Kate Calvert reports on finding the best of books for children’s reading
The best children’s books are written with the care of a fine poem, ideal for reading aloud, each word moving the story forward. The breakthrough came in the ‘60s with titles like Where the Wild Things Are, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. So while earlier generations remember poems, modern teens are more likely to chant, ‘We can’t go over it, We can’t go under it, We’ve got to go through it,’ as they meet a particularly wide patch of mud and remember Michael Rosen’s Going on a Bear Hunt.
Well written children’s books please the parent too, being titles parents can read as often as small children require and still enjoy the experience. Given that small children seem to fixate on a book the way baby geese do on the first creature they see, it’s good to make sure they do that with something you can bear to go over again and again and again and…
Meanwhile, our houses are too small, and life too short,for books written by hacks and decorated by people who are at best commercial artists. All film and TV spinoffs should therefore be consigned to somewhere they can be used as ‘pretend’ books, which is what they really are.
Looking for the best titles, check out piles in the houses of friends and family with older children, looking for the ones which look most battered. See also the children’s section of The Owl Bookshop in Kentish Town, the excellent Children’s Bookshop in Muswell Hillwww.childrensbookshoplondon.com/,and Pickled Pepper in Crouch Endwww.pickledpepperbooks.co.uk/.Or search on the web.
Books for Keeps http://booksforkeeps.co.ukis an online children’s book review magazine, commended by Philip Pullman with good reason. Interviews with writers and illustrators might appeal to older children while the child reviews might inspire them, and the book reviews with star ratings offer a better analysis than the sentence or two elsewhere. Launched in 1980, it covers hundreds of new children’s books each year with more than 12,500 reviews on the website plus 2,000 articles.
Book Trust www.booktrust.org.uk/books/children/is the organisation which gives books to babies, toddlers, primary and secondary school children at crucial stages of their development. Here too are some interviews with authors, an illustrators’gallery, children’s blogs, bookfinder search option, favourite titles of the month, news and more, plus a request for donations. £4 per month for examplecould help to give seven hearing impaired children the love of rhymes through specially-designed book packs.
Set up by the www.lovereading.co.uk team, www.lovereading4kids.co.uk offers recommendations in multiple lists including ‘children’s classics’ and what they call ‘bookshelf essentials’ books, like Janet and Allen Ahlberg’s The Baby Catalogue. A direct click through takes you to buying titles for toddlers to teens.As well as age sections, starting from Baby & Toddler, which focus on new titles, there are lists of award winners for the Kate Greenaway Award, and the Carniegie Award, the UK’s oldest and most prestigious awards for writing and illustration for children and teens.Others include the Costa Children’s Award, the Branford Boase Award, Marsh Award in Translation, the Blue Peter Book Award, The Guardian Children’s Fiction Award, Early Years Book Award, Red House Children’s Book Award, and the Booktrust Teenage Prize.
The Federation of Children’s Book Groups www.fcbg.org.ukis an umbrella organisation which co-ordinates and supports the work of separate Book Groups in England, Scotland and Wales but none currently in our part of north London (there’s an opportunity). Members include parents and carers, teachers and librarians, along with our individual and professional members, and they run the Red House Children’s Book Award www.redhousechildrensbookaward.co.uk, designed to celebrate books that children enjoy. The Annual top 50 can be downloaded from the web site along with printed specialist lists,written by experts in their fields: Going Solo: a Selection of Books Especially Chosen for the Newly Independent Reader;Up and Running: a Selection of books for the Fluent Young Reader; It’s a Fact(non fiction);and Teens and Beyond, see www.fcbg.org.uk/booklists. The blog includes news on new prizes and possible involvement for children.
And if you feel you want still more advice, Nicholas Tuckerhas made a career out of the point where children meet books, with titles like The Child and the Book: A Psychological and Literary Exploration. This looks at both the psychological and the literary aspect of the relationship between child and book, from the baby’s first picture book upwards.He’s also written the Rough Guide To Children’s Books divided into 0-5 and 5-11, and another one on titles for teens – though my experience is that, if they are going to read, by that age they want to make their own choices.