Saturday, January 14, 2023

Q&A with Alyssa Rosenberg




Alyssa Rosenberg is a columnist for The Washington Post. She recently wrote a piece headlined "To Build a Delightful Library for Kids, Start with These 99 Books."


Q: Why did you decide to create this list of essential books for kids, and how did the "culture wars" factor into it?

A: I’d been following stories about book bannings and clashes over curricula all year, and feeling progressively depressed that this is the way we’re talking about young people’s literature in public fora. There’s a lot more to be written about this trend, of course, but I wanted to try to change the tone and close out the year on a positive note.


I didn’t intend for the list to be definitive. In fact, I love how vigorously people argued with it and about it. But I did want to offer up a reminder that most of us love children’s books, and that we’re united by that affection even more than we’re divided by quibbles about specific titles.


Q: You write that you “asked dozens of parents across the political spectrum to share the children’s books they love best.” Did you find differences in what they chose, based on their political beliefs?


A: For the most part, I didn’t. Our most-nominated book, for example, Little House in the Big Woods, was a favorite of liberals and conservatives alike. There were a few writers who nominated books inspired by their faith traditions, but there was no clear political valence to the recommendations. To me, that’s exactly the point: these stories hook us in a place more primordial than our politics.


Q: How would you define a classic, and would you consider these books to be classics?


A: A rough definition of a classic might be a book that’s hooked at least two generations of readers—maybe three. Some of these are absolutely classics: Maurice Sendak’s oeuvre is part of the children’s canon, as are Laura Ingalls’ Wilder’s works and J.R.R. Tolkien’s.


Some of these books should be classics: Peter Spier is a genius, and it’s a shame his work isn’t more widely known and still in print. And some of these books may become classics over time, which is why it’s exciting to see what great new children’s books are published every year.


Q: Of the books on the list, do you have a particular favorite or two?


A: It’s so hard to choose! There’s a reason I cheated and allowed myself more recommendations than the other parents I asked. But I will say I particularly love The Pushcart War and Russell and Lillian Hoban’s books about Frances the Badger.


Q: What do you hope people take away from this article?


A: If nothing else, I hope readers end up picking up a book they hadn’t heard of before—or even one they hadn’t thought of in years. But at best, I hope that people walk away remembering that there’s so much about parenting, and about reading, that unites us.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: If you need even MORE recommendations, our readers weighed in with these great ones:


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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