How To Select Good Picture Books

How To Select Good Picture Books

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Carrie McBride
Jan 3, 2011

I used to think that all children's books were good – the point is that kids are reading or being read to, right? My toddler son and I are lucky to live around the corner from our public library and we're frequent visitors. I let him pick out whatever he wants and I also make my own selections. I've noticed lately that he goes straight for books based on tv shows he's seen (primarily Thomas the Tank Engine) and I gravitate toward books I have fond memories of from my own childhood. Maybe I need a little guidance.

Awards and Lists
Have you seen the meme (via Facebook, email, etc.) with a list of 100 books that supposedly everyone should read (prompting you to count how many you've read so you can either pat yourself on the back or resolve to shake the dust off your library card)? I wondered if there was something like that for kids' books? And, in fact, there are many such lists. I knew about the Caldecott Medal (awarded annually since 1938 to recognize an outstanding picture book) so I looked up the list of winners to see how many of those my son and I had read together. The answer: four. Gulp.

Just like the Oscars, there's no reason to believe that the Caldecott committee's recognition is the end all and be all, but it's surely a good place to start. Each year they additionally recognize several additional books as Honor Books. (For non-picture books, check out the Newbery Medal winners.)

Other awards from which you might derive your own reading list:
Boston Globe–Horn Book Awards (since 1968)
The Charlotte Zolotow Award established by the Cooperative Children's Book Center in 1998.
Coretta Scott King Book Awards, since 1970
Parents' Choice Awards, since 1978
Notable Children's Books, awarded by the American Library Association since 1996.

In addition to formal awards, many libraries and organizations have developed their own lists of recommended picture books. Check your library's website or ask at your next visit if they have printed copies. Here are a few worth downloading:

100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know by The New York Public Library
Best Illustrated Books for Children (annual list by The New York Times' Book Review staff)
Children's Choices Reading List (a partnership between the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council)

Blogs
It's no surprise that people who are passionate about picture books have turned to blogging and since they blog weekly or daily, you don't have to wait for those once-a-year award lists for some guidance. Some bloggers do extensive reviews while others are more newsy; either way they're a great way to expand your awareness of what's new and notable. (Note: the scope of some of these bloggers is beyond just picture books.)

Picture Book of the Day
The Picture Book Junkies
Picture Book Party
Kids Lit
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast
Blue Rose Girls
Book Buds (no longer being updated)
• and here's a link to Kidlitosphere Central with a list of bloggers to peruse

Befriend the librarian
I truly believe children's librarians are special people. Warm, friendly, knowledgeable and ardent lovers of children's books. Get to know yours! Ask them what's new. Ask them about their favorites. Describe what your child loves and see if they have any recommendations.

So here's to a year of good reading! I hope these resources are helpful to you. My son will likely still pick out a Thomas book at every library visit and I will likely still pick out an old favorite to share with him - and that's perfectly fine. But I'm encouraged to explore the vast, varied and spectacular world of picture books this year. Happy reading!

(Image by Flickr member Allie Bishop Pasquier licensed for use under Creative Commons.)

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