Children’s literature! Isn’t reading children’s books how all readers began their love of our language and the written word? Think back to the first story you remember your parent reading aloud to you. My first remembrance is the book Better Homes and Garden Story Book published by Better Homes and Gardens (1950) . My favorite story was “The Story of the Live Dolls” by Josephine Scribner Gates. Now my family’s the favorite is my husband’s reading (in dialect, “Brer Fox, he lay low.”) of the classic southern tale, “The Tar Baby” by Joel Chandler Harris
Following those favorites were nursery rhymes, folktales and fairy tales, and of course fiction written especially for children. Soon I was reading “Dick and Jane” by William S. Gray and Zerna Sharp on my own, followed by “Raggedy Ann” stories by Johnny Gruelle. “The Bobbsey Twin” series were gems I received for each birthday; Laura Lee Hope introduced me to my first mystery series. There was only one problem with these books: I finished each one in a day! What should I read next? I wondered. Luckily for me, my mother wrote and edited a column for the local newspaper in Fort Wayne, IN. Sue Webber was best friends with the book reviewer who passed all the children’s newest hardback books from publishers to me. There were so many, that I do not remember the titles.
In junior high school, we lived in such a small town that the school was a junior/senior high with one library. I remember having to ask my mother for a letter to give to the school librarian granting me permission to check out books from the high school stacks. My first checked out book was an abridged Shakespeare. Are there any readers out there from Leo, IN?
Why write about children’s literature now? We love to read mysteries, historical fiction, women’s popular and literary fiction, but the best children’s writers will surprise you with their insights, the tightness of their stories and their skill in creating this shorter (?) fiction. I actually read more children’s literature as an adult than as a child growing up, because I wanted to advance to the “good stuff” at an early age. It was in library school at the University of Maryland that I learned to appreciate writers of children’s books.
Have you been waiting for some recommendations for yourself and your children and grandchildren? I will highlight some popular and some lesser known titles not to be missed. Let’s begin with titles for pre-school children. Don’t we love to read about brave, interestingly unusual characters? The “Olivia” series by Ian Falconer will find you in awe of this outrageous pig. I will bet you don’t know about a set of bold, imaginative characters penned by a friend of mine. Don’t miss Amy Reichert’s While Mama Had a Quick Little Chat about Rose and Violet’s story Take Your Mama to Work. You will love the illustrations by Alexander Boiger who discovered just the right style to portray Rose and Violet. Reeve Lindbergh (yes, the daughter of Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh) writes for pre-schoolers as well as books for all ages. Homer, the Library Cat is one of my favorites. Of course, I love all books about libraries. (Another post idea?)
Grade school children love to read about children who perform differently than the norm. Lois Lowry writes for all ages of children and adults, but I want to recommend one of my favorite series starting with Gooney Bird Greene, which follows the antics of a new second grader who amazes her teacher and her classmates. The series continues with six realistic chapter books suitable for children seven to ten. Maybe these readers also like historical fiction, so I can recommend What To Do About Alice? and Knit Your Bit: A World War I Story By Deborah Hopkinson. She writes about many subjects such as history, lighthouses, wars, and knitting with many more interesting subjects.
Older students will like realistic fiction, fantasies and mysteries set in Maryland and Washington, D.C. by authors such as Mary Downing Hahn, Anne Spencer Lindbergh, Priscilla Cummings and Katherine Paterson. My favorites include Hahn’s The Doll in the Garden, and Time for Andrew: A Ghost Story, Lindbergh’s The People in Pineapple Place and The Hunky Dory Dairy, Paterson’s The Great Gilly Hopkins, and Priscilla Cummings’ books Face First and Blindsided. Please check the websites for ages and grade levels for these titles or send me questions in the COMMENTS section.
I cannot end this post without sharing some new mysteries I personally read this year which are highly recommended for middle grade readers in third through sixth grade. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library by Chad Grabenstein won an Agatha award for the best children’s mystery of 2014! In contention was the first in a new series by Amanda Flower called Andi Unexpected. I was fortunate to meet the author of The Sherlock Holmes Club by Ohio teacher Gloria Alden. All of these titles provide me with inspiration as I construct my own children’s mystery!
I hope my followers will send me more great children’s titles to review and read. If you know of any budding writers who wish to have their children’s books read, please send them my way.
Happy Children’s Literature reading in 2015!