Mount Rushmore – Children’s Author Editions

Hey!  Something I know about!  Which means I’ll probably get twice as many hate-comments.  Don’t worry… I haven’t yet realized my dream of turning the “Fast and Furious” movies into a series of pop-up books so neither myself, Vin Diesel, or Paul Walker will have anything to do with this week’s mountain.

Theodor Geisel:  If you’re wondering who the heck Theodor Geisel is, go punch yourself in the face.  Done?  Okay.  Theodor Geisel — better known by his pseudonym of Dr. Seuss — is probably the only obvious lock for this mountain.  I shouldn’t even need to explain this one.  He’s the Babe Ruth of children’s authors.

J.K. Rowling:  Possibly the most controversial choice I’m putting on my mountain.  Rowling isn’t without her faults.  I am actually a pretty big critic of hers.  I don’t think she is a particularly great writer.  Her fantasy language is predictable and derivative (The good guys are Griffindor, the bad guys are Slitherin, and the doofuses are Hufflepuff?  Really?), she relies too heavily on deus ex machina (Why the fuck don’t they ever use the Time Turner again???), and she ignored major ethical issues in her universe (They have magical hospitals that only treat wizards but not muggles?).  But those are largely adult issues.  More importantly, she got an entire generation of children excited about reading.  She spawned (or breathed life back into, at least) a genre of literature that has only been outpaced recently by Adolescent Vampire Fiction (Yes, there is a section for that in B&N now).  She had a huge cultural impact.  I think her books will be classics we look back on in the future.

Maurice Sendak:  Some of this guy’s stuff is way out there.  Much of it is only really posing as a children’s book.  But Where The Wild Things Are was such a monumental piece of literature that his inclusion is a must.  Sendak’s Max was the first child character to really show a full range of emotions.  He gets angry.  He disobeys.  He’s incredulous when called out for his behavior.  And he retreats into a fantasy land where he can further indulge his wild side.  He is the wild thing.  We all have a wild thing inside us.  And children in his target audience are struggling to make sense of how to manage those urges.  Sendak rejected the Victorian ideal of what children should be and saw them for what they are: utterly human.  His book changed how future writers crafted their characters.

Ezra Jack Keats:  I batted around three names for this final spot: Robert Munsch, Mo Willems, and Keats.  Children would probably rank Willems and Munsch ahead of Mr. Keats.  And I’m hard pressed to argue with them when it comes to assessing their entertainment value: Willems and Munsch can get children and adults laughing until it hurts.  But there is something uniquely powerful about Keats capturing some of the seemingly more mundane aspects of a child’s life and imbuing them with magic.  Munsch and Willems get what make children laugh; Keats gets what makes children tick.  There is also something to be said for his ability to fill his books primarily with children of color living in urban environments without making either of those the focus of the story.  That said, if you have young children (aged four to seven, I’d say), you can’t go wrong with a box set of either Munsch’s or Willem’s books.

What ya got?

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103 thoughts on “Mount Rushmore – Children’s Author Editions

  1. How old a kid are we talking about? I haven’t read any of the Potter books it seems like they are older kids or adolescent books while Seuss is for much younger kids. In any case Seuss is number 1. No right thinking person would argue that.

    Have you thought about Charles Schultz? Peanuts can be read by children. His work is, at its best, powerful for children. It has emotion, characters kids can relate to without treating them as ijits and is thoughtful.

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    • I’d say greginak is right about the inclusion of Rowling. Those books seem a different style than the others. I might swap her out and put in Munsch. (I don’t know EJK, so I’d be inclined to leave him off, but, perhaps paradoxically, no being familiar with him, I’m hesitant to say he isn’t worthy.)

      Actually, I’m changing that up. Here are my four: Suess, Munsch, Sendak and Beatrix Potter.

      You might want a separate list for Rowling. She might fit on a mountain with people like Laura Engels Wilder, LM Montgomery and Beverly Cleary (although that looks pretty gender-segregated).

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      • The early HP books are great read-a-loud stories for younger children. Actually, one of the complaints is that Rowling’s pace with the series was too slow and that some children outgrew the series before its completion.

        EJK’s most famous book is probably “The Snowy Day”. His use of collage work is also remarkable. I just love that his books talk about the people who live upstairs and show kids walking down city streets in a casual manner.

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    • I opted not to make any such distinction because it probably would have made the argument about where I draw the line. That said, people are always entitled to use their own criteria for Mount Rushmore.

      I didn’t even think about Schultz. For whatever reason, when I think “author”, I don’t think “comics”. Which is my own bias.

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  2. My nominations (more young-adultish than “children’s”):

    1. Madeleine L’Engle

    2. Judy Blume

    3. Robert Cormier

    4. “Choose your own adventure” style books.

    Well, #4 isn’t an author–and I mean all such books, not just the CYOA franchise, but also the “Time Machine” franchise and others.

    As I said, these are all more young adult-ish than “children’s.” And they’re probably dated, reflecting what I read more than what’s probably out there now.

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  3. No list, just a warning.

    Any Mount Rushmore with Eric Carle on it (face rendered in chunky ’60s-’70s colors, and probably anatomically incorrect, say with upside-down ears like the wings of the g-d butterfly in Hungry Caterpillar) is getting dynamited by a very angry Glyph.

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      • Well, the upside-down wings is all on Carle. (Though 10 Little Rubber Ducks is just as internally-repetitive as Caterpillar, and Busy Spider and Quiet Cricket are just rehashes of Caterpillar, so he’s not off the hook with me).

        I realize Martin wrote those other books, and he can burn in hell too – have you ever noticed that the animals can be 2-syllable (“brown bear”), 3-syllable (“panda bear”) or even 4-syllable (“spider monkey”) and keep the flow; but even with such wide latitude, he’ll throw in crap like “Macaroni Penguin” (instead of just “penguin”), and totally muck up the reading cadence?

        GAH

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  4. Miho Obana — isn’t afraid to tackle tough questions.
    Yoshihiro Togashi — man, his worldbuilding is awesome.
    Douman Seiman — his style of storytelling is brief, small tales that weave themselves together.
    Hirohiko Araki — because I’m always a fan of surrealism (suppose I ought to mention Renjuro Kindaichi).

    … in other news, Japanese kids are exposed to a lot more than American kids, at least in the form of entertainment.

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  5. Tangential to the topic, but if you [liked / liked with reservations / found yourself reading to your kids but didn’t much care for] some or all of the Harry Potter series, check out The Magicians and The Magician King by Lev Grossman.

    It is a somewhat dark fantasy that actually takes seriously a lot of the questions Harry Potter glosses over – the ethical issues of exclusive and secret schools of magic, the necessity of quashing, sometimes brutally, “non-academic” magic, the alienation of people who went off to school for years and returned with immense powers that they can’t demonstrate or even discuss with anyone they knew, etc.

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      • Finding and caring about plotholes is a good thing for a critical reader.
        What’s even more fun, if you can manage it, is talking to the author —
        and discovering that it wasn’t an actual plothole, but that the actual
        explanation was cut for time (and still perfectly plausible given the information available to you).

        … not saying Rowling’s got an explanation, mind.

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      • @Kazzy: The way the “time machine” worked, it couldn’t really change the past unless you had already changed the past. (Confused yet?) Nothing Harry or Hermione did in the past actually changed anything, it just gave them more information about what actually happened the first time around (the axe thunked on a pumpkin, not the hippogriff; Harry saved his own life; etc.)

        To put it another way: there is only one time stream, and it never branches. Once you know something has happened, you can’t go back and change it. This presents the HP universe as one where free will is just an illusion, since no other courses are possible.

        (Also, all the time turners were destroyed in book five. Simpler answer?)

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      • Thanks, .

        I don’t remember the TTs being destroyed in book five, but that’s on me. I thought I remember the trio being able to change things in the past but your explanation makes sense.

        In general, I struggle with the fantasy genre because it seems like many of its creators pick and choose based on convenience how the laws of their universe work. It is why I grew increasingly frustrated with “Lost”… they simply invented new “Island Magic” whenever it was convenient. The Harry Potter universe didn’t seem bound by consistent rules or laws. Which isn’t the worst thing in the world, especially for a book aimed at a younger audience and written by an amateur (which I don’t mean as a slight, but it is my understanding that Rowling didn’t have formal training in story telling, writing, etc.). But for someone like me, it’s torture. That’s on me though. It is why I tend to avoid the genre. I just end up nitpicking and getting angry.

        Even just using the TT to gather information would have been very helpful. Someone (Kim?) mentioned that there would be “dire consequences” if it was used to go back further in time. But given that they were facing the end of the world as they knew it, it’d seem reasonable to take that risk. They could have learned where Voldemort hid the Horcruxes, gotten a better understanding of Snape’s relationship with the Potters, and known what really happened with Sirius Black.

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      • Kazzy,
        Suggest you check out Kulthea (Shadow World) or Niven’s fantasy books. Certain people believe in rule-based magic, even if it’s not comprehensible to the earthlings (that’s what makes it magic).

        You know you’ve reached a rather extraordinary fantasy gaming world when you have tidal charts for a three-moon system (the tides affect the magic…)

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      • In general, I struggle with the fantasy genre because it seems like many of its creators pick and choose based on convenience how the laws of their universe work.

        I rather like Brandon Sanderson’s approach.

        Sanderson’s First Law of Magics: An author’s ability to solve conflict with magic is DIRECTLY PROPORTIONAL to how well the reader understands said magic.

        Summarising if you want to use magic in a story without it spoiling the tension you can either keep it as background colour or make it a concrete thing. Not necessarily with detailed rules but things like ‘these characters can go back in time to change stuff’ should be treated as facts like ‘cars are faster than horses’, already known or at least implied and not capable of being changed because it solves a problem. That way when a problem is solved using magic it is really being solved by the characters applying their knowledge to the situation rather than deus ex machina, or as I like to think of it ‘the make everything right button’.

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      • My favorite rules of magic are in CJ Cherryh’s books, particularly her Fortress series and the Russian series. Both series comply with the notion that magic extends from thought, that controlling it requires extreme control of your thoughts, and it has a direct cost to the magician.

        I’d also recommend Patricia McKillip’s work — all of it. Starting with something like the Book of Atrix Wolfe or Song for Basilisk.

        The Prydain Chorincles by Lloyd Alexander.

        And Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising novels are amazing.

        In my humble opinion, women know and write of magic best, too. Their magic is linked to consequence, not just raw power.

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    • Good god I hated that Magicians book. Yuck. Puke. What a trite dudely fantasy about disaffected nerds and the ways they totally don’t understand women.

      Seriously, that book was bad on top of bad.

      It’s a pity. I would love a good book about magicians. Very much.

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    • The Magicians and The Magician King also challenge the assumptions of Narnia and make believe worlds by turning a place of refuge for children into something really dark. They are really great books. What I really like is how the people get real maladjusted by learning magic and the psychological damage done to those that know magic exists but did not make the cut for the school.

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      • “challenge the assumptions of Narnia and make believe worlds by turning a place of refuge for children”

        I haven’t read Grossman, but…are you sure you have read the Narnia books, or much fantasy/fairy tale? Because I’m pretty sure most fantasy works on the assumption that there is no easy refuge for children in this world or any other, and that the world is a dark and dangerous place, what with the witches and trolls and dragons trying to eat kids, and undead warriors in iron cauldrons, and wise lions being slain on stone tables, etc. etc. etc.

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  6. Geisel
    Silverstein
    Sendak
    and uh… Alcott? I dunno. After those first three, I’m pretty much at a loss. We can just make Geisel’s head double the size.

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  7. Lloyd Alexander. Wonderful books for kids and a very nice guy. I wrote him a fan letter around 1992 and he wrote back a very thoughtful and lengthy response. It was typed on a manual typewriter and hand signed on personal stationery, which was very cool. I still have it 20+ years later.

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  8. I’m going to disagree slightly with most of the people here, because I think it’s important to separate YA books from children’s books. So I would think you’d need to disqualify Rowling, L’Engle, Blume, etc.

    I think for me, you’re looking at these four in this order:

    1. Dr. Seuss/Theodor Geisel

    2. Maurice Sendack

    3. A.A. Milne — Who, for those without kids, is the guy who did the Winnie the Pooh series in addition to others.

    4. Arnold Lobel — Who, for those without kids, is the guy who did the Frog and Toad series in addition to others.

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    • Lobel is a great choice. There is no shortage of fine authors. I tend to favor those who impacted the field/genre/whathaveyou. If you gave me the choice between Lobel’s collection and Rowling’s, I’d choose Lobel. But I think we’ll end up seeing Rowling as a gamechanger in a way that we don’t see Lobel.

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      • We spoke previously (I think had the best contributions) on the way that the F&T stories balance a very strange absurdity with an amazing, childish simpleness. On one hand, they capture the psyche of lil’uns quite well. On the other, what the fuck, man!

        Some of them are borderline sitcom plots. Like the one where Frog and Toad each decide to surprise the other by raking his friend’s leaves. They each sneak over to the others’ house, rake the leaves, and sneak back. But en route, each leaf pile is blown about. They return to their own yard, very much in need of a raking, and prepare to tackle it tomorrow, content that they’ve done something nice for their friend. It’s beautiful! Absurdist! And hilarious!

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    • I am going to go a head and agree with what said regarding YA vs. kids. And his choices are good, with the exception of he who’s name rhymes with hack. Replace with Ezra Jack Keats for the quad crown.

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  9. Age groups matter here, a ton. Rowling and Suess really shouldn’t be on the same list.

    Then you probably want to differentiate between who between authors and illustrators.

    For small kids, Margaret Wise Brown belongs up there. I’d put her up before Sendak, pretty easily.
    Though a lot of credit has to go to Clement Hurd and Garth Williams as some of her best books are hard to imagine without the illustrations.

    Arnold Loebel is another strong choice, though it might just be that I love doing voices for the characters.

    My young set would be Suess, Brown, Loebel and Keats with a special spot for Sendak and Mark Alan Stamaty.
    (Seriously – go order Who Needs Donuts right now).

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  10. Theodor Seuss Geisel
    Shel Silverstein
    Arnold Lobel
    Roald Dahl

    (I already +1’d Lobel upthread, but we’re not actually counting scores, right?)

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  11. 1. Seuss.

    2. Sendak

    These two are indisputable. Your argument is invalid.

    3. Kevin Henkes. His books are whimsical delights. “Owen,” “Chrysanthemum,” “Chester’s Way” and “Julius, the Baby of the World” are all classics. They deal with familiar topics (an unusual name, how to let go of a security blanket, etc) in a manner small children can understand and parents will appreciate.

    4. Mo Willems. I cannot believe that nobody has mentioned him yet. He is easily the most talented children’s author working today. His books are a scream, and we have so many. “Knuffle Bunny” and its sequels are particularly wonderful, though it took me several readings of “Knuffle Bunny Free” before I could read the ending without choking up. His collaboration with Jon J Muth (another wonderful children’s author, whose “Zen Shorts” is a delight, and who did the art for the end of The Sandman) “City Dog, Country Frog” has the single most poignant illustration you’ll ever see in any book, ever.

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    • Dude, I mentioned Willems right in the OP. He was of consideration for a spot on the mountain!

      Have you read Henkes’ “Lily’s Purple Plastic Purse”? Talk about a book that captures a very difficult but very real moment for a child. As a teacher, I particularly enjoy it (for reasons which should be obvious to those who’ve read it). I also like “Wemberly Worried”… in part because Zazzy is Wemberly. A great book to read to a kid before his/her first day of school.

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  12. All my candidates for Rushmore have already been named. (Suess, Sendak, Alexander, for sure.) But I’d like to put in a word for Marjorie Weinman Sharmat, who wrote a series about a character named “Nate the Great”, a kid that solves mysteries while feeding his dog pancakes and being annoyed by an eccentric neighborhood girl who has four cats and an obvious crush on Nate. He narrates the stories in Runyonesque fashion. And they’re pretty good, fair mysteries: we had fun figuring them out together and then seeing if we were right.

    Also Jean Merril. Every kid should read the Pushcart War.

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  13. I’d suggest two mountains are needed, the first for picture books, the second for novels.

    My picture book list would include:

    1. Dr. Seuss
    2. Maurice Sendak
    3. Arnold Loebel
    4. Robert McCloskey

    Poetry:

    1. Where the Sidewalk Ends and A Light in the Attick by Shel Silverstein
    2.
    Readable Rhymes for the Very Young, Jack Prelutsky (editor, Arnold Loebel illustrated)
    3. When We Were Very Young, A. A. Milne

    Novels:

    1. J. K. Rawling
    2. Lloyd Alexander
    3. Susan Cooper
    4. Neil Gaimon
    5. (since there are only 3 poetry and he also wrote poetry), Roald Dahl

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  14. If I had a *personal* Mount Rushmore of children’s books, just for what mattered to me rather than what seems important to the broad culture, it would of course look quite different.

    In no particular order,
    1. Kenneth Grahame
    2. Madeleine L’Engle
    3. Beatrix Potter
    4. Ursula K. Nordstrom (read the brief article at that link! it and its accompanying artwork are just *excellent*). A lot of people haven’t heard of Nordstrom, so let me just say that she was a publishing maven who prodded-to-try-children’s-books, nurtured, stuck up for, and/or (mostly and) edited all the following authors-who-were-important-to-me and more: Maurice Sendak, Crockett Johnson, Margaret Wise Brown, E.B. White, Shel Silverstein, Syd Hoff, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Ruth Krauss, Charlotte Zolotow, Louise Fitzhugh, Garth Williams, Russell Hoban, Jean Craighead George, M.E. Kerr, and Arnold Lobel.

    Honestly if you wanted to make a Mount Rushmore for JUST Ursula K. Nordstrom, I’d be ok with that. Though she probably would get mad at you and urge you to put all her beloved authors up there instead.

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  15. I have copies of all my childhood best-loved literature at home so will swamp the thread later but really Kazzy how could you have forgotton Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series?

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      • I also think Lewis was probably a fantastic writer, but I don’t know that he was a fantastic children’s writer. He took adult themes and couched them in a children’s universe but didn’t have mass appeal for children, many of whom missed what made his writing great. I think among young people, you’d find a very small but dedicated group of precocious fans.

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      • Tolkien’s books weren’t written for kids, so I don’t count them as children’s books.

        I loved the Narnia series as a kid, my copies fell apart from being re-read so often, so Lewis probably gets up there if we’re talking novels for older children.

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      • As the risk of being laudatory, I’d venture to guess you were among the smarter children around.

        I think the Narnia series (which I didn’t read in its entirety but I did re-read LWW as an adult) was incredibly well-written, but didn’t do anything revolutionary aside from all the Christian allegory. If you were a smart kid who was into fantasy, I’m sure it rung your bell. If you weren’t — like me (I was pretty smart, but not into fantasy) — it was just another book the teachers made you read.

        However, the extent to which it made fantasy novels for young people a thing (I don’t know the history of the genre) might make Lewis a bigger deal than I’m giving him credit for.

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      • Am I misremembering it, or was A Horse and His Boy mindnumbingly boring?

        It is a bit tedious but I wouldn’t go as far as mindnumbing, though I don’t think I’ve read it since I was 12.It is quite a different story to the others though. All other Narnia books are about children from our world going into Narnia whereas A Horse and His Boy is set entirely in that world, I don’t think other worlds are even mentioned though I could be misremembering. It also hints at a different perspective on that world. In most of the books Narnia is the centre of the world – in fact from The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe I thought Narnia was the name of that universe not of one country within it. In Horse though Narnia is mentioned alongside Archenland as one of the small nations scattered round the borders of the great Calormen Empire.

        I always thought someone should explore that contradiction more as it is one of the few hints that our view of Narnia is actually a limited and biased one and I think it might be possible to get a very different and perhaps more interesting story treating Lewis’ works as Narnian propaganda that obscures the reality.

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  16. Some of these show my age and reading habits as a kid, but….

    Mo Willems – This is the only new one of the bunch. My son loves the Pigeon books and I think they are very clever too.
    Edgar Rice Burroughs – I grew up reading John Carter and Tarzan. Still remember bits of them. Most likely they have not aged well.
    Franklin W. Dixon – Though this would be tough since many people wrote under this name. So, maybe Edward Stratemeyer. I read so many of these. Probably have not aged well either and I here they rewrote some to be more PC. I read the ones that were not.
    Theodor Geisel: Uninspired, but how can he not be here?

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  17. Picture Books:

    1. Theodor Geisel, yes, obviously.

    2. Maurice Sendak, of course.

    3. Ludwig Bemelmans, for Madeline. I may be aging myself here, but I do read these to my little boy, now, and he loves, loves, loves them. Which does an old gay heart good.
    True story: when I was five, my grandmother gave me a boxed set of LP’s, with Carol Channing reading the Madeline stories. Let me repeat: Carol Channing reading the Madeline stories. I now wonder, was she trying to make me gay? Or did she already know? I’ll never find out.

    4. Robert McClosky, for Make Way for Ducklings, Bluberries for Sal, etc.

    And honorable mention: Virginia Lee Burton, for Mike Mulligan, the Little House, etc.

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  18. Four novelists:

    1. Ursula K. LeGuin, for Earthsea, and Catwings.

    2. Roald Dahl, for so many, but especially, of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the Witches, James and the Giant Peach.

    3. Madeleine L’Engle, for “A Wrinkle in Time” and others.

    4. Lemony Snickett, for “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and “All the Wrong Questions.”

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