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.

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