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U. of I. guide offers help in choosing gift books for the young

Andrea Lynn, Humanities Editor

Released 12/5/2006

cartoon illustrated book cover showing a girl driving a green convertible
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One of the book guide editor's favorites – "a terrific, vividly illustrated story about a little girl who gets a cool new pedal car that’s the envy of the neighborhood – until it languishes and loses its sheen, only to be rediscovered and retooled."

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — If children’s books are on your holiday shopping list, but you’re already snowed under with shopping, or worse yet, paralyzed by the avalanche of books out there, professional help is on the way.

The 2006 Guide Book to Gift Books is now available – and for the first time in its short history, it is free.

The guide book, which is downloadable as a PDF file at, provides short descriptions of some of the best and most recent reading material published for youth. Some 350 worthy books in four age groups are included in the 2006 edition – with 100 new books added since last year’s edition.

Published to coincide with the winter gift-giving season, the 23-page guide is produced by Deborah Stevenson, the editor of the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a professor at Illinois’ top-ranked Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Stevenson and her colleagues compiled the guide from their full book reviews of the past year.

The Center for Children’s Books also is at the U. of I., and both the bulletin and the center are GSLIS units.

Stevenson, the guide book editor and a specialist in children’s literature, said she always liked the idea of giving the guide away for free, especially since the method for taking the payments was “somewhat elaborate and time-consuming, so we figured we might as well use that as an excuse to do what we’ve wanted to do from the start.”

She also said she doesn’t know of any other guides to youth literature that are based on professional review journals.

Among Stevenson’s favorite books for 2006:

• “For toddler-size recipients, I really like Ethan Long’s ‘Tickle the Duck!’ It may make a few grownups remember ‘Pat the Bunny,’ except the joke here is that on every page the duck is forbidding you to tickle its rubbery little feet, so of course every kid is going to waddle in and do it. It’s anarchically interactive.

• “Gary Soto’s ‘My Little Car/Mi carrito’ is a terrific, vividly illustrated story about a little girl who gets a cool new pedal car that’s the envy of the neighborhood – until it languishes and loses its sheen, only to be rediscovered and retooled.

• “We have two books I particularly love that work both as early readers and picture books: Matteo Pericoli’s ‘The True Story of Stellina’ is a tender and engaging story about a wild finch chick in New York who is saved by the author’s wife and who becomes a part of the family; Daniel Pinkwater’s ‘Bad Bear Detectives’ may be the funniest book in a very funny sequence.

• “Laura Amy Schlitz and Robert Byrd’s ‘The Hero Schliemann: The Dreamer Who Dug for Troy’ is a weird and wonderful biography about a weird and wonderful guy – the 19th century’s Heinrich Schliemann, who essentially was obsessed with the then-unpopular notion that Troy was a real place, and devoted his life to finding it and digging it up.

• “Very funny, sharp and accessible is Gordon Korman’s ‘Born to Rock,’ the story of a right-wing honor student who discovers his biological father is in fact one of the most famous heavy-metal musicians ever, and who goes on the road with the old man to get to know him.”

Just how many children’s books do Stevenson and her colleagues read or look at a year?

“Wow! That’s hard to say,” she said. “While we review about 900 books, we read many more on the way to deciding what’s worth reviewing.”

She said there’s also some duplicated reading of books for her “Blue Ribbon List” and for “stars” that doesn’t add to the title count, “and we’re also reading outside of our bulletin jobs.”

“So we probably read 1,500 to 1,800 titles a year of the new books, maybe 2,000 overall. But remember: that includes picture books, which don’t take us that long!”

The Center for Children’s Books began publishing the Guide Book to Gift Books: An Annotated List of Books for Youth in the winter of 2002.

The Graduate School of Library and Information Science consistently is ranked the No. 1 library school program in the nation.