Children's Book Columns
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.
Sometimes we want to have an adventure without leaving the comforts of home. Maybe we want to experience what it is like to live in the rainforest but don’t want to suffer the insects or tropical diseases. Maybe we want to experience what it is like to travel the world but don’t have the money and time to do so. Many teens (and adults) long for the excitement of travel, exploring the world, being challenged by nature, or meeting new people, and reading can be the ticket to those experiences. A well-written book can drop us into different parts of the world or different ways of life and allows us to feel like we are there, experiencing the excitement, the dangers, and the challenges—even if we haven’t left our sofas.
Being outdoors in nature offers children endless possibilities to engage and stimulate their curiosity. If you can’t get your children outdoors for one reason or another, books are a great way to explore the wonders of nature further. Many children are keenly interested in animals and nature, and there are a nearly endless number of books for elementary-aged children and older where they can learn about plant and animal life.
If you have children or teens in your life, you know that computer coding and coding for kids has been gaining popularity. With electronic devices used in nearly every area of our lives, there is great interest in teaching kids how to go from being simply users of technology to becoming creators of technology, and learning to code is one way to do that. Computers, smartphones, websites and apps all run on code.
Learning to code teaches children and teens problem-solving skills and also gives them the opportunity to “look under the hood” of the technology all around them and understand how it works. Coding has been taught at the high school level for decades (I took a computer programming class when I was in high school), but today there are several platforms which have been created for younger children, so children as young as early elementary (or younger!) can enjoy coding, and there are many fun ways to encourage interest in coding for children and teens.
Lauren Thompson’s story begins, “This is the pie, warm and sweet, that Papa baked.” But how did Papa make the pie? Start with apples, “juicy and red,” then the tree, “crooked and strong,” and so on until we come to “the world, blooming with life, that spins with the sun, fiery and bright…”
Perfect for this time of year, The Apple Pie That Papa Baked is a rollicking picture book illustrated by Jonathan Bean in tones of cream, sepia, black and red, evoking classic illustrations by Virginia Lee Burton and Wanda Gag.
Things are buzzing in the Harry Potter world. A new book is coming out! I am among the fans anxiously awaiting the release of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on July 31. When the last book in the Harry Potter series, The Deathly Hallows, came out nine years ago, many fans had mixed emotions. While we couldn’t wait to know what happened with the story, we were also sad, knowing that, when we came to the end, our journey with Harry and his friends would be over. The Cursed Child promises to whisk us right back into Harry’s world, and I can’t wait! This eighth book in the Harry Potter story is going to be unique. The Cursed Child is a two-part play based on a story written by J.K. Rowling and Jack Thorne. The play opens in London on July 30, and will be followed the next day by the release of the script publication. The details of The Cursed Child are under tight wraps, but we know that the story is set in Harry Potter's adulthood, picking up 19 years after the defeat of Voldemort. Harry is raising a family and working at the Ministry of Magic, and his son, Albus, figures prominently in the story.
When I was given my list of responsibilities as the new Youth Services Coordinator for Central Rappahannock Regional Library and found writing this column was among them, my first question was about the content. Was I supposed to write about something in particular? When I was told it was all about books, I felt like a kid in a candy store. So many options! Where do I start? My mind began racing, and I came up with a long list of ideas, which I will be mining in the weeks to come, but, for my inaugural column, I decided to go with something that was fresh in my mind: family vacations and what to do with bored kids in the car and on the airplane. My family and I recently returned from a vacation involving several hours in airplanes and cars, and it got me thinking about great books to keep younger children entertained. These are also great books to have at your house for young visitors.