Sunday, December 24, 2006

Books (July 2004)

How do you find books for the readers in your family? In sixth grade, I had a school librarian extraordinaire. Our building was brand new, and so was the library – not a thing on the shelves. Every week, the librarian unpacked another shipment of books. And every week, when my class came in for library time, there she’d be with another novel of fantasy and adventure set aside, just for me.

Such personalized service is getting harder to come by, but luckily the Web offers a host of features that are almost as good. The most obvious, of course, are found on Amazon.com and the other popular online booksellers, such as Barnes and Noble and Powells. Look up a book you’re curious about, or one you know you enjoyed, and you’ll be presented with computer-generated information on similar books that interested other customers, as well as customer-created lists of similar books they recommend. If you’re wondering whether your 10-year-old is ready for that children’s classic you loved when you were his age, or if your favorite author’s latest lives up to her previous work, online booksellers let you check what other readers have to say about it. Most importantly, they’ll tell you what the blurbs from Hornbook or School Library Journal can’t: whether the book really grabs young readers, not just if it’s “good for them.”

There are websites dedicated to helping families find books that are fun and rewarding. Many parents turn to the book catalog Chinaberry, started by a mom looking for “positive and uplifting” books for her own children, specifically for their intimate, in-depth reviews, sorted by age from birth to teens to adults. Jim Trelease’s newest edition of “The Read-Aloud Handbook” has just come out; go to his website and click on “The Treasury” to sample books for families perfect for sharing. I love former teacher and school librarian Esme Raji Codell’s sassy style; the author of “How to Get Your Child to Love Reading” has written some wonderful books of her own, and shares her favorite reads on planetesme.com. The site Reading Pen Pals, created by teacher Justine Henning, offers reviews of great fiction and nonfiction, like Harriet the Spy and Fast Food Nation, listed by title and author. Adult reviewers not only encourage young readers to draw on their background knowledge, make connections between themselves and the story’s characters, and compare themes with those in other books, they’ll often respond to kids who send in their own opinions.

But don’t count libraries out: their websites often link to great reading resources, and they’re the best place to let kids do their own searches. The Juvenile Series and Sequels Database of the Mid-Continent Public Library in Missouri, with over 22,000 titles, can satisfy the craving for “More!” whether it’s Amelia Bedelia or The X-Files. Series are classified as Juvenile Easy, for young readers just beginning to read, Juvenile, appropriate for grade school through junior high, and Young Adult, for high school-aged readers. And if your teens are ready for books that push the limits of young adult fiction, point them towards Reading Rants, a website created by New York City school librarian Jennifer Hubert for kids who are wondering if there's life after Judy Blume and Brian Jacques. Jen’s lists have names like Graphic Fantastic, Fanging Around (vampire stories), and Nail Biters (teen thrillers) – they’re not for the faint of heart.

If that’s STILL not enough, check out the links on the Saratoga Springs Public Library’s Reading Central webpage. There’s BookLetters, with reviews, interviews and discussion guides; a whole page of Websites for Readers, from The New York Times to Sparknotes, and including teen, romance, and mystery fan sites; a link to the quirky “Who Reads What?” site, where you can find out what’s on the nightstand of everyone from Kofi Annan to Raquel Welch; and much more. In fact, thanks to the Internet, you’ve got the nearest thing to my sixth grade librarian right on your computer, 24/7. And she’s never too busy to help!

Online Reading Bonus! Get a preview of the marvelous Daniel Pinkwater’s upcoming novel The Neddiad -- “My best work so far,” the author promises -- at www.pinkwater.com/theneddiad. Chapters have been posted weekly since August, and will continue until its publication in April 2007. There's also a forum for your comments -- and Pinkwater, the "Grand Poohbah," will respond!

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