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Curriculum Center & Curriculum Collections: Evaluating Children's Books

Due to the coronavirus upset, many publishers and educational organizations have exceptional online content for children, teachers, parents, and anyone interested in children's books

Comparative Statistics

 

 

These statistics are compiled annually by the Cooperative Children's Book Center (CCBC), an internationally recognized research library on children's literature housed on the UW Madison campus.

For more diversity resources provided by the CCBC, click here.

The CCBC has a new (2020) search tool that allows for more refined diversity searching. Try the search functions here. 


 An interview with Allan Luke on Critical Literacy, from the Learning Exchange

Basic Info: At a Glance

  • Who is the author/illustrator? Have they published many books? Are they new voices in the field? Are they believable and credible authors for the subject at hand?

  • Identify and read about the publishing house. Is it an independent publishing house? Mainstream? Small press from or by the culture being represented in the book? Is the book self-published? All of these types will tell you something about the book. 

    • Mainstream publishers will have undoubtedly played a heavy editing part in the book's content and are looking for big sellers, so they usually take no risks. This can limit other voices and perspectives from being heard. 

    • Independent publishers have a strong personal identity and solid backing of the author’s individual voice and intentions. They may cater to a more narrow subject matter and be more selective about who they publish. They also take risks to give exposure to new authors/illustrators and new voices and perspectives.

    • Small presses from or by a specific culture guarantee that the culture being represented is authentic.

    • Self published books have not gone through the traditional rigorous publishing loopholes and vetting process, and therefore require much more attention with no guarantees of quality or authenticity. 

  • Has the book won any awards? If so, it’s a sign of a high quality book that exceeds the criteria of that particular award. 

  • Find a professional book review online. Recommended: Kirkus, School Library JournalThe online store Amazon includes book reviews, often professional ones. Make sure to identify who is creating the review as a professional and not a customer. If you scroll down the page on Amazon, you can also find useful info such as targeted age group and Lexil reading level. 

Text and Illustrations Together

This is the real secret sauce of picture books and something that every reviewer should consider.

  • How are the text and pictures working together?

  • Do the illustrations extend the story, the characterization, the setting? Do they provide details not present in the text alone?

  • Does the placement of text on the page and/or the physical attributes of the text (such as typeface or size) contribute to the pacing or revelation of story?

  • Is there a natural progression of both art and words from one page to the next?

Evaluating Informational Children's and Teen Books

Informational books introduce children to research in the sciences and social sciences, and other knowledge. Timing (the publishing date of a book) is therefore extremely important. Science changes over time, and outdated science books should not be used as teaching tools unless you are making the historical point of how science has changed. Example: Pluto as a planet, or a book on diseases and viruses, such as AIDS, or how to talk about difficult life issues such as divorce, death, cancer, etc. 

Illustrations in informational books should also be looked at with critical eyes because they portray how a concept, celebration, tradition, or a community were/are portrayed. This may have changed over time as under-represented groups increase the power of their voice in the publishing world. The traditional story of the “first” Thanksgiving, or Christopher Columbus “discovering” America are two examples. 

There are several children's awards for informational books. Every award should communicate their criteria on how they evaluate and determine the best informational books. See the text tab on this guide for more information on the awards. 

  • American Institute of Physics Science Communication Award for Children
  • Giverny Award
  • Green Earth Award
  • Mathical Book Prize
  • Notable Social Studies Award
  • National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Most Outstanding Trade Books Award
  • Robert Sibert Award for Nonfiction
  • SB&F Prize
  • STEAM Book Prize
  • YALSA Nonfiction Award (Teens)

 

Text and Language

  • Is the text effective and appropriate for the intended audience?

  • Does it flow well when read aloud?

  • Are there pleasing sounds, rhythms, patterns?

  • If it rhymes, does it do so effectively?

  • Do the pages turn in the right places?

  • How does the story unfold? Are there elements that allow readers to predict what might happen?

  • Are there opportunities for interactive, engaging reading?

  • Is there a balance between predictability and surprise?

  • How do any non-white characters speak? Is their dialog authentic or stereotyped?

Illustrations

  • What medium does the illustrator use?

  • How would you classify their technique: fair, good, masterful?

  • How does the illustrator use visual elements? To what effect?

  • What colors are used and to what effect?

  • What visual element(s) are most dominant: color, line, shape?

  • Do the illustrations support the text? Do they expand it?

  • Does the illustrator make creative use of the physical object to tell the story? For example, the use of endpapers, gutters, or orientation.

  • Read the book all the way through without reading the words. This should be essentially a visual experience. Does it hold up with no words? Look at the pictures very slowly. “Read” the pictures from left to right, paying very close attention to the page turns. Pay attention to white space and pacing.

  • Read the book with the words. Do the pictures play well with the words? Do the illustrations extend the text? How does the illustrator tell the story? How does line, color, texture, white space, etc. tell the story? Is the art consistent from page to page? 

  • How are the characters portrayed? Are they people or animals? Do you notice anything surprising or particular about gender roles, hair or clothing? How are non-white characters portrayed? How much space do they take up on the page? What is the relationship of white vs non-white characters? If characters are non-white, is their ethnicity or cultural belonging identifiable, or do they simply have brown skin?

Critically Evaluating Children's Multicultural Books

Children’s book sites, blogs, and award homepages usually include the criteria that they use to evaluate and choose a winner. Below is a small selection organized by typical assignment groups for K-8 literacy classes. 

 

Africa Access--Expanding Perspectives


 

Reading While White 


 

Latinx in Kid's Lit


Hijabi Librarians

 

 

American Indians in Children's Literature

  • Resources for the conversation "Native or Not?" 
  • Resources for the conversation surrounding Boarding and Residential Schools

 

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Oyate and tips on how to critically evaluate Native Americans in children's literature.