I am delighted to see book talks on PBS, so please, public television people, take what I’m about to say as what it is, a gentle suggestion. I’m glad that the Hundred Best Books in America includes titles for kids and young adults. There were even a few that were published by authors who are still alive. But I have to ask, how old does a book have to be before it’s considered one of the best books in America?
I love Where the Red Fern Grows and Charlotte’s Web. I do, really! And I’m good with hearing adults gush about reading their childhood favorites to their children and grandchildren. But if you want to get young people involved in literacy, you need to pick books that young people would choose for themselves. The books on your list seem to have been chosen by adults.
I will vote for Harry Potter and The Outsiders and Hatchet. I won’t argue with you about your choice of Hunger Games over Collins’ Gregor, the Overlander. But can we have more recent titles? I want to see more of the books I couldn’t keep on the shelf in my Reading Lab. How about Newbery winners like The One and Only Ivan or the picture book, Last Stop on Market Street? How about a graphic novel or two, maybe something by Ursula Vernon or Dan Santat or the Holm siblings? Have you read Going Bovine by Libba Bray? Did you even consider including books of poetry? Kids love good, accessible poetry.
I hope the Great American Read isn’t a one of. I hope you come back again next year with even more books. But, please, can we let librarians, teachers, and young readers help decide what goes on the list? You might be amazed.
It is never too soon to discuss books with your kids.
I’m not advocating turning family reading time into a lesson. In fact, I don’t really advocate for classroom reading time to become a lesson. There’s plenty of time for lessons but not nearly enough time for just enjoying a good book.
Book discussion should come naturally. If you read to your kids regularly, you know how this works.
“How come he did that?”
“Where did the bear go?”
I love when kids make connections between two books or stories. If you read to them enough, it is bound to happen. In fact, pairing texts might help it happen.
I thought of paired picture books when I read two very different counting books—Kathi Appelt’s Counting Crows and Kelly Milner Halls I Bought a Baby Chicken—to a two-year-old.
Then, Hannah Harrison’s Friends Stick Together and Tammi Sauer’s But the Bear Came Back showed up at my house within days of each other. I sat down to read them both on the same evening. I was immediately struck by how they were alike and how they were different.
Both are books of unlikely friendships and both contain wry humor.
In the Sauer book, illustrator Dan Taylor’s touches, especially the book titles, are a hoot! And Harrison’s illustrations always deliver.
The youngest kids will enjoy the books read straight through without the asides and the parent footnotes. With repeated readings, though, they will begin to notice the sophisticated (and Levi’s sometimes unsophisticated) humor. Let them make discoveries.
I recommend both books heartily. So does the two-year-old. I recommend them as a pair. And I dare you to find the long-legged bird that makes an appearance in both books.
Those who know me well know I’m an avid political observer. Even if you aren’t as into politics as I am, you should still read Vote for Me by Ben Clanton. This charming picture book rips the veneer off not-so-charming campaigns as Donkey and Elephant, who could be friends if they weren’t running against each other, each try to outdo the other to get your vote. Just wait until the mud begins to fly!
I’ll even predict the winners: kids and old people and all those in between who will come to realize the ridiculousness of most political speech.