The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Image
The Bulletin
of the Center for Children's Books

The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Classic Losers

Some of you may have read the July 7 “Literary Losers” opinion piece in the weekend Wall Street Journal, wherein a commentator (nameless in the electronic version I saw) laments the summer reading lists that are filled with what the writer judged to be lackluster and soap-operatic formula reading—one book named is, bizarrely, Edward Bloor's resonant Tangerine —when they could be studded with classics such as Black Beauty or 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. While the essay seemed to be the usual "read as I did as a child, not as I do now" complaint (judging by the New York Times Bestseller Lists, adults aren't exactly spending the summer revisiting great books en masse), there was a particularly interesting turn: the author was deriving his/her negative opinions not from actually reading the books themselves but from the rigorous examination of their one-sentence summaries.

I've always perversely enjoyed such summaries, ever since reading a plot description of Nicholas Nickleby that described the plot thusly: "Nicholas and his sister are beset by their evil uncle. They find freedom with the help of friends." (It's almost like hearing Dickens' own voice, isn't it?) I therefore offer the nameless editorial writer—and our website audience—brief annotations for the classics, so that such titles might be more fairly judged alongside the new material s/he has found lacking.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
A girl takes a long journey wherein she meets various playing cards.

Black Beauty
A horse tells his story of being employed as transportation in the Victorian era.

Charlotte's Web
A pig meets a spider, which dies.

Cinderella (Grimms version)
A tree helps a girl dress for a party.

Goodnight, Moon
At day's end, a rabbit parent offers a valedictory to various household objects.

Green Eggs and Ham
A creature repeatedly refuses strangely colored food.

An orphan is sent to stay with her misanthropic grandfather and a large number of goats.

The Little Engine that Could
A steam engine negotiates an incline.

Little House in the Big Woods
A girl does chores and squabbles with her sister in a time before television.

Little Women
Four girls do chores and squabble with their sisters in a time before television.

Peter Rabbit
A rabbit emulates his father in destroying a garden.

Treasure Island
Hoping to find money to support his widowed mother, an eighteenth-century boy gets caught up in violent criminal activity. 

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This page was last updated on August 1, 2006.