Choosing the Right Books
With next week’s Book Fair, it’s helpful to explore ways to select meaningful books for children. We can’t force children to like reading, but when we read books that we loved growing up aloud to them, our enthusiasm is contagious. The words of classics like Good Night Moon, one the most popular bedtime children’s book of all time, still live in our memories and permeate our enjoyment of enjoyment of saying them.
The benefit of going back to exciting classic chapter books like The Box Car Children, by Gertrude Chandler Warner, and Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, is that they are like beloved friends we welcome back into our home, and audio books allow us to listen to them together. Think about favorites from your own childhood and how you can share your delight in them.
Some classic books are landmarks for teaching children about emotions and helping them feel understood. In a recent social skills class in our preschool, child therapist Katrinca Ford let the children act out Where the Wild Things Are, the 1964 bestseller by Maurice Sendak. Each child got a turn to play the hero, Max, who tames the wild monsters who appeared in his room, while he himself feels angry. This classic is a landmark book for helping children learn about self-regulation.
A Baby Sister for Frances, about a raccoon named Frances, also published in 1964, is still one of the most engaging picture books to help a child adjust to a new baby. (For more books that enhance emotional adjustment, see Healing Stories: Picture Books for the Big and Small Changes in a Child's Life, by Walnut Creek children’s therapist Jacqueline Golding, which documents 500 children’s picture books and the ways they can help children cope with the many transitions of life, from starting school to moving to having a relative die.)
Although older favorite books still hold value, the majority of classic books for children omitted whole swaths of the population who couldn’t see themselves represented in literature, which mainly featured Caucasian, neurotypical, middle-class American children with traditional gender identities and no disabilities. You’ll find the Equity & Inclusion Committee’s lists of recommended books representing diversity on our blog.
Children’s literature is always evolving, and staying abreast of new books allows us to find ones that bring important, more inclusive perspectives. One example of that evolution is the Schneider Family Book Award, founded in 2005, which goes to authors and illustrators who best present the experience of disability, mainly in books for middle and high school students.
One of the Schneider-award-winning picture books became an important bestseller, All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for Americans with Disabilities Changed Everything, by Annette Bay Pimentel. It tells the true story of how Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins, who wrote the foreword, lifted herself out of her wheelchair at age eight and crawled up the steps of the Capitol, thus beginning her life-long career as disability activist.
This trend-setting book reminds us that one of the most important roles of children’s books is to inspire children not only to read but to learn to discover ways they can contribute their gifts to the world and encourage others to do the same.
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It’s helpful for parents and teachers to stay informed about trends in children’s literature in order to select books that will have value in children’s lives. For example, there has been a fourfold increase in books featuring minorities in children’s literature since 2014. Graphic novels have established a respected role in young people’s literature, and in 2016 a graphic novel from the March trilogy, about John Lewis’s experience in the civil rights movement, won a National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.
Here are some valuable resources:
Finding the Right Book for Your Child from Reading Rockets
Choosing High Quality-Children’s Books from the Carnegie Library
5 Benefits of Reading Graphic Novels from the Markham Public Library, Ontario, Canada
This year’s Book Fair can be instrumental in bringing an accelerated awareness of the best in children’s books and bringing new books into the school environment.