Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters

The Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, cover artThe Book of Virtues, by William J. Bennett, cover art
Today I continue my (lately dormant) series of articles on how to choose children’s books.  In the last article in this series, “The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development”, I discussed the “developmental value” of complex stories for children.  Specifically, I argued that children’s books with complex plots and characters can promote important aspects of child development, such as reasoning abilities and memory.

In this article I will discuss a further feature that can give children’s books developmental value, namely exemplary characters. By “exemplary characters” I mean characters—fictional or non-fictional—that exhibit traits or activities that we hope for our children to value and embody in their lives.  In this article I will explain how exemplary characters can encourage character development in children, and how adults can identify such characters in choosing books for children.

If you would like to read this series from the beginning, start with “How to Choose Children’s Books”. Continue reading

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Children’s Literature Guide: Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com

Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com Children's Books, a children's literature website

Elizabeth Kennedy, About.com Children's Books

Here’s another in my series of interviews with bloggers at children’s literature websites. Today I report on my interview with Elizabeth Kennedy (abbreviated “EK” below), who blogs at the children’s literature website About.com Children’s Books. Elizabeth is one of the hardest working children’s literature bloggers you’ll meet.  In this interview she shares some great insights on helping reluctant readers to embrace reading, and the impact of e-readers on children’s literature. 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 websites. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Elizabeth’s blog (link above). Click here for the the previous interview in this series.

Q: I understand that you studied both English literature and children’s literature while in college.  What spurred your interest in children’s literature?

EK: My interest in children’s literature grew from the time I read The Secret GardenThe Secret Garden as a child.  It was the first book I had ever read during which I felt that I was actually there: seeing what was going on, feeling what the characters were feeling.  Like a lot of kids, I had a somewhat difficult childhood and found great comfort Continue reading

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Read Children’s Books Online: Big Universe

Big Universe Logo: Read Children's Books Online
If you haven’t noticed, computers are transforming books and publishing.  For example, e-readers like Amazon’s KindleAmazon Kindle e-reader and Apple’s iPad—along with the e-books that such e-readers allow people to read—are all the rage.

Another development in the digital publishing revolution is the growing availability of digital children’s books for reading online.  One website at the forefront of this movement is Big Universe, which allows kids to read children’s books online.  Today I offer a review of Big Universe.  To conduct this review I made use of a rigorously selected focus group.  Well, okay, my 9-year-old daughter fiddled around on the site for a while, but she was very helpful!

Read Children’s Books Online: Big Universe

Big Universe is a website that offers three main features.  First, the site makes available a digital library—including fiction and non-fiction offerings—that allows kids to read children’s books online.  The library has digital books for children of kindergarten age through eighth grade, in a wide range of categories and themes, such as action & adventure, animals, birds & insects, chapter books, classics, friendship, graphic novels, humor, religious, and transportation.

Big Universe’s reader interface is very slick: when you read a book, you can turn pages either by clicking on the arrows below the book, or by grabbing the edge of the page with the cursor and peeling it back as if you were reading a real book.  Pretty cool.  My focus group also liked the little Continue reading

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Mockingjay: Summary and Review

mockingjay by suzanne collinsmockingjay by suzanne collins
Title: Mockingjaymockingjay by suzanne collins
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Books for Teens)
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Today I finish my series on Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games Trilogyhunger games trilogy by suzanne collins with a summary and review of the much anticipated, and much hyped book for teens, Mockingjaymockingjay by suzanne collins.  In this Mockingjay summary and review I will discuss the ending of the book/series in the last section of this post (I can’t resist, given some of the controversy in the blogosphere), so if you don’t want to spoil it, skip that part.  I will not give away anything important in the “Summary” or plot synopsis, so those parts are safe.

Mockingjay: Summary of Review

Mockingjaymockingjay by suzanne collins is a stunning finish to an amazing trilogy.  I loved every minute of it, and so will most teens.  Collins masterfully brings resolution to the central tensions and conflicts of the story, including the struggle between the Districts and the Capitol, and the love triangle between Katniss Everdeen, Peeta Mellark, and Gale Hawthorne.  However, since the over-arching theme of the series is war, the close of the trilogy is appropriately untidy—indeed tragic—in certain ways.  Such untidiness helps to communicate what I take to be Collins’s central message: there can be hope and joy on the other side of war, but never a complete return to the way things were.  War changes things.  Permanently. Continue reading

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Cynthia Leitich Smith: Children’s Book Author Interview

Cynthia Leitich Smith face graphic

Cynthia Leitich Smith

Here’s another in my series of kidlitosphere blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with children’s books author and blogger Cynthia Leitich Smith (abbreviated “CLS” below), who blogs at Cynsations.  Cynthia is a New York Times and Publishers Weekly best-selling author, and is a member of the faculty at the Vermont College M.F.A. Program in Writing for Children and Young AdultsCynthia’s official author website was named one of the top 10 Writer Sites on the Internet by Writer’s Digest and an ALA Great Website for Kids. Her blog, Cynsations, was listed as among the top two read by the children’s/young adult publishing community in the SCBWI “To Market” column.

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 websites in the kidlitosphere. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Cynthia’s blog (links above), her fantastic website, and the other children’s books resources she mentions in the interview. Cynthia Leitich Smith, ladies and gentlemen!

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

CLS: I’d just graduated from law school at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor and took a clerkship at the Department of Health and Human Services in the loop in Chicago. I’d been haunting local bookstores and begun reading children’s and YA books.

Then after the Oklahoma City Bombing, Continue reading

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ZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World’s Zoos and Aquariums

zooborns: the newest cutest baby animals from the world's zoos and aquariumszooborns: the newest cutest baby animals from the world's zoos and aquariums
Title: ZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World’s Zoos and AquariumsZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World's Zoos and Aquariums
Authors: Andrew Bleiman, Chris Eastland
Genre: Non-Fiction Picture Books
Age Category: 6 to 9 years

Non-Fiction Picture Book Summary

ZooBornsZooBorns: The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World's Zoos and Aquariums is a non-fiction picture book portrait gallery of roughly 100 baby animals born in zoos and aquariums around the world.  Each “zooborn” is featured with several photos, and basic biographical information—name (if the baby has one), species, location of the zoo or aquarium where it lives, date of birth, and the conservation status of its species (e.g., extinct in the wild, endangered, critically endangered, threatened, etc.).

Along with the basic data, the book provides information and anecdotes about each animal, sometimes including part of the story of the particular baby animal in the photos (e.g., if it was rescued, what its personality is like, what it likes to do, etc.), and interesting facts about the species.  In particular, the book highlights connections between zoo breeding programs and efforts to conserve threatened or endangered animal populations. Continue reading

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Kidlitosphere Interview: Blogger and Author Colleen Mondor, Chasing Ray

book-loving stingray image from Chasing Ray about page

A book-loving stingray

Here’s another in my series of kidlitosphere blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Colleen Mondor (abbreviated “CM” below), who blogs at Chasing Ray. Don’t miss her hilarious anecdotes about flying small charter planes in Alaska! 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 blogs in the kidlitosphere. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Colleen’s blog (link above), as well as the other children’s books resources she mentions in the interview. Thanks Colleen!

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

CM: I never left my affection for children’s books behind – probably because several of them (esp Little WomenLittle Women and A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time were so significant to me. I worked in an indy bookstore in the mid 90s and we were very involved in reading contests at the local schools (this was basically the only bookstore in Fairbanks, AK) so I kept up on new children’s and YA [Young Adult] titles as part of my job. And then my son was born in 2001 and that started me back on picture books again for obvious reasons. As a reviewer at Bookslut when I saw there was no one doing a YA column there I pitched the idea to Jessa [Bookslut editor-in-chief] and she thought it was great. And I’ve been professionally reviewing kid and YA books there ever since. Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1: A Reader’s Comments

harry potter and the deathly hallowsAs I’ve said before, I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.  I just saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the movie), Part 1 two nights ago, and I couldn’t help reflecting a bit on how the movie compares to the book. This is not really a movie review, per se, but it is definitely more movie review than book review.

If you are interested in my thoughts on the book (i.e., Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)), or the Harry Potter books in general, see my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, my review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and my three-article series entitled, “Harry Potter: Christian Allegory or Occultist Children’s Books,” where I explore the Christian controversy over the books and movies.

Finally, be forewarned that I will divulge elements of the plot that you may not want to spoil if you have not yet read the book or seen Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the movie), Part 1, and plan to do so.

Regrets of the Cutting Room Floor

I fear that this discussion is going to end up pretty negative—mostly a list of things about the movie that bugged me—so I feel like I should start by mentioning that my love of Harry and company is strong enough to bear even these impertinences (yes, I know, you were worried…), and that I did, in fact, like the movie.  The cinematography was wonderful, the landscapes incredible, and I have grown so attached to the characters (of the book and the movie, to the extent that they are different) that seeing them on the screen is just plain comforting (do I need to get some help for this fanaticism?  I’m not usually like this…really).  With that said, here is my list. Continue reading

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Interview: Charlotte Taylor, Charlotte’s Library

kira kira by cynthia kadohatakira kira by cynthia kadohata
Here’s another in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Charlotte Taylor (abbreviated “CT” below), who blogs at Charlotte’s Library.  As you will see from the interview, Charlotte’s blog focuses on fantasy and science fiction children’s books (especially for middle-schoolers and teens).  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 websites focused on children’s books. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Charlotte’s blog, and the excellent resources for fantasy and science fiction children’s books it provides. Thanks Charlotte!

Q: How and when did you start your children’s books blog?

CT: It all started in September of 2006 with a hardcover first edition of Kira-Kirakira kira by cynthia kadohata I picked up at a library booksale for fifty cents. My sister saw it lying around my house, and let me know it was worth something. Indeed, it was—more than enough to cover that pesky sewer bill. Knowing that next September would bring a fresh sewer bill, it occurred to me later that fall that it might be useful to buy another first edition Newbery winner, so I went online to find out if anyone had predictions. And this led me to this post on Linda Sue Park’s blog—the very first blog post I remember reading.

I was in a bad patch, bookwise, constantly running out of things to read. I would wander into book stores, not know what I wanted to buy, and leave again empty handed….very sad. Linda Sue Park’s list of recommended books seemed like manna from heaven—not just these specific titles, but the realization that there were people out there who could help me. Continue reading

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Interview: Terry Doherty, The Reading Tub

The Reading Tub logo
Here is another in my series of interviews with kids books bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Terry Doherty (abbreviated “TD” below), who blogs at Children’s Literacy: Scrub-a-Dub-Tub, a Reading Tub Blog. Terry’s blog reflects her passion for children’s reading and literacy. 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 websites focused on kids’ books, including children’s reading and literacy resources. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Terry’s blog (link above), as well as the other excellent resources she points to in the interview.  Thanks Terry!

Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s reading and literacy?

TD: I have always loved reading. I was one of those flashlight-under-the-covers kids. The literacy light bulb turned on when First Lady Barbara Bush started talking about the importance of reading.

I was a young bureaucrat at that point, steeped in my career, so the spark just sat quietly and waited. Fast forward 12 years … I am a full-time mom and I want to share my love of reading with our new baby girl. As she grows as a reader, so do I. I volunteer in her school, and I have learned so much by watching her and her peers. Even in your (cough) 40s (cough) you can learn a lot from Kindergartners! Continue reading

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Interview: Carol Rasco, Reading is Fundamental

Reading is Fundamental logoHere is another in my series of interviews with kids books bloggers. Today I report on my interview with Carol Rasco (abbreviated “CR” below), who blogs at Rasco From RIF.   Carol is a prominent children’s reading and literacy advocate in the United States and is currently CEO of Reading is Fundamental (RIF).  In her blog she shares reviews and reflections on the world of 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 websites focused on kids’ books, including children’s reading and literacy resources.  RIF’s website has some particularly good resources that can help children learn to read.  So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Carol’s blog (link above), as well as the excellent resources on the RIF website. I also encourage you to consider making a donation to RIF.  Thanks Carol!

Q: How and when did you become interested in children’s reading and literacy?

CR: I was an avid reader from an early age, always wanted to have plenty of books in case I finished one book, ready to start the next.  And I found studying authors great fun, loved many genres early on but in particular biographies, poetry, and travel books in addition to the more traditional novels.  My undergraduate degree was in elementary education and I then taught sixth grade until going into elementary / early childhood counseling when I used bibliotherapy in many situations.  While I then took a pause from the “paid workforce” as my two children were born, I re-entered that workforce in the policy field for the next 20 years.  When that period came to a close I chose RIF as the place I wanted to be, back to the children’s books! Continue reading

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Catching Fire: Summary and Review

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins cover artCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins cover art
Title: Catching FireCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction (Books for Teens)
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Today, in honor of Teen Read Week, I review the second book in the Hunger Games TrilogyHunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins.  As it turns out, teen readers across the country recently chose Catching Fire as their favorite book of 2010.  I will not spoil any important plot twists in this Catching Fire summary and review.  For a review of the first book in the trilogy, The Hunger Games, click here.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins: Quick Review

I highly recommend Catching Fire by Suzanne CollinsCatching Fire by Suzanne Collins. First, the book is bursting with subjective appeal. The plot has the many exciting twists we’ve come to expect from The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the deepening characters make us care about what happens next, and the tastefully developed love triangle between Katniss, Peeta, and Gale is enough to pique the interest of any teen beginning to think about love. Second, Collins’s thoughtful examination of ethical issues—particularly those related to war, and moral psychology—stimulates productive thought and emotion, giving the book developmental value. My one caution is that the book, like The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is quite violent (though, I think, in a productive and justified way), and so sensitive readers should be forewarned. Keep reading for an in-depth review. Continue reading

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Plato on Developmental Value in Children’s Stories

Raphael's Plato pointing to the heavens: stories children values
I couldn’t resist posting this quote I came across recently in Plato’s Republic about stories, children, values, etc.:

“Socrates: You know, don’t you, that the beginning of any process is most important, especially for anything young and tender?  It’s at that time that it is most malleable and takes on any pattern one wishes to impress on it.

Adeimantus: Exactly.

Socrates: Then shall we carelessly allow the children to hear any old stories, told by just anyone, and to take beliefs into their souls that are for the most part opposite to the ones we think they should hold when they are grown up?” (The Republic 377a-b)

Continue reading

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Interview: Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan, Bookends

Bookends Blog - A Booklist Online Blog, bannerHere is another in my series of children’s books blogger interviews. Today I report on my interview with Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan (abbreviated “CD” and “LR” below), who blog together at Bookends – A Booklist Online Blog.  Their “Bookends” blog is one of several hosted at the Booklist Online website.  Cindy and Lynn take a refreshing tag-team approach to their children’s book reviews. They are also both middle-school librarians, as you will see from the interview, so they have special insight on teen and tween readers. 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 websites focused on children’s books. So, after reading the interview, I encourage you to check out Cindy and Lynn’s “Bookends” blog (link above), as well as the other excellent resources they mention in the interview. Thanks Cindy and Lynn!

Q: How and when did you become interested in young adult and children’s books?

CD: In the fourth grade I was a library helper and soon decided that I wanted to become an author of books for children. I decided that a career in library science would be a good back up and would put me in touch with the market. Then I had a YA Literature class in college and was hooked. Now I just need to write that first book…

LR: I have always loved children’s books – I probably just have never really grown up.  Early in my library career I fell in love with that wonderful magic of connecting kids with good books.  My own children were big readers, which just reinforced my love of youth books.  As much as I love adult books, I think my heart has always been with youth books. Continue reading

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The Hunger Games: Summary and Review

The Hunger Games: summary and review, cover artThe Hunger Games: summary and review
Title: The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Age Category: 16 to 19 years +

Well, I’m late to the “game” on this one.  Nevertheless, having just read the first in Suzanne Collins’s young adult fiction trilogy—in the wake of the buzz around the just-released third book of the trilogy, MockingjayMockingjay by Suzanne Collins—I feel that I must write something about it.  My reaction to The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review can be summed up in three words: Blown.  A.  Way. For those who have not yet read it but plan to, my Hunger Games summary and review will not spoil any crucial plot twists.

The Hunger Games: Summary

The Hunger GamesThe Hunger Games: summary and review portrays a dystopian vision of the future of North America, now the nation of Panem.  In Panem, a powerful and technologically advanced city—The Capitol—rules mercilessly over 12 outlying districts, each named simply for their number. Every year, The Capitol requires that each district select two teenagers by lottery—one boy and one girl—to represent the district at the annual Hunger Games, as “tributes”.

The Hunger Games are a cross between the reality show Survivor and the Roman Colosseum: the 24 teens fight to the death on live national television in a huge outdoor arena (we’re talking many square miles here), which encompasses a range of natural geography that varies from year to year. Continue reading

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