CHILDREN'S BOOKS: by Chris BrowningNews Weekly
'What Should My Child Read?' by Susan Moore
, June 1, 2002
What Should My Child Read (Five Senses Publications) is an invaluable guide to buying an interesting book for a loved child.
Susan Moore first published her guide to the large number of contemporary books for young readers in 1992. It filled a huge gap. It signalled to parents teachers, librarians and grandparents some of the current books on sale that were worthy of a young person's attention.
This book is the writer's updated and extended second edition. It shows a formidable amount of research. Nearly 300 Australian, American and British books are described and summarised.
The book is divided into sections: Beginners, Ages 5-7 and 7-9; Middle School Readers Ages 9-12; and Older Readers 12-15. Each section is subdivided into Realism, Fantasy, Animals/The Outdoors, Family Life/School and Friendship. The broad selection will help parents choose books for many years for their children, and give them authors to follow.
Susan Moore says what she expects in a good book - lack of cliché, balance, a full rather than one-sided discussion of controversial subjects, and vigorous use of language, imagination, and humour. Each book is discussed with a short precis of the basic story, sometimes with an illustrative excerpt or an occasional sentence or paragraph explaining the style and language.
The book indicates with a star those books the author considers exceptional, and it names "other works" by the authors to facilitate follow up. Moore lists prize winning authors from Australia, the UK and the USA - some going back decades. Although prize winning is not necessarily a reliable guide to worthwhile reading, the listing is a useful addition for parents and librarians.
Despite the inroads of film and television, children still derive much of their interior life from their reading, as well as their images of society. Yet when one casually picks up a book in the children's section one is often horrified by the misery or aggression, or by the gruesome cartoons. Too often, the stories are either banal, sour or even revolting. Many seem to be the book equivalent of the Hollywood blockbuster, made to formula for the mass market, lacking either sense, sensibility, taste or wisdom.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons for the decline in children reading for pleasure. Witness the dramatic change when the Harry Potter books appeared. Good imaginative fun - and more children took up reading again.
John Lukacs, the noted American commentator tackles the problem of reading in the current US issue of the Chronicle of Higher Education
. He considers the impact on education of the decline in reading:
"That was another sign of the end of the Modern Age, which was also the Age of the Book. The invention of the printing of books coincided with the beginning of the Modern Age.
"At first, it was the availability of books, rather than of schools, that led to an increase of readers - until, by the 19th century, men and women who could not read became a small minority among the populations of the Western world. Around the same time, the flood of reading matter, including newspapers, rose even higher than the ever-rising flood of books.
"With the rise of universal literacy (due to the extension of schooling) there was now a new reservoir of potential readers to be tapped. But the inflation of printed matter unavoidably reduced its quality; and there were other influences at hand.
"The reproduction of more and more pictures in newspapers, magazines, and books; the advent of moving pictures and, finally, of television led to a condition in which - again, not unlike the Middle Ages - the routine imagination of large masses of people became pictorial rather than verbal".
Susan Moore is careful not to choose books that talk down to young people. She doesn't talk down to parents or grannies either. She lists books, publishers, other titles by the same author so that, if a child likes one, others can be found. For example, one book, classified under "Short Novel Ages 7-9 has the entry:
What Should My Child Read
Anna Fienberg and Barbara Fienberg illustrated by Kim Gamble, Allen & Unwin, 1995 (Australia).
Jack's new friend, the amazing Tashi, has escaped from a war lord and come all the way to Australia on a swan. Since his favourite activity is telling stories, Tashi delights Jack with fantastic tales and promises of more. In this, the first book in a charming series, Tashi's whiff of enchantment is a trick he has played on a ferocious dragon.
Other titles: So far: Tashi and the Ghosts, Tashi and the Genie, Tashi and the Giants, and Tashi and the Baba Yaga.
is an indispensable tool to help parents choose a book from the overwhelming market. Susan Moore says in her preface that she is performing the task of the good librarian, recommending particular books.
Librarians are kindly but mostly too rushed these days to spend any time trying to decipher the needs of particular children. With Susan's excellent guide, you can go to the bookshop for something specific - an adventure tale for Johnny, a book on animals for Joe and a book on fantasy for Isabella.Contact News Weekly Books (03) 9326 5757 for further details.