Books Your Kids Will Actually Like, Chosen by the People Who Know
Sometimes that eighth reading of Little Blue Truck is just too much to contemplate—but finding another book your kid wants to read can be a challenge. So we asked the people who really know what books kids respond to: children’s librarians. They named 18 undersung titles that always work at story time.
As a Boy, I Was Obsessed With the Baby-Sitters Club Books. I Have No Regrets.
The first time I ever saw a Baby-Sitters Club book, I was 7 years old, browsing the spinning racks at the public library near my house. It was Baby-Sitters Club No. 2: Claudia and the Phantom Phone Calls.On the bright pink cover, a preteen girl in a funky, oversized sweater clutches a baby in one arm while she cradles a telephone under her chin. Claudia looks slightly haunted, but also—to my young eye at the time—competent, collected, and hopelessly cool. I wondered exactly how sinister this phone call was. I wanted to know more.
I Censor the Books I Read to My Child. I’m Not Ashamed!
When my son was still an infant, I purchased a version of Peter Rabbit that turned out to have been edited down for the “youngest audience.” I was horrified. If I had wanted Beatrix Potter Lite, I sniffed to my husband, I would have bought a Peter Rabbit tea set, not a bowdlerized version of her book.
The Unexpected, Trashy Joy of Reading Kids’ Books Written by Celebrities
If there’s one thing celebrities love to do, besides buy oceanfront property, it is write picture books. Jamie Lee Curtis alone has penned eleven of them. Julianne Moore has cranked out a slew of best-sellers about a spunky redhead named Freckleface Strawberry. If you happen to be a parent to a child on the cusp of literacy, perhaps you’ve been personally seduced by the appealing floral trim around Madonna’s byline on The English Roses: Friends for Life!, or the big-eyed baby jaguar on the cover of LeAnn Rimes’ Jag, or the slapsticky adventures of Max the mutt in Joy Behar’s Sheetzu Caca Poopoo. Amazon is lousy with candy-colored artifacts written by royalty ranging from Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York to Queen Latifah.
Miss Peregrine’s Author Ransom Riggs, Interviewed by an Extremely Well-Prepared 11-Year-Old Fan
Ransom Riggs’ Miss Peregrine trilogy cleverly uses found black-and-white photos from junk shops and swap meets to tell the story of a group of “peculiar” children: children with magical talents or features who are cast out from the “normal” world. Chased by frightening wights and hollowghasts, the kids in the three books—Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City, and Library of Souls—try to save their fellow peculiars, with the help of wise Miss Peregrine, an “ymbryne” who can control time and change into a bird.
The engaging, spooky series is the source for Tim Burton’s movie, opening Sept. 30, and this fall Riggs releases a charming new book, Tales of the Peculiar, which, Beedle the Bard–style, fills in some of the folklore and mythology around his magical characters.
My 11-year-old daughter, Lyra, always has a million questions about the books, so I decided to let her just ask Riggs, who gamely agreed to a phone interview. He spoke with Lyra about peculiar parenting, about plot holes he can’t explain, and about why fans shouldn’t worry when details change from book to film. —Dan Kois
My Son Is Almost 3 and Doesn’t Talk Yet. Reading to Him Helps Me Understand Him.
My child’s room is separated from the kitchen by sliding doors. There’s a glass panel that looks out over the living room in lieu of a window. It’s about ten feet by ten feet, and that’s a generous estimate of its dimensions. But despite its modest square footage and nonexistent natural light—“kids don’t need light; they’re not plants,” my husband said when we first moved in—it’s also a very special place. Because along with the bed and dresser and not much else, it’s where we keep the books. Each night, after bath time, before the march of the stuffed animals from one end of the bed to the other (I don’t know how this started, but it’s become a thing), my kid—I’ll call him M—and I sit on the floor and we read. M, who is almost 3 years old, turns the pages, and I say the words, sometimes telling him to slow down or speed up. I’m chatty and conversational on a good night, rushing through it on the nights (too many) when there’s other stuff to do. M focuses and points and more often than not seems thoroughly absorbed, although, for most of the hundreds of times we’ve gone through this evening routine, he remains entirely silent.
When M was about 6 months old, he was lying on his stomach on the floor when the dog came over and gave him a nudge. He rolled onto his back. This was about the time that our pediatrician and baby books had informed us that this particular maneuver should be taking place. “Teamwork!” my husband exclaimed with a look of delight on his face. I caught the whole thing on my phone and it’s one of my favorite videos from M’s earliest months—a reminder that we, dog included, were doing okay, that one way or another things would probably work out.
How I Met Marlys
This month Drawn and Quarterly reprints The Greatest of Marlys, a collection of Lynda Barry's comic strips starring the freckly, daydreaming preteen Barry's been drawing for 30 years now. Marlys is a unique character: Officially, she's in third grade, but her smart mouth and heartaches often make her seem more like a teenager; not for nothing does cartoonist Raina Telgemeier call her “YA before YA really even existed.” Below, the remarkable cartoonist and teacher reveals the story of how Marlys first came to her, way back in 1986. —Dan Kois
The Great Rooms of Children’s Literature
Children’s picture books are a unique record of social evolution: in gender roles and racial politics, as is much discussed, but also in fashion and interior design. Children’s books deal in idealized worlds, so they’re a document of how our notion of ideal worlds has changed over time. Reading the great picture books of the past few decades is as instructive a lesson in evolving notions of design as looking at the archives of House Beautiful.
How Hard Is It To Make Your Own Children’s Book? Reader, We Tried.
No one doubts that some children’s books are great. But it’s the kind of greatness that often looks so intuitive, so breezy and slight, that it can seem deceptively simple to pull off. No matter how much Goodnight, Moon you devoured as a child, or how many hours you’ve spent reading Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus to your own offspring, it’s hard to grok what really goes into making a children’s book and what it takes to make a truly good one. So we, a group of hubristic Slate editors and writers, decided to try our hand at creating some kid’s lit ourselves.
Our kids’ lit “hack-a-thon,” as we called it, had a few rules. Each book would star the same animal and have the same moral. A panel of judges, experts in the field of children’s literature, would select an animal protagonist and a moral for us—which would only be revealed at the beginning of the Hack-a-Thon. Never mind the question of whether great children’s literature should really have a “moral” at all; for the sake of this exercise, we needed parameters. We would have one hour to create our kids’ books. Then we would submit them to be mercilessly judged by the professionals.
And so, anxiously, we began.
We’ve Stopped Translating Children’s Books Into English. Where Will We Get the Next Tintin?
This is a story about Moomins. I just love Moomins. I always have.
But perhaps you have no clue what I’m talking about? Moomins were important in my childhood, but I know that many people grew up without them. (Though, as is so often the way with childhood reading, I can’t imagine how.) Moomins feature in one of my favorite series of books, created in the ’40s by a genius called Tove Jansson, and they are funny. They’re trippy, and dreamy, sometimes melancholy and often wise. They’re also Finnish.
I shall return to the Moomins shortly. Because meanwhile, in another part of the forest, a small Gaulish village is still holding out against the invaders. A warrior called Astérix, his friend Obelix, the druid Panoramix, the dog Idéfix … they’re funny, too. (And punny.) Yes, Astérix was another favorite of mine. As were Pippi Longstocking, Tintin, Pinocchio, various books of fairy tales … and possibly The Little Prince? But yeah, mostly Asterix. Or rather “Astérix,” with the accent—if we’re going to be properly French about it.