Children's Book Columns
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.
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.