Books about Books
Other sections : Books on Writing | Books on Illustrating | Reference | Magazines, Organizations, and Websites
Children & Books, 9th edition, 9th edition, Zena Sutherland (Addison-Wesley, 1996). Read this for a complete course in children's literature in 720 large-size pages, with plenty of illustrations. It includes a history of the field, an exploration of theoretical approaches, bibliographies covering 2,000 books, and information about awards, censorship, and more. Yes, it's expensive, but if you are like me and went to a college that didn't offer a course in children's literature, this is a great substitute, and a book that will serve for many years as a source of information and inspiration. See The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators (below) for a less-expensive and less-weighty alternative.
* : Essential resources--the basic books you are most likely to need
N: New items--added since the book was published
R: Revised items--new editions or significant changes to my comments
Children's Books: Awards and Prizes, Children's Book Council staff (Children's Book Council, 1996). This is an extremely comprehensive guide, and an expensive one. Use it in your library. The CBC is maintaining an online version at their web site, but access is available only if you pay.
Children's Books in Print/Subject Guide to Children's Books in Print (R.R. Bowker, annual). These are a complete and massive reference set. Use them in your library, if you can.
Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom, Leonard S. Marcus (author) and Maurice Sendak (illustrator) (HarperCollins Juvenile Books, 2000). Not a resource like the other ones here, in that it doesn't include recommended books or essays about books, this collection of letters by one of the preeminent children's book editors of the twentieth century is nonetheless an inspirational and educational trip into the creative process behind many books now considered classics--Harold and the Purple Crayon and Where the Wild Things Are, to name just two. (Nordstrom was the head of Harper & Row's children's department for decades.)
Don't Tell the Grown-ups: Subversive Children's Literature, Alison Lurie (Little, Brown and Co., 1990). One reader and writer's thoughts on what children's books are really all about. Useful for providing some history of American and British children's literature--from Kate Greenaway to T. H. White by way of E. Nesbit--and for cheerfully challenging our assumptions about it. Personal note: this may have been the first book I ever read which discussed children's literature as a subject, and I still find Lurie's comments thought-provoking.
*The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators (click the link for a more detailed review), Anita Silvey (editor) (Mariner Books, 2002). It may be difficult to believe that a 542-page book is "condensed" from anything, but this wonderful and comprehensive guide to contemporary children's literature is a shorter version of the more massive Children's Books and Their Creators. This is good reference book for solid information about the authors, illustrators, and genres of today's children's publishing world.
N A Family of Readers: The Book Lover's Guide to Children's and YA Literature, (click the link for a more detailed review) Roger Sutton and Martha V. Parravano, editors (Candlewick Press, 2010). For a comprehensive guide to the best children's books, with consideration given to what is particular to different age groups and genres, look no further. You'll also find thoughtful comments about what makes those books the best. Not just for parents, this is a wonderfully opinionated guide to books and why they matter.
R From Cover to Cover: Evaluating and Reviewing Children's Books, revised edition, Kathleen T. Horning (Collins, 2010). An excellent look not only into the process reviewers go through, but at the standards editors often follow. From the Horn Book review: "Each clearly written chapter enumerates the characteristics that make a book of a specific genre successful. For example, the chapter on easy readers discusses print size and word length, while the chapter on fiction gives examples of the ways authors develop character."
N Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children's Literature (click the link for a more detailed review), Leonard Marcus, (Houghton Mifflin, 2008). The only available history of children's book publishing in the United States, and an excellent one at that. Marcus covers the business, the companies, the editors, and the books in a thoughtful narrative packed with interesting anecdotes.
N The Norton Anthology of Children's Literature, Jack Zipes et. al., editors (W.W Norton, 2005). This huge anthology of over 2,000 pages is like a children's literature survey course condensed into one volume. Unlike the other surveys of children's literature described here, which talk about books and authors, this one consists of the complete or partial text of hundreds of books for children, accompanied by hundreds of illustrations. It's on my wish list and I am looking forward enormously to reading it.
Raising a Reader: A Mother's Tale of Desperation and Delight, Jennie Nash (St. Martin's Press, 2003). A parent reflects on the process of learning to read as reflected in the experiences she had with her own two children. A reminder of what we are all trying to do: make readers, not just people able to read. Includes some personal lists of recommended books.
Transcending Boundaries: Writing for a Dual Audience of Children and Adults, Sandra L. Beckett (editor) (Garland Publishing, 1999). Steep in price (over $50 dollars!) and specialized, this book contains a collection of essays on those modern authors who write crossover books, which appeal to both adults and children, like the Harry Potter series. An intriguing but serious book for serious writers as the essays are largely from scholars.
R Valerie and Walter's Best Books for Children (2nd Edition), Valerie V. Lewis and Walter M. Mayes (HarperResource, 2004). A great general guide to books for children from ages 0-12, both fiction and nonfiction, organized by interest and ability level. The authors are a bookseller and a well-known storyteller. They cover over 2,000 books in 560 pages in this substantially revised new edition. Use this book to become more familiar with still-loved classics and the best new books.
Ways of Telling: Conversations on the Art of the Picture Book, Leonard S. Marcus (Dutton Books, 2002). A leading children's book critic talks at length with 14 authors and illustrators of picture books, including Mitsumasa Anno, Karla Kuskin, Jerry Pinkney, Maurice Sendak, William Steig, Maurice Sendak, and Rosemary Wells.
Words About Pictures: The Narrative Art of Children's Picture Books, Perry Nodelman (University of Georgia Press, 1989). This scholarly book examines the visual story-telling of picture books and the interplay of text and pictures. To quote from a Washington Post review: " A brilliant, almost overwhelming study that treats Maurice Sendak and Trina Schart Hyman with the same attention to detail and nuance that Wayne Booth gives Jane Austen in The Rhetoric of Fiction."Feel free to contact me with suggestions or comments.
This list is based on the Resource Guide in the Appendix of the third edition of my Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books. It actually contains more material than the print version and has been enhanced with hyperlinks direct to web sites and book pages on Amazon.com (for purchase or just for information--if you prefer to buy elsewhere, I have created a page of suggested bookstores).