“Building a Child’s Personal Library” by Gladys Hunt

How do you know which books you just have to own?  In her fourth post of our series, Gladys Hunt offers tips on recognizing “the keepers.”

After enthusiastic praise of libraries, should anyone bother to buy books?

How many books should a child own?

A library book is a wonderful discovery, a taste treat to be enjoyed. But a borrowed book always has a different emotional hold on a child than a book that is “my very own.”

Every family needs a shelf or special place for children’s books. You will know—or your child will tell you—when a book should be one you just have to own. Not any book will do for this shelf. That’s why it is good to give suggestions to grandparents and aunts and uncles about books to give as gifts. (It’s a favor to them to give titles to look for in the store. It’s so easy to pick up something that looks “sweet” or “cute” but in reality is only merchandising fluff—and not a “keeper.”)

The treasured books will be read again and again. These will be the ones that leave footprints in the heart. Whether wordless picture books or picture books with a minimum story line, or stories that make a child cry out, “Don’t stop now!”—these are the books that say something that leaves a mark on the child’s life.

C. S. Lewis said, “Any story worth reading at ten should be worth reading at fifty.” That’s the kind of children’s stories he wrote.  Quality is high priority.

Good stories have good writing: good use of language—imagery and word pictures that inspire the imagination. Look for a good theme (what is the book saying?) and strong characters whose actions make the plot work. A good book has integrity, a kind of wholeness that affects the reader, be the plot ever so simple.

It’s no good saying that Sam is a good, honest boy or that Jimmy is mean and thoughtless. The reader should come to personal conclusions about Sam or Jimmy based on their actions in the book. As one editor said, “Don’t tell me that the grass is green; tell me what its greenness does in the story.”

What I am talking about is the right word in the right place. In Cynthia Rylant’s Christmas in the Country the narrator is a small girl who lives with her grandparents and it is Christmas morning.

And in the morning when I woke it was still a little dark outside and still a little shivery, and I went to my grandparents’ bed and asked them to help me see what Santa brought. And they rose up from their warm quilts and together we all went to the tree.”

I especially like the phrase they rose up from their warm quilts. How much better than if the story had read, “I got up early and went into my grandparents’ bedroom and woke them up so we could look at our presents.”

I like Rylant’s word choices. In her book In November she has a delicious line, “In November, the smell of food is different. It is an orange smell.” That line has become part of our family vernacular during November. There is a wonder and a joy to words put together in just the right way.

At RedeemedReader, we agree–an author’s word choices can make or break the “keepability” of a book.  Some of our favorites, with the same kind of evocative language as Cynthia Rylant’s books, are 12 Kinds of Ice, The Crossoverand The Invention of LefseEnjoy!

This is the second of our series of previously-unpublished posts by Gladys Hunt.  She wrote these blog posts for Tumblon.com, a web app that helped parents understand children’s development.  Grham Scharf, one of the co-founders of Tumblon, has granted permission for these posts to be published here to achieve Gladys’s aim: for children and their parents to explore and enjoy great books together.  

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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