One way to begin selecting children's literature is to look for award-winning books and authors. Two of the best-known awards are the Caldecott Medal and the Newbery Medal, both presented annually by the American Library Association. The Caldecott Medal is given to the artist of the most distinguished picture book published in the United States. Several additional books may be cited as worthy of attention and named Caldecott Honor books. The Newbery Medal is awarded to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children. Newbery Honor books also are named. Newbery award-winning books often are most appropriate for older children. Caldecott and Newbery award-winning books are easy to locate, as lists are readily available at libraries and bookstores, and the books often are housed in specially marked sections or shelves.
Other less well known awards include the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, which is presented by the American Library Association to an author or illustrator who has made a lasting contribution to children's literature. The Batchelder Award is presented by the American Library Association to the publisher of an outstanding book originally published outside the United States and subsequently translated and published in the United States. The Hans Christian Andersen Prize is an international children's book award and is selected biannually by the International Board on Books for Young People.
Some awards are targeted for children's books related to particular content or themes. For example, the Coretta Scott King Award is given to an African American author and an African American illustrator for outstanding inspirational and educational contributions to children's literature. The Association of Jewish Libraries awards are presented to books that have made outstanding contributions to the field of Jewish literature. The Catholic Book Award is given to books with Christian and psychological values. The Orbis Pictus Award is given to an outstanding work of nonfiction for children by the National Council of Teachers of English. Librarians can direct you to resources that provide information about the awards and the recipients of those awards.
Award-winning books have been selected carefully by committees made up of individuals with expertise in children's literature; however, the members of those committees are not experts on your child! Therefore, although we recommend that you seek out award-winning literature, we encourage you to keep the interests, attitudes, and experiences of your child in mind. You should select books that will capture and hold your child's attention. What topics will bring your child enjoyment? What books are likely to be asked for again and again by your child? What is important in your child's life?
We also suggest that you ask friends, teachers, and librarians for recommendations. And consider exploring magazines and other resources that review children's literature. Libraries house these resources in their children's section, and librarians can direct you to them.
Another source of information is the internet. A number of book sellers are on-line, and finding books is quite simple. Searches may be conducted by title, author, and topic, or in a variety of other ways, including award winners and recent best-sellers. Often, considerable information is provided on-line. Along with information such as publisher, date of publication, and cost of a book, you might find reviews of the book. Some reviews are written by authorities in children's literature, and some are written by members of the public who have read the book and wish to comment on it. If your child has been particularly interested in a book, search for others by the same author. If your child has had an experience you wish to address with books, conduct a topic search. You and your child may wish to browse on-line bookstores together!
Of course, another source of quality literature is this book. We have listed more than 400 works of excellent children's literature. Our selections should keep you busy for quite some time!
Whatever your source, you should consider the following questions when selecting books for your child:
Does the author avoid stereotyping based on gender, race, culture, and profession?
Do the illustrations complement the text?
If fiction, does the story have universal or personal appeal?
If nonfiction, is the information accurate and current?
Finally, in selecting books for your child, consider what you have learned in this book about reading development.
Choose books that support and extend your child's experiences with and knowledge of the world
Select books that draw on familiar concepts or experiences. These will allow your child to make meaningful connections with the book. If you have recently visited a zoo, consider a book about zoos. If you have been stargazing, choose a book about the night sky. Children's personal experiences—their relevant background knowledge—will enhance their understanding of the books you read to them.
Conversely, look for books that will broaden your children's knowledge of the world. Your children cannot possibly experience everything there is to experience, but you can expand their background knowledge by sharing books about the unfamiliar. The child who has been read Animals under Cover by Stephen Savage and How to Hide a Meadow Frog by Ruth Heller has built concepts about how life forms protect themselves from predators. Children who have perused a book on animal skeletons will bring more to the experience when they read about the animal kingdom in later years.
Share multicultural books. Listening to the customs, experiences, hopes, and dreams of people from diverse cultures not only will broaden your child's understanding of the world—building a knowledge base that he or she can access when reading books later—but also will increase your child's sensitivity to and appreciation for people of other cultural groups. It will help him or her appreciate the universality of the human experience .
Choose books that promote language development
Remember that your child's language strongly influences his or her ability to read. Reading to your child can expand your child's vocabulary. Just as reading Animals under Cover and How to Hide a Meadow Frog can build certain conceptual understandings, so too can reading these books provide your child with vocabulary that supports that knowledge. You will notice the words "camouflage," "prey," and "predator" becoming a part of your child's vocabulary as he or she attempts to describe and explain our world. Vocabulary is a powerful determinant of ability to understand text.
Reading to your child also can provide important experiences with a variety of language patterns. Include predictable books in your child's library because they can expand a child's understanding of language as he or she figures out what makes sense based on the ideas as well as the language of the book.
Select books that use simple sentences as well as those that incorporate more complex sentence structures. The language of books is different from the language of everyday speech. Giving your child opportunities to listen to more formal and more complex language structures prepares him or her for future reading experiences.
Include all literary genres in your selections. Children benefit from experiences with picture books, informational books, modern fantasies, science fiction, contemporary realistic fiction, traditional literature, historical fiction, and poetry. This variety not only provides for much enjoyment. but also develops familiarity with the many types of books your child will encounter in later years. Experience with a variety of genres also helps expand children's vocabulary and develop an understanding of different text structures. Exposing your child to fiction, for example, helps build an understanding that stories are made up of characters, settings, and plots. Research shows that young children often have a very good sense of story. Children are less comfortable, however, with the variety of informational text structures: cause-effect, sequencing, comparison, description, and problem-solution. Providing children with experiences with these text structures is important in their development as readers. In fact. there are educators who blame early lack of exposure to informational books for the problems some children have reading content texts in upper elementary grades. Be sure to include a variety of genres in your text selections .
Choose books that are likely to promote active engagement
A child's ability to make meaning during reading is enhanced when the child is actively engaged in thinking about what he or she reads. Therefore, select books that encourage active participation. Predictable books that stimulate chanting along with the author's words, manipulative books that require lifting a flap or pulling a tab, and books on topics of high interest or that answer questions your child has asked or that relate to an experience he or she has had promote active engagement.
Choose books that build alphabet knowledge and phonemic awareness
Remember the importance of familiarity with the letters and sounds of the alphabet in learning to read. And recall that the understanding that words are made up of sequences of individual sounds is important to reading success. Include alphabet books in your selections, as well as books that play with the sounds of language, such as rhyming books, books with alliterations, and books that include nonsense words created by moving sounds around. Many Dr. Seuss books are great examples of language play.
© ______ 2000, Allyn & Bacon, an imprint of Pearson Education Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. The reproduction, duplication, or distribution of this material by any means including but not limited to email and blogs is strictly prohibited without the explicit permission of the publisher.