Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reading about reading: The Best of the Reference Section

Our reference section is home to a plethora of dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, and the ever-popular DK Eyewitness series. But it seems to me that it doesn't get much love -- especially considering that it also includes a wide range of reference books on reading and children's literature. Whether your children (or yourself) are read-aloud age or reading-literary-classics age, we have a reference chock-full of great book recommendations, strategies and exercises to increase comprehension, and "stories behind the stories" to enrich the reading experience. Moment of truth: because I'm a bookseller, blogger/reviewer, and all-around children's lit lover, I have several of these in my personal library!

The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
Trelease shares his research (and others') on the positive effects of reading aloud with children. He asserts that the more and the longer parents read to and with their children, the more beneficial the effects will be: higher IQ, better test scores, more active imaginations, more effective communication skills. Trelease suggests strategies for making time to read with children of all ages and integrating reading aloud with silent reading. Best of all, he includes an index of read-aloud greats accompanied by bibliographic information, reading or age level, subject, genre, and synopsis. (For more on reading aloud, revist my editorial from December.)

The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books for Children by Eden Ross Lipton
This ginormous reference book is surprisingly accessible by virtue of its practical organization. Wordless books, picture books, story books, early chapter books, middle reading books, and young adult books each have their own sections illustrated with spot artwork. These sections are easily searchable by using the indices, which order the books by title, author, illustrator, age level, read-aloud appropriateness, or subject. The individual entries offer a summary and prizes won in addition to bibliographic information.

100 Best Books for Children by our friend Anita Silvey
If you've been on the blog at all in the last week or two, you know that Anita Silvey is a children's lit superstar, whom we place on a pedestal with The Rog and our patron saint of kids' books, editorial legend Ursula Nordstrom. Here's another opportunity to see Ms. Silvey's genius in action. This pocket-sized reference would be great to have on hand on a trip to the library or (ahem!) your favorite local independent bookseller, whereas her The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators or Lipton's Parent's Guide, both weighty tomes, would be better perused at home. However, rest assured that this slim volume recommends the one hundred very best books for toddlers to preteens through in-depth, extensive reviews by one of the very best brains in the field. For books beyond the preteen age, try Silvey's 500 Best Books for Teens.

Book Crush by Nancy Pearl
The librarian/author of Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason turns her talents to children's books in this readable compendium of recommendations, divided by three age groups (youngest readers, middle grade readers, and teen readers) and quirky alphabetical subject headings (from "Ahh, Those Adorable Anthropomorphic Animals" to "What'd I Do to Deserve This Biography?"). The entries covering multiple books are -- pro -- personable and narrative, but -- con -- offer little information on individual titles beyond their subject grouping. Still, this is a great resource for those times when you or the loved one you're shopping for seem to have "read everything," or for when only another teen vampire romance/dragon fantasy/sassy-girl-protagonist picture book will do.

The Ultimate Teen Book Guide by Daniel Hahn and Leonie Flynn
The last of the "recommended reading" compilations I want to highlight here, this one is special because many of the reviewers are also bestselling authors. Meg Cabot, John Green, E. Lockhart, Eoin Colfer, Nancy Werlin, Christopher Paolini, and Anthony Horowitz are just a few of the contributors included in this guide. In addition to reviews you'll find lists of top tens, award winners, best of genre books, bestsellers, and more, and articles on everything from race in YA lit to romance novels for young adults.

The Rights of the Reader by Daniel Pennac, illustrated by Quentin Blake
When Rachel posted back in November about the rights of every reader and the rights of reluctant readers in particular, Daniel Pennac was the inspiration. This is a child-centered, thoughtful, and witty exploration of why bookworms love to read, and how adults can encourage the children in their lives to read without squashing that love. You can download and print a poster of the "10 Inalienable Rights of the Reader" for your very own!

Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature by Leonard Marcus
Leonard Marcus is another wicked geniusy figure in the children's lit universe; his particular focus is on the historical and cultural background of children's books and their creators. In his books Golden Legacy, A Caldecott Celebration, and Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, Marcus uncovers the little-known or entirely forgotten stories behind classic kids' books. Minders of Make-Believe is an examination of how the grown-ups who write, publish, market, and purchase children's books have definined not only children's literature but childhood itself. It's an academic, historical work which spans many eras and disciplines -- not exactly a beach read -- but as Daniel Handler/"Lemony Snicket" says in an awesome back-of-book blurb, "In the busy barnyard of children's literature, Leonard Marcus is Charlotte -- a calm, wise soul who weaves every strand into something meaningful and useful. (He does not, as far as I know, have eight legs.)" If you're interested in the historical or social aspects of children's literature, take a peek at Seth Lerer's Children's Literature: A Reader's History from Aesop to Harry Potter or Herbert Kohl's Should We Burn Babar?

L is for Lollygag: Quirky Words for a Clever Tongue by Chronicle Books
This unconventional dictionary produced by one of my favorite publishers offers tongue-twisting, mind-tickling vocabulary that will surprise even the most well-read. The design is brilliant, with the visual appearance of wacky words and their definitions often corresponding to their meanings. Illustrations and sidebars called "WordPlay" add to the whimsy. I ♥ the entry for shenanigans: devious tricks or mischevious behaviour. Although it is possible to engage in more than one shenanigan, there's more of an impact if you work up a bunch of them -- something the staffers here have learned well from our curious mascot. We should add the verb "shenanigate" to the dictionary!

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