Finding a great children's book is as easy as A-B-C
By Rachel Potucek
For some, it started with "The Hatchet." For others, it might have begun with "Old Yeller," "A Wrinkle in Time," "Where the Red Fern Grows" or even "The Cat in The Hat."
All of these people, however, can remember their first great book -- the first time they couldn't put a book down as they followed an amazing journey with laughter, tears and a few surprises. By the last page of this first great book, a lifelong reader was born.
For many parents, helping a child find their own first great book can be a mystery. Pre-teens and children are now setting the habits they could follow for the rest of their lives. As your child starts setting his or her reading habits, you can help your youngster choose good books to read.
Kansas State University English professor Phil Nel has some tips for finding a great children's book. Nel, who teaches "Literature for Children" and "Harry Potter's Library," among other courses, said children's librarians can be a great place to start. They don't just stack books or memorize the Dewey decimal system -- they have first-hand experience with new material and popular trends.
"They read children's books and they try to keep current with the new children's books. They also spend time reading books to children and so will have some sense of children's likes and dislikes," Nel said. He adds being curious can help, too. Take some time to look at the books in your public library or local bookstore -- and avoid judging a book by its cover.
"Take them off the shelves and read a few pages," he said. "Talking with booksellers is also a good idea."
It is easy to assume all children's books are similar, but according to Nel, it is not wise to recommend any one or two books for every child.
"Two 10-year-olds can be as different as two 40-year-olds," he said. "In other words, children are as heterogeneous a group as adults are. My first question -- and, I suspect, a librarian's first question -- would be, 'What types of books does the child like to read?' If an adult reader likes Don DeLillo's 'Mao II,' you might steer that person to Paul Auster's 'Leviathan'; if a child reader likes J.K. Rowling's 'Harry Potter' novels, then you might steer that person to Philip Pullman's 'The Golden Compass' or to Diana Wynne Jones' 'Witch Week.'"
In your pursuit for a kid-worthy novel, don't forget to ask a kid. Nel said talking to young readers can reveal great discoveries.
"Some of my favorite recently published children's books are Michael Hoeye's 'Time Stops for No Mouse' and its sequel, 'The Sands of Time,'" Nel said. "An 11-year-old recommended them both."
If the public library doesn't have what you're looking for, Nel said the following Web sites can lead you to popular and award-winning children's books:
The K-State English department's Web site:
Kansas State University Libraries' Children's Literature Subject Guide:
The Association for Library Service to Children:
Nel said the truly dedicated parent (or children's literature fan) can subscribe to an online listserv about children's literature.
Several magazines publish literature reviews of children's books. Nel said Parents' Magazine, The New York Times Book Review and The Boston Globe publish annual reviews of their top picks. Some magazines are devoted solely to children's literature, including The Horn Book and The Five Owls.
Photo: Kendra and Harry, 2, enjoy a book at Stone House Child Care Center at K-State.
Photo by Dan Donnert, KSU Photographic Services.