Sunday, February 18, 2007

Thoughts About Children’s Book Lists

This is a general post about children’s book lists. This is information I’ve learned over the years. I am not an expert in this field; I am sharing what I know.

It seems to me that there are two main types of book lists.

1. The first is a list of books that someone thinks are worthwhile to read. There are two general subsets of that kind of list:

A. Lists that make good read aloud’s; those books are not matched to the child’s independent reading ability, the adult reads the book to the child and the child can comprehend and enjoy books many years above the “independent reading level”.

B. The other type is used by adults to match content to a child, such as finding books that reinforce certain morals or character traits, finding books about horses, finding books on a science or history topic for the child’s personal interest OR to teach the child that topic in a school or homeschool situation (usually).

These lists can have many different categories. For example there may be lists recommended for Christian children, Catholic children, books with a message to uplift the self-esteem of girls, books that show black people in a positive light, books that address certain lifestyle issues (divorced parents), books on non-fiction topics, and so on and so forth.

2. The other kind of list is a list of books with ratings by independent reading level of a child. Those lists are desired by teachers mainly, by homeschooling parents and by parents as well (if the parent is doing their own research rather than just using a book that the school recommends). Those lists are for both fiction and non-fiction. They can be used to help a child learn to read and they can also be used to find books that a child can read to themselves to teach themselves about a topic (rather than being read aloud to).

In the past, those lists have usually been compiled by teachers, librarians or homeschooling parents. However, I recently found out about one that is written by a book publisher and is used to match that publisher’s books to public school students---which is basically a marketing tool first and foremost if you ask me. The problem with this is that readers are not necessarily being matched to books that interest them or to excellent books which that company does not publish; the school children are being forced to pick from a certain list of books and some parents are being pressured to buy a certain number of books from that publisher for that child for that grade level/school year. (Perhaps I will blog about that topic in a separate post lest I get off on a tangent that will become a rant.)

Some Book Lists Are In Books
There are books that tell of the value of reading aloud to children.

There are books that tell parents of babies and very young children what they can do to help “raise readers” and children who love books and learning. Those inevitably end up also being book list books.

There are book lists books that tell what books fit certain character traits.

There are books that list books by topics, such as a book telling the titles American History books available for grades K-6.

There are many kinds of book list books!

Non-Book Format Book Lists
There are websites with some of this information.

People chat about these topics online in discussion groups, you can join one or more of those lists.

Some people, teachers, and librarians compile their own personal lists and publish them on the Internet on websites and blogs. Some sites are owned by the person, some by the school, and some by the library.

Homeschooling parents talk about these books with one another in person, at homeschool support group meetings, on email discussion groups and on Internet based bulletin board style sites.

Homeschooling catalogs serve as book lists of sorts. is also is useful if you follow the information about “customers who bought this book also bought X book”.

Know the Bias of the List Maker
Regarding the book list books about the topics (versus independent reading level) what is important is to know the bias or the goal of the writer/list maker so you can understand where they are coming from and if your own goals and desires for finding books match.

For example if you are looking for science books you should know if the list maker considered or cared if the content of the books supports evolution or creationism, if that is important to you.

If you are of the population that doesn’t care what their children read so long as they are reading, then the books in the Jim Trealease books are for you (as he states that he feels that so long as a child is reading it doesn’t matter what they are reading in his book). I am not of this mindset and that is why certain twaddle books are not read in our family.

If you are looking for books which are not gloomy and depressing or that don’t glamorize sinful acts then a Christian or a Catholic or some other religious centered book list may be useful to you (even if you are not Christian or Catholic).

If you read the list that a public school teacher or a librarian compiles you may see influences based on the curriculum of a certain grade requires or the inclusion of books to teach a required holiday or a certain historical time period in that grade leveled student. Other examples are to include books about children from all walks of life/ethnicities and all life’s challenges (divorce, alcoholism, handicapped children, etc.). I was reading a reading list of a Los Angeles based teacher and saw books with positive messages about Mexico and Mexicans since the students in her class were Mexican. Sometimes a book is on the list as it covers a topic even when the book is inferior in quality, perhaps because there are few books on that topic in print at present.

Another example is that Jim Trealease keeps revising his books to keep ONLY in-print books in his book lists. This is a problem as the books go in and out of print quickly sometimes. Also it is not helpful if a person is using his book lists at the library where currently out of print titles may be in circulation. Those of us who buy used books also may not be made aware of a good title due to it not being included in his list.

Finding the Best Fit for Your Children
The bias of the list maker or the purpose that the list maker had in mind when making their list may not be the same as you desire. If you are picky about what types of books you want or what content the only thing I can recommend is that you are aware of what you want and what you don’t want and to evaluate each title to see if it is right for your family.

Me and Book Lists
The term that many of us use for the great books that are engaging and uplifting is “living books”. We call the garbage books or the inferior quality books “twaddle”.

In the past my main concern was to find the best quality books, the best and most interesting fiction stories. There are so many books on the market in print and there are a lot out of print. I don’t want to waste our time on twaddle; I want to spend our time reading the best of the best. So far most of my concern has been to find out about those books and to search them out to buy or borrow from a library.

I have also used non-fiction book lists and recommendations of friends as well as my personal selections after browsing a book, to find non-twaddle non-fiction books for my children to use for both homeschooling content as well as pleasure reading. In our homeschool I only use textbooks to teach math. I use living books to make up the curriculum for my children. Therefore I need to have some guidance about what books are out there as well as which are living books and to try to avoid the twaddle.

Mature Themes
I will quickly add that I do think that all parents should know their child and their tolerance for mature topics. Sensitive children as well as those who are young deserve to be protected by their parents and guided toward more appropriate books.

What I am trying to say is that if you are told that your second grader is reading at a sixth grade reading level don't just grab a book that is on some sixth-grade level reading list. Not all books on that list will be age-appropriate for a seven or eight year old! You can find age-appropriate books that are still on a higher reading level. You need not corrupt or scare your child just so you can give them a book with a higher grade level to challenge them (or so you can brag about it as some parents do). I, for one, am not impressed when I see a young child being robbed of their innocence. As well, when picking read-aloud's you can find stimulating and interesting stories that your child is not yet able to read themselves yet are not too mature for their age.

Readers who are reading above grade level need to be protected from themes which are too mature for their age. For example should not a book containing rape, incest, and ethnic cleansing be avoided by a precocious six year old? I think so.

Future Topics I’ll Blog About
In upcoming blog posts I will share my favorite book lists books and why I like them.

I will share some websites with free information about the levels of books that you can access.

I will share my current project of finding books that are matched to my children’s independent reading level for reading practice for homeschooling lessons.

I think I’ve written a very long post here, so I will just end here and leave those other topics for later.

Update: On 3/01/07 I blogged about a great website I found to help me find independent reading levels of children's books. I also talk about making a plan for my children for their homeschooling reading lesssons. You can read it here.

Technorati Tags: , , , , .


Judy Aron said...

have you seen the blatant political party brainwashing children's book:
Jeremy Zilber, author of Why Mommy is a Democrat,

check out the blog that comments on it.

christinemm said...

Judy thank you for that information. I had not heard of that book.

Why are the characters squirrels and not donkeys?

I am speechless about that book.

sonja said...

I'm so glad you made the point about advanced readers who are too young for mature content. I have seen many parents disregard this simple truth in the name of "challenging" their child. I'm looking forward to your favorite book lists!