In the library:
When I'm in the library, I sit cross-legged on the floor and pull books off the shelves until I find a book that appeals to me. (Notice I said me, not my children). The reason for this is two-fold:
1. I will have to read that book over and over and over and over again in the course of that two-week period we will have it at home, so I'd best like it and not be annoyed with it. :)
2. Part of my role as a parent is to shape what my children like, so I am intentional when they're young about presenting them with beautiful illustrations and meaningful stories. I want them to grow an appreciation for the beauty of both quality artistry and a good story. (This doesn't mean that I never choose books just for the sake of silliness. I do. Just not as often as I choose other books.) And as the kids get older, we do check out books based on their interests.
|from Emily and Daisy, Elsa Beskow|
Another library note: When my young children bring me random books off the shelf I always read them first, and many times I will say "No, we're not bringing this one home." It's very helpful now that my older kids will bring me books they've found, because they'll often act as a filter for me.
My system for finding good books has morphed a little over the years. I used to rely primarily on book lists. I own some books that are essentially bound book lists. I've mentioned my favorites here in an older post. (And you are welcome to borrow them, Ramona!) Here is another online book list that I've visited over the years: 1000 Good Books List. Or you could check the titles from the Caldecott Medal list. My friend Elise used to do a series on her blog called Children's Book Mondays, where she reviewed picture books, so there are some great picture book recommendations if you follow that link.
Some of our favorite books for little ones:
Sandra Boynton books
Dr. Seuss books
Richard Scarry books
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Gossie & Gertie books, by Olivier Dunrea
Beatrix Potter books
Robert McCloskey books (Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal)
Sarah Stewart/David Small books (The Gardener is our favorite; I love Small's illustrations)
Winnie the Pooh
Robert Louis Stevenson (poems)
Obadiah stories by Brinton Turkle
Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall
(And, oh! There are SO MANY more. There are so many wonderful books and this is just a small sampling of the ones that are most familiar to me only because we own them.)
|classic Garth Williams|
Some favorite illustrators: Garth Williams (probably my all-time favorite illustrator), Tasha Tudor, Gyo Fujikawa, Barbara McClintock, Barbara Clooney, Elsa Beskow, Lois Lenski (she has many books for older children, but the Small series is for the younger crowd), David Small, Lisbeth Zwerger, Freya Blackwood, Tricia Tusa, Diane Goode. (I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting, but those are just off the top of my head.)
And that brings me to how I FIND books. If we discover a book that we like, I hunt down what else they've written. Same for illustrators: I find out what other books they've illustrated. This takes some time, but the internet makes it easy to do a quick search, and then I can put them on hold at the library and pick them up to peruse them.
After a few years of doing that, you'll build up a pretty good list in your own head of the authors and illustrators you like (they may not be the same as mine), and then when you go to the thrift store or library book sales, you look for those names. :)
In a thrift store:
This is pretty simple, really. I look for older, hardcover books almost exclusively. I skip right on over the newer paperbacks and just look for the gems mixed in with all the other stuff. Or, I'll scan the spines for authors or illustrators that I recognize.
I hope this helps. This is sort of a scattered post of thoughts and ideas so I hope it's not too all-over-the-place.
I know there are so many more books I'm missing (feel free to comment with your favorites!)