How to Find Good Children’s Books

Children's Book Week Poster, 2009.  By Ian Falconer.I’m thinking, in particular, about how to find the good new ones, from among the many thousands of children’s books that appear each year.  This is a question I’m often asked, but it’s a question of particular interest to my Literature for Children classes right now, since their third paper requires them to find a “new” book (published in the last ten years) that’s different than the childhood favorite they’ve already written about.  So, here are some tips for them — and for all of you.

Awards.  Some good books win awards.

But plenty of good books do not win awards.  So, you need to look elsewhere, too — and not only at the runners-up for these awards.

Mock Caldecott.  All around the U.S. each fall, local libraries hold Mock Caldecott Awards, in which they bring in that year’s crop of U.S. picture books, invite anyone who’s interested to peruse them and vote on their favorites.  Here are the results for the one we did at the Manhattan (Kansas) public library this past fall (2010).

Your local public library.  See what’s new in the Children’s Section, Young Adult section, Graphic Novels section.  Often, the new works are on display.  If you have more specific questions, you might consult the children’s librarian or librarians.  Children’s librarians keep abreast of what’s new and nifty.

Children’s Literature blogs.  It will not surprise you to learn that many of these are run by librarians.

And, yes, there are many other excellent blogs.  Do feel free to recommend your favorites below.

Bookstores.  Preferably, independent children’s bookstores.  But, really, any bookstore.  Just go to the children’s section and look at the books.  You don’t have to buy anything.  Make notes on the books you like, and seek them at your local library, or perhaps return and buy them at a later date.

CHILD_LIT listserv, maintained by Michael Joseph (Rare Books Librarian, Rutgers).  Members of the listserv include librarians, teachers (from grade school to university), graduate students (and a few undergraduates), authors, illustrators, and anyone with an interest in children’s literature.

Stay curious.  Wherever you go, keep your eyes and ears open for good books.  Read publications devoted to children’s literature, like The Horn Book, and Kirkus Reviews of children’s books.  Talk with children’s book fans of all ages.

If you have other tips to add, please post in the comments below.  Thank you!

Image credit: poster for Children’s Book Week 2009 created by Ian Falconer.
For helping me expand this resource, my thanks to: Julie Walker DanielsonMaria Nikolajeva, Monica EdingerJudith RidgeDebbie Reese, and Ali B.

21 Replies to “How to Find Good Children’s Books”

  1. I love this list (and am flattered to be included) and will pass it on to many. It works for students, librarians, parents, and more. Wonderful.

    Don’t forget, for those interested in finding good picture books, the Society of Illustrators, too: http://www.societyillustrators.org/Awards-and-Competitions/Original-Art/Overview.aspx. One can peruse the winners of that Original Art award to see good titles (and not just U.S. only). As a picture book nerd, I get the most excited every year about the Caldecott (of course), the NY Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year every Fall, and the Society of Illustrators’ picks (Gold and Silver) in that particular category. They don’t steer you wrong. (Last year’s Gold medal winner was Renata Liwska’s The Quiet Book.)

  2. One of our goals with SLJ’s Battle of the Kids’ Books (http://sljbattleofthebooks.com) is to highlight worthy books of the previous year, some of which might have been overlooked. This year, for example, our semi-finalists were Kathi Appelt’s KEEPER, Jonathan Stroud’s THE RING OF SOLOMON, Louis Sachar’s THE CARDTURNER, and Andy Mulligan’s TRASH. (With Megan Whalen Turner’s A CONSPIRACY OF KINGS as the winner of our Undead Poll.) If you haven’t already, do take a look at the different matches from this year and last as the judges do a bang-up job presenting the books.

    Kirkus’s new site is great these days for seeing what is new and worthy. (http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/childrens-books/)

    And to be self-serving, I also occasionally review new books at educating alice –and like to highlight some that again might be otherwise overlooked.

  3. Thanks Jules, Monica, Judith, and (via Facebook) Maria for your recommendations! I’ve added them to the resources! (You’ll see your names credited at the bottom of the post, right above this “comments” section.)

    In some cases, sheesh, can’t believe I forgot those — such as the Astrid Lindgren Award (Maria’s contribution) or the Society of Illustrators (Jules’ contribution). In other cases, the suggestions help correct this page’s Anglo-American bias (Judith, especially) or simply points me to resources of which I was not aware (Monica’s suggestion).

    Monica: Though I read and enjoy your blog (you’ll notice it, at right, among the children’s lit blogs I link to), I didn’t list it for the same reason I did not list my own. I do occasionally review children’s books, but only occasionally. For that reason, I’ve pointed people to blogs that have a greater focus on reviewing children’s books.

    Again: Thanks to all!

  4. Two things to add:

    You said at the top “Some good books win awards.” What is called “good” is subjective and changes over time. Case in point, Gerald McDermott’s ARROW TO THE SUN won the Caldecott in the 70s but I’d hope that Betsy Hearne’s writings on sources and specifics of a story would mean that the book would not win that award today. Same with Goble’s THE GIRL WHO LOVED WILD HORSES.

    Second, could you add the awards given by Native associations? I’m thinking of the book awards given by the American Indian Library Association, the ones given by the Michael Lacapa Spirit Prize, and the ones selected for distinction by the Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers. (All three are linked at my site, left side, scroll down.)

  5. Thanks, Debbie. I’ve added the American Indian Library Association’s award, and credited you above.

    And, yes, my use of the word “some” was intentional. On this very blog, I’ve taken issue with awards choices in the past. Sometimes a great book wins; sometimes not.

    Betsy: didn’t realize I’d promoted you. I’ve changed “head children’s librarian” to “senior librarian.” Thanks for the correction.

  6. Ali B: UK awards are listed above, under “UK”: Carnegie, Greenway, Costa, Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, Nestle Children’s Book Prize, & Red House Children’s Book Award.

    I do not have the BBC Blue Peter Book award listed. I’ll add a link to the Booktrust.org site — looks like a useful compendium of links. Thanks!

  7. A good place for serendipitous encounters (with books, that is) is the “Returned Today” shelf at your local library. The ‘best’ books are always out, so this is your chance to skim the cream.

    It’s also worth while checking out the awards shortlist. Sometimes the winner may just not hit the target for you and your kids, but there’s always at least one or two successes from the list.

    All booksellers can tell you that there are books that kids love, and books that parents love (sometimes they’re the same, but not always). Guess which there are more of.
    That tatty, tired, not-very-good-book which is your child’s favourite bedtime story, is clearly speaking to them in some way. If you can figure out what it is about the book that the kid loves, you’re well on the way to finding more ‘favorites’ for them.

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