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Litchfield MN 55355

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Too busy to read? Try children's books.


by Beth Cronk, Litchfield head librarian

Do you love to read but feel like you don’t have enough time to finish a novel?  That’s usually how I am.  This fall I discovered a great way to read beautiful writing that gives you an engrossing experience without the time commitment: read quality children’s books.  This fall I’ve been taking a class on children’s materials for libraries, which has required me to read stacks of children’s books.  It has introduced me to wonderful books I would never have chosen on my own.  I’ll share the highlights with you.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead won a Newbery in 2010.  It reads like excellent realistic fiction, the main character a 12-year-old girl living in New York City with her single mother in the ‘70s.  She’s a fan of A Wrinkle in Time and makes many references to it, a clue that this book is actually science fiction, although it sneaks up on you.  I read it immediately after reading A Wrinkle in Time, which I recommend doing.

Year of Impossible Goodbyes by Sook Nyul Choi is a fantastic piece of historical fiction set in Korea during and immediately after World War II.  I was pitifully unaware of the history of Korea during that time, and this story of a young girl’s experience with Japanese and then Soviet occupation was enlightening to me – and impossible to put down.

A Year Down Yonder, another Newbery winner, is a lighthearted novel about a teenage girl who has to move from Chicago to her grandmother’s house in a little town when her father loses his job during the Depression.  Grandma Dowdel is a wacky character, the Christmas pageant rivals that in The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and the author, Richard Peck, hits the right balance of sweetness and quirkiness.

Rules by Cynthia Lord is a masterfully written story of Catherine, a girl who struggles with having an autistic brother and with navigating new friendships with a paraplegic boy and with the new, popular girl next door.  Catherine’s social struggles are easy to relate to, and there are powerful but not preachy insights about relationships. 

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper is told from the perspective of a brilliant girl with cerebral palsy who cannot speak.  The language is poetic, and her story is infuriating, heartbreaking, and inspiring. This is some fantastic writing.

Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key is told from another unique perspective, that of a boy with apparent ADHD.  Author Jack Gantos manages to make the narrative feel like it’s inside a mind that’s racing at a hundred miles an hour, shifting suddenly from one thought to another in ways that seem logical to the boy making impulsive decisions – but the reader knows that he’s headed for trouble.  Gantos does this while creating empathy in the reader for this child who wants to do the right thing but is unable to control himself.

I encourage you to explore children’s books even if you aren’t choosing them for children.  This is not second-class literature just because it is written for kids. Try some from the Newbery winners list, or find something on a historical period you enjoy.  Jan chooses truly wonderful books for our juvenile collection, and she, Mary, or I would be glad to direct you to quality children’s books that appeal to people of all ages.