Read-Aloud Revival episode. I can never resist a good book list, so a whole book full of good book lists sounded right up my alley. (It was subsequently mentioned on almost every following episode, which further cemented my desire to look it up.)
A couple of months ago, my education group was planning out the next nine months of meetings. We each volunteered for a month to choose a book and host, and this is the book I went with. I was glad to finally have a reason to read this book and discuss it with other book-loving moms.
The book is divided into two sections. The first hundred or so pages make a case for why reading in the home is so wonderful and why every family should make it a priority. Of course, I loved these chapters. Reading with my kids is my very favorite way to spend time with them, and it's always nice to get some outside validation that what I love is actually what is best for them.
Gladys Hunt said, "Good literature teaches more than we know. Example always speaks louder than precept, and books can do more to inspire honor and tenacity of purpose than all the chiding and exhortations in the world."
She also used this section to talk about how to choose good books. Every time I go to the library without a plan (i.e., without twenty books already waiting for me on my hold shelf), I feel so overwhelmed (unless of course I'm by myself with twenty minutes of free time--then I'm happy to aimlessly peruse the shelves). The problem is, when I feel like I'm under a time constraint to find a worthwhile book for Aaron to read, the pressure of sifting through a lot of poor literature in hopes of finding the gold is really daunting.
Gladys Hunt defines a good book as "the quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, [and] the distinctive style of the author." I agree with all those things, and I believe I can often recognize it when I find it. The problem is, finding it.
That's why book lists (from people you know and trust) can be such a gold mine. When other people have done the work for you, it's so easy to just click and reserve, click and reserve, and within ten minutes have a stack of books worth reading. I have many websites and blogs I trust for book recommendations (look at Where to Find a Good Children's Book and Nine Blogs I Visit For Book Recommendations for some of my favorites), but I really loved the second section of this book, which was list after list after list of tried-and-true books for children. (In fact, at one point, I closed this book, looked over at Mike and said, "I can't take it. There are too many good books to read.")
Seriously though, the book lists in this section are awesome (and I should know since, being the nerd that I am, I actually read this entire section cover to cover because it's so much fun to read a book list). I feel like I need to buy this book so that I'll be able to reference it whenever I'm reserving books at the library (a favorite nighttime activity for me).
That said, these aren't perfect lists, and I'll tell you why.
First, she recommends so many books that are currently out of print. I love discovering old classics, but it is really frustrating to hear about a good book and not be able to check it out from the library. I almost never buy books that I haven't already read, and I'm certainly not going to pay rare book prices if it's for a book I don't already know that we love. So I'm torn: I liked finding out about new books, but if I can't read them, it just makes the forbidden carrot so much more agonizing.
Second, I discovered that when she was summarizing a book I already knew, I often found her descriptions so bland and/or misrepresentative that I maybe would have never picked up that particular book if I was going off of her recommendation alone. The problem with that was since I felt like she didn't do justice to the books I knew, it made me distrust her a little with the books I didn't know.
Third, the organization was a little bit random and haphazard. If I had been skimming rather than reading this section all the way through, I think I would have missed a lot of good books because I would have assumed they were somewhere else rather than where they actually were. Also, some of her summaries were placed in the most bizarre places. For example, she listed several of the books in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase series, but didn't put her summary until after the third book (which made it look like the first two listed weren't part of the same series (also, she classified this as a "young adult" novel and, as you might remember, we just read this book last month, and my kids loved it, and I'm still trying to figure out what was young adult about it since the girls in the story are about nine years old).
All of this makes it sound like I didn't like the book lists but quite the opposite is true. I just wanted you to have a heads up on some of the things to watch out for if you take a look through them. From these lists, we've already found some new favorites, such as Pete's a Pizza by William Steig, Meanwhile by Jules Feiffer, and Max Found Two Sticks by Brian Pinkney.
This book made me reevaluate the way I was choosing books for my kids, particularly the books that Aaron is reading on his own. I'll be sharing some of the changes I've made in a future post, so stay tuned for that. And meanwhile, go get this book and start making more conscientious choices for your family too.