Scholastic

Today, I have a special treat for you – the very first GUEST POST we’ve ever had at Building a Library. It was written by a dear friend, Megan McKnight, a lawyer and mom to two wonderful boys, who has been one of this blog’s biggest cheerleaders from day one. Megan actually sent me the bulk of this article in an email, asking me to give parents tips about picking titles from school book order catalogs. Her email was so full of her own great advice regarding book orders that I wrote her back and said, “Um, can I just post your email as an article? I’m never going to write anything better than what you just wrote.” And, after bugging her enough, she finally let me publish it (with a few edits and additions from her end). I love this article and think it’s a fantastic resource for any parent struggling with their monthly book order selections. Take it away, Megan!

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The Book Fair from the Black Lagoon

Do you ever feel like this around book order season?

By Megan McKnight — I am a huge Building a Library fan. It is a great resource and stokes my enjoyment of reading children’s books. However, Building a Library does not help much with one of those familiar rites of the school year: BOOK ORDERS. We have been buying books from the Scholastic book order program for a few years and my track record is dubious at best. Distracted by the low prices and pretty pictures, I bought several awful books for my family. I recently recycled a stack of book order paperbacks — instead of donating them — because I do not want them to end up on another unsuspecting family’s bookshelf.

So, I developed my own set of Rules for use in ordering from the monthly book order that I follow to save my family from terrible books. Now, my family actually enjoys the books we order. My Book Order Rules are the following, in no particular order:

DO NOT BUY…

1. Books that do not list an author and illustrator. If no one has the pride to acknowledge writing or illustrating the book, it is not worth reading.

2. Books based on television, movie, or toy characters. Usually, these books are also eliminated by Rule #1. This rule is inapplicable if the book preceded the show. Olivia by Ian Falconer is a good example of this – my boys love this book!

3. Books with the exclusive purpose of teaching manners and improving behavior. Instead of making your child more patient and kind, these books will probably leave you and your child annoyed and bored. There are a few entertaining books intended to reinforce good behavior — seek these outside of the book order.  For example, we enjoy these books: Do Unto Otters: A Book About Manners by Laurie Keller, Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kaplan, and Potty Animals: What to Know When You’ve Got to Go by Hope Vestergaard.

Monsters Eat Whiny Children

That’s tough but fair…

4. Book collections centered on the same character(s). For example, if you and your kids love Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney, you do not need three more Llama books. Chances are that you will get Llama-ed out, very quickly, and it may sap some of the magic from that first book, too. Instead, use the book order as a chance to expand your horizons. However, see Rule #12 below for a very important exception.

5. Books accompanied by a CD or DVD. The usual running time is 3 1/2 minutes per book, which is hardly worth the trouble of getting it set-up. Just sit down and read to your child for three minutes.

6. Books in hardcover. These are usually more than $10, and it is not worth paying more than $10 for any book from the book order, given the remote likelihood that the books will impress both you and your kid. If the book is good, it will be published in paperback soon..

7. Book collections that are exclusively seasonal. For example, “Books About Fall” or “Books About Easter.” For some reason, these are generally terrible and you will have squandered another opportunity to read an amazing story.

8. Non-books like games, shoe-tying activities, puzzles, toys and chore-charts. I have  bought them all and the quality is universally poor.

9. Books that are accompanied by an accessory such as a car, a rock, a necklace, or 3-D glasses. The accessory is always of poor quality and the book rarely stands on its own. [read the rest of the post…]

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Scholastic’s Kids Are Authors Contest

Does your kid want to publish their very own picture book? Scholastic can help…

While 826 National does publish some of the most beautifully designed kid-authored books I’ve ever seen, they’re certainly not the only organization that publishes books written by school-aged kids. If you’re interested in more examples of superior student publications, you should definitely check out the current and past winners of Scholastic’s Kids Are Authors Contest.

Scholastic, publisher of both Harry Potter and school book order catalogs (not sure which is more famous), sponsors an annual contest for K-8 students in the United States in which teams of students can collaborate on writing and illustrating their very own book. Students can submit their books to Scholastic, which publishes two winning entries each year – one fiction and one nonfiction  – and sells the finished books via their national network of school book fairs.

The contest itself is extremely cool – the deadline for this year’s submissions is March 15, 2014 – and all of the winning entries I’ve read have been equal parts fun and impressive. There’s just something very enlivening about seeing kids put together their own books and having such control over the words and art. There are always these quirky, inspired moments in each book that I don’t think would ever occur to an adult author, but they just feel perfectly natural coming from kids.

Scholastic’s Kids Are Authors Contest

The 2012 Kids Are Authors Nonfiction winner – White Tails and Other White Tales

Past winners of the Kids Are Authors contest include titles like The Seeds of the Milkweed (written and illustrated by second grade students from East End Elementary School, Little Rock, Arkansas); White Tails and Other White Tales (written and illustrated by second grade students from Longfellow Elementary School, West Allis, Wisconsin); Two Dollars, One Wallet (written and illustrated by third grade students from William McKinley Elementary School, Burbank, California); and A Kid for Jack (written and illustrated by fourth grade students from Piney Grove Elementary School, Kernersville, North Carolina), among others.

It’s terrific that Scholastic publishes these books, however, the winning titles are exclusively sold through Scholastic school book fairs, so it’s not tremendously easy to get copies of past winners online (or to get the current winners if you don’t live near a book fair location). They’re not sold on Amazon or anywhere else, though I’ve occasionally seen a few copies of past titles on eBay.

So, if you can make it to a book fair this year, I’d really recommend checking out the winners of the Kids Are Authors contest. There’s something awesome about kids writing for an audience of their peers. The books connect with their readers in really interesting ways and such creativity and drive should always be rewarded.

Scholastic’s Kids Are Authors Contest

Some of the past winners of the Kids Are Authors Contest…

AND, if you think your K-8 kid should be a published author, check out the contest guidelines HERE. They could maybe run the idea past their teacher, put together a creative team, and who knows? They just might have their hard work featured in book fairs across the U.S. and find themselves on the path to becoming the next Mo Willems or Kate DiCamillo.

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Emily's First 100 Days of School

One, one animated adaptation of the book… a-ha-ha…

Scholastic’s Weston Woods has a long tradition of making animated adaptations of classic works of children’s literature. Most are excellent – I’m a fan of their version of William Steig’s Pete’s a Pizza and their Mo Willems Pigeon videos – though a few are little questionable. (See one of my very first posts – “Dad, We Watched a Movie at School Today about an Old Lady Who Kills Children”.)

Their adaptation of Rosemary WellsEmily’s First 100 Days of School, however, is one of the good ones and should give any interested parties a nice idea of what the book is all about. Take a look and enjoy.

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Scholastic 100 Greatest Books for Kids

The interactive bookshelf is equal parts cool and infuriating...

I didn’t mean to be quite so critical of the Scholastic “100 Greatest Books for Kids” list in my last post. As someone who started a blog that’s all about recommending great children’s books to readers, I think I can understand the noble aspirations that are probably behind the creation of the list and I definitely can see how some people might find a “100 Greatest” list valuable. However, that being said, I still think the overly sensational presentation of the list robs it of a large portion of its inherent value. Yes, it’s great that some very educated, very passionate people assembled such a strong reading list, BUT I think their contributions are overshadowed by the over-the-top pomp and circumstance of suggesting that these 100 books hold more value than ANY other children’s titles. The “100 Greatest Books for Kids” opted for the inflammatory over the educational, and I think that was a bad call.

But that isn’t to say that “best book lists” are always a bad idea. They can be AMAZING, when they’re done right. So, in response to Scholastic’s “100 Greatest Books for Kids”, I thought I’d pass along five other examples of “Best Books for Kids” lists that (I think) present their recommendations in much more constructive and enlightening ways.

(I seriously debated calling this post “The FIVE Best Books for Kids Lists OF ALL TIME” – which probably would’ve done wonders for my SEO – but I wasn’t sure how obvious the sarcasm would be.)

1. National Education Association’s Kids’ Top 100 Books vs. Teachers’ Top 100 Books

National Education Association

The NEA "best books" polls have very interesting results...

In November of 1999, the National Education Association ran an online survey to see children and young adults would select as their top 100 favorite books– you can read the results here. While, like the Scholastic list, this is a “top 100” list, I like the NEA list because it’s clearly the result of a survey and, as such, saying that these picks were the “favorites” of the survey audience is a much less incendiary comment than saying that someone has identified the “100 greatest kids’ books EVER.” There are some weird picks and selections I don’t agree with, but I think it’s a fascinating document of what kids were reading at the time. (Also, since the survey took place in late 1999, don’t expect to see anything too recent on the list.)

The other great aspect of this list is that the NEA suggests that you cross-reference the list with a 2007 survey they did where teachers were asked to select their top 100 examples of quality literature for children – you can read that list here. There are some FANTASTIC suggestions on the teacher list – I prefer their picks to the kids’ list – and I think the teachers did a much better job of creating a balanced selection of new and iconic titles than the Scholastic list did. Granted, there is NO commentary to accompany these lists – it’s just a big dump of titles – but I think their selections and the perspective that they bring on their respective audiences make up for that shortcoming.

2. The Guardian’s “Building a Children’s Library” Recommended Reading List

Guardian Building a Children's Library

Such a great resource...

I originally discovered the UK Guardian‘s “Building a Children’s Library” section online right after I registered the domain name for this site and was a few days away from launching it. Suffice to say, it caused me a very unpleasant afternoon filled with self-doubt and self-serving proclamations of “But it’s already been done before? WHY BOTHER?!” However, after browsing through the site for a few hours, I quickly realized that, while all about promoting the joys of reading, our sites had very different missions and voices. (At least that’s what I tell myself, so I can sleep at night… sob.)

The editorial team of the Guardian has done a blisteringly admirable job of putting together a primer for any parent looking to assemble a list of “classic” children’s titles for their kids. They break their recommendations into several different age groups – Classic children’s library: 0-3; Classic children’s library: 4-7; Books for tweens; and Teen library – and they provide some excellent and well-written commentary to accompany each title. More than any other “best books” list I’ve found online, the Guardian‘s recommendations do an amazing job of providing context for each title and really giving a nice, concise argument of WHY this title is perfect for its age group. (They also pick many wonderful-sounding UK titles that might not be familiar to US audiences – that’s another plus in my column.) One warning: The Guardian’s “Building a Children’s Library” site seemingly hasn’t been updated since around 2005 – and some lists date back to 2000 – which is a shame.

And, I’ll admit, I have a big crush on the Guardian‘s “About the Library” summary where, in a few paragraphs, they completely reject the sensational posturing of the Scholastic “100 Greatest List” and rather revel in how subjective, personal, and human their recommendations are. Here’s an excerpt:

This list is not intended to be definitive. It is merely a jumping-off point, a place to start exploring the world of books. In recent years publishing for children has become a growth area. The shelves of bookshops – but not, alas, our cash-starved libraries – are stuffed with new titles and classics. Where to begin? How to choose? We hope that this list will help you and your children and teenagers plunge in and develop your own taste and own likes and dislikes. … [read the rest of the post…]

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100 Greatest Books for Kids

It is pretty funny watching something called "The 100 Greatest Books for Kids" making adults so very, very angry...

Earlier this week, USA Today and Scholastic’s Parent & Child Magazine released their picks for the 100 Greatest Books for Kids – a list that they’ve been counting down to since last December and that, in a few short days, has already inspired some pretty heated feedback on the internet. The “100 Greatest” list found its ways onto my radar after Roger Sutton, Editor in Chief of the Horn Book, posted a link to the list on Twitter accompanied by the comment “this is a very strange list.” Sutton followed up with a question on his blog – “Does anyone know how this list was put together?” – which, frankly, is what I think ANYONE would immediately ask after reading the list.

You can check out the list for yourself HERE.

I dug around Parent & Child‘s press materials and got a better idea of the “how” and the “why” the list was created. First, let’s look at the “why.” The list was ostensibly created to mark the various BIG reading events that will be taking place during March this year, including the 15th anniversary of the National Education Association’s Read Across America Day (March 2nd, which also happens to be Dr. Seuss’ birthday) AND March just happens to be National Reading Month. (We just received our March calendar from my daughter’s kindergarten class and they’ve got multiple “National Reading Month” events planned for every week.)

In terms of the “how,” here’s how Parent & Child explains what went into the creation of their “100 Greatest Books for Kids” list:

To create our list, we asked several highly respected literacy experts, educators, and parents for suggestions. They came through in a big way — nearly 500 books were in the running. We used a variety of criteria to narrow down to 100 and then rank our titles, including diversity of genre, topic, format, ages and stages, authorship, and cultural representation. Factors such as literary and/or illustration excellence, popularity, and longevity or innovative freshness were all qualities of books in the final round.

100 Greatest Books for Kids

Their #1 pick is "Charlotte's Web", which is a good book, but is it the best of all time? (And is that what the list is saying? I'm confused.)

So, on the surface, I can generally understand how and why they decided to take on this project. I can. But here’s the thing – Sutton is right. Dead right. It is a strange list. All of these kinds of lists are STRANGE lists.

Whenever someone takes it upon themselves to assemble a list of “The 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century” or “The 10 Books That Will Change Your Life” or any of those huge, declarative “I am OBJECTIVELY ranking things that are inherently SUBJECTIVE and you will shut up and like it” lists, I don’t think it is ever, EVER a good idea.

Granted, the lists’ authors might disagree. Chances are, one of their main aims with this list was to stir controversy, get some publicity, and sell some newspapers and magazines – and, in that sense, by writing about the list on my blog, I’m giving them EXACTLY what they want. (Dammit.) BUT, beyond naked attention grabbing, I don’t think anyone can prove that lists like this one provide much positive value to the general public.

That’s one of my biggest issues with reading lists like this one – they are designed to be confrontational and inspire arguments, even though those arguments provide NO benefit to their target audience. When Parent & Child declares “these are the 100 GREATEST kids’ books“, they are blatantly implying that these titles are superior to EVERY other title that didn’t make this list. So, if Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is my favorite kids’ book and it didn’t make this list (it didn’t), by saying these books are the “100 Greatest”, it is, in effect, telling me that, “Your favorite book isn’t even good enough to crack our top 100. You are WRONG.” [read the rest of the post…]

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