While teachers, librarians and children’s book lovers look forward to the new issue of The Horn Book Magazine every two months, the magazine isn’t necessary as easily accessible to parents and families who are just learning about the world of children’s books. A Family of Readers acts as the perfect introduction to parents about how to pick books for their kids, giving not only helpful recommendations, but also providing them with the tools to confidently be able to select books themselves.
The book is divided into four basic sections:
1. Reading to Them (Books for Babies and Picture Books)
2. Reading with Them (Early Readers and Chapter Books)
3. Reading on Their Own (Includes genre fiction and nonfiction)
4. Leaving Them Along (Books for Teens)
Roger and Martha discussed the new books from 2011 that they found exceptional and wished they could add to their 2010 book as excellent examples each genre and reading level.
Below are the books from their recommended list.
Little White Rabbit by Kevin Henkes (Greenwillow): ages 2-4
Martha described this one as a “perfect picture book.” The way it is masterfully structured with the right ratio of words and pictures to the page, the way the movement of the bunny propels page turns, and the simultaneous sense of adventure and quiet security make this a great example of a successful picture book.
A Ball for Daisy by Chris Raschka (Schwartz and Wade): ages 3-6
This wordless book has excellent pacing and a great range of emotion in its vibrant illustrations.
Naamah and the Ark of Night by Susan Campbell Bartoletti, illustrated by Holly Meade (Candlewick): ages 2-5
A wonderful bedtime book. The tactile watercolor collage illustrations take on a 3-D look and the poetic text, with the soothing repetition of “at night,” creates the feeling of a lullaby. A wonderful example of inventive language and art.
A Little Bitty Man and Other Poems for the Very Young by Halfdan Rasmussen, translated by Marilyn Nelson and Pamela Espeland, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes (Candlewick): ages 3-6
This book of poems is reminiscent of A Hole is to Dig. It’s filled with bouncy rhythm and humor with nice short poems that you could read one at a time or all together.
Nonfiction Picture Books:
Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Beth Krommes (Houghton Mifflin): Ages 3-6
This book is a simple exploration of spirals in nature for very young children. The white space on the page makes the scratchboard details really pop in the illustrations without making it feel too busy. “The eye never does not know where to go,” said Martha.
Subway Story by Julia Sarcone-Roach (Random House): ages 5-9
Reminiscent of classic Virginia Lee Burton, this story of a subway car turned into a reef is a fresh, innovative way to approach nonfiction. While the story is factual, the subway car talks with a personality of it own, creating an accessible and entertaining blend of fiction and nonfiction.
Me…Jane by Patrick McDonnell (Little, Brown): ages 4-7
This picture book biography is not a biography of adult Jane Goodall, but of her as a child discovering her vocation. The stunning combo of photography, reproductions of Jane Goodall’s actual documents and McDonnell’s art and simple text creates another unique approach to nonfiction.
Balloons over Broadway by Melissa Sweet (Houghton Mifflin): ages 4-8
This book about the creation of the balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade includes a colorful blend of actual toys, collage illustrations and straightforward text. The illustrations, including the fun dialogue and details in the pictures, allows readers to fill in all the background about puppeteer Tony Sarg on their own.
Roger described early readers, such as the I Can Read books as miniature masterpieces and lamented that they are not published as often as he would like. Books like Little Bear and Cat in the Hat provide a new reader with confidence. These books are designed to look just like a “grown-up book” with a substantial number of pages and chapters. Once one finishes reading one of these books all by themselves there is a feeling of accomplishment and pride.
Happy Pig Day! by Mo Willems (Hyperion): ages 4-8
This and all of the Elephant and Piggie series books work well for readers in kindergarten and first grade. The illustrations give supporting reading clues (such as the color of the word bubbles matching the color of the speaker) in ways that are not intrusive.
Benjamin Bear in “Fuzzy Thinking” by Philippe Coudray (Toon Books): ages 4-8
This book. like other Toon books, is told in a comic book format with a substantial number of words to read. Each page of the book contains its own complete episode or story so a child can get that sense of accomplishment with each finished page.
The Gingerbread Man Loose in the School by Laura Murray, illustrated by Mike Lowery (Putnam): ages 4-8
This book contains brilliant rhyme and a balance between the comic book panels and surprise picture book spreads. It can be read aloud or read individually by new readers. Although it has the large picture book format, Roger observed that it was sophisticated enough that early readers won’t feel insulted.
Good Luck, Anna Hibiscus! by Atinuke (Kane Miller): ages 5-9
These chapter books take place in contemporary Africa and offer an honest confrontation with things like poverty without being heavy handed. “A real portrait of a real child.”
Breaking Stalin’s Nose by Eugene Yelchin (Holt): ages 8-12
This book, perfect for 3rd graders, is a successful adventure story on an unusual topic. The main character wants to be a loyal party member but discovers his parents are anti-Stalin. The book is formatted so that there is a lot of white page on the page among the text, as well as illustrations, making it an accessible chapter book for readers.
No Ordinary Day by Deborah Ellis (Groundwood): ages 9-12
This book’s topic may seem dark as it deals with leprosy in India, but has a wonderfully upbeat tone thanks to its young female main character. The book is not “wordy or message-y” and will be a good fit for 4th graders.
Secrets at Sea by Richard Peck (Dial): ages 8-12
This book benefits from being read aloud. Roger described it as “a family book” with a fun upstairs/downstairs vibe about mice set in Victorian America.
Roger describes “boy books” as a euphemism most associated with books for kids who don’t like to read. He’d rather describe “boy books” and “girl books” as books who display exemplary boy or girl characters.
Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos (Farrar): ages 10-14
Deep and funny, this autobiographical novel by Jack Gantos will make you think.
The Trouble with May Amelia by Jennifer Holm (Atheneum): ages 8-12
This historical fiction about a tomboy features both situational humor and a humorous voice.
Nonfiction for Older Readers:
Amelia Lost: The Life and Disappearance of Amelia Earhart by Candace Fleming (Schwartz & Wade): ages 8-12
This nonfiction adventure and biography is wonderfully written and completely compelling, taking an unique stance from the point of view of those searching for Amelia Earhart when her plane goes missing.
Drawing from Memory by Allen Say (Scholastic): ages 10+
Featuring drawings by Allen Say and photographs from his childhood, this autobiographical story of Allen Say’s beginnings as an artist is ultimately the same story as his earlier chapter book, The Ink Keeper’s Apprentice, made more accessible to a younger audience.
Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans by Kadir Nelson (Balzer and Bray): ages 10+
This book is a magisterial and unapologetic history of African Americans from colonial times to present day, told with amazing illustrations and an accessible voice of an African American woman talking frankly to the reader as if the reader is family.
America is Under Attack: September 11, 2011: The Day the Towers Fell by Don Brown (Flash Point/Roaring Brook): ages 8-12
A nonfiction account of September 11th for a new generation who did not live through it. It is not dishonest about how many lives were lost, but also includes positive uplifting stories about those that were saved. Respectful of its subject, the book maintains a good distance, keeping itself non-frightening to young readers.
We ran out of time for the presentation, so Roger and Martha didn’t get to share their thoughts about these books for teens, which oddly enough, seemed appropriate for the “leave them alone” mentality to approaching Young Adult book selection and reading.
The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic): ages 13+
Martha emphatically loved and endorsed this book. “Read it. It’s the best book of the year.” Enough said.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (First Second): ages 12+
Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick (First Second): ages 14+
Life: An Exploded Diagram by Mal Peet (Candlewick): ages 14+
Lastly, they finished with a book that bridges all ages:
Press Here by Herve Tullet (Chronicle)
“Who needs an iPad?” asked Roger. Press Here is an interactive book that works BECAUSE you can turn the page. “The day we don’t have to turn the page is the day I will fall down and die,” he said. This simple, modern book will appeal to everyone as it belongs just as much in a crib as it does on the coffee table.
Click on the titles or images to be taken to The Carle’s online shop to purchase any of these recommended books, including signed copies of Roger and Martha’s A Family of Readers.