One of the reasons I was eager to participate in the Cybils again this year is that my kids had so much fun with all of the poetry books that arrived last year. With yet another package slip from Canada Post in the mailbox requiring a trip to the post office to pick up a brown box or padded envelope, the kids started squealing, "It's just like Christmas!"
When [Cybils co-founder] Anne and I led a panel session on the Cybils at the 1st Annual Kidlitosphere Conference this [past] weekend in Chicago, one theme in particular kept popping up during discussions: How do we decide if a book is child-friendly or not?
This is an important question for the ninety panelists and judges evaluating the hundreds of children's and YA books nominated this year. One of our main goals is to find quality books children will love. In other words, we're looking for well written, intelligent, and kid-friendly titles.
But how do we -- a group of 88 adults and 2 [3?] teens -- decide what is child friendly? What are our criteria? Will we know child-friendly when we see it?Tell us what you think. How does an adult reader recognize a child-friendly book? What are your tell-tale signs of a fun and compelling read? Feel free to answer in the comments or on your own blog.
My simple answer for how I recognize a child-friendly book is that my kids enjoy that particular book. And I don't expect all three kids -- a ten-year-old girl who prefers historical fiction and stories about horses, an eight-and-a-half-year-old boy who likes best Asterix and how-to manuals, and an almost seven-year-old who enjoys stories about horses, pioneers, and how-to manuals -- to enjoy the same books, either. One out of three is good enough for me, provided that that one child thinks the world of that one book.
Last year, the easiest way to find which books the kids really liked was to search their beds. The books they didn't like -- that didn't catch the kids' interests or left them cold -- stayed in the designated "Cybils piles" in the living room. The books the kids enjoyed were discovered in their respective beds, under pillows and stuffed animals and on top of quilts, and with bookmarks (sometimes just torn slips of paper) between the pages.
This year, with middle grade and young adult nonfiction on my plate, it won't be quite as easy for me to read all the books with my children, since some titles will certainly be too advanced in language or emotion (or both) for them, at least for the boys whose combined age is 15; often, I'll use one book on a subject for Laura and something simpler, usually a picture book, for the boys. From all the review's I've read of Grief Girl, Erin Vincent's memoir about her adolescence following the death of her parents in a traffic accident more than 20 years ago when she was 14, it seems the sort of book I would gladly give Laura in a few years, but not now at age 10.
But even with some books meant for older readers, the kids in general and Davy (not quite seven) in particular have made their way by looking at the pictures and reading, or having me read aloud, the captions. And after all the books we've read together, I have a pretty good idea what their thoughts and tastes will be in a few years, which books will be worth keeping, and even adding to our home school studies. As home schoolers, too, we have the luxury of adding any books that arrive to our late autumn/early winter curriculum, or just to our afternoon and bedtime readalouds. We can set aside for the moment Farmer Boy or our study of Lewis & Clark, to spend a few afternoons and evenings reading about trash, dinosaur eggs, and James Beckwourth.
One thing I found interesting last year was how some of the titles that tried too hard to appeal, and be appealing, to kids -- whether they are "educational" (a definite concern in this particular category, where a lot of the titles are purchased by libraries rather than individuals and many tend to be the kind of book children use "just for reports") or simply (and sometimes scatalogically) underestimate children's senses of humor and sophistication and awareness of what's clever were among those that did not make it to kids' favorites lists. Which is why, last year, Adam Rex's Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich -- a true Halloween delight, by the way, which you still have time to order from your favorite bookseller or via interlibrary loan -- made a considerably larger impression on the assembled Farm School children than, say, Hey There, Stink Bug!
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By the way, speaking of children and nonfiction, don't miss author Marc Aronson's current post, "I Want to Be a Historian" at his blog Nonfiction Matters on the subject, or the conversation to which he refers over at Alison Morris's ShelfTalker: A Children's Bookseller's Blog, with her latest post, "Who's Borrowing? Who's Buying?".