Gazillions of children’s and young adult books are published yearly. How to select the “best” in children’s books is often overwhelming. Thankfully, there are several trusted selection tools and resources which help me decide what to collect for our children’s collection. I always keep in mind curriculum areas, such as science and math, regularly scouring the book reviews in Science and Children (a journal for elementary science teachers) and Science Scope (a journal for middle school science teachers) for children’s books which integrate literature with science topics. I also keep in mind the genres which students in children’s literature classes are expected to be familiar (historical fiction, folktales, multicultural subjects, contemporary realistic, informational, fractured fairy tales, poetry, etc.). For these genres, specialized bibliographies in the library, such as Around the World with Historical Fiction and Folktales: Highly Recommended and Award-Winning Books, Grades K-8, are very useful.
Some of my favorite selection tools include monthly issues of book review sources such as The Horn Book, Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, School Library Journal, The Voice of Youth Advocates (VOYA), and Kirkus Reviews which are shelved on the second floor of the Houston Cole Library in the current periodicals section. For young adult books, VOYA is an excellent book review source which also contains specialized bibliographies and interesting articles on young adult literature. Faculty, staff, and students at JSU are able to access The Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, and School Library Journal through our databases. To access the full text of these journals electronically, simply type in the title of the journal in our library catalog (limit your search to “journal title”) and click on a database link which will take you directly to full text access to these journals.
I also peruse the children’s sections in bookstores to see what’s popular and whether there is a unique title I have missed. I enjoy looking at excellent bibliographies available on the Web. My favorite online bibliography is Planet Esme, maintained by Esme Codell, a children’s author and former school librarian. I really appreciate books recommended by faculty in the College of Education’s Curriculum and Instruction Department . Professor Elizabeth Engley, Jennifer Strain, and Phyliss Taylor are experts at JSU in children’s literature.
Many of the book review sources I rely heavily upon are maintained by divisions in the American Library Association (ALA). For young adult books, I turn to ALA’s Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). Their “Booklists and Awards” are excellent sources, containing current lists such as “Teens Top Ten,” “Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers,” “Great Graphic Novels for Teens,” and “Outstanding books for the College Bound.”
For Children’s picture books and chapter books for middle readers, I rely on ALA’s Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC). This is the ALA division which is responsible for awarding the prestigious Newbery and Caldecott awards, as well as many others. I order just about all of the books from their yearly “Notable Children’s Book Lists.” This list includes all the ALA award winning books, as well as other high quality children’s books. The criteria used in deciding what makes a children’s book “notable” is defined on the ALSC Website as “Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways.” A further breakdown on the selection process is provided on ALSC’s Notable Books criteria page.
Finally, The Children’s Choice Book Awards and other State Children’s Choice Book Awards lists are essential selection tools. After all, wouldn’t the true experts on what constitutes a good children’s book be (duh!) the children? In Alabama, the 2009 children’s choice book awards list can be found on Alabama’s Emphasis on Reading Website. One of my favorite picture books this year, A Visitor for Bear, made the K-1 children’s choice list. I concur with the young ones!
If you have a favorite resource for discovering new children’s and young adult books, please leave a comment and let me know. I also make selections by recommendations from faculty, staff, students, and their children. Let me know if there is a title which belongs in our collection. I am always on the lookout for recommendations!