When I worked at a big box bookstore many years ago, I helped dozens of grownups find the perfect book for the very specific child reader: the 5-year-old who likes dinosaurs, or the 10-year-old who hates to read, or the teething baby with a “taste” for board books. I often wished I had a crew of experts on hand to help.
Luckily, the calvary has arrived in the form of A Family of Readers: The Book Lover’s Guide to Children’s and Young Adult Literature, a compilation of information and recommendations from the editors of The Horn Book Magazine.
The Horn Book is a respected monthly journal aimed at anyone who loves books for the under 18 crowd. Their semi-annual Horn Book Guide rates and reviews nearly every book that comes out, almost 4,000 per year. The Guide is an amazing resource for librarians, teachers, and book editors, but not so great for busy parents.
That’s why the editors of The Horn Book put out A Family of Readers. It covers years of children’s publishing, allowing for the inclusion of classic titles as well as the best new favorites most of which are easy to find on the shelves of any good bookstore or library.
To see how this book can save you from bookstore meltdown, check out the Table of Contents (available via most online booksellers as a preview). It’s organized into four parts:
- Reading to Them (board and picture books)
- Reading with Them (easy readers and chapter books)
- Reading on Their Own (middle grade genres)
- Leaving Them Alone (fiction for young adults)
Each part contains articles from Horn Book writers about specific formats and genres, interspersed with words of wisdom from well known authors like John Scieszka and Virginia Hamilton. The article titles are fairly self explanatory, so scan them to find what you need. (If you are a true kidlit fanatic, you may want to read the book cover to cover, as I did.)
Many of these short and quick articles are written with the overwhelmed parent in mind. For instance, “What Makes a Good Alphabet Book?” by Lolly Robinson is a fantastic six-page primer on this particular micro-genre (did you know they are leveled by age?). Danielle J. Ford’s “What Makes a Good Dinosaur Book?” plumbs the depths of a popular category that includes a lot of bad books. And you only need to read the title of “What Makes for a Good Sex Ed Book?” to know how valuable that article is. The Horn Book editors also pay a lot of attention to nonfiction, including a wonderful profile of biographies in “A Story, by Someone Else, More than a Hundred Pages,” by Betty Carter.
Book Lists to the Rescue!
At the end of every chapter is a “More Great Books” list, like “More Great Folklore.” Strangely, the titles actually mentioned in the Folklore articles are not listed there, it’s only additional titles. This was my only gripe with the usability of this book. Luckily, the large back of book bibliography includes all books mentioned and listed, broken down into the four major sections.
If any book should be an app, it’s this one. Unfortunately, it’s not even available as an e-book (yet). But you can still arm yourself with this useful guide next time you’re hunting down the perfect book for the specific reader at the big box bookstore.
Let the experts help you out and leave the bookseller alone. She’s busy checking for teeth marks on the board books.
- The Horn Book Magazine -- The official site of the journal.
- Read Roger -- HB editor Roger Sutton’s blog.
- A Fuse #8 Production --Librarian Betsy Bird’s blog for School Library Journal, with links to all of her reviews and poll results on readers’ top 100 picture books and novels.
- Cynsations --Author Cynthia Leitich Smith’s blog and information depot on all things kidlit.