Free eBook: How to Choose Children’s Books

How to Choose Children's Books, eBook CoverWell, I’m happy to report that I finally finished my eBook, How to Choose Children’s Books, which I’ve been working on for the past year or so.  The download page is here and the book is free.  You can also get there by clicking the title page graphic to the right.

Here’s what you’ll find inside:

  • Practical tips on picking great books for kids of all ages—infant through young adult.
  • Guidance on what makes books attractive and developmentally valuable for children.
  • Analysis of themes, illustrations, stories, and the use of humor in children’s books.
  • Philosophical reflections on the role of children’s books in the development of character.
  • A comprehensive list of online resources for finding excellent children’s literature, including book lists, sources of professional book reviews, and children’s literature blogs.

Continue reading

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Counting Book: One Moose, Twenty Mice by Clare Beaton

counting book, learning numbers for preschoolcounting book, learning numbers for preschool
Title: One Moose, Twenty Mice
Author: Clare Beaton
Genre: Toddler board book (Counting book)
Age Category: Infant to 2 years

Summary: A Children’s Counting Book

Clare Beaton’s One Moose, Twenty Mice is a counting book to help with learning numbers for preschool.  It begins with the following statement/question: “One moose, but where’s the cat?”  Each subsequent page continues the pattern established on the first page.  For example, the second and third pages say, “Two crabs, but where’s the cat?” and “Three ladybugs, but where’s the cat?”  The pages continue counting up in the same way until the last page, which says, “Twenty mice, and here’s the cat!”

The illustrations are scenes of colorful stitched fabrics (mostly felt), ribbons, buttons, sequins, and beads that depict the numbers and animals mentioned in the text.  Importantly, in each scene (except the last) the cat is hiding somewhere.  In the last scene the cat is finally in full view, chasing twenty white mice! Continue reading

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The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Title: The Adventures of Tinitin: The Secret of the UnicornThe Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn
Author: Hergé (Georges Rémi)
Genre: Adventure comic book
Age category: 8-12 years

With the scheduled December 2011 release of Steven Spielberg’s movie, The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, I thought I would review the classic 1959 middle-grade comic with the same title by the Belgian artist Georges Rémi (1907-1983), who created under the name Hergé.  The Tintin comics were some of my favorites as a child, and my kids have now started enjoying them too.  If you would like to see the trailer for Spielberg’s upcoming movie, click here.

Summary: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn

The Adventures of Tinitin: The Secret of the UnicornThe Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn opens with a news report that incidences of petty thievery are on the rise in London, and that the police are using their “best men to put a stop to this public scandal.”  It turns out that London’s “finest” include Thomson and Thompson, two identical-looking and identically incompetent detectives who sport black suits and bowlers.  On their patrol of the Old Street Market—during which both of their wallets are stolen—they bump into their friend Tintin (a brave, sharp reporter, the protagonist of the story) and his white fox terrier, Snowy.  As Tintin buys a model ship for his friend Captain Haddock—a retired old salt who struggles (sometimes not too hard) with his taste for liquor—two men appear beside him and express interest in the ship he has just bought.  They offer dueling bids, but Tintin refuses to sell it.

Tintin takes the model home, where Snowy accidentally breaks the mast.  Never mind: Tintin easily repairs it.  When Tintin shows the ship to Captain Haddock, the Captain notices that the ship is a scale model of the Unicorn, the ship sailed by his distant relative Sir Francis Haddock.  However, soon after the model is stolen from Tintin’s apartment, which is ransacked in the process.  In the wake of the break-in, Continue reading

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Interview: Julie Danielson, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Children's Picture Books: Mad Tea Party by Frank Dormer

Alice at the Mad Tea Party, by Frank Dormer

Today I continue my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers in an interview with Julie Danielson (abbreviated “JD” below), who blogs at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, or “7-Imp” for short.  Jules  is an influential blogger in the kidlitosphere and is an aficionado of children’s picture books .  As you’ll see from the interview, she’s a wiz with American Sign Language and is also pretty darn funny.  Pithy enticing quote: “…very simply, I’m an Illustration Junkie and must feed my habit.”  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, if you are also a sucker for children’s picture books, after reading the interview I encourage you to check out Julie’s blog, Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. Click here for the previous interview in this series, with Jill Tullo of the Well-Read Child.

Q: When and how did you become interested in children’s picture books?

JD: I blame Eisha Prather, my best friend and fellow imp—and whom regular 7-Imp readers will recognize as my partner-in-crime in co-founding the blog. Not too terribly long after college and before each of us went off and got hitched, we were roommates in a lovely, if un-air-conditioned, old farmhouse in beautiful Maryville, Tennessee. That’s “Murvul,” by the way, if you’re a true East Tennessean. At the time, she was a public librarian and would bring home her favorite picture books and leave them on the dining room table for me to read. I’d wander off with them and explore. I fell for them. And fell hard. Continue reading

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Interview: Jill Tullo, The Well-Read Child

Ways to help children read: On the Day You were Born, by Debra Frasier
Today I continue my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers in an interview with Jill Tullo (abbreviated “JT” below), who blogs at The Well-Read Child.  Jill is a veteran blogger in the kidlitosphere and cares a lot about children’s literacy .  As you’ll see from the interview, she suggests some great ways to help children read. She also has a soft spot for dystopian fiction. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Jill’s blog, The Well-Read ChildClick here for the previous interview in this series, with Sylvia Vardell of Poetry for Children.

Q: When and how did you become interested in children’s books?

JT: I’ve loved to read as long as I can remember, and in seventh grade I started a diary. Alongside the usual information you’d expect to find in a tween girl’s diary (boys, friends, school, etc.), are brief summaries and reaction to books I’d just finished. This was before the days of blogs and sites like Goodreads, so old-fashioned pen and paper had to do. Because I read so much, I’ve always wanted to keep records of what I’ve read and how I felt about the books when I finished them.  In 2007 when my little girl was just a few months, I had a very emotional experience reading a book to her – On the Day You Were BornWays to help children read: On the Day You Were Born, by Debra Frasier by Debra Frasier – and decided that I wanted to document these experiences and keep track of the books I read with her. The Well-Read Child was born that night. Continue reading

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Poetry for Children: Interview with Sylvia Vardell

Poetry for Children: Poetry Tag Time
Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report my interview with Sylvia Vardell (abbreviated “SV” below), who blogs at Poetry for Children. As you will see from the interview, Sylvia is a professor at Texas Woman’s University , an author, and a strong advocate of poetry for children.  Choice quote: “Poetry is part music and part chocolate—delicious and unforgettable.”  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Sylvia’s blog, Poetry for Children, and the other useful resources she mentions. Click here for the previous interview in this series, with Travis Jonker of 100 Scope Notes.

Q: When and how did you become interested in poetry, and poetry for children in particular?

SV: I loved the rhythm and rhyme of poetry when I was a little girl and memorized a poem to perform for my Mom for her birthday when I was 7 or 8. Then came a long dormant period where poetry became more academic. I actually enjoyed analysis in college, but it wasn’t til I met a poet in graduate school that I came to see the passion BEHIND the creation of poetry and remembered how fun it could be. And that was when Shel Silverstein was a brand new voice (in the 1970’s) and his poetry persuaded my cranky sixth grade students to give the genre a chance. I used to say that Where the Sidewalk EndsPoetry for Children: Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein was the one book I would want with me if I were ever stranded on a desert island with sixth graders! Continue reading

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Interview: Travis Jonker, 100 Scope Notes

Elementary School Librarian Travis Jonker, 100 Scope Notes
Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report my interview with Travis Jonker (abbreviated “TJ” below), who blogs at 100 Scope Notes . As you will see from the interview, Travis is an elementary school librarian; he also happens to be a pretty funny guy, so you won’t want to miss the interview.  I laughed out loud at least once!  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Travis’s blog, 100 Scope NotesClick here for the previous interview in this series, with Barbara Bietz of Jewish Books for Children.

Q: I understand you are an elementary school librarian.  Can you tell me a bit of the story of how you decided to take up that profession?

TJ: I followed the classic three step program:

1. I found that I hung out in libraries a lot. Public, school, college – I’ve visited and staked out my territory in them all. I can’t imagine how much time I would have spent in libraries if they circulated Jughead Double Digests when I was growing up. I think we would have had a From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. FrankweilerFrom the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg situation (except, you know, with a library instead of a museum). Continue reading

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Review: Seeds of Change, by Jen Cullerton Johnson

Seeds of Change, Jen Cullerton JohnsonTitle: Seeds of ChangeSeeds of Change, Jen Cullerton Johnson
Author: Jen Cullerton Johnson, ill. Sonia Lynn Sadler
Genre: Picture book
Age Category: 6-to-8-years

In honor of Earth Day I reviewed Seeds of ChangeSeeds of Change, Jen Cullerton Johnson, by Jen Cullerton Johnson.  This book is already much decorated, having garnered the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent in Illustration, and a place on the American Library Association’s Amelia Bloomer List for children’s feminist literature, among other awards.

Seeds of Change, Jen Cullerton Johnson

Johnson’s Seeds of ChangeSeeds of Change, Jen Cullerton Johnson traces the story of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, which she won in 2004.

As a young girl, Wangari grew up in rural Kenya where she learned a deep appreciation and respect for the natural environment.  The great mugumo trees earned a special place in her heart: they provided a home for monkeys, birds, and geckos; tasty fruit for humans and elephants; and a shady resting place for Wangari’s Kikuyu ancestors. Continue reading

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Finding the Best Children’s Books: Reviews, Lists, and Blogs

Image of the John Newbery medal, the best children's books

The John Newbery medal

Today I wrap up my series on how to choose children’s books by pointing to a number of book lists and other resources that can help adults find some of the best children’s books. Relying on the opinions of those who put such lists and resources together is of course not a fool-proof way to find the best children’s books, but it can be a very quick way to zero in on some that are probably good.  Such lists and resources should not replace your own judgment about children’s books—which I hope has been refined a bit over the course of this series (mine has!)—but they can be a helpful supplement.  Before launching into the resources, I should probably also state the obvious: the children’s librarian at your local library is also a fantastic source of recommendations and information on children’s books.  Don’t forget him or her.

If you would like to read this article series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books”.  For the previous article in the series, “Disney Princess Books: Commercialism in Children’s Literature,” click here.

Lists of the Best Children’s Books

The first kind of resource that can help you find great children’s books quickly is a book list.  There are many great book lists out there, but here are some of my favorites: Continue reading

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Disney Princess Books: Commercialism in Children’s Literature

Disney Princess Collection, Disney Princess Books
In this penultimate article in my series on how to choose children’s books, I will address the issue of commercialism in children’s literature. Specifically, I will offer some advice on avoiding overly commercial children’s literature, and why parents ought to do so. I will use Disney Princess books—and the Disney Princess CollectionDisney Princess Collection, Disney Princess Books in particular—as a concrete example of an important kind of books I think adults should avoid exposing children to.

If you would like to read this series from the beginning, click here for the first article, “How to Choose Children’s Books”.  For the previous article in this series, “Choosing Children’s Books with Educational Themes,” click here.

Disney Princess Books: Reasons to Avoid Them (and Their Ilk)

I think Disney Princess books are a prime example of the kind of overly commercialized children’s literature that adults ought to avoid when choosing children’s books.  Why?  Glad you asked: Continue reading

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Choosing Children’s Books with Educational Themes

children's educational books: Dr. Seuss's ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book!
Perhaps the most obvious way a children’s book can have developmental value for a child is by its ability to educate about a certain topic.  As the child reads the book, she learns something via the content of the book.  In this post I will discuss the place of educational themes in rendering a children’s book developmentally valuable, and I will offer some advice on choosing children’s educational books.  Educational themes might be understood as a complement to attractive themes, which contribute to the subjective appeal of a children’s book.

This post is part of a continuing series on how to choose children’s books.  To read the series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books”.  For the prior article in the series, “Stories of Virtue: Character Building Stories,” click here.

Children’s Educational Books: Importance of Developmental Stage

There is no mystery to how children’s educational books can contribute to a child’s development: books with educational themes simply help a child learn something she didn’t know about before.  The key, then, to choosing children’s books with educational themes is to make sure the themes of the book fit with the child’s stage of cognitive, physical, and emotional development. Continue reading

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Interview: Barbara Bietz, Jewish Books for Children

Jewish Children's Books, Like a Maccabee, Barbara Beitz
Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Barbara Bietz (abbreviated “BB” below), who blogs at Jewish Books for Children. As you will see from the interview, Barbara is a children’s author and has a special place in her heart for Jewish Children’s Books.  The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Barbara’s blog, Jewish Books for Children; its focus on Jewish children’s books makes it a unique and important member of the kidlitosphere.  Click here for the previous interview in this series, with Monica Edinger of educating alice.

Q: I understand that you write children’s books.  How and when did you decide to become a children’s author?

BB: I have always enjoyed writing and did quite a bit of academic and technical writing. From the time I was young I would write poems and stories but was afraid to share them with others.  Finally, I took a class on children’s literature with Alexis O’Neill. In the safe environment of a critique group I gradually became brave enough to share my work. Over the years I have met some wonderful writers in classes and workshops. Writing is a passion but it is also a skill that needs to be developed and nurtured. Continue reading

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Interview: Monica Edinger, educating alice

educating alice monica edinger

"What a curious feeling!" said Alice, "I must be shutting up like a telescope!" And so it was indeed: she was now only ten inches high.

Here’s another in my series of interviews with children’s book bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Monica Edinger (abbreviated “ME” below), who blogs at educating alice and the Huffington Post. As you will see from the interview, Monica is a teacher and an author, and she has worked around children’s books for a long time.  She has even served on the Newbery Medal committee. The point of these interviews, of course, is to help connect readers of Children’s Books and Reviews to some of the many other excellent children’s literature blogs out there. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Monica’s blog, educating alice; it is one of the most widely read and respected blogs in the kidlitosphere. Click here for the the previous interview in this series.

Q: How and when did you become interested in thinking and writing about children’s books?

ME: I have always been interested in children’s books.  Drawing and art was what I did as a kid and so in high school I consciously decided that when I grew up I was going to be a children’s book illustrator.  I worked on a number of projects, most notably illustrations for Madeleine L’Engle’s  A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L'Engle and J.R.R. Tolkien’s  short story, “A Leaf by Niggle” [in The Tolkien ReaderThe Tolkien Reader, by J.R.R. Tolkien].  In college and after (say, when I was in Sierra Leone as a Peace Corps Volunteer) I continued to do art—fairy tales, Kipling’s The Elephant’s ChildRudyard Kipling, The Elephant's Child, and a few chapters of another favorite book, Alice’s Adventures in WonderlandAlice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.  I had an agent or two and took my work around, got a few nibbles, Continue reading

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Stories of Virtue and Vice: Stories and Character Development

Aesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of VirtueAesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of Virtue
Stories can have a powerful influence on the formation of character and values in children.  As such, the potential for character formation via stories is an important criterion for adults to consider when selecting books for children.  In this article, I will describe how stories of virtue and vice can shape character in children, and I will offer some advice on choosing children’s books with character-building stories.

This article is an installment in my continuing series on how to choose children’s books, which begins here.  In the previous article in this series I discussed the question of how adults should handle mischief in children’s books.

Stories of Virtue: Character-Building Stories

Historically, story telling for children has been a feature of most cultures.  Often, this story telling has had the purpose, at least in part, of forming the character of children.  Aesop’s FablesAesop's Fables, Character Building Stories of Virtue and Grimm’s Fairy TalesGrimm's Fairy Tales, Character Building Stories of Virtue are good examples of character-building stories, i.e., traditional stories that have aimed at developing character in children.  As I noted in “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, the success of books like William Bennett’s The Book of VirtuesThe Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, Character Building Stories of Virtue suggests that many in our contemporary culture also recognize the connection between stories of virtue and character formation in children.  This connection with character formation is part of what can give stories developmental value for children. Continue reading

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Criteria for Choosing Books for Children: Mischief

Olivia by Ian Falconer cover artOlivia by Ian Falconer cover art
Mischief is a very common feature of children’s books.  But is reading about mischief good for kids?  In this article I will discuss the developmental value (or disvalue) of mischief in children’s books, as one of several criteria for choosing books for children.  I will try to distinguish benign mischief from pernicious mischief, and to give adults some guidance on choosing or avoiding books that feature mischief.

This article is an installment in my continuing series on criteria for choosing books for children.  For the last article in this series, “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, click here.  To read the series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books.”

Criteria for Choosing Books for Children: Mischief

So, what do I mean by “mischief” in children’s books?  By “mischief” I mean intentional behavior by the characters in the book that strays, to some extent, from what is appropriate or good.  The function of mischief in children’s books is generally to elicit laughs.  Some examples will help clarify what I mean. Continue reading

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