There are books, and there are books.
Not all books written for adults are worthwhile. In fact, some of them are quite lousy. I do not mean the grammar is poor. I mean the topics treated in some fiction are immature, puerile, disturbing and/or ludicrous. If we are “old enough” to read such books we ought to be “old enough” to make wiser choices.
There are quite a few stupid books for young people as well. Especially in the area of “YA” (young adult) books, I advise parents, teens and pre-teens to be wary of agendas, both hidden and not-so-hidden. It is trendy to publish books with a PG-13 rating.
What about books for elementary-age children? Even among picture books, there are a couple of authors/illustrators who impart values contrary to yours. (Whose job is it to raise our children? Ours, the internet’s, or publisher’s A – Z?)
As a parent, there are some books I don’t want in my house, but I invite many more inside. A book need not be brilliant, but it ought to be decent.
There is a wide-range of writing styles, even within humble board books. In the landscape of illustrations, there is even more diversity. I generally prefer vintage illustrations, but I can still appreciate books from my own “era,” such as Go, Dog, Go! or Harold and the Purple Crayon. Whether a book was published in 1915 or 2015 matters little. I am always seeking books both well-written and well-rendered.
Who writes the books? Who draws the pictures? Not every person who produces a book must be a saint, but I appreciate those artists who are willing to transcend themselves – warts and all – to do the good work of making good books.
Not all biographical information is germane to the literature produced, but sometimes behind-the-scenes information is helpful. Where did the author study? What personal experiences had a positive effect on his work as an artist? How did her artistic style change over the years? Answers to these questions can be compelling.
There are publishers, and there are publishers. There are a few which are reliably good and a few I approach with more discretion.
Beyond secular books, there are a growing number of Christian publishers. Here, too, there is variety, both content and quality. Does the quality of writing do justice to the noble subjects? Are the illustrations respectful? Is the theology fuzzy? (I do not mind cute, but “fuzzy” is for puppies, not prayers.)
There are many talented authors and illustrators who dedicate their skills to books of faith. While they may be unnoticed by today’s top reviewers, their “reward is in Heaven”.
Whether I consider religious or secular works, my vantage point is that of a Christian mother. I am not an academic or a pundit. In addition to my own upbringing — a home filled with faith, good books and good music — I now have the privilege of reading to my own children. I witness how certain books appeal to different tastes and temperaments, all within the same family.
I write about children’s books for two reasons: (A) Children deserve decent books, and (B) The authors/illustrators who create these books deserve recognition. The material available to children is equally as important as the material available to adults, perhaps more so.
From lullabies to nursery rhymes and all the way up to high school novels, our children are soaking in images and ideas. Culture does not begin at age 18, after all. Culture begins at the cradle.