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

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:

List of Newbery Award Winners.  Newbery winners are children’s novels (not picture books) aimed at children of “middle-grade” age, i.e., roughly 8 to 12 years old.  Although readers’ tastes may sometimes diverge from the judgments of the Newbery panel, books on this list are generally pretty high-quality and interesting to read.  The official description of the Newbery Medal is as follows: “The Newbery Medal was named for eighteenth-century British bookseller John Newbery. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” ALA Newbery Medal website

List of Caldecott Award Winners. The Caldecott Medal is awarded to picture books generally aimed at younger children (i.e., in the 3-to-8-year-old category).  Technically, the Caldecott Medal is awarded for the artwork in the picture book, not the story or the book as a whole.  However, a book must be of a pretty high quality as a whole (i.e., story included) in order to win the Caldecott, so you don’t generally get beautiful-looking duds receiving the medal.  As such, Caldecott books are a good place to start looking for picture books for younger children.  The official blurb on the Caldecott Medal is as follows: “The Caldecott Medal was named in honor of nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph Caldecott. It is awarded annually by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.” ALA Caldecott Medal website

List of Coretta Scott King Award Winners.  Coretta Scott King awards are given to African American authors and illustrators.  This list is an excellent starting point for finding high-quality multicultural books with African American characters and themes.   The official blurb on the Coretta Scott King awards is as follows: “Given to African American authors and illustrators for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions, the Coretta Scott King Book Award titles promote understanding and appreciation of the culture of all peoples and their contribution to the realization of the American dream of a pluralistic society.  The award is designed to commemorate the life and works of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and to honor Mrs. Coretta Scott King for her courage and determination to continue the work for peace and world brotherhood.” ALA Coretta Scott King Award website

List of Geisel Award Winners.  The Geisel award is named for Dr. Theodore Seuss Geisel, i.e., Dr. Seuss.  Sensibly enough, it is awarded to children’s books for beginning readers, sometimes called “easy readers”.  Of course, Dr. Seuss pioneered this genre of children’s books with his “I Can Read” books.  Official blurb: “The Geisel Award is given annually to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the most distinguished American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year.”  ALA Geisel Award website

List of Michael L. Printz Award Winners.  The list of Printz Award winners is a great place to start looking for books for the young adults in your life.  Blurb: “The Michael L. Printz Award is an award for a book that exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature. It is named for a Topeka, Kansas school librarian who was a long-time active member of the Young Adult Library Services Association.  The award is sponsored by Booklist, a publication of the American Library Association.” ALA Michael L. Prinz Award website

100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know.  This is a great list of picture books posted on the New York Public Library website.  The list is a helpful resource for finding books for younger children.  It has both some newer picture books, as well as many old classics that are not to be missed.

The Top 100 Children’s Novels according to A Fuse #8 Production.  In 2010 blogger Elizabeth (“Betsy”) Bird ran a poll among kidlit bloggers to determine the top 100 children’s novels of all time.  The results are at the link just given, and constitute a very helpful resource for finding good books for middle-grade children and older (roughly ages 8 years and up).

Finally, for fantasy/science-fiction lovers, I have two lists to recommend, both maintained by Charlotte Taylor on her blog Charlotte’s Library.  The first is a list of time travel or “timeslip” books, as she likes to call them.  These books feature travel or “slip” between different time periods in some way, and are mostly aimed at middle-grade and young adult audiences.  Charlotte also maintains a list of fantasy/sci-fi books featuring main characters of diverse ethnicity and culture.  As far as I’m concerned, these two lists (especially the second) are unique and rare gems that ought to be widely utilized by adults that know fantasy/sci-fi-lovin’ kids.

Professional Children’s Book Reviews

There are a number of good online and print sources for professional reviews of new children’s books.  My favorites are below:

Kirkus Children’s Book Reviews.  Okay, this site is amazing, a bit overwhelming even.  It publishes brief professional (free) reviews of tons of children’s books.  It is a key place to visit if you want to know what is new and good in children’s books.  The books with stars beside them (i.e., “starred reviews”) are books that Kirkus reviewers thought were especially good.  Kirkus also maintains a bunch of book lists that can help you get to books on various interesting themes, such as “Spunky Historical Heroines”, “Baseball Roundup for Kids,” and “Children and the Wild World.”  Kirkus also publishes a print magazine and reviews of adult books.

School Library Journal.  This is another great source for professional reviews of new children’s books.  The website is not quite as slick as Kirkus’s, but there are still many good reviews.  Just click on the “reviews” navigation tab.  SLJ bills itself as “The world’s largest reviewer of books, multimedia, and technology for children and teens.”  SLJ also publishes a print magazine and their website hosts some of the more popular children’s books blogs in the kidlitosphere (see below).

Booklist Online.  This is the online version of the American Library Association’s (ALA) print magazine, “Booklist”.  Both the print and online versions are great sources for new children’s book reviews, though you will need to subscribe ($295/year for an individual) in order to read them.  Booklist Online also hosts a number of popular kidlit blogs, including one of my favorites (see below).  You can get the magazine in your local library if you don’t want to subscribe.

The Horn Book Guide.  The link is to the online version of The Horn Book Guide print magazine.  According to its online blurb, “Each semi-annual issue of the print Horn Book Guide rates and reviews over 2,000 titles — virtually every children’s and young adult book published in the U.S. in a six-month period.”  So, this is obviously a pretty comprehensive guide to new children’s books.  However, like Booklist Online, you will need to subscribe (though only $3/month) in order to see the reviews online.  You can also get The Horn Book Guide at your local library.

The New York Times Book Review – Children’s Books.  Of course, The New York Times Book Review is also a helpful source of professional reviews of new children’s books.  They publish roughly four reviews online each month.  Not comprehensive, but still a helpful contribution.

Children’s Book Blogs

Finally, of course, there are a bazillion blogs about children’s books that can give you solid direction in finding good children’s books.  Below I list some of my favorites, with additional links to interviews I’ve conducted with the bloggers.

Many of these bloggers write more than just book reviews (e.g., they share news about children’s books, author interviews, etc.), so if you want a distilled collection of blogger book reviews I recommend Children’s Book Reviews, which is a wiki site to which many bloggers (including me) contribute their children’s book reviews.  It is a great source of information on books for kids.

Finally, if you are not satisfied with my blogger shortlist below, there is a more comprehensive list of kidlit bloggers here at Kidlitosphere Central (along with other resources that might interest you).  So, knock yourself out.  Now, my faves:

  1. Jen Robinson’s Book Page.  Check out my interview with Jen here.
  2. Book Nut.  Check out my interview with blogger Melissa Fox here.
  3. A Fuse #8 Production.  A Fuse #8 Production is hosted on the School Library Journal website.  Check out my interview with blogger Betsy Bird here.
  4. The Brown Bookshelf.  Great source for multicultural (esp. African American) children’s literature.  Check out my interview with Brown Bookshelf blogger and illustrator Don Tate here.
  5. Bookends.  Bookends is hosted on the Booklist Online website.  Check out my interview with Bookends bloggers Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan here.
  6. Rasco from RIF.  Check out my interview with blogger Carol Rasco here.
  7. The Reading Tub.  Check out my interview with blogger Terry Doherty here.
  8. Charlotte’s Library.  Check out my interview with blogger Charlotte Taylor here.
  9. Chasing Ray.  Check out my interview with blogger Colleen Mondor here.
  10. Cynsations.  Check out my interview with blogger and author Cynthia Leitich Smith here.
  11. About.com Children’s Books.  Check out my interview with blogger Elizabeth Kennedy here.
  12. educating alice.  Check out my interview with blogger Monica Edinger here.
  13. Jewish Books for Children.  Check out my interview with blogger Barbara Bietz here.
  14. 100 Scope Notes.  Look for my upcoming interview with blogger Travis Jonker to be posted soon.
  15. Through the Looking Glass Children’s Book Review.  Check out my interview with blogger Marya Jansen-Gruber here.

If you know of a book list or source of children’s book reviews (preferably online) that I’ve left out, but that you find particularly good, please let me know about it in the comments.  I’d love to make this post as helpful as possible.  Thanks!

Categories: Articles
Tags: Best children's booksBlogBooklist OnlineChildren's book reviewsHow to choose children's booksKirkus ReviewsLists of children's booksSchool Library JournalThe Horn Book Guide
Aaron :