different—and, even though Dahl is credited on the screenplay for the 1971 version, it’s the 2005 edition that hews closer to the source material. “Kids love to compare the new version with the original,” she says.

 Continue reading for our Middle School and Young Adult section.


Middle School & Young Adult

John Sexton’s Picks


By Laurie Halse Anderson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)
Anderson’s first novel paints a heartbreaking portrait of an outcast high school freshman who isolates herself after her rape at a summer party. “No young-adult book grappling with topical issues has struck a chord more deeply or with as much acclaim,” Sexton says.


First Part Last

By Angela Johnson (Simon & Schuster, 2003)
“Johnson broke new ground in this lyrical tale of teen pregnancy,” he says, noting that the novel is unusual because it’s “told from the perspective of the teen father.”



The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party
By M.T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2006)
The book centers around Octavian, a slave whose adventures range from being
experimented on in a house of radicals to wearing an iron mask as a captive of the Revolutionary War. “In this startlingly original saga, Anderson created the first epic of young adult literature while exploring issues of intellect, freedom, loyalty, patriotism, and love,” Sexton says.


By Walter Dean Myers (HarperCollins, 1999)
In this book, protagonist Steve is on trial for participating in the murder of a convenience-store clerk. “Uniquely framed as a screenplay inside a diary inside a novel, Monster works on many levels,” he says.

By David Almond (Delacorte, 1999)
The book’s main character seems to experience normal pre-teen struggles, but it all changes when he comes across Skellig, a fantastic being that is described as a cross between an angel and an owl. Says Sexton, “A seemingly simple tale of innocence, loss, and grief employs magical realism to shape the journey of a boy toward a deeper understanding of life.”


Emily Keating’s Picks

Edward Scissorhands
Directed by Tim Burton (20th Century Fox, 1990)
“Edward is the perfect outsider,” Keating says. And how: Poor Edward, in his black leather getup with long blades for fingers, sticks out miserably in Burton’s Technicolor suburbia. “Kids love this movie because they often feel like outsiders,” she says.

Rabbit-Proof Fence
Directed by Phillip Noyce (The Australian Film Commission, 2002)
This little Australian film, about the way the Australian government treats three Aboriginal girls, is a staple of the Jacob Burns educational curriculum. “It’s a look at racism outside the United States,” she says.

Spirited Away
Directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Studio Ghibli, 2001)
Interest in anime, or Japanese animation, has exploded in the last decade, and there’s not a director in the field who’s more well-liked or respected than Hayao Miyazaki. “This film is vibrant, zany, and surreal,” she says.

Whale Rider
Directed by Niki Caro (ApolloMedia, 2002)
This film also takes place Down Under (New Zealand this time) and is about a tribe of indigenous people and their inherent stereotypes. This time, a young girl has to prove that she’s worthy of becoming the chief. “The main character stands up for herself,” Keating says, “and believes that girls aren’t second to boys.”

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