Getting More Bang for the Book

By Jessica Sherman

Primary Literacy Collaborative Trainer

The most effective teachers value beautiful children’s literature because they understand that in addition to providing students with endless hours of entertainment and wonder, these books also hold the keys to strengthening and expanding students’ thinking, speaking, reading, and writing powers.  The tricky part is selecting the right book for a particular group of readers, especially when choosing a book to share with the entire class. There are so many things to consider when approaching a new read aloud text.  Is the subject matter interesting and relevant? Is the text complex enough to challenge the listeners but accessible enough to keep them engaged? Is the literary language and vocabulary enriching without being exhausting? Are there elements of craft that readers will be able to appreciate and discuss? Are there elements of craft that writers might be able to take on in their own writing?  What work will have to be done to introduce this book to the group?

With so many instructional goals in mind and so many books in the marketplace, the bigger question always remains: Is this book even worthy of all of the careful consideration and precious class time it requires? Henry David Thoreau said, “Read the best books first, or you may not have a chance to read them at all.” This call to action is certainly worthwhile, but also incredibly daunting! While there are stacks of wonderful books that have been adored for decades (with more and more being written even as you read this blog post), there is also a surplus of less wonderful, less adorable books lurking on every bookseller’s shelf.

How have you sorted out these “best books” for young readers from the rest of the books?

We hope the resources below can help guide your quest.  Good luck and please let us know what you discover!

Best of the year

Association for Library Service to Children’s Notable List: A committee from this division of the American Library Association (ALA) identifies the best of the best in children’s lit.

Kirkus Reviews’ Best Children’s Books: Kirkus Reviews prides itself on being a comprehensive and “authoritative voice” in children’s lit for almost 80 years.

Best of the week

New York Times Best-Selling Picture Books: See what everyone else is buying this week.

Most wanted

Amazon’s Most Wished For List: Crowd sourcing! Updated daily.

National Award Winners, Past and Present

Caldecott Medal: For the last 75 years, the ALA has awarded this medal to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.

Newbery Medal: For 90 years, the ALA has awarded the Newbery Medal to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.

Coretta Scott King Book Award Recipients: This award is given annually by the ALA to outstanding African American authors and illustrators of books for children and young adults that demonstrate an appreciation of African American culture and universal human values.

Orbis Pictus Award for Outstanding Nonfiction for Children: Since 1990, this award has been given for excellence in the writing of nonfiction for children.

Lisa Bartle’s Searchable Database of Award Winners: So cool! This site allows users to search a database of award winning books by a variety of categories including age of reader, setting, historical period, characteristics of the protagonist, culture, genre, and date of publication.

Bibliographies and Recommendations from University Centers

Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature

Cooperative Children’s Book Center at University of Wisconsin

The Center for Children’s Books at University of Illinois


Seven Impossible Things: The creators see this blog as a “literary salon where authors and illustrators stop by…to share their craft, and where illustrators wake us up with art.

Young Books: Librarian and critic Rebecca Young has been reviewing children’s books in for over 20 years.

The Brown Bookshelf: Bloggers here are passionate about the myriad of African American voices writing for young readers.

Your Local Resources

Indie Bound Store Finder: There is nothing better than passionate conversation about children’s lit with your local bookseller…

Library Locator: Except, perhaps, a passionate conversation with your local librarian.

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