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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Which Children's Books Should Be Read?


The process of literary discovery is a beautiful thing that hopefully begins when one’s a toddler and continues until one can no longer exist.  While adults may be concerned with books that reference pieces that mirror their lives – or with form, structure, and style – children only care about a good escape, a story into their imagination, an adventure that leaves them smiling and thirsting for more.

Children’s books are so special.  They are not only one’s earliest introduction to books, but to life.  Illustrations can inspire and enchant.  Words can define, shape, and question our values.  Books help children give form to the world as they dream up the unknown.  Which books should the new generation read?  Why?

Julia Eccleshare had the pleasure of editing 1001 Children’s Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up, based on a selection of books reviewed by leading international critics.  She writes of the joys of young readers in her introduction:

“There is little that is more influential than the stories we read in childhood.  From their meaning and their language come a welter of emotional experiences – and the words with which to express them – that cannot easily be reached in any other way. Stories are places of enchantment, mystery, surprise, dread, and – above all – consolations, and nowhere can they be found in richer abundance than in children’s books.”

Quentin Blake, in the book’s preface, said “These books, at their best, are primers in the development of the emotional, the moral, the imaginative life.  And they can be a celebration of what it is like to be a human being.  That is why they are important.”  Blake should know.  She was UK’s first Children’s Laureate.

We use the term “children’s books” loosely.  How would you define it?  Are children’s books only for children?  How old is a child?

Usually, we think children’s books are for young kids, such as those in elementary school, especially if they have illustrations.  But children’s books begin within with board books, then illustrated stories, then chapter books and then more advanced levels, such as YA.

Children’s books usually have a childlike character of someone discovering things that a child reader can relate to.  There’s no formula for children’s books but we do see patterns from a book's length to themes, feelings, history, creativity, and relationships with family, kids, animals, nature, and the world around them.  Perhaps so much of who we are, deep down, comes from the lessons we learned – or failed to learn – while reading children’s books.

“Children’s books carry the twin ambitions of providing entertainment while also offering educational or cultural improvement,” says Eccleshare.  “The balance between these two sometimes complementary and sometimes conflicting intentions, varies according to the prevailing attitudes to children, but their existence seems to be universal.  Some stories can cross cultures and time periods and be easily understood by all.”

Just as one’s childhood prepares them for adulthood, children’s books help prepare young people to become adult readers.  If kids are turned off or underexposed to books, what will this portend for their adult years?  We must – as parents and just literate citizens – feel obligated to encourage, support, and help our youngest generation to become avid, proficient, and curious readers.

So what should a child read?

Anything he or she wants.

They should experiment and try a variety of genres and formats.  Let them try poetry, audiobooks, and short stories.  Give them a comic book, a graphic novel, a newspaper, or a book of photography. Let them find what entertains, educates, enlightens or inspires them.  It shouldn’t be a chore or scheduled obligation.  Let reading flourish on its own, but encourage and nurture these little souls.

Some of my all-time favorites include:

The Little Engine That Could
Spencer Has Too Many Toys
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Winnie-the-Pooh series
Curious George series
Dr. Seuss series
Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See?
The Emperor’s New Clothes
The Ugly Duckling
Charlotte’s Web
The Giving Tree
The Three Pigs
The Swiss Family Robinson
Pinocchio
The Hardy Boys series

But I must have read a thousand children's books – if not more – so who can recall from 40 years ago.  And yet, these titles, stir something in me when I write them down.  They meant so much at the time I read them, and they’ve stayed with me all of these years. If you think about it, it is children’s books that stay the longest with us and leave the biggest impression on our psyche.  When we’re young, we know so little and have read so few books.  Every good book that comes to a child has the opportunity to change him or her immensely, if not permanently.  Read to children and encourage them to read.  It’s the gift of life.

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©.
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