Recently, the editors at Education World asked some of our favorite authors of children's books to share their reading highlights with you.
In response, Jane Yolen, Kenn Nesbitt, Jon Scieszka, and Linda Sue Park reveal their favorite books for elementary school children, discuss how they discovered those books, and explain each book's appeal to young readers. Who knows more, after all, about what will entertain children and motivate them to read than these literary experts?
Next week, Beverly Cleary, Jennifer Holm, Susan Katz, Lois Lowry, and Jean Craighead George share their best book picks for "young adult" readers.
When a young Jane Yolen discovered The Red Fairy Book at her New York City library, she took the book home and read the stories over and over and over again. Yolen has been hooked on fairy tales ever since!
Today, Yolen is herself the author of several books for children, including The Emperor and the Kite, a 1968 Caldecott Honor Book, and Owl Moon, the 1988 Caldecott winner. She still remembers The Red Fairy Book, however, and suggests that children check out the entire series of The Color Fairy Books edited by Andrew Lang.
"The stories come from all over the world, and they are filled with magic, wisdom and wonder," Yolen told Education World. "The drawings -- both in color and black-and-white -- are incredible too; they serve the magic of the stories well."
Children's poet Kenn Nesbitt is another author who knows what kids like; his latest book of poetry, The Aliens Have Landed!, features "kangaruplets," skunks in love, and antigravity machines! Another book Nesbitt encourages kids to read is Bubblegum Delicious by Canadian poet Dennis Lee.
"Whenever I'm in a bookstore I like to look through the children's poetry section to see what's new," said Nesbitt. "I was at a bookstore in Seattle, and found this collection that I had never seen before. I bought it, expecting it to be nothing special. Boy, was I ever wrong! It is an amazing book of children's poetry."
Nesbitt reports that this book is heartwarming, funny, and very well written. The poems range from bedtime lullabies to childhood fantasies to charming nonsense to humorous flights of fancy.
"This book literally had me laughing out loud on one page and crying on the next," Nesbitt stated. "Younger children will enjoy that it is mostly written from the world-view of a 4-year-old and is rich with lush, colorful illustrations. The poems include playful stories of hunting bad guys, whimsical daydreams of pollywogs in parachutes, tales of friendship and loneliness, and lots, lots more. If I could recommend only one book of poetry for younger children, this would be it."
Author Jon Scieszka, who has a special interest in finding excellent books that hold the attention of boys, reported that his "favorite children's book at the moment" is Star Wars: Jedi Apprentice, The Hidden Past by Jude Watson. The third book in a series of Star Wars tales, "The Hidden Past" is a paperback with a flashy cover -- "the familiar Star Wars logo in gold over a photo collage of two of the characters from the most recent movies," Scieszka explained. "The writing is workmanlike, the action heroic, and the dialogue brief. There are plenty of references to 'The Force,' and both an iron-on transfer picture and a mail-in book club offer are bound into the book."
The book, according to Scieszka, the author of the 1993 Caldecott Honor Book The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, Math Curse, and more, is not one he would ever have thought to buy and read. He did so, he said, because an 8-year-old boy wrote to him recommending it as "his best book ever."
"Ive been collecting just these kind of recommendations at my Web site GUYSREAD for about a year now," said Scieszka. "And I think the single most important thing Ive learned and remembered is that kids learn to read best by finding what they love to read. Heres to helping more kids find their 'best book ever'... no matter what it is."
Linda Sue Park, the author of several books for children and young adults, including the 2002 Newbery Medal Book A Single Shard, discovered her "best book ever" in the library when she was about 10 years old. That book was The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright.
"Enright had written a Newbery Medal Book called Thimble Summer," Park recalled. "I read it and liked it and went looking for other books by the same author -- as I always did, and still do today!" The characters in The Saturdays were especially appealing to Park. The four children included Mona, the eldest and most glamorous; Rush, on whom Park had a terrible crush; Randy (Miranda), a girl Park wished to have as a best friend; and Oliver, who was both serious and funny at the same time. The portrayal of New York City, where the family lived, was also masterful. To Park, a child of the Midwest suburbs, the city seemed an exotic, wonderful, adventurous place. The book was one of several that made Park want to live in New York -- and when she grew up, she did!
"The stories in the book are made up of episodic chapters -- one Saturday per chapter -- detailing the children's outings in New York City," Park explained. "I can still remember every one of those outings: the first Saturday making the Grand Plan; Randy at the art museum; Rush at the opera; Oliver at the circus; Mona at the hairdresser's; the boating escapade in Central Park; the trip to the seashore -- all delightful and memorable."
As a writer, Park still remains in awe of Enright's perfect touch with detail. "She uses exactly what is needed to make the story come alive without bogging it down," Park observed. "For example, Randy has tea at the art museum and eats petits fours -- little French cakes -- for the first time. The petits fours are described has having 'frilled paper collars and little silver buttons,' and, just like Randy, I wanted to eat one immediately!"
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