Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Book Review: A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and Young Adult Literature edited by Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano (2011)

A Family of Readers is a collection of essays and short reflections by the editors and contributors of The Horn Book magazine geared toward parents who love to read and wish to raise book-loving children. The book covers all ages from babies to teens, and it is divided into sections according to the needs of kids at different reading levels ("Reading to Them," "Reading with Them," "Reading on Their Own," and "Leaving Them Alone.") It concludes with a book list.

I have heard some people describe this book as snobby, and I definitely think that is an accurate assessment. The contributors to the collection have very definite opinions of what makes a good book, and they don't seem to hesitate in naming the titles that don't meet their standards. I'm pretty snobby about children's books myself, so this didn't bother me, but parents who are big fans of The Berenstain Bears, for example, might find that some of the pieces included rub them the wrong way with their disparaging remarks about such books. 

While I did like the overall attitude that quality matters in children's literature, this book is not quite the definitive guide it claims to be. Many of the pieces are so short that they feel truncated, as though they are excerpts from longer pieces or quick quotations jotted down by authors who didn't have time to write longer essays. Many times, it felt like an author stopped writing just at the point that his argument became interesting.  I also had some issues with the advice of the authors in the section of the book addressing teens. The idea that a parent should no longer be at all involved with their children's reading choices after a certain age strikes me as pretty irresponsible, especially since it seems like the pieces in that section really just want kids to be able read books with sexual content behind their parents' backs.

What was refreshing, though, is that this book, while definitely left-leaning, did not have any of the political rhetoric that I associate with children's literature discourse in 2019. There were mentions of diversity, pieces by authors from a variety of backgrounds, and recommended books representing different cultural backgrounds, but it was all presented in a very palatable (and non-confrontational) tone that made it easier to tolerate even the viewpoints with which I vehemently disagreed. 

I started working as a children's librarian in late 2010, and this book came out in 2011, so many of the books mentioned are the ones that were popular in my library during my first couple of years on the job, and reading this book was a bit like reliving those months of reading. For that reason, I might have enjoyed it a bit more than I would have otherwise.  For adults who are not librarians who want to understand more about the world of children's books, this isn't a bad place to start, but it's also not comprehensive enough to be the only book one reads on the subject.

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