Well yes and no. There is the list of Caldecott winners, and Newberry Award winners, given each year. And there are books that are just known as great children’s literature — Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit. But overall I know of no real consensus on a children’s canon for schools or as a check list for homeschools.
Wikipedia lists some 100 classic children’s books from the 19th and 20th century, but it seems to be missing a number of my own favorites. I mean Three Billy Goats Gruff isn’t in there. And I bet others would agree that there are books they would consider truly great that aren’t there.
The lure of talking about “what is a really great book,” is profound. But in all this desire to rank and categorize books as major and minor, I think something is being lost. Certainly we don’t want to find ourselves reading “minor” books when “major” ones would be better. But in the mystical transaction between writer and reader, there is no third party. In a very real sense, someone else’s opinion about the book doesn’t really matter, your own does. Books which have made a profound mark on me were quite honestly nothing special to friends. There are a few books which have made a profound effect on a large number of people, but the question of how profound an effect the book has to make on how many people is amorphous. There is no answer. It becomes like talking about, as they used to say, angels dancing on a pin.
So I guess, no, I don’t believe there is a mystical list of classic texts for children that everyone should have read before they were 18. There are more popular and less popular books. But until you’ve read them, you won’t know how popular the book is for you, and really that’s all that matters.
So what should you do? Develop discernment in you children regarding book selection. Whether in a classroom or home, the method is the same. I’ll write about that tomorrow.