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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

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

Share

The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling cover art
What makes for good children’s books?  In this series on how to choose children’s books, I have suggested that choice-worthy children’s books have both subjective appeal, and developmental value.  In other words, good kids’ books are appealing to a child, and help her grow.

One characteristic that can affect the developmental value of a kids’ book is the complexity of the book’s story.  In this article I will explain what I mean by “story complexity,” and what I see as the connection between the complexity of children’s stories and social development (e.g., emotional and intellectual development).  I will draw on prominent examples of recent juvenile and young adult fiction to illustrate my points: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter seriesHarry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, and Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Medal winner When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal Winner.  While what I have to say will apply mostly to older children, I will also try to give some rough guidance on choosing complex stories for younger children.

If you would like to read from the first article in this series, How to Choose Children’s Books,” click here.

Children’s Stories and Social Development: Complex Characters

Viewed one way, the basic elements of a story are characters and plots.  Both of these elements may contribute to the complexity of a story.  First, I will discuss how the characters in a story may contribute to its complexity.  A complex character is one whose mental, emotional, and behavioral activity is developed by the author to such a degree that she seems deeply true to life. Continue reading

Share

Children’s Books that Support Language Development

Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury cover art
There is sometimes a difference between good children’s books, and books that children like.  But what is that difference?  I think it is summed up in the term “developmental value”: good children’s books are books that both appeal to kids, and help them to develop.

In the previous article in this series—“Criteria for Book Selection: Developmental Value in Children’s Literature”—I explained the notion of “developmental value” and its importance as a criterion for choosing children’s books.  In this article, I will begin to explain the specific qualities that might make a book developmentally valuable, focusing on children’s books that support language development.  I will explain the book characteristic I call “edifying language,” i.e.,  language that contributes in some way to a child’s development, and how edifying language contributes to child development.  I will also try to give some guidance on choosing children’s books that support language development.

This article is the eighth in a series on how to choose children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on How to Choose Children’s Books.”

Children’s Books that Support Language Development

Children’s books can be an essential help to a child in learning her native language.  Depending on how much a child is read to—and I hope the kids in your life are read to a lot!—children’s books can be a central example of how the language works, i.e., how sentences are structured, what the basic rules of grammar and syntax are, and what particular words mean. Continue reading

Share

Criteria for Book Selection: Developmental Value in Children’s Literature

This article is the seventh in a series on selection criteria for children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on “How to Choose Children’s Books.”  In this article, I will explain the concept of “developmental value,” and its importance as a selection criterion for children’s books.  I will also give a brief roadmap for the next several articles in this series, which will focus on the particular considerations that give children’s books developmental value.

Criteria for Book Selection: Children’s Literature

As I see it, there are two main criteria that should govern the selection of kids’ books.  First, adults should choose children’s books that have what I call “subjective appeal”. In other words, adults should choose books with qualities that make them attractive to children. The subjective appeal of a children’s book might consist in any number of considerations, such as an interesting theme, attractive illustrations, a good story, or humor. To this point in my series on how to choose children’s books, I have focused on this criterion of subjective appeal, and I have written articles on each of the considerations just noted.

However, there is a second general criterion that should guide adults in choosing kids’ books, which I call “developmental value.”  A children’s book has developmental value if it has qualities that allow the book to contribute to a child’s cognitive, emotional, moral, or even spiritual development. Continue reading

Share

How to Choose Funny Children’s Books

how to choose children's books for your students: frog and toad togetherThis post is part 6 in a series on how to choose children’s books. How to Choose Children’s Books is the first in the series if you would like to read from the beginning. Last time, in Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Good Stories,” I discussed stories in children’s books, and how to choose stories that are attractive to kids of various ages. In this post I will discuss the role of humor in rendering kids’ books appealing, and I will give some suggestions for how to choose funny children’s books.

Funny Children’s Books

My eldest daughter, Isabella, loves funny children’s books.  In particular, she thinks the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is hilarious. In second grade her teacher had a small classroom library of books that the kids could take home for a few days at a time. The definitive three-volume collection of Calvin and Hobbes, The Complete Calvin and HobbesThe Complete Calvin and Hobbes, was Isabella’s favorite item in that library. Continue reading

Share

Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Good Stories

This is the fifth in a series of posts on how to choose children’s booksHow to Choose Children’s Books is the first in the series if you would like to read from the beginning.  Last time, in Illustrations in Children’s Books,” I discussed how to choose books with illustrations that are attractive to kids of various ages.  In this post I will discuss the place of a story in rendering children’s books appealing to kids, and what to look for in a good kids’ story.

Now, it will soon be clear that I am a big fan of good stories in children’s books.  However, it is important to emphasize that not every subjectively appealing children’s book must have a story.  For example, a good ABC book might simply march through the ABCs without a story at all.  However, if a children’s book does not have a story, parents need to make sure the book is appealing to the child in other ways (e.g., via themes, illustrations, humor, etc.). Continue reading

Share

Divination and Prophecy in the Harry Potter Novels (Part 3)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, cover artThis is the third and final article in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “The Harry Potter Controversy”.  In this third installment of the series, I try to answer some objections that might arise in relation to the place of divination in the Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter: Divination and Prophecy

At this point in the series, someone might object that while I have dispatched the general problem of magic in these children’s books—magic is just Rowling’s metaphor for spiritual power—there is still the whole issue of divination, which the Bible explicitly forbids (as I noted in “The Harry Potter Controversy”). After all, Harry and his best friend Ron take divination class for several years from the divination teacher at Hogwarts, Professor Trelawney. How can this not be worrying for Christian parents? Doesn’t it cast the occult in a positive light?

There are several reasons I think parents should not be worried about the place of divination in the Harry Potter novels. First, Continue reading

Share

Allegory in Harry Potter (Part 2)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling, cover artThis article is the second in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “The Harry Potter Controversy”.  In this second installment of the series, I make the positive case for Christian allegory in Harry Potter.

Allegory in Harry Potter

In making a case for allegory in Harry Potter, my point is that certain characters and events in these books stand as symbolic representations of central characters and events in Christian theology. Continue reading

Share

Harry Potter: Controversy (Part 1)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. RowlingI have a confession to make: I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.  Prior to last summer I had been enjoying each of the Harry Potter movies as they were released, but I had yet not read any of J.K. Rowling’s children’s books.

However, last summer, right before my family and I went on an extended road trip, my wife, Angela, and I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which covers the story through the sixth of the seven Potter books.  While we enjoyed the movie, it left us desperate to know what happens next (as those of you who have seen the movie know, it ends on a more mysterious and fraught note than any of the others).  So, we checked the seventh and last book in the series out of the library—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling—and took it on our road trip, reading it aloud to each other in the front seat (while our kids watched DVDs with headphones on in the back seat; at six and eight, they’re still too young for Potter, but their time will come…). Continue reading

Share