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

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Grandfather Twilight, by Barbara Berger

grandfather twilight, by barbara berger, cover art
Title: Grandfather Twilightgrandfather twilight, by barbara berger
Author: Barbara Berger
Age Category: Infant to 2 years
Genre: Baby Board Books

Grandfather Twilight, by Barbara Berger: Summary

The central character of Barbara Berger’s baby board book Grandfather Twilightgrandfather twilight, by barbara berger is, logically enough, an old man with white hair and beard named Grandfather Twilight.  He lives in a beautiful deciduous forest and spends his days reading in a comfortable armchair, accompanied by his dog, his cat, and a bird.

The story of this board book traces Grandfather Twilight’s evening routine.  He takes a pearl from an endless strand he keeps in a wooden chest and goes for a walk with his dog.  As he walks, the pearl grows, the sounds of the forest hush, and the colors of a beautiful twilight sky fan out behind him like a misty ethereal wake.  At this point the illustrations alone tell the story for a time, unaided by text. Continue reading

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Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: Summary and Review

Are you my Mother? by P.D. Eastman, cover art
Title: Are You My Mother?Are you my Mother? by P.D. Eastman
Author: P.D. Eastman
Age Category: 3 to 5 years
Genre: Picture Books (Beginner Books / Easy Readers)

Well, I’m a bit late with this—Mother’s Day was last Sunday—but I couldn’t resist.  This is one of my favorite Beginner Books / Easy Reader picture books.  A classic.  I still remember reading it with my mom when I was about four…

Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman: Summary

Are You My Mother?Are you my Mother? by P.D. Eastman by P.D. Eastman opens with a mother bird sitting on a big yellow egg in her nest.  The egg starts to jump and shake, so the mother bird decides she had better go and find some food to feed her baby bird, who is about to arrive.  Soon after she flies away, the egg hatches, and the baby bird asks, “Where is my mother?”

Since the baby bird can’t see his mother anywhere, he decides to go looking for her.  He steps out of the nest, falls to the ground (can’t fly yet!), and sets off on an adventure to find his mother.  He encounters a series of things—a kitten, a hen, a dog, a cow, a steamboat, an airplane, and a large steam shovel that he calls a “snort” (because it snorts!)—and asks each in turn, “Are you my mother?”.

Finally, as the baby bird is puzzling over the snort, the huge machine Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Summary and Review

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, cover art
Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Author: J.K. Rowling
Age Category: 12 to 16 years +
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Book Review and Summary

Today I present a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book review and summary.  This fifth installment in J.K. Rowling’s masterful juvenile fiction series about Harry Potter picks up where the fourth book left off.  The Dark Lord Voldemort—having been restored to power at the climax of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling—and his minions are covertly at work, preparing for outright war.  They seek something Voldemort “didn’t have last time” (p. 96), i.e., when Harry was a baby and Voldemort last launched his campaign for power over the wizarding world.  But, what exactly is Voldemort seeking? This question drives the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling forward on the deepest level.  Harry’s consistent experience of visions hinting at Voldemort’s activity and emotions help him and his friends in their efforts to understand and foil Voldemort’s plans.

In Rowling’s trademark style, the path toward answering the central question of the novel has many twists, turns, and subplots.  One significant subplot is Continue reading

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Easter Stories for Children: Petook, by Tomie dePaola, Caryll Houselander

Petook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaolaTitle: Petook: An Easter StoryPetook: An Easter Story, by Tomie dePaola
Illustrator: Tomie dePaola
Author: Caryll Houselander
Age Category: 3 to 5 years +
Genre: Picture Books

Creating good traditional Easter stories for children is difficult for a couple of reasons.  First, the traditional story is quite violent, so a graphically illustrated version of the story could be quite shocking or disturbing for a young child.  Second, the deep significance of the story can be pretty complicated for a young child, and so creating a picture book that tells the story in a way that is both true to New Testament theology and understandable for a young child is challenging.

Some picture books navigate these challenges by simply presenting the text from one (or several) of the Gospels along with illustrations that are not overly detailed.  I think Easter: The King James VersionEaster: The King James Version, by Jan Pienkowski, by Jan Pienkowski is a tasteful example of this approach.  As the title suggests, Pienkowski just presents relevant parts of the King James text, which she illustrates using silhouettes so the pictures are not too gory.

However, as I see it, the trouble with Easter stories for children that take this approach is that Continue reading

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Story for Children about Saint Patrick: Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, Tomie dePaola

Tomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint PatrickTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick
Title: Patrick: Patron Saint of IrelandTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick
Author: Tomie dePaola
Age Category: 6 to 8 years
Genre: Picture books

If you are looking for a story for children about Saint Patrick to help explain the significance of St. Patrick’s Day to 6-to-8-year-olds, Patrick: Patron Saint of IrelandTomie dePaola, Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland, story for children about Saint Patrick is a great one.  This children’s book is a brief, charming biography of St. Patrick, with the added bonus of several interesting legends about Patrick appended after the strictly biographical part.

Story for Children about Saint Patrick: Summary

As dePaola tells it, Patrick grew up in Britain near the Irish Sea during the late 4th- and early 5th-century CE, in the twilight of the Western Roman Empire.  One night warriors from Ireland landed on the shores near his home, raided local farms, and took many people into captivity, including the teenage Patrick.  Patrick was sold into slavery, and was forced to Continue reading

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Summary

diary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney
Title: Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney
Author: Jeff Kinney
Age Category: 9 to 12 +
Genre: Comic Juvenile Fiction

With the March 19th release date of the movie based on Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney fast approaching, I thought I would write a review of this madly popular book.  Although it was first published in 2007, it remains on the New York Times Bestseller List (for children’s series books) and has been there for 57 weeks (!).  In this review I will take a somewhat contrarian view of the book: I do not like it as much as it seems most everyone else does.  “Why,” you ask? Read on fair reader.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Summary

Diary of a Wimpy Kiddiary of a wimpy kid summary book review jeff kinney is the first in a growing series by Jeff Kinney.  In the book we get collected episodes from a year in the tragicomic life of the book’s protagonist—Greg Heffley—presented in journal form (Heffley: “First of all, let me get something straight: This is a JOURNAL, not a diary”). Continue reading

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Multicultural Children’s Books by Ezra Jack Keats

In this post I will highlight the work of one of my favorite children’s authors, Ezra Jack Keats.  In particular, I will focus on a six-book series of multicultural children’s books by Keats that features a single character—a boy named Peter—and that includes two of Keats’s most celebrated books, The Snowy Daymulticultural children's books and Whistle for Williemulticultural children's books.  All six of these multicultural children’s books are appropriate for 3-to-5-year-olds.
multicultural children's booksmulticultural children's books
Title: The Snowy Daymulticultural children's books
Author: Ezra Jack Keats
Age Category: 3 to 5 years
Genre: Picture Books

Life of Ezra Jack Keats: Multicultural Children’s Books Author

The following brief account of Keats’s life and career is excerpted from the website for the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation:

“Ezra Jack Keats was born on March 11, 1916, to impoverished Polish immigrants of Jewish descent in East New York, which was then the Jewish quarter of Brooklyn, New York. He was the third child of Benjamin Katz and Augusta Podgainy, and was then known as Jacob (Jack) Ezra Katz.”

From early on it was evident that Keats was gifted as an artist.  He won several awards for his art in junior high and high school, including a national contest run by the Scholastic Publishing Company.

“Keats entered the service of the United States Army on April 13, 1943…After World War II, he returned to New York… Two years after the war, Jack, in reaction to the anti-Semitic prejudices of the time, Continue reading

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Choosing Children’s Books with Age Appropriate Themes

This is the third in a series of posts on how to choose children’s books.  The series starts here with “How to Choose Children’s Books” if you want to read from the beginning.  Last time, in “Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal”, I argued for the crucial importance of choosing children’s books with subjective appeal, i.e., books that a child will like, and not books that are merely good for a child in some way.

Themes in Children’s Books

In this post I will begin discussing the considerations that make up the subjective appeal of children’s books.  Specifically, I will discuss the role of a book’s themes in rendering it appealing to a child, and I will try to give some specific guidance on what to look for in the themes of children’s books.  In particular, I will try to give some guidance on choosing age appropriate children’s books.

What do I mean by the “themes” of a children’s book?  By “themes” I mean the specific content of the book, or what the children’s book is about.  For example, in a science book about snakes, the theme might simply be snakes.  Or, in a book like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the themes might include coping with loss, or finding one’s purpose in the world (click here for our review, “Juvenile Fiction: The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick”).  In a children’s book like Martin’s Big Words, the themes might include justice, equality, and love (click here for our review “Children’s Books for Martin Luther King Jr. Day: Martin’s Big Words).

The key to choosing a book with themes that will make the book appealing to a child is Continue reading

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Children’s Books on Martin Luther King Jr: Martin’s Big Words

children's books for martin luther king jr day, Martin's Big Words
Title: Martin’s Big Words
Author: Doreen Rappaport
Age Category: 6 to 8 years
Genre: Historical picture books
Our Rating (out of 5):

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day—coming up on January 18th—we will be featuring some children’s books about Dr. King and others who have contributed to the long and continuing fight for the equality of African-Americans in the United States.  The first book is Martin’s Big Words, the Caldecott honor and Coretta Scott King award-winning book by Doreen Rappaport (illustrations by Bryan Collier).  The book tells the story of Dr. King’s life and work in a brief accessible format.

Martin Luther King Children’s Book: Subjective Appeal

This compelling children’s book about Martin Luther King Jr. will appeal to kids in several ways.  First, the moral themes of justice, equality, and love on which the book focuses connect with the process of moral formation occurring in 6-to-8-year-olds.  Children at this age are developing instincts about right and wrong, and good and bad, and Martin’s Big Words will engage children in this part of their experience.

Second, the simple disarming style of the book draws the young reader into the story.  Although the themes that Dr. King’s life and work evoke (e.g., rights, freedom, justice, equality, etc.) can be somewhat abstract for children, Martin’s Big Words portrays them in an accessible way.  For example, this children’s book opens with the following line: “Everywhere in Martin’s hometown Continue reading

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Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal

This post is the second in a series outlining selection criteria for children’s books.  The series starts here with “How to Choose Children’s Books,” if you want to read from the beginning.  Last time, in laying out the road map for this series, I introduced the notion of a book’s subjective appeal, i.e., the considerations that might make a book appealing to a child.  In this post I will begin discussing subjective appeal in more depth, and in particular I will argue for the importance of considering subjective appeal among the selection criteria for children’s books.

Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal

So, here is the central—and what I take to be very important—point: choosing a kids’ book with subjective appeal is not optional.  Rather, it is a crucial, non-negotiable part of the selection.  Now, this might go without saying for most of us: of course we aim to choose children’s books that kids will like!  However, this is not obvious to everyone.  I have in mind here a certain kind of parent or caretaker that Continue reading

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How to Choose Children’s Books

It goes without saying that a child’s engagement with good books is important and valuable to her development.  Not only can reading good kids’ books expand a child’s cognitive abilities, but it can also spur a child’s emotional, moral, and spiritual development.  However, a quick visit to one of the big online or brick-and-mortar book retailers is enough to make you realize there are zillions of children’s books.  Some of these books are good, but many are not.  So, if you are looking to buy children’s books, you are left with a question: “How do I choose good children’s books?”

In this post I begin a multi-part series that I hope can go some way toward answering the question of how to choose children’s books in a general way, such that after reading the series (or part of it) you will be more equipped to choose kids’ books, even if you don’t have access to reviews or recommendations.  I have chosen to write on this topic in a series of posts since I hope to treat the topic in some depth.  So, consider this post an introduction.

How to Choose Children’s Books: A Roadmap

The roadmap for this series is as follows.  In the first part of the series I will discuss the factors that make up what I call the subjective appeal of a children’s book.  In other words, Continue reading

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