A playful piggie and his elephant pal, a graveyard of good-hearted ghosts, and a quiet house in a starlit night create magic for young readers in three honored children’s books. These new classics will fuel or even jump-start a love of reading.
by Joan M. Thomas
Finding books that youngsters will not only enjoy, but treasure, can be as simple as scanning a list of award winners. Narrowing it down to three of the most prestigious honors annually bestowed on children’s books is a good start.
Letting the inner child judge
A lifelong lover of children’s books, I considered that adults, not the youngsters for whom the books were written, decide on the winners. But, I thought, do kids really go for them? So, reading some recent top choices for myself, I made a conscious effort to revert to the appropriate age.
In alphabetical order by title, here is my take on the 2009 winners of each award.
● Are You Ready To Play Outside? by Mo Willems
Hyperion Books for Children
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
This delightful book for beginning readers is one of a series of tales about the adventures of Elephant, an amicable eyeglass-wearing pachyderm, and his temperamental but gregarious pal, Piggie. The simple gray and pink drawings and ballooned text put me in mind of the ever-popular minimalist Chuck Jones animated cartoons that include my personal favorite, Bugs Bunny.
Facial expressions and body language tell it all. Any kid will delight in this story about how the two characters deal with a rainy day hampering their plans to play outside.
● The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean
HarperCollins Children’s Books
My first reaction when reading the book’s description was, “Oh, another Harry Potter knock-off.” Not so! For mystery and fantasy devotees of ages 9 to 99, this extremely well-crafted tale about an orphaned boy raised by permanent members of a graveyard does not disappoint.
The story’s elements of mystery and intrigue will spur the imagination of any youngster. And, interwoven throughout are valuable life lessons subtly passed on by those who have passed on—such as, “Wherever you go, you take yourself with you,” and, “If you dare nothing, nothing will be gained.” The sage advice prepares the main character, named Nobody by his keepers, for the world of the living.
The reader gains gentle reminders of the brevity of life and that dying is part of the natural order of things, and that there is often more to fear from the living than from the dead.
The plot moves quickly, urging on even a slow reader. No wonder The Graveyard Book also won the coveted Hugo Award in 2009 for best science fiction novel.
● The House in the Night, by Susan Swanson, pictures by Beth Krommes
This beautifully illustrated book, done in black and white scratchboard interspersed with yellow-gold watercolor, is rated for ages 4 to 8. But younger children could benefit by having it read to them while they scan the pictures’ familiar details.
The simple prose tells of a starlit night and takes the reader on a peaceful journey into a bedroom where a child reads a book by lamplight. A beautiful bird in the book safely transports the child beyond home to the glow of the “Sun in the Moon” and back again.
Check out other lists and reviews
So when you're looking for a good new book for your child, parenting help is just an awards list away. To learn more about these books and those that took the top honors for other years, just peruse the Awards section of the American Library Association’s website (Association for Library Service for Children division).
In addition to current and past years’ medal winners, the Library Association lists books that did not win the top prize but did come in for honors. So there is a wide choice.
Then too, there are other sites useful for finding recommendations. Reading Is Fundamental has a great list for children who don’t like to read.
Additionally, you can go to the children’s books section of websites like Amazon.com and read reviews by teachers and other parents. There are always some who disagree with the general consensus, and that’s to be expected. The different viewpoints help you gain a better understanding of a book’s value in helping a child to be a better reader. A good story is always a good start.
The author of three books, freelance writer and historian Joan M. Thomas also enjoys writing feature stories and essays on current topics. Born in Carroll, Iowa, she now lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband, Bob, and canine pal, Sasha.
The House in the Night illustration courtesy of Beth Krommes