Helping someone find a book to read is a pretty easy task when all the reader is looking for is popular stuff. It’s not tough to track down Harry Potter, Jack and Annie, Geronimo Stilton, Arthur and Captain Underpants. You find the book, hand it over and hope they enjoy it. It’s when all those books have been read and the reader wants, even needs, something else to read that the art of helping choose something else suited to their tastes comes into play. In library lingo it’s called Reader’s Advisory, and it is still the best part of my job.
Once past the popular book stage I like to focus on titles that aren’t obvious choices but are wonderful anyway. Maybe the cover is ugly, or Mom or Dad had never heard of the author, or it’s just old fashioned. Some of my personal favorites for this are The Cricket in Times Square, Jennifer Murdley’s Toad (absolute best first line in children’s literature, I kid you not), Bud, not Buddy and The Book of Three. They are slim, easy to read and don’t look at all intimidating. If they’re a little banged up, well . . .a lot can be forgiven an ugly book with a good story between its covers.
A little more old fashioned, and a little harder to sell are books like Calico Captive, The Great Brain, Dominic and The Twilight of Magic, among others. I’ve had lots of children who needed convincing come back and ask for something else like one of these.
Then, there are the books that win awards but that don’t just leap off the shelves and into a reader’s hand screaming “I’m fabulous!” These books take more patience and concentration, a rare commodity in our non-linear reading, Googlized world. The authors are artists. Their works are so finely crafted that to remove even one phrase would bring down the entire work. They not only tell a good story, they immerse the reader in a world of gorgeous language, flawless characterization and precision plotting. They create entire paragraphs that make an English major dizzy with admiration and jealousy but will just be a really good story for a younger reader. If the reader loves that book and wants more, I’ve got myself a base hit. If that reader pauses to savor a sentence or two, or re-reads the book directly after finishing, then I can count that as a grand slam. When I’m looking to hook a reader on great literature as well as a great story I pull out: Natalie Babbitt, E.L. Konigsburg, David Almond and Kim Siegelson.
Tuck Everlasting fans will be delighted there’s a new Babbitt book out, but an older reader will feel as if they are solidly in western Ohio while reading Herbert Rowbarge. Skellig, by David Almond will have you looking at birds, and miracles, in a whole new way, and I promise that after reading Honey Bea by Decatur’s own Kim Siegelson, you will want nothing more than to eat honey. Finally, read everything by Ms. Konigsburg. She’s dazzling no matter what she’s writing about, but I have a special love for A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver and the Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place.
You know what? Read everything by each of these folks. The reading won’t always be an easy journey, but it will always be well worth the effort.