How to find quality books to read to your children

Ramona recently asked a question in the comments about how we find quality books, whether we're at the library or in a thrift store.  My approach depends on where I'm at, so I'll break it down:

 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 think it's great to start with what you remember enjoying as a child.  That's why we have Dr. Seuss in the house.  I don't remember enjoying those books at all as a child (the illustrations don't exactly appeal to me), but Mark liked them, so they became a fixture in our library.  Your kids will usually like what YOU like, so that's a good start. 

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!)

A Bookish Post

I have to smile at the title, "A Bookish Post" because of how much it reminds me of my Audra, who regularly adds the ending -ish onto her words.  She says things like, "Mommy, did you see what I drew? How it's kind of blueish and greenish?" Or she'll tell me that she is feeling "hungryish" or "tiredish" or other such Ish words.

I love her.

So. We're reading a lot lately, and as it's been awhile since I've told you what we're reading aloud, and since that's one of my favorite things to tell you about, here is that post.

In the picture book category, we're reading Mr. Putter & Tabby books.  I am VERY fond of these books.  I think Cynthia Rylant (author) and Arthur Howard (illustrator) are a brilliant combination.  If you're unfamiliar with these, do pick some up the next time you're at the library.

For those of you who don't know who Mr. Putter is, he's a kindly elderly man with a cat named Tabby.  They like to drink tea and eat snacks and generally stay calm, napping as often as they can.  However, Mr. Putter has a spunky neighbor named Mrs. Teaberry, who, along with her lively dog Zeke, is always looking for a new adventure and often invites Mr. Putter and Tabby along.

The characters are so likeable and the stories humorous, but what I appreciate the most is simply that these are books written for kids about elderly people, which seems such an unlikely idea, and yet it works.  They are engaging and funny and my kids love them right along with me.

This morning we read this one:


My favorite is the part where Mr. Putter, in an effort to ready himself for a marathon (Mrs. Teaberry's idea, of course), decides to work out by touching his toes several times a day.

But, alas- Mr. Putter can only reach his.... knees.  So he touches his knees each day and feels quite good about himself... until he gets to the starting line and sees all the other people touching their toes.

Here's a funny part from Mr. Putter & Tabby Spill the Beans.  Mrs. Teaberry signs them up for a cooking class and cheerily tells Mr. Putter that they are going to learn one hundred ways to cook beans.  From the book:
Mr. Putter looked at Tabby.
He did not want to learn one hundred ways to cook beans.
What he wanted was an ice cream soda.
He wanted an ice cream soda and a cherry on top.
See?  Hilarious.  Tell me you love Mr. Putter as much as I do.

I have been reading Mara, Daughter of the Nile aloud to the kids- because it's set in Egypt which goes right along with the Ancient History we're studying this year.  The kids are enjoying it and the plot is good.  I never intended on it being a read-aloud.  It was on Ella's Assigned Reading List, but she was having a hard time getting into it what with all the Egyptian names and places, so in an effort to get her interested, I began reading it aloud.  Once she was hooked, I was ready to pass it off to her to resume reading, but by then the boys were into the story and wanted me to keep reading it, so it became a read-aloud.  Before that I'd been reading The Swiss Family Robinson aloud, so we'll get back to that after we wrap up Mara.

Mark always gets to read the best books, though, in my opinion.  He began the fall with Man of the Family (book two of series by Ralph Moody).  It was just as good as Little Britches.  I have such an affection for these books.  I told Mark recently that when the kids are grown and I remember our evenings of reading aloud, these are the books I will likely remember him reading.  We loved this book.  Maybe it's because it was the second book, yet with the same, now-familiar-to-us characters.  And by now Mark has the voices of each character down- especially Ralph's, and the cadence of his voice as he reads is just.... familiar in a comforting sort of way. 


When he finished Man of the Family, he began Where the Red Fern Grows, which is what we're currently reading in the evenings.  (Another gem.  We read Rawls' Summer of the Monkeys a few years back and enjoyed that one tremendously, too.)  Ella and I knit while we listen, Adelia snuggles up next to Mark or myself- usually with another book in her lap that she's looking at, the boys play on the floor, and Audra colors or finger-knits.  The fire is often crackling and we're all cozy and hanging on every word.

Oh!  And for my own self I'm reading Sir Gibbie, by George MacDonald.  George MacDonald has long been my mom's favorite author, so I read all of his books as a teen, but I'm gradually re-reading them again, and I love them.

Hooray for good books!  (What are you reading?)