Guidelines for Choosing Children’s Novels

By Elaine L. Schulte. Numerous guidelines have been written for choosing children’s novels. Most emphasize the need for high standards of art and writing, as well as stories that are appropriate to children’s ages and tastes. Few guidelines, however, consider the philosophies that authors promote, whether consciously or unconsciously.

The authors’ underlying messages are especially important now since many of the newer secular novels deal with society’s harsh realities. Unfortunately, they often give answers to problems that are repugnant to most Christians. While there are still many wonderful novels for children in libraries, it is becoming increasingly important for parents and other concerned adults to know how to weed out juvenile novels that promote evil.

These guidelines are meant for adults who have little time to pre-read or discuss the novels with the children who receive them:

1) Buy most of the books at Christian bookstores or borrow at church libraries, if possible.

2) Refer to Christian readers’ guides for children such as How to Raise a Reader (Cook) which is age-graded and recommends Christian as well as secular novels. Others that deal with reading: Honey for a Child’s Heart (Zondervan) and Books Children Love (Crossway).

3) If you buy at children’s bookstores where they pre-read their books, try to find out something about the reviewers’ philosophies. (A few of these stores also sell crystals and promote New Age books.)

4) If you buy at secular bookstores, read the book covers. Beware of key words like sexuality, alternate lifestyles and meditation. Read the teaser page in front, then scan the story and read the last few paragraphs. Does the story end with hope or hopelessness? Just because the back cover mentions God or faith, it doesn’t necessarily mean Christianity.)

5) Read the small print Library of Congress cataloging data on the copyright page for clues about the book’s content. (Example: Here Comes Ginger “Summary: Ten-year-old Ginger reacts badly to her mother’s plans to remarry, but after a great deal of anguish, God grants her peace and acceptance. (1) Remarriage- Fiction. (2) Christian life- Fiction.”

6) Even in the public library, choose books as carefully as you’d select a TV program. For pre-teen and teen novels in particular, ask the children’s librarian if the book might somehow be offensive.

7) Become familiar with authors and the general tone of the books they write.

8) For current books, check newspaper reviews and their book supplements. Libraries also have information on new and forthcoming books which is available upon request. Standard sources are: Publishers Weekly, Virginia Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal and the Horn Book.

9) Novels such as Heidi, Little Women, Robinson Crusoe and the Little House on the Prairie series are considered classics. When in doubt, consider such books.

10) Be equally discerning about the books and magazines you have in the house yourself Children very often read them.

Elaine Schulte is author of the highly acclaimed Ginger Series for girls 8-12, and the California Pioneer Series for women and teem.

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