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Annual annotated guide recommends best books for children

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor
217-333-2177; andreal@illinois.edu

11/4/2003

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Two chatty critters and one very verbal vehicle – that is, a wolf who cried “boy,” a worm who kept a diary and a garbage truck who talked and talked and talked – are among the protagonists, probable and less so, who made it into this year’s “Guide Book to Gift Books,” an annual annotated list of recommended books for children.

The guide, published to coincide with the winter holidays, offers entries on 225 of the best books – from cheerful picture books to absorbing and serious nonfiction titles – that experts at The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books reviewed during the past three years. Nearly doubled in size from last year’s edition, the new 20-page guide includes more than 100 books published in 2003.

“So when we say ‘expanded and updated,’ we really mean it,” said Deborah Stevenson, the editor of the guide book as well as the editor of the Bulletin and a professor of library and information science at the University of Illinois a Urbana-Champaign, where the Bulletin and Center are based.

All of the books in this year’s guide were previously recommended in full Bulletin reviews and all titles are in print, Stevenson said. You can purchase a copy of the guide book, available and downloadable online for $3.50.

Founded in 1945, the Bulletin is published 11 times a year by the U. of I. Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Devoted entirely to reviewing current books for children and young adults, the Bulletin is one of the nation’s leading journals of literature for youth. Each year it reviews some 900 books, primarily for school and public librarians.

According to Stevenson, the new guide was designed to help both gift-givers and gift-receivers, whether at holidays, birthdays or any time of year, navigate the dense forest of shiny new titles for children. More than 5,000 children’s books are published annually, and nearly 200,000 children’s titles are in print.

“Guide Book” entries are divided into four categories arranged by grade level and age group: picture books; books for young readers, grades 1 through 3, 6 to 8 years of age; books for middle readers, grades 4 through 6, 9 to 11 years; and books for older readers, grades 7 through 12, 12 to 18 years.

Stevenson said her goal in selecting books for the guide was to include a wide mix of styles, genres, subjects and challenge levels.

“I really try, when amassing the titles, to be as broad as possible, to make sure there’s lots of humor and lots of serious stuff – books with real gravity and books that are for sheer silliness’ sake – and themes and subjects from all over the place.”

Stevenson said that humor and adventure books tend to be what adults most enjoy giving and children most enjoy receiving.

She also noted that humor and adventure books, including nonfiction, “make great ‘readalouds,’ too. It can be a lot of fun to read books aloud as a family even when the kids are quite capable of reading on their own.”

Those three unlikely protagonists mentioned earlier, their authors, titles and stories as summarized in the “Guide Book”:

• The wolf, who appears in Bob Hartman’s “The Wolf Who Cried Boy” (Putnam, 2002), illustrated by Tim Raglin and geared to children ages 6 to 9. “In this exceedingly funny topsy-turvy fable, a complaining young wolf discovers the folly of falsely crying ‘Boy!’ ”

• The garbage truck, in Kate McMullan’s “I Stink!” (HarperCollins, 2002), illustrated by Jim McMullan, ages 3 to 7. “A garbage truck fragrantly describes the raw,
rubbish-crunching details of its early-morning duties; illustrations pack the protagonist with personality as well as refuse.”

• The worm, in Doreen Cronin’s “Diary of a Worm” (Cotler/HarperCollins, 2003), illustrated by Harry Bliss, grades 2 through 4. “The humor is well grounded indeed as a young baseball-capped worm describes his under- and above-ground activities from March to August.”

As Stevenson noted and as the guide demonstrates, some of the best books for kids tackle big, serious subjects. Also appearing in the guide are Tom Lichtenheld’s “What Are You So Grumpy About?” a playful analysis of malcontent and its causes; Patricia Reilly Giff’s “Pictures of Hollis Woods,” a heart-tugging story of a 12-year-old girl, abandoned as an infant, who wonders if her new foster placement will become her permanent home; and Brent Hartinger’s “Geography Club,” an exploration of the decision of a group of gay and lesbian high-school kids to meet under the cover of their school’s geography club.

The Center for Children’s Books houses a research collection of more than 12,000 recent and historically significant trade books for youth, birth through high school, plus review copies of nearly all trade books published in the United States in the current year.

Although the collection is non-circulating, it is available for examination by scholars, teachers, librarians, students and other educators, said Janice Del Negro, the director of the center.