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Diversity in children's literature

Here comes the unmistakable scent of Autumn and the arrival of new books in children's literature! Picturesque books display catchy titles, colorful illustrations and vivid photographs. Authors and illustrators collaborate and accomplish the important task of intriguing kids through pictures and words.

Today, despite the creativity found in children's books, technology's latest electronic games, computers and other fancy gadgets often compete for a child's attention. But books do have an edge: the characters live on forever, no batteries required.

Children's librarian Terry Warner believes it's important that children from many cultural backgrounds read books that reflect themselves in stories and illustrations. "Children are curious, they want to see what life is like for others," he says. "They get a good glimpse of other cultures."

Many changes are visible in children's literature and even more transformations are coming, according to publishing trends. "Children's books have changed from 15 years ago," says Warner. "Picture books are aimed at historical subjects. Illustrations, text, format and marketing have changed. I see this as a trend - more mainstream books that any child can relate to. Books that appeal to everybody. It's a positive thing."

Publishers offer an array of subjects, titles and characters in an effort to give even the youngest child a head start in reading. Well-attended book fairs supply the demand for a variety of reading aimed specifically at kids.

Warner would like to see more concept-oriented picture books, more diversity. "It's important for kids to see different cultures, people getting along," he says.

He notes that the most popular books are well-illustrated books with simple stories aimed at pre-schoolers. "There's something about this generation – the beginning reader has zeal. Boy, you really see a push for very simple beginning readers right now. We can't keep them on the shelf," he says. "Parents are very eager for their children to begin reading as early as possible, even at the preschool level."

"It's never too early to expose a child to picture books," states Warner. "Mothers are encouraged to read, even while they're expecting. The parent benefits by learning to read to their child as early as possible."

To determine if a book is age appropriate, Warner suggests that parents look at the language of a book. "It has to be right at the child's level. It can't be too low. It can't be too high," he says. "Children should be able to relate to the story and to its message."

Warner says his greatest challenge as a children's librarian is competing with technology. He agrees with the consensus that the internet and computer games are taking up a big chunk of a child's time, where once he or she would have spent that time reading.

Warner's solutions for competing with technology? "Seek and maintain a dialogue with kids. Ask questions. 'What type of books do you read?' 'What books have you read in the past?'"

"Libraries can help by offering a good variety of subjects and nice displays," states Warner. "It does make a big difference."

Reading intervention allows the community, parent and child to bond through storytelling and other activities. Most public libraries offer story time, one of the most popular and successful reading programs to date. Warner describes story time as "a lot of interaction ... I've learned to ask more questions. It's about getting the kids more involved in the story."

Authors and illustrators of picture books are wowing young readers and pleasing mothers and mothers-to-be.

A new and bountiful crop of children's literature has arrived!

Source: Terry Warner is a children's librarian at Richard B Harrison Library in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Booklist

The Colors of UsAuthor and Illustrator: Karen Katz,Summary: Mother and daughter paint the town "brown." The two take a stroll through their neighborhood to experience the many shades of brown first-hand. The color brown is presented in a variety of hues. Illustrations are exceptional.Illustration Rating: 5

Hair Dance!Author: Dinah Johnson,Photographer: Kelly Johnson, Summary: Hair, oh glorious hair! A trip to the salon is a big event for a young girl. Braids are a work of art. Plaits are a remedy for fly-away hair. Beautiful photography captures the joy of beauty.Illustration Rating: 5

Head, Body, Legs A Story from LiberiaAuthor: Retold by Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H.Lippert,Illustrator: Julie Paschkis,Summary: A beautifully illustrated and colorful presentation about the rewards of cooperation. What happens when all of your body parts come together? They rely on each other to survive and thrive. This story is an oral tradition told in Liberia.Illustration Rating: 5

Who Likes Rain? Author and Illustrator: Wong Herbert Yee,Summary: An Asian girl enjoys the splish splash of rain puddles. Raindrops also entice a cat, a duck and a frog. They, too, take a dip in the rain. Fun illustrations.Illustration Rating: 4

please, baby, pleaseAuthors: Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee,Illustrator: Kadir Nelson,Summary: A baby girl is admonished over and over again for her mischievous behavior. Rich and colorful illustrations make this book a winner.Illustration Rating: 5

*Illustration rating (1-5) based on color, quality and appeal

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