Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Books About Books

There are so many great children's books available at the library and at bookstores. It's easy to get a little overwhelmed with the choices. Sure, you may remember some titles you read when you were a child, but what about the books that have been published since then? Here are several books that can get you on the right track:

Some may quibble with Anita Silvey's choice of title for her book, 100 Best Books for Children, but there's no doubt that she has chosen some tasty treats to be had. Silvey knows her stuff-she's the editor of the "gottahaveit" book for children's librarians, The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators (not only is it extremely informative, but it's written in a conversational and engaging style; it was one of my favorite children's literature texts in library school). Silvey doesn't merely give brief plot summaries of the book; she also tells you about the author's inspiration for the book, the writing history of the book, and biographical information on the author. Silvey includes canonical titles such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Madeline, The Story of Ferdinand, and Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, but also includes modern favorites such as Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse, Babe the Gallant Pig, and Because of Winn Dixie. The vast majority of the titles are fiction, but she does include several nonfiction titles.

Nancy Pearl, author of the popular Book Lust, recently wrote Book Crush, a similar book for children and teens. Not satisfied with simply listing books by author and title, Pearl divides the books into age categories, then categorizes them into kid and teen friendly categories ("Bedtime Stories," "Animal Tales," "Not Your Parents' Comic Books," etc). Although Pearl is known more for her adult fiction and nonfiction recommendations in her books, her website, and her broadcasts on KUOW, her first librarian job was as a children's librarian with the Detroit Public Library. She's kept current with children's literature despite refocusing her career with adult services, and her picks are spot on. You won't find much in the way of biographical information or plot summaries here; just brief mentions of titles under a wide range of categories, making it perfect for busy parents, teachers, and librarians.

Is your child not quite ready for long picture books and chapter books? Check out Great Books for Babies and Toddlers by Kathleen Odean. You will read summaries and descriptions of more than 500 books for children ages 0-3. Not only does Odean tell you about the book, she tells you why it's appealing to babies and toddlers. She also includes tips on reading aloud and ways to incorporate activities with books.

The following are my Grade A, top 3, can't go wrong picks.

Esme Raji Codell has long been a favorite of mine. She's a woman of many talents-not only is she an awesome writer of middle grade fiction (I was disappointed that Vive La Paris didn't get as much recognition as I believed it should), but she is a shameless book pusher (or as she calls herself, readiologist) of the finest kind, both on her website, her blog (which I hope hasn't been discontinued), and in her one of a kind book, How to Get Your Child to Love Reading: For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike. This is a YUUUGE book, as Donald Trump would say. But don't let that scare you off, because you would be missing out on Codell's wonderful wisdom and insight on reading aloud, why reading levels are not the best indicator of reading ability, and neat activities with books and kids. There's also the nitty gritty of the book-tons and tons of great suggestions for all sorts of interests and abilities. As a former teacher, children's bookseller, and children's librarian, Codell definitely knows what she is talking about.

When you've been the children's book editor at The New York Times for 20 years, it's safe to say that you've read the gamut of recent children's literature, from the sublime to the subpar. That's exactly the kind of experience and knowledge Eden Ross Lipson brings to The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children. Lipson includes an incredible amount of titles. Each title's entry includes a brief summary and a few comments on Lipson's reasoning for the book's inclusion (it may be as short as "hilarious"). The entries are divided into Wordless Books, Picture Books, Story Books (longer picture books), early reading books, middle reading books, and young adult books.

Finally, we come to the dean of books about children's reading and books-Jim Trelease. This is another of those "gottahaveit" books for children's librarians, teachers, and parents. Unlike the other books in this post, the main focus of Trelease's book is not summaries/descriptions of children's books, although there is a fine appendix in the book for this exact purpose. Rather, Trelease explains in inarguable, convincing, and conversational prose the importance of reading aloud to children, modeling a reading lifestyle for children, and the importance of libraries (public and school), bookstores, etc. Trelease also cautions against the temptation to overstimulate babies and children with flashcards and stuffed schedules of activities. He also devotes thoughtful chapters on television, Oprah's Book Club and the lessons that can be learned from it, series books and other so called "fast food" books, and his thoughts on teaching the "classics" in high school, among other topics. Trelease backs up his opinions with studies, statistics, anecdotal evidence from readers of previous editions and attendees of his lectures, and personal experiences with his own children and grandchildren. You do not want to miss this book, even if reading aloud and reading are already important family activities.

Trelease also has a terrific website.

Happy reading!

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