How to Find Topical Children's Books for Homeschool Lessons and Preschool Story Time
The following resources can be a helpful in finding just the right children's literature to fit the topics and subjects you are looking for. Looking for a book about bees, robotics, a new baby, or making friends? The options are endless and chances are, perusing the library shelves may not be the most efficient way to find what you are looking for. High quality children's literature is abundantly available at libraries, online, and for purchase in bookstores. If you use the following resources, finding books for your home school, library story time, and lessons that use children's lit will be a snap.
A to Zoo: Subject Access to Children's Picture Books
Using A to Zoo to Find Children's Picture Books on Topics In Your Curriculum
Are you interested in reading a book about animals that cook? Did you know that there is a comprehensive guide to the children's books in print, and it has a subject and author index! Well, honestly, it might not contain every picture book in print, but it is a thoughtful and well-indexed compendium, and a wonderful place to start. The book is called A to Zoo: A Subject Access to Children's Picture Books, by Carolyn and John Lima, and is usually available at your local library in the reference section. This means that you can use this book to look for those topics, and you can use it to reference the book titles with their ISBN numbers. This book is a little pricey for most home school families, but it is in the reference section of most of the mid-sized libraries I have visited in my many moves across the U.S.
Here's how it works: Say you have planned to do a reading lesson based on the children's book The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza, by Philemon Sturges, but you want to find another great children's book that complements your theme of cooking.
First you turn to the subject index of A to Zoo, and look up the keyword cooking. This term is cross-referenced to Activities-cooking, so you turn to the page with that subject heading. The subjects are arranged alphabetically, as in a dictionary, and at the front of the book is a complete list of the subjects as they appear in the subject index.
After you locate the Activities-cooking subject, you will see about 25 books listed. One of them is Cook-a-Doodle-Doo by Janet Stephens. To learn more about this book, turn to the author index, which is arranged by the author's last name.
Find Stevens, Janet, and in the listing of books she has published, you will find an entry for Cook-a-Doodle-Doo. This entry includes the date published and the ISBN number, which you can use to look up the book in your local library's online catalog, or on a bookseller's website.
A to Zoo Entries
Children's Book Guides
As the body of children's literature continues to expand, more and more books about books will be published. One collection I particularly liked was the children's book guide, How to Get Your Child to Love Reading. For Ravenous and Reluctant Readers Alike by Esme Raji Codell.
A Short List of Helpful Children's Lit Resources Online
The internet has too many resources to list, including the obvious, but useful online reviews on many booksellers' websites. Here are a few more links for you to examine for yourself. The following organizations or web-sites are reading-related, and many have recommended reading lists.
- Reading Rockets. Hosted by Public Television network PBS, Reading Rockets has EXTENSIVE materials about reading and literacy, including a list of recommended books arranged by topic. In addition, the site has FREE reading guides, podcasts, and videos available. The reading guides are all available in PDF format, so you can download these and save them to your computer. You will want to bookmark this site and visit it again and again.
- Storyline Online. This website features streaming video of actors from the Screen Actors' Guild association reading some of their favorite children's books. Although the book selection is limited, it is an excellent way to preview the featured stories and see another adult reading with feeling!
- The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art. The museum that Eric Carle built is a delightful stop on the information highway. The museum's website highlights masterful children's book illustrations and includes children's book recommendations.
- The Association for Library Service to Children is a division of the American Library Association. This web site is a treasure of children's book resources. The Children's Book Council of the ALA publishes the Building a Home Library Series, which are free for you to download. The guides recommend books for your home library, with guides geared to children's ages. I strongly recommend this set of guides if you are looking for high-quality, age-appropriate reading. You will also find booklists for teens and tweens, recommended lists of STEAM books about science, technology, engineering, arts, and math, and a number of other excellent lists.
- The New York Public Library's 100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know. This would be a great list of books to start a storytime program or to base a preschool curriculum around. Included are some dear classics like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin and new faves like Duck on a Bike by David Shannon. Also just a great list to take to the library and check off until you have read them all!
- Children's Picture Book Database. The Children's Picture Book database provides a subject index to over 4000 books. For example, if you want to look for books about dinosaurs, you type that search term into the online form, and 18 books about dinosaurs will be listed on the screen.
At the Library or Bookstore
There is no subsitute for the tactile experience of a good book. So go to your local library or bookstore and spend some time in the children's section. You can use one of the internet or award-winning books lists as your guide, or just peruse the books until one strikes your fancy. Pull out the books you would like to read and examine the pictures. Take note of the book's size. If you are reading to a large group, is the book large enough for everyone in your group to see the pictures? Do the pictures add to the story? Go ahead and read it aloud. One advantage of visiting big bookstores is the amount of effort they spend making books appealing. At your local big bookstore you are likely to see a display wall full of best-selling children' books. They are on the bestseller list for a reason! So check them out!
Do you have memories of reading with someone as a child? Maybe it was a special adult, or your brother or sister, or even an inspiring teacher. Chances are you also vividly remember some of the book titles you read. For me, that book was Harry and the Terrible Whatzit, by Dick Gackenbach. The simple line drawings and illustrations colored in a monotone orange bring to mind the very catchy repetitive wording in the story.
"A double-headed, six-clawed, three-toed, long-horned Whatzit" is waiting for Harry in the cellar of his house, and Harry is certain it has done SOMETHING to his mother. I simply adore this book about facing your fears.There are some things about this book that might not be appropriate for today's readers, but I still love it, and will continue to read it to my children. The book my husband remembers warmly from his childhood is The King With Six Friends by Jay Williams.
What books stand out to you from your childhood? Revisit these titles and check them out from the library if they are not already part of your home book collection. They may be a great addition to your read-aloud experience.
Folk Tales and Fairy Tales
Folk tales and fairy tales exist to be told and retold, and ALL of them originate from an oral storytelling tradition, so they exist to be read aloud! Most fairy tales have repetitive, easy-to-remember elements that come in groups of three. Some examples that come to mind?
- The Three Billy Goats Gruff
- The Three Little Pigs
- Goldilocks and the Three Bears
- Little Red Riding Hood
If you have a flair for storytelling or puppetry, and are teaching in some capacity, fairy tales and folk tales make excellent storytelling presentations and puppet plays.
I have recently noticed a trend away from the original fairy tales and folk tales in favor of kinder, gentler retellings. See my list of recommended books for some retellings of traditional fairy tales and folk tales.
Although the stories I listed above come from a mainly European tradition (think Hans Christian Andersen or the Grimm Brothers), don't overlook the fascinating folk tales of Native America (Coyote is a central character in the American Southwest) Africa, Japan, and around the world.
When I was a child, we had a big anthology of fairy tales at our home. It must have been over 300 pages, and had exquisite illustrations. Unfortunately, my younger brother attacked it with a crayon, and over the years it was decimated. But with that resource in my home, it is difficult to believe that any child could not grow up exposed to these classic stories.
And in a group setting, these stories encourage group participation. For example, when presenting the three little pigs, you could divide your group into pigs and wolves. At the pertinent places in the story, the children can chime in "I'll huff and I'll puff or I'll blow your house in" or "not by the hairs on my chinny-chin-chin!"
Nursery rhymes should be part of any home, school, or public reading program, especially for very young children. Did you grow up memorizing and reciting Mary Had a Little Lamb, Humpty Dumpty, or Hickory Dickory Dock?
All of these rhymes have been turned into colorful picture books and children's songs. Common nursery rhymes can be shared during reading times in the classroom, at the library, and at home. Children's familiarity with these rhymes can be an advantage to them when they are introduced to the same rhymes in text form. Their text-recognition is improved.
Nursery rhymes and similarly, simple familiar children's songs like Itsy Bitsy Spider and Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star can provide excellent content material for a children's story hour or your own at-home reading, and has the advantage of being very brief.
Nursery rhymes help children with language acquisition and reading readiness. Click here to read my related topic on raising a reader.
American Library Association Award Winners
The American Library Association and other professional book-related organizations have been honoring the writers and illustrators of children's books since 1922, when the Newberry Medal was first awarded to a children's book author. Here is a list of pertinent awards and links to the children's picture books that have won that award. Each paragraph below includes a short description of the award and a link the books that have received that award.
The Caldecott Medal
Perhaps the most well-know children's book award, the Caldecott medal was First awarded in 1938. It honors children's book illustrators. Caldecott award-winning picture books usually provide a stunning visual and literary treat. You may not recognize all of the books on this list. Many of the bestselling children's books have been awarded as Caldecott Honor Books, which means they were a runner-up to the medal winner.
ALA Children's Notable Book Lists
The Children's Notable Book Lists, published annually by the American Library Association, includes a list of the "best of the best" books published that year. These books are selected by a committee from the ALA. The list is divided into categories of books for younger readers, middle readers, and older readers. You can download the complete list in an Microsoft Excel Format from the American Library Association web site.
Parents' Choice Awards
Parents Choice Awards are given in many different media categories by the not-for-profit Parents' Choice Foundation, established in 1978. The selection committee is made up of parents whose mission is to recommend books and products that "help kids grow - imaginatively, physically, morally and mentally."
Coretta Scott King Award
The Coretta Scott King award honors African American Authors whose books contribute to the Kings' vision of the American dream and world peace. The award commemorates Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mrs. King herself, who has committed to continuing his vision. Coretta Scott King Award recipients offer high-quality multicultural books to round out your curriculum.
The Batchelder award, given by the American Library Association, honors outstanding children's books that were originally published in a foreign language. This award has been given since 1968, and runners up are listed as Bachelder Honor Books.
The Belpré Award
The Belpré award is given to Latino/Latina authors and illustrators of outstanding children's books. According to the American Library Association, this award is given to authors and illustratrs "whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experience in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth." This newer award has been given every other year since 1996, and beginning in 2009 Belpré Award recipients will be awarded annually.
Theodor Seuss Geisel Award
This award, beginning in 1996, is given to authors and illustrators of children's books for beginning readers published in English in the United States.The award commemorates Theodore Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, whose rhyming books have become a staple in most children's libraries. TheodoreSeuss Geisel Award recipients are a great bet to add to your beginning reader's list.
Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal
This award, named for the reknowned author of the Little House children's book series, is given to authors who have made a "substantial and lasting contribution to children's literature over a period of years." This award was first given to Wilder herself in 1954. This prestigious award recognizes authors who have made a"substantial and lasting contribution over a period of years, so Laura Ingalls Wilder medal winning authors would be a great addition to your reading library. Some of the notable children's book authors you might recognize in this list of award winners include:
- Dr. Seuss (Theodore M. Geisel)
- Eric Carle
- Maurice Sendak