Introduction to Materials for Youth
Before jumping into the study of materials for youth, it’s useful to think about your own childhood. Did you spend endless summer days reading Hardy Boys mysteries and skimming comic books, or were you more likely to pick up a book by Beverly Cleary, the The Babysitter's Club books, or Seventeen magazine?
What role have books, movies, and other materials played in your life? These experiences are likely to inform your choices as you select materials for own children or for your library. The world of children’s literature has changed dramatically over the past century. In addition, the area of young adult literature has emerged recently.
This course is intended to help you understand the options and prepare you to make professional decisions about library collections for youth. It’s also designed to help you develop skills in readers advisory for young people. When a child approaches you and asks for a “good book”, you should be bursting with ideas that will inspire this boy or girl to develop a life-long passion for reading. What adult inspired you? What book started you on the path to life-long learning?
Each section of the course begins with a short video that provides an overview to the big ideas explored in the course materials. It’s important to both watch the video AND read the materials. Note that this page is a transcript of the video.
Literature is “thought, experience, and imagination shaped into oral or written language that may include visual images.” (Stoodt, 1996). Children’s literature is literature either designed for youth or works that connect with a child’s experiences and level of development. These works consider the life experiences of children and their ability to understand text and images.
Beatrix Potter's was an English author and illustrator who wrote children's books featuring anthropormorphic animals such as Peter Rabbit (shown in right). Her goal was to bring bring garden animals to life for children.
"I remember I used to half believe and wholly play with fairies when I was a child. What heaven can be more real than to retain the spirit-world of childhood, tempered and balanced by knowledge and common-sense..." - Beatrix Potter's journal entry, November 11, 1896
Unfortunately, it's difficult to get many youth to read what many consider to be classic works of children's literature.
"Many of the books I loved as a kid, that even my mother read as a child, are very slow going. Today's children are not as patient. The best example of this is 'The Secret Garden,' which I adored as a child." - Lois Lowry, children's book author
Children's Literature Defined
The term children’s literature can be difficult to define. Hunt (2011, 44) notes that “the less a book looks like a ‘popular’ book for children, the more likely it is to acquire the status of ‘children’s literature’ or ‘literature’ and to be treated with critical tools not specifically designed for it.” Hunt is concerned that some scholars stress “the nebulous idea that some texts are ‘literature’ - inherently better than others - and they consequently denigrate the very books that are most likely to connect with children.”
Short (2014, 4) states that
“Children read literature to experience life and their experiences inside the world of the story challenge them to think in new ways about their lives and world.”
In general, children’s books are those trade books for youth from birth to early adolescence that focus on topics of interest to children. Focusing on topics from motorcycles and mysteries to dinosaurs and dystopian societies, these books come in a wide range of formats from the traditional printed book to e-books and interactive digital books. Keep in mind that content should be authentic and reflect the “diverse cultural experiences” of today’s youth (Short, 2014).
It’s important to differentiate between textbooks and trade books. Textbooks are intended for instruction, while trade books are designed for information and entertainment.
Junk Food for Youth
This course will explore the wide range of materials for youth. While The Adventures of Captain Underpants may be snubbed by most literary critics, it continues to be popular with children after almost two decades in print and may be the one book that hooks a reluctant young reader.
Marilyn Kaye (1990) does a great job describing the attraction of “junk food” books.
“Fast food appeals to the appetites of the young. It may be synthetic, but it is tasty in a bland way. It is cheap, easily available, and requires no effort. Fast food is reliable and consistent; if you have ever eaten a Big Mac, you known exactly what your next Big Mac is going to taste like…
[Twinkie] books have similar attributes. They can be read quickly and require minimal mental effort. Everything is spelled out for you - there is no need to read between the lines, or analyze, or even concentrate. If you have read one book in a series, you can feel confident about what the next book is going to be like. And when you have finished, you can give it away, or trade it with a friend for another book in the series (Kaye, 1990, 50-51).
From Nancy Drew to The Secret Seven, I read lots of what Kaye would describe as junk food books while I was growing up. It's comforting to know that the mystery will be solved and the kids will all make it home okay. These books helped me become a fluent reader. I didn't need to worry about complex stories or heavy meanings. Instead, I could enjoy the reading experience. Howevebefore long, I began to thirst for more. I demanded multi-dimensional characters and thought-provoking plot twists found in books like Sounder (1969) by William Armstrong and Where the Red Fern Grows (1961) by Wilson Rawls.
I never regretted reading the junk food books because they were essential in helping evolve as a reader. Even today, I enjoy a little adult junk food from formula mysteries to the occasional historical romance.
Yes, that's a photo of me as a child in the 1960s.
According to Nel and Paul (2011, 1), “since about 1970, scholarship in children's literature has brought together people from the fields of the literature, education, library and information science, cultural studies, and media studies.” Unlike many forms of literature, children’s literature is defined by it’s audience. It involves literature read by or to youth. According to Clark (2011), many scholars disagree on what counts a children’s literature. She states “Does a book appropriated by children, such as Robinson Crusoe, count? Do books that a publisher markets for children count, even if an author didn’t have such an audience in mind while writing it?” Others point to the fact that many books for young adults such as The Hunger Games have been popular with adult readers as well as youth.
Marilyn Irwin (2013) asks, what is children’s and young adult literature?
"You might answer that it is what youth read, but does that mean that Harry Potter is no longer a children’s book when an adult reads it? Another definition would be materials written for youth, but many books written for adults are read by children and young adults. I’m thinking of Jodi Picoult’s, The Pact, for example. If you use the child-as-main-character measure, you have 8-year-old Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird, a book read by many high school students, but not generally considered children’s literature. And you can get into real trouble if you go by the author. Consider the range of Judy Blume’s Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to Forever to Wifey if you doubt this statement."
Other parts of this question relate to the developmental level of the child. Yet another part is the “literature” piece, the part that makes the book or magazine worth reading or the media product worth the interaction time.
Crossover literature include a title that “crosses from child to adult or adult to child audiences” (Beckett, 2011). Works like Harry Potter, The Lord of the Rings, and The Wizard of Oz are examples.
Read Young Adult by Lee A. Talley in Keywords for Children’s Literature. What's your definition of children's literature and young adult literature?
The author has a special relationship with their work. For many children, learning about an author and their experiences helps to bring a book alive. On the other hand, knowing about an author can also shatter a child’s vision of the writer.
Read Intention by Philip Pullman in Keys for Children’s Literature.
While some authors focus on a very specific genre, others cross areas. Lois Lowry writes both fantasy and realistic fiction in both picture book and young adult novel formats. She may be best known for her historical fiction work Number the Stars and her work of fantasy The Giver. She's also written an autobiography for youth.
I write books because I have always been fascinated by stories and language, and because I love thinking about what makes people tick. Writing a story... 'The Giver' or any other... is simply an exploration of the nature of behavior: why people do what they do, how it affects others, how we change and grow, and what decisions we make along the way. - Lois Lowry
Young Adult Literature Defined
Young adult literature are works designed specifically for adolescents and young adults. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) of the American Library Association (ALA) defines a young adult as "someone between the ages of twelve and eighteen". While some young adult literature appeals to younger and older readers, the protagonists tend to be teenagers.
Many works of young adult literature fall into the category of "coming-of-age" stories. In these novels, the protagonist matures from childhood to adulthood during the course of the book or the series. Young adult fiction often addresses social problems facing adolescents.
During the 19th century, many books such as The Swiss Family Robinson (1812) by Johann David Wyss, Great Expectations (1860) by Charles Dickens, and Kidnapped (1886) by Robert Louis Stevenson described young adulthood. However publishers weren't really thinking about the difference between the children's, young adult, and adult markets. This trend continued into the 20th century with books like The Hobbitt (1938) by J.R.R. Tolkien. In the 1950s, The Catcher in the Rye (1951) by J.D. Salinger and The Lord of the Flies (1954) by William Golding drew the attention of young adult readers. However, they were stilled aimed primarily at the adult audience.
The Outsiders (1967) by S. E. Hinton marked the beginning of a new phase in young adult writing. The book was specifically about young adults and aimed at their group of readers.
They walked out slowly, silently, smiling.
"Need a haircut, greaser?" The medium-sized blond pulled a knife out of his back pocket and flipped the blade open.
I finally thought of something to say. "No." I was backing up, away from that knife. Of course I backed right into one of them. They had me down in a second. I fought to get loose, and almost did for a second; then they tightened up on me and slugged me a couple of times. So I lay still, swearing at them between gasps. A blade was held against my throat.
"How'd you like that haircut to begin just below the chin?" - The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
Other works for young adults appeared around the same time including Mr. and Mrs. Bo-Jo Jones (1967) by Ann Head, The Contender (1967) by Robert Lipsyte, and The Pigman by Paul Zindel.
Bott (2012) notes that "teens could finally read about characters who looked like, dressed like, sounded like, and had problems just like they did." Bott (2012) interviewed John Mason, Director of Library and Educational Marketing for Trade Books at Scholastic who stated.
"The huge popularity of Harry Potter proved that books for young readers in hardcover could sell in the millions, and that in this age of computer games, social networking, and smart-phones, people still like to curl up with a good book. The Hunger Games has pushed the envelope for “crossover” young adult books—books that adults will buy and read for themselves— thus blurring the line between “young adult” and “adult” and giving more visibility to young adult books in our society in general. The Printz Award and the National Book Award have also contributed greatly to bringing more respect and recognition to writing for young adults. So all in all, I think we are in a golden age for young adult books, and more and more people are discovering that some of the best writing anywhere is in books for young adults." - John Mason
As a teenager of the 1970s, I grew up during this transition period. Books were just beginning to be geared to young adult audiences. In high school, I read books like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1969) by Maya Angelou and Bless the Beasts and the Children (1970) by Glendon Swarthout. Although these titles were specifically designed for young adults, they fit perfectly into this emerging genre.
Yes, that's a photo of me as a young adult in the 1970s.
Read Cole, Pam B. (2009). Chapter 3: Trends and Issues in Young Adult Literature. Young Adult Literature in the 21st Century. McGraw Hill.
Read Dimensions of Young Adult Literature: Moving into “New Times” by Heidi L. Hallman & Melissa B. Schieble in ALAN Review (Winter 2012, 33-38)
The Value of Reading
Reading can be a powerful experience. Why do youth choose to read or not to read? What’s the value of reading?
Entertain, Engage, Enjoy
Most of us experience pleasure from reading. For many of us, it’s a major reason why we love libraries. Think about the books you read as a child. What made you laugh and cry? What scared you and calmed you? Positive childhood experiences with literature may lead to a lifetime of reading.
Tunnell (2012) identified a difference between “engaged” and “unengaged” reading. He points out that engaged reading is personal and has a lasting impact, while unengaged reading is automatic and uninspired.
Choice is one of the key factors that determine whether a child enjoys and is engaged in reading. Whether it’s fashion or vampires, young people will immerse themselves in reading when the topic is of their own choosing. Have you ever noticed that a child that proclaims they hate reading will fly through the Harry Potter series? Or, a teen who doesn’t read well still enjoys car magazines?
However sometimes enjoyment is a matter of simply matching a child with the right book. For some youth, it’s the combination of fantasy and satire found in the A Series of Unfortunate Events books by Lemony Snicket. For others, it’s discovering books about dogs like Shiloh (1991) by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.
Unfortunately over the past several decades, voluntary reading has decreased dramatically. Reading must compete with video games, social media, movies, and other electronic activities. It’s critical that children not only develop a passion for reading, but that this is maintained through adulthood. One way to bridge the old and new approaches to leisure reading is through ebooks and interactive books. Many of the works by Patrick Carman such as Dark Eden (shown above right) combine traditional print books with apps, websites, audio, and video.
Books can be enjoyed on many levels. People throughout history have appreciated the beauty of book illustrations, quality typography, and innovative approaches to layout. These aesthetic aspects continue to emerge with graphic novels and interactive digital media. Beyond the physical characteristics, many readers enjoy the beauty of language. While in some cases they enhance understanding and contribute to wisdom, in other cases books may elicit an emotional response or personal insight.
Graphic novels have strong appeal for both children and young adults. The Big No-No! (2009) by Geoffrey Hayes is an exampe of a graphic book for beginning readers that's available in both print and web-based versions.
Read The Big No-No! by Geoffrey Hayes online. Why do you think this book might appeal to beginning readers?
Young children have a limited set of experiences. Marilyn Irwin (2013) notes that through reading newspapers, magazines, and books we have the opportunity to participate in vicarious experiences. The material can be fictionalized or accurate depictions, but they give us unique perspectives of the events or situations. What was it like to live in German occupied Holland during World War II? How rough were the living conditions in previous centuries? What is it like growing up female in Iran?
Through the vicarious experiences, we can also gain insight into human behavior – our own and that of others. What is it like to be a Mexican or Asian immigrant to the United States? How would you react if your ship was torpedoed or your airplane crashed?
By reading, you can "walk in their shoes" to gain these experiences. In addition, these experiences can help children develop empathy for others. Between Shades of Grey (2011) by Ruth Sepetys is a work of historical fiction that focuses on one family's experience under Joseph Stalin's reign of terror. Through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old girl, readers learn about the starvation, disease, and exhaustion that claimed countless lives in the early 1940s. Read the excerpt below.
Literature can encourage creativity. Books can inspire youth to formulate new ways of thinking, overcome obstacles, and explore multiple perspectives. Many works for youth model the process of decision-making and help young people understand their many options in life.
While some material provides us new experiences, others show us the universality of experience or how similar our lives are even in our differences. We learn that other people have insecurities, feel sexual desires, and sometimes get angry over trivial things. Not only does that tell us that those feelings are normal, it also reminds us that we are all more alike than different. For children, literature can help them understand themselves and others forming both a personal and cultural identify.
In Tea with Milk (1999) by Allen Say, a young girl explores her cultural identity as she experiences life in both Japan and the United States.
Reading plays an essential role in learning both inside and beyond the school walls. To be successful, young people need to be able to read across the curriculum. Many books offer factual information that youth can use in inquiry, problem-solving, and decision-making activities. Quality works provide depth and a variety of perspectives.
What do you see as the value of reading? Did you read for pleasure as a child? What about as an adult? How have your reading habits evolved over your lifetime? What interferes with your life as a reader?
Reading in Learning
Learning occurs both inside and outside the school setting. Reading has been shown to enhance language development by increasing vocabulary and comprehension. It also improves writing skills by demonstrating a structure for stringing words together in a logical sequence. Reading isn’t restricted to written text. Even very young children benefit from listening to books read aloud. They also benefit from visuals. From paintings in picture books to graphs in works of nonfiction, reading involves interpreting images.
Reading has also been shown to stimulate cognition. Stoodt-Hill and Amspahgh-Corson (2005, 6) state that reading “can provoke readers to analyze, synthesize, connect, and respond thoughtfully, which facilitates cognitive development.”
Response to Literature
Because each young person enters a book with unique experiences and expectations, each reader’s response will be different. While some readers may find a book totally absorbing, another reader may be uninterested and not even finish the book.
According to Stoodt (1996, 5),
“readers make books come alive. What they bring to literature is as important as the literary work itself. Readers relate the text they read to life as they know it in order to construct meaning within the text, using the author’s words as meaning cues and constructing meaning for the words based on their personal knowledge, associations, and feelings.”
Young adults and adults experience and respond to a novel differently. This creates unique challenges for authors as well as publishers. In some cases, authors write for a cross-over audience that includes both young adults and adults. These books are often marketed differently for each of these audiences. Reviewers sometimes end up with wildly different reviews depending on whether they have the young adult or adult audience in mind. In the same way, when movies based on young adult books are premiered, film critics sometimes have difficulty deciding who with enjoy what aspects of the film. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is an excellent example in both it's book and movie forms. If you get the chance, you should read the book and watch the movie!
Read Adams, Jenni (2010). ‘‘Into Eternity’s Certain Breadth’’: Ambivalent Escapes in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. Children’s Literature in Education, 41, 222–233.
The Role of Librarians
Librarians do much more than simply select, recommend, and circulate materials for youth. Effective librarians build stimulating literary experiences that bring books alive and motivate young readers. They work with children, young adults, teachers, parents, and others to build communities of readers.
Communities of readers create a stimulating atmosphere that encourages reading. It begins with the family unit who read together at bedtime and continues through the teenage years as youth share their passion for manga or the latest dystopian series. Whether designing after-school reading programs or online virtual book clubs, librarians can have a tremendous impact on the lives of youth.
There are many wonderful resources to help you with literature and library connection. Explore some of my favorite starting points:
- Carol Hurst’s Children’s Literature Site
- Children’s Literature Web Guide
- Database Award-Winning Children’s Literature
- Guys Read
- Literacy Connections
- Nancy Keane
- Reading is Fundamental
- Reading Rockets
Genre in Literature
Literacy genre are classifications based on form (e.g., novel, poem, drama, short story), technique (e.g., prose, poetry), and format (e.g., picture book, graphic novel) that share characteristics. The term is a French word meaning “kind” or “type.” When working with youth, genre is used to describe the content of works for children and young adults such as fantasy, science fiction, realistic fiction, or historical fiction.
Works of fiction are generally organized into two genre: Fantasy and Realism.
Fantasy includes folklore, fairytales, modern fantasy, science fiction, and other works that include imaginary characters and settings. The laws of our universe may be broken allowing for talking animals, magical kingdoms, alternative timelines, and imagined technology.
Realistic fiction may begin with a real event or situation, but the focus is on invented characters and plots from historical or contemporary life. Historical fiction transports readers to the past often incorporating real people, places, and events to bring the fictional characters and plot to life. Contemporary realistic fiction often explores everyday life such as school and friends, but may also deal with life threatening issues and struggles facing youth.
Nonfiction include biography, autobiography, and informational books. These titles contain factual information that can be verified through evidence.
Much of literature for youth is written in a narrative form. In the eighth edition of Children’s Literature in the Elementary School, Huck and Kiefer (2004) suggest that you “ask any of your friends about their weekends or last vacations, and they will organize their remarks in narratives about when their car stalled in the middle of a freeway or their child broke his leg or the marvelous places they stayed at by the ocean.” Both fiction and nonfiction may use the narrative form to share an imaginary or true story.
Regardless of the genre, most narratives contain the basic elements of character, plot, and setting. Whether you’re selecting a book for purchase or helping a child pick a book to read, you need to consider the literary elements.
Stories for youth should reflect their world. School stories, friendship, and coming-of-age stories make sense for this audience. However it’s important to remember that children and young adults are also dealing with death, peer pressure, and other serious topics. The perspective of an adult moving to a new city is much different than the concerns of a child who will be changing schools, losing friends, and changing bedrooms for the first time.
Believable, interesting, and memorable characters are essential to stories because they drive the plot forward. It’s important that readers care about the characters. Well-developed characters are complex and multi-dimensional.
The protagonist is the central character and focus of the plot. The antagonist is a character that inserts conflict into the story. Particularly when dealing with sensitive issues, youth must be able to empathize or at least sympathize with the plight of the protagonist.
Youth enjoy reading about unique individuals with relatable quirks. For instance, most children can empathize with Alexander and his Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. Click the image below right to read an excerpt.
Even when creating a fantasy world, it’s important that the story is believable. The reader must be concerned about the well-being of the characters and immersed in the world of these characters.
A plot contains a chain of interacting events that hold the story together. This plan of action serves as the blueprint for the story. In most cases, there’s some kind of question or problem that’s solved through a series of events. Will Wilbur the pig live or die in Charlotte’s Web?
Effective plots contain cause-and-effect sequences. Generally, causes engage characters in an activity such as solving a problem. The effect is what happens to the character as the result of the action. Interesting plots generally contain conflict causing tension among characters. These conflicts make it difficult for the main character to reach his or her goal. Characters may struggle against other individuals, society, nature, or even themselves.
Many stories contain multiple layers of conflict. For instance, Hatchet (1987) by Gary Paulsen tells the story of a boy struggling to survive both nature and his parents’ divorce.
An effective narrative follows a story arch that includes a climax or high point of interest. At this point, the conflict is resolved. The narrative ends with a resolution and falling action that concludes the story. The plot must be presented in a way that appeals to the reader and convinces them to care about the outcome.
The setting of a book includes where and when the story takes place. From a child’s bedroom to a remote space station, the locations can be real or imagined. In the case of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) by C.S. Lewis, both real and imagined locations (see below) are involved.
Stories may be set in the past, present, or future. In speculative fiction, the aspect of time may even combine the past and future in the form of alternative timelines and parallel universes.
Children often have very little known of places beyond their own home. Some young adults have never left the city or conversely never been to a city. Well-written stories are able to immerse readers in a particular place regardless of the background of the reader. They're able to bring the sights, sounds, and even smells of the location to life.
Many stories take place in the comfortable surroundings of a character's home and schools. However, in some books, characters experience a radical change in their lives associated with war or natural disaster. In those cases, their sense of place changes and the setting of the book has a tremendous impact on the story.
Read Thomas, Ebony Elizabeth (2011). Landscapes of City and Self: Place and Identity in Urban Young Adult Literature. ALAN Review, 28(2), 13-22.
Read Lockney, Karen (2013). Progressive Presentations of Place-Based Identities in Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now. Children’s Literature in Education, 44, 311–325.
Authors each have their own writing style. Tunnell (2012, 11) notes that “how a story is told is as important as the story itself.” Many youth are attracted to literary styles that reflect the story’s characters or narrator. For instance, that Maniac Magee (1990) by Jerry Spinelli is told through short, fast paced chapters that reflect the lead character.
The approach may include interesting vocabulary or sentence structure. Some children enjoy stories that are told through using elements of poetry such as rhyme or approaches like predictable phrases. For instance, the works of Bill Martin Jr. like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do Your See? (see a page below) and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom possess these characteristics.
The use of perspective can also be an important element. While most stories for youth are told in first or third person, teens enjoy playing with the idea of point of view. For instance, Eleanor & Park (2012) by Rainbow Rowell alternates between narrators from chapter to chapter.
The writing style needs to match the mood of the characters, plot, and setting. For younger children, it can be difficult to find the balance of spooky that scares without overwhelming. The Berenstain Bears and the Spooky Old Tree (1978) is an example that turns scary into fun for pre-school children.
The style should also be developmentally appropriate. For instance, younger children may misunderstand elements of sarcasm that middle school youth enjoy.
When reading books for children and young adults, it can be useful to seek out works that contain specific literary elements. Rather than thinking about general topics that a book includes such as teens playing basketball or children entering school for the first time, seek out specific activities and how they impact the characters, plot, and setting.
In They Read and Write, but Do They Critique? The Four Resources of Literacy Practice in Printz-Award-Winning Literature, Devon Brenner (2012) analyzes how reading and writing are depicted in books for young adults. His analysis includes specific passages from the books that reflect the character's use of reading and writing in their lives. Brenner's research is a wonderful example of looking at very specific representations of an activity. Brenner (2012, 39) states that
"this essay uses the four resources model to examine the range of literacy practices in young adult (YA) literature, a model that teachers may want to adopt themselves in order to ensure they are providing a more complete representation of literacy practices to the young adults with whom they work. "
Professional Literature for Librarians
Whether selecting books for purchase or considering genre of literature to recommend to youth, it's useful to read professional literature. While some professional journals focus on librarianship, others explore literature from the perspective of booksellers or teachers. All of these views can be useful to librarians. A few examples of listed below:
- The ALAN Review - aimed at school librarians and secondary educators
- Bookbird - international children's literature topics
- Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children - at EBSCO
- Children's Literature
- Children's Literature Association Quarterly
- Children's Literature in Education
- The Horn Book
- Jeunesse: Young People, Texts, Culture
- Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults
- Kirkus Reviews - look for Children's and YA sections
- The Lion and the Unicorn
- The Looking Glass: New Perspectives on Children's Literature
- Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies
- School Library Journal
- School Library Research (SLR)
- VOYA - also at EBSCO
- Young Adult Library Services (YALS) - also at EBSCO
Awards: The Best of the Best
Although there are many wonderful materials for youth that never win awards, book awards are a useful place to immerse yourself in children's literature. Many of the best books win multiple awards. These are important to read because they provide an indicator of what's currently considered to be quality works. Awards lists are also useful as you're looking at particular areas of your collection such as the best mysteries or quality works by African American authors.
Look for unique, out-of-the ordinary award winners. For instance, Maus by Art Spiegelman is a work of graphic nonfiction. It won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1992. Normally, children's picture books are awarded the Randolph Caldecott Medal. However, in 2008 a book for intermediate readers called The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brain Selznick received this honor.
Youth Book Awards
Although book awards are given throughout the year, many of the youth awards are announced in January. The American Library Association’s midwinter meeting hosts some of the most popular awards including the what I like to call "the big 3": Newbery, Printz, and Caldecott medals.
- Randolph Caldecott Medal - honors the artist/illustrator of the most distinguished children's book published in US. For a complete list, go to 1938-present.
- John Newbery Medal - honors the author of the most distinguished children's book published in US. For a complete list, go to 1922-Present.
- Michael L. Printz Award - honors best book for teens. For a complete list, go to 2000-Present
For more than a century, children have been reading and doing reports on Newbery award winning books in elementary school. I did mine on the book The Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (1967) by E. L. Konigsburg. What made the book so magical for me was my connection to the main character. We were both in band, enjoyed a good mystery, and loved museums. Reading the book led me on a quest to read all of her books including Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth (1967) and later other books by this author.
What book did you read for your Newbery report? What Newbery award winning books have you read?
Go to ALA’s Awards page for a long list of awards. Be sure to read the criteria for the particular award. Look at the types of materials they select and who is involved in making the selections. Think about those awards and reading lists that would be most valuable for a particular setting.
Although it’s not possible to read all the award winners, it’s a good place to start your exploration of children’s literature. Don’t restrict your reading to the big awards, some of the best books for youth are on notable book lists from the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA). This is a great place to start your selection. Create a list of options, then examine book reviews to ensure quality and age appropriateness. This is a great approach to selection for those with a small budget that want to develop a quality collection. Some lists are provided below:
- ALSC Book & Media Awards
- ALSC Notable Children’s Books
- YALSA Book Awards & Book Lists
- YALSA Best Books for Young Adults
- YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults
Children often choose very different books than adult for book awards. Check out the Children’s Choice Book Awards. Some national and international awards have youth divisions such as the National Book Awards (look for Young People’s Literature).
The Walden award "presented annually by ALAN, is an award in the United States for a book that exemplifies literary excellence, widespread appeal, and a positive approach to life in young adult literature".
Read Allen County Public Library’s Newbery Books Ranked! page. They have some great ideas to help you explore these award winners.
Ethnic and Specialty Awards
It’s important to be aware of ethnic and specialty awards for youth materials. Awards have been established to recognize excellence in literature written for children and young adults focusing on various cultures.
The major awards are discussed in the Issues in Diversity section of this course.
Other awards of interest include:
- Andrew Carnegie Medal in Children's Video (best videos)
- Boston Globe- Horn Book Awards
- Margaret A. Edwards Award (good way to find authors you should know)
- Odyssey Award (audiobooks)
- William C. Morris Award (new authors to consider)
- Mildred L. Batchelder Award (book originally in another language)
- Laura Ingalls Wilder Award (find good authors to read)
- Jane Addams Children's Book Award (honors books about peace and social justice)
- Sid Fleischman Award (honors humor in children's books)
- Golden Kite Awards (excellence in children's literature)
- Kate Greenaway (UK award)
- Hans Christian Andersen Award (author award)
- Red House Children’s Book Award
For many more awards, go to Collection Development: Awards.
State Book Awards
Practically every state has their own children’s and/or young adult book award. My awards page contains a master list of State Children's Book Awards.
Go to the awards page and look for the State Book Awards. Compare the guidelines and recent winners from three different states. How do they compare?
Rather than awards, some groups like the International Reading Association generate recommended book lists.
Other good lists include:
- 100 Great Children’s Books (New York Public Library)
- 100 Greatest Books from Scholastic
- 100 Greatest Books for Kids (Scholastic)
- Best Lists from NPR
- College Bound Books
- General Lists from ALA
- James Patterson’s List
A few databases exist with best-of books beyond a particular year. Check out a few options:
- Based on the Book - lists of movies based on books
- Database of Award-winning Children's Literature - this is a great way to identify great books in different categories!
- What Should I Read Next?
Spend some time exploring the lists from the past couple years. Create a list of options and read the reviews. Then, narrow the list to books you would purchase for a library.
The Best Book List
Who maintains the best book list? You do!
Your own book list will be the most useful when providing reader advisory services for youth, parents, and teachers. It’s not likely that you’ll ever have a chance to read every book in your collection, but you need to keep a list handy of books for each age in each genre to get youth started reading. You also need read-alikes ready for when a child says he or she is ready for another book to follow-up your great recommendation.
There are thousands of books that could have been incorporated into the course. You’ll find both classic works that have stood the test of time, as well as books from the past decade. It’s likely that some of your favorites may be missing. It’s your job to begin your own list of books that you consider to be essentials for a quality personal or public library collection. This list will help you in making selection decisions, readers advisory activities, and developing read-alike lists for your library.
I recommend that you use social media tools to help build this list. LibraryThing and GoodReads are currently the best two options. Personally, I like the cataloging tools in LibraryThing and the social media tools in GoodReads so I use both. I use LibraryThing to maintain my personal library collection. In other words, the books I own. I use GoodReads to maintain my “life list” of books that I’ve read. It’s up to you to decide what approach you’d like to take. For this course, I’d like you to start your list. Or, if you’ve already begun, expand it with the books you read this semester.
Your booklist will evolve over time. But it’s important to start now!
Begin your book list with all the books you already know well. These include the books you read as a child and those you’re reading now. Next, dive into the books that seem to appear on all of the “best of” lists. Include award winning books that you want to read. Finally, keep track of youth recommendations. This includes those books that your youth users keep telling you are their favorites.
I highly recommend using a social media tool such as GoodReads or LibraryThing to keep track of these materials. By using tags, it’s easy to search for books in particular categories. Consider adding favorite quotes from the book or a list of read-alikes, so they’re ready for use.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many books available in every category. It’s helpful to have a few “go to” books for children, intermediate, and young adult readers.
Award winners are a good place to start, but look beyond the winner to popular, and quality works that appeal to youth.
Start your own GoodReads containing books you’ve read and want to read. It’s a great way to keep track.
Making a Contribution
Once you have your list going and you’re feeling confident in your ability to review books, it’s time to think about how you can contribute to the profession. Someone is writing all those reviews you’ve been reading. Although a few are paid reviewers, a vast majority share their reviews for fun or as part of being a professional librarian, teacher, or scholar. Post a short review on your social media booklist, start your own book blog, or volunteer at the many libraries and professional organizations that post book reviews.
Go to LibraryThing and GoodReads. Create accounts on both services and spend some time exploring. Pick one that you'd like to use to record books that you'll read in this course. You might want to go back and enter books that you own or books that you've read in the past.
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Bott, CJ (2012). ALAN and YA Lit—Growing Up Together. ALAN Review, 39(2). Available: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v39n2/bott.html
Brenner, Devon (2012). They Read and Write, but Do They Critique? The Four Resources of Literacy Practice in Printz-Award-Winning Literature. ALAN Review, 39(2), 39-48. Available: http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/ALAN/v39n2/pdf/brenner.pdf
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