Children's Book Columns
March is Women’s History Month, so I am highlighting books about women and their roles in history and the world today. Though I hope that young readers are exposed to books about a variety of people and places all year long, the focus of a history month provides an opportunity to pay closer attention to groups of people who have been underrepresented in literature and the study of history. As usual, I had a hard time choosing my favorite books for this theme, so instead I’ve selected titles that exemplify a few of the ways women’s stories can be presented.
Books that contain a collection of profiles or short biographies can be a great way to learn a little bit about several people in a short amount of time and are also helpful in gaining a big-picture view of what that group of people have in common. Rad American Women A-Z and Rad Women Worldwide, both by Kate Schatz, present short profiles of women from history and today who have made an impact in their professions, their countries, or the world. Some of the women, such as Sonia Sotomayor, Nellie Bly, and Malala Yousafzai, are fairly well-known, but many are not, a reminder to readers that women have often made significant contributions that have gone unrecognized.
For young readers who have mastered the leveled or beginning reader, there is a great sense of accomplishment. They are independent readers! Bring on the chapter books! That can be a pretty big jump, though. Many of these children would feel intimidated with the heft and vocabulary of Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, or Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Early chapter books can be a great transition to the rich world of children’s fiction, as they are less word-dense than a traditional chapter book, have illustrations throughout, and are just long enough to give a sense of accomplishment when finished but not so long as to seem insurmountable. Like fiction for readers of any age, early chapter books come in a wide range of genres, from realistic to science fiction to fantasy, so there are early chapter books to fit any reading taste.
The Alien in My Pocket series, by Nate Ball, is for fans of science and science fiction. In book one, Blast Off! an alien spaceship crashes into Zack’s bedroom. But it’s not just any spaceship. It’s a miniature alien spaceship, with a miniature alien inside. Zack must help Amp the alien repair his ship so he can get back to his home planet, but not before Zack and Amp cause some serious chaos around town. Science tidbits are included throughout the story as natural parts of the plot—for example, talking about pressure when figuring out how to launch Amp’s spaceship.
Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s Rappahannock Reads runs throughout the month of February and is an opportunity for everyone in the community to read and discuss the same book. CRRL’s 2017 Rappahannock Reads title is Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, by Margot Lee Shetterly, which tells the true story of the African American female mathematicians who went to work as “human computers” at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in Hampton, Virginia, during World War II.
Young children often inspire adults with their questions that make us think more deeply about the world and their clear-sighted and interesting interpretation of how and why things happen. The early years of a child’s life are not all about them inspiring us, though; it’s a two-way street, with adults inspiring children as much as they inspire us. The mind of a young child is fertile ground for ideas to take root, and books can be a great place to find new ideas that lead children to dream big.
The new year brings resolutions for a lot of us, often about ways to improve ourselves. Making a reading resolution is a great way to do just that, and I have one suggestion for you or the teens in your life: start a new series! Today, I am highlighting a few teen book series that had new installments out in 2016, giving readers an opportunity to try something fresh as they start the new year.
Gifting a book to a teen or pre-teen can be a little tricky. By this point in their lives, young people have strong opinions about what kinds of books they like and don’t like. They may be reluctant to read a book given to them by someone they view as, shall we say…mature…or...out of touch. What a coup it is, then, for people perceived as mature or out of touch to give books that are incredibly cool, ones which young people never knew they wanted. I have some recommendations that I hope will help you achieve this goal. One tip, though: try to find out which genre your young person prefers. It’s much easier to get a good fit between books and readers if you know where their interests lie, whether it be fantasy, mystery, adventure, or something else. Also, do some research in Central Rappahannock Regional Library’s online catalog to look thorough reviews of the book to make sure it is at the right maturity level for your reader.
In this gift-giving season, I’m sure it is no surprise that my favorite gift to give is books. It gives me great pleasure to have a recipient come back to me later and say, “I loved that book!” Some of my friends and family receive books I know they want (a frequent request is for the next book in their favorite series), but the gifts I most enjoy giving are books they didn’t know about at all but that turn out to be perfect fits. Columns in the coming weeks will have lists of books published in the last year that I think would make great gifts for teens and elementary-aged children, but I’m starting this week with picture book suggestions for young children. Because these are newer books, published in 2016, I’m hoping they will help me accomplish that goal of giving gifts people didn’t even know they wanted.
I sound like a broken record sometimes about the power of books, but I think one of the most magical things about reading is how it can sweep us up and transport us to other worlds and times and help us experience something without actually being there. Reading stories set in the past can help us understand that time, bringing the past alive to show us what it was like to live in a different time by putting us right in the middle of a story. As a reader, I like having some excitement in the stories to make them even more enjoyable. Here is a selection of books set in the past with page-turning drama, including mystery, murder, and adventure.
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
In early 1900s Canada, the neighboring communities of Buxton and Chatham share the legend of the “Madman of Piney Woods.” When Benji of Buxton, a descendant of American slaves, and Red of Chatham, a descendant of Irish immigrants, meet at a school event and strike up a friendship, they find they have much in common, including feeling the strange presence of the Madman of Piney Woods.
I knew the perfect column to appear in today’s paper would be one that focused on scary books. Just one problem: I don’t read very many scary books. I have some guilt over this because, as a librarian, I feel like I should read all types of books. And I try. I really do. But the truth is, I don’t enjoy scary books, and, while I advocate reading widely to stretch your mind and to be exposed to all the wonderful literature out there, I also think there are so many good books available that you shouldn’t spend time reading a book you really aren’t enjoying. So, I don’t read scary books unless I have to, like when I need to prepare for a book discussion group.
I was looking at some new picture books recently, and there were two very cute books in the pile featuring cats. It got me thinking about a conversation I had a while ago with a fellow librarian who is a cat lover. She was expressing her disappointment because she felt that cats were underrepresented in children’s picture books. Books featuring dogs seem plentiful, but books with cats are a little harder to find. I don’t know what this means: do people in general really prefer dogs over cats, or is it just children’s book authors and publishers who seem to favor dogs?
I certainly do not want to get in the middle of the perennial cats vs. dogs debate, but I do want to let cat lovers know: do not despair! There is a wide variety of delightful picture books featuring cats, and I have pulled together a list of some of my favorites. Some are funny; some are sweet; some have outstanding illustrations; and all feature cats. As I thought about this topic, it got me thinking that because there is a day for everything, surely there must a National Cat Day, and there is! Feline fans, celebrate your cuddly companions any day, but on October 29, National Cat Day, I suggest you make a special point of grabbing one of these books about cats and inviting a child to enjoy a story with you.