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A useful guide to reading with kids

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By Karen MacPherson
Scripps Howard News Service
Reading with your children is one of the joys of parenthood. But knowing what to read isn’t always intuitive.
Now there’s a gem of a guidebook to help parents navigate the world of children’s literature. Titled “A Family of Readers” ($22), this book is a wonderfully knowledgeable and highly opinionated guide to books for children ages infant through teen.
The book’s editors, Roger Sutton and Martha Parravano, are the perfect guides. Sutton is editor in chief, and Parravano is executive editor, of The Horn Book Magazine, a monthly journal regarded by many as the bible of children’s literature.
The stance of “A Family of Readers” on kids and reading is simple. As Sutton puts it: “Don’t think of books for young people as tools; try instead to treat them as invitations into the reading life. That life can be a rich place, comprised of the highbrow and the lowdown, the casual and the ambitious, private reading and public sharing. As a parent in that landscape, you’ll need to be sometimes traveling companion, sometimes guide, sometimes off in your own part of the forest.”
Inspired by this philosophy, Sutton and Parravano have divided “A Family of Readers” into four parts that roughly follow a child’s development: “Reading To Them”; “Reading With Them”; “Reading On Their Own”; and “Leaving Them Alone.”
Each section comprises a mix of essays by — and interviews with — noted children’s-book authors, illustrators and experts, plus annotated lists of suggested books for each age group. Numerous children’s-book illustrations are scattered throughout, and add to the fun of reading this book.
Some of the essays are helpfully specific, such as “What Makes a Good Sex Ed Book?” by Christine Heppermann and “What Makes a Good Mother Goose?” by Joanna Rudge Long, both children’s book experts.
Other essayists muse on the allure of poetry to children or examine the idea of family in children’s books. In a particularly illuminating essay, children’s book expert Kathleen Horning gives detailed instructions on how to read a picture book, using “Baby Says” by John Steptoe as her example as she eviscerates the idea that creating picture books is easy.
An illustrious list of children’s-book creators enriches “A Family of Readers.” For example, there’s an interview with Maurice Sendak (“Where the Wild Things Are”); an essay by Newbery Medalist Betsy Byars on adventure books; and a look at the thrill of first learning to read by Newbery Medalist Lois Lowry.
Jon Scieszka, the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, contributes his thoughts in several parts of the book, tackling three issues: children’s-book design (a key to the success of his Caldecott Honor-winning “The Stinky Cheese Man”); the importance of humor to children; and his suggestions on how to better connect boys with books.
Parents will particularly appreciate suggestions for each type of book. These lists generally focus on recently published books, and each recommended volume is given a brief annotation, allowing readers to see if a book is one that might appeal to them.
Story tags » BooksParentingFamilyFamily fun

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