Friday, October 18, 2013

How to find the "best" children's books

During a lull at the library yesterday, I began to browse around for "best of" book lists for children, middle-schoolers and teens. I know that such lists neglect many great books, and if you stringently sticks to a list, you might not find the best book for a particular child at a particular time.  However, for me, this is a good starting point/reference tool! 

Preschool and kindergarten
• Caldecott Medal and Honor Books, 1938 - Present
Full list (includes Honor books, book descriptions; divided by decades)
Printable list (Medal books list in reverse chronological order)

• 100 Books to Read Before Kindergarten  (Louisville Free Public Library)
Printable list

Elementary School/Early Middle School

• Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present 
Full list (includes Honor books, links to book descriptions; divided by decades)
Printable list (Medal books list in reverse chronological order)

• (NPR) 100 Must-Reads For Kids 9-14 (chosen by NPR readers)
Full list/descriptions (includes book covers; divided by genre)
Printable list

• Parent and Child/Scholastic 100 Greatest Books for Kids
Interactive bookshelf (Appears on virtual bookshelf; lets you divide by genre, age group)
Printable list (shows recommended reading age group under titles)


• 100 Best-Ever Teen Novels (books chosen by NPR listeners)
Full list/descriptions (includes book covers; divided by genre)
Printable list

* Note: I'll do "Young Adult" books in a separate entry, to better divide them by genre and to include more contemporary YA novels.

Friday, October 4, 2013

"Can you recommend a really good children's book?"

"Can you recommend a really good children's book?"

I hear this at least once a shift when I am working as a substitute reference librarian. An anxious parent wants to excite their kindergartner about reading. Or a parent of a bored eight year old wants to nudge them back into the habit of reading.

How do I determine what a really good children's book is? Or which book, among all the hundreds of books in the library, is the absolute best at this moment for their kid?

I try to remember what I read to my own children when they were young. Arthur? Dr. Seuss? Amelia Bedelia? I am often irritated with myself that I can only remember and recommend old standbys, especially for the younger set.

So many books, so little time, given that I must make a decision by the time I walk to the stacks, whether I will arrive in the A-author section or the Ws, or somewhere in-between. If asked to suggest a book when I'm on the floor (and away from the computer), I rely mostly on my own experience. Has your third/fourth-grader read Holes or The Magic Thief yet? (Books we read aloud or listened to in the car.)

Of course I can google "if you like _______ you might like ______," which I often do before I go back to the stacks (or I can look at recommended book lists on library web sites or Barnes and Noble's Recommended Kids' Books lists.) But what if the request is simply "a really good book." How do you really search for something like that? I am entrusted to make this judgement simply because I sit at a reference desk; sometimes I feel like King Solomon, expected to pronounce my judgement—this book should be taken home, not all these others.

One thing I love about being a librarian, even if only on a part-time basis, is that  I must literally think on my feet, solving constantly changing problems and requests posed by adults and children. And, sure, a lot of it is familiarity with the Dewey Decimal system and simply where things are in the library. But there's also that chance to inspire someone or find him or her the information she or he needed at just the right time. That's a lot more fun than just sitting at a computer all the time.