Monday, October 4, 2010

Finding Great Books

There is nothing in this world like a good book (with a couple of possible exceptions, such as chocolate). It is my opinion that there is also no better book than a wonderful piece of children's literature.

British author Graham Green wrote:
Perhaps it is only in childhood that books have any deep influence on our lives... in childhood all books are books of divination, telling us about the future, and like the fortune-teller who sees a long journey in the cards or death by water, they influence the future. I suppose that is why books excited us so much. What do we ever get nowadays from reading to equal the excitement and the revelation of those first fourteen years? (from The Lost Childhood and Other Essays)
I believe that the influence of books does extend beyond childhood, but it is a special time in our lives when our imaginations are still fresh and active, where the world of a book becomes our life for a short period of time, where we can immerse ourselves the adventure of possibilities, when magic is tangible and real.

I love good children's books. And when I go searching for new-to-us ideas, I go to these places first:

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New York Times Children's Book Editor Eden Ross Lipson has created a wonderful guide for helping parents choose excellent literature for their children. I highly recommend it.

The third and most recent edition of The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children is 2000, so it's clearly out-of-date in terms of new books over the past 10+ years. However, there are still many many fabulous book choices listed and this was my picture book "bible" when my son was younger. I would use this book when looking through the library system on my home computer and I would then put an armful of books on hold each week (as I found it too hard to pull books off the shelves while keeping an eye on a social and active toddler).

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The Ultimate Book Guide is a brilliant book for helping avid readers (and parents of avid readers) make great book selections. The editors recruited several famous authors (Anne Fine, Michael Bond, Dick King-Smith, Susan Cooper, etc.) to provide the title(s) of their favourite books and to write an accompanying blurb.

The result is a delightfully annotated bibliography of children's literature that also provides a brief list of the "if you liked this, then try..." variety for each book. Plus, there are the other lists provided - such as readers' polls about "favourite heros" and "funniest books" and feature write-ups about "Everybody's Favourite" books.

Authors, such as Susan Cooper, have been asked to write short pieces on certain genres, such as Fantasy, and includes her Top Ten Fantasy Books list (although it doesn't include any of The Dark is Rising titles - I guess she couldn't nominate her own work!).

And there is also a version for young adult (teen) literature.

Warning: very British. Which we like. Very much.

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Jim Trelease's The Read Aloud Handbook is a classic choice for finding great read out loud selections for your family.

The first half of the book deals with the importance of reading aloud. He provides very compelling reasons for continuing to read aloud to your children, even after they become competent readers themselves, no matter their age. And he also has information on how to help children want to read and want to learn to read.

In addition to this great information, he also lists over 1200 titles of books that work well as read alouds. Definitely take it out of the library and see if you want to add it to you own collection of resources.

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Every year (around this time) in the "blogosphere," there is a wonderful event called The Cybils, which stands for Children and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards.

From October 1 to October 15, the "public" (that means you and me) can nominate our favourite children's or YA lit choices from the past 12 publishing months.

You can only nominate one book for each category. After the nominations have closed, the list of nominated books for each category is divvied up between volunteer readers. Then there are two rounds of judging, etc. until each category is narrowed down to one amazing book that certainly is deserving.

What I really love the best about the Cybils is the short list after the first round of judging. I mine this list every year in order to find great book finds in the following genres:

  • Easy Readers/Short Chapter Books
  • Fantasy and Science Fiction
  • Fiction Picture Books
  • Graphic Novels
  • Middle Grade Fiction
  • Non-Fiction Picture Books
  • Non-Fiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult
  • Poetry
  • Young Adult Fiction

This is one of my favourite resources - if you haven't heard of the Cybils before, you might want to peruse the past years' finalists and winners for quality reading material.

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You can find an abundance of websites about children's books. Here are a few places to begin your online explorations.

Suggestions for homeschoolers from Freda Nobbs of Bolen Books (all ages).

Marty Layne has a blog about great read aloud selections she enjoyed with her own children.

KidsReads.com This is a great site for looking for book reviews. It's also a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of what's new and what's soon-to-be-published in the land of KidLit.

The School Library Journal has a number of regular blogs on its site. One I quite like is A Fuse #8 Production. There are lots of reviews of new books for all ages. If you have a comic-lover in the house, you may enjoy looking through the Good Comics for Kids blog.

It's hard to go wrong with a Newbery Award winning book. You can find lists of all the medal winners, as well as the "Honor" books, at the Association for Library Services to Children website.

You can also find the Caldecott Medal winners at the same site.

In Britain, the big prizes in Children's Literature are the Carnegie Medal and the Kate Greenaway Medal (illustrations).

In Canada, our big award for Children's literature, both text and illustration in French and English, is the Governor General's Literary Award.

Cynthia Leitich Smith has a great site that has everything from lists of Children's and YA book authors and illustrators websites to annotated bibliographies organized according to genre or theme.

The Graphic Novel Report has reviews on graphic novel offerings for kids.

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If you have a favourite website or resource for children's book recommendations, please share it in the comments. It will be greatly appreciated.