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U. of I. guide recommends best children's books


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

12/14/2005

cartoon image of a book cover displaying "Traction Man"
Click photo to enlarge
One of the recommended books is Mini Grey’s “Traction Man” – “a very funny story in picture-book format for middle-graders, which features a boy’s action-hero toy whose fight against evil is hampered by having to wear a knitted green romper suit with matching bonnet – a gift from the boy’s Granny.”

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Creatures ugly, endearing and dangerously curious, including a monster named “Bobo,” a legendary “She” sea spirit and a “Traction Man,” are among hundreds of protagonists book experts are recommending kids get to know this year, and they all appear in the 2005 edition of the “Guide Book to Gift Books.”

The annual annotated list of recommended books for children – from babies to 18-year-olds – can be purchased and downloaded for $3.50 – payable by credit card.

Published to coincide with the winter gift-giving season, the 20-page guide is useful year-round, says Deborah Stevenson, editor of the Guide Book and of the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which publishes the guide. The Center for Children’s Books (CCB) also is at Illinois.

The guide delivers pertinent information on more than 250 of the best recent titles published for kids. U. of I. children’s literature experts, including Stevenson, compiled the guide based on their recent full book reviews.

“We make a point of being broadly representative in the Guide Book, so that all kinds of reading tastes are tempted,” Stevenson said. “While we’ve got plenty of imaginative fiction, nonfiction is well represented. I think it’s particularly important to include nonfiction because there are so many splendid books in that field these days.”

Stevenson, who also is a professor of library science at Illinois, says she doesn’t have a favorite among those featured, however she concedes she’s “particularly fond” of Mini Grey’s “Traction Man” – “a very funny story in picture-book format for middle-graders, which features a boy’s action-hero toy whose fight against evil is hampered by having to wear a knitted green romper suit with matching bonnet – a gift from the boy’s Granny.”

Stevenson also loves ”Wiggle,” by Doreen Cronin – “one of the best bouncy preschooler books we’ve had in some time,” Stevenson said.

And she “adores” Scott Westerfeld’s “Peeps,” which is “a new twist on the vampire legend that makes vampires an epidemiological phenomenon, where asymptomatic carriers have to hunt down the ‘parasite positives,’ or peeps.”

Books featured in the guide are sorted into four categories according to their “most likely use,” Stevenson said: picture books for reading aloud to youngsters, books for primary-grades readers, for middle-grades and for young adults.

All titles were in print in the United States at the time the guide was compiled, “so they should either be in stock or be quickly available through a special order from bookstores both brick-and-mortar and virtual,” she said.

Pragmatically, books make good sense as gifts for kids.

“They ship easily, they store well, they’re hard to break, they can be easily shared or traded and they’re reusable,” Stevenson said.

“But more conceptually, books can be discovered at the moment of unwrapping or in the recipient’s own time,” she said, noting that there have been many books that she “finally got into” months or years after receiving them.

For many kids, books are a source of private enjoyment, she said, while for others, they’re “an entry into a shared experience – Harry Potter readers are good examples of that.”

“Books can explain other worlds, create new ideas or bring insight about one’s own situation. They can reassure and confirm or provoke and challenge. They can be usefully informative, educational in ways that their readers find compelling, whether it is on how to make really good paper airplanes or what actually happened in Orson Welles’ broadcast of ‘War of the Worlds.’ ”

Despite the prominence of other media, books are “still inevitable for kids.”

“Just about every kid can find some kind of book that she or he will enjoy, and that experience can help develop a pattern of enjoyment and confidence about reading.”

According to Stevenson, books offer the giver many things too, including “a chance to share an experience with a book that explains the giver’s own past or with a promise that the giver will read this with the child – so the recipient is getting adult attention as well as the book.”

Books also can serve as “a demonstration of your personal understanding of this particular individual’s tastes, saying without words, ‘I know you like vampires’ or ‘Isn’t this gross stuff great?’ or ‘Princess books always make me think of you.’ ”

Books also make a nice tradition, she said, “whereby Aunt Whosis always gives the cool books every year.”

Even if the recipient doesn’t “click” with a book, “it isn’t the end of the world,” Stevenson said. She or he may get into it later, or another book will work better.

Books also can be useful entry points for discussion and “getting to know the recipient in a way maybe you otherwise didn’t, whether you’re a parent or a distant friend.”

“There’s nothing like the bonding of having cried over the same book.”

Founded in 1945 at the University of Chicago, the Bulletin moved to Illinois in 1992. It is published 11 times a year by Illinois’ Graduate School of Library and Information Science – consistently ranked as one of the top library schools in the nation.

Annually the Bulletin reviews more than 900 books, primarily for school and public librarians. It is widely considered one of the most prestigious critical review journals of the literature for children and young adults.

The CCB houses a research collection of more than 14,000 books for and about children and young adults. The collection includes more than 800 professional and reference books on children’s literature.

The collection is non-circulating, Stevenson said, but scholars, teachers, librarians, students and other educators may access it for examination purposes.

More information is available at bccb@alexia.lis.uiuc.edu at 217-265-6391.