This is National Children's Book Week, which has been brought to us every year since 1919 by the Children's Book Council. This year's theme is "Free to Read," and in the Book Week materials that it makes available -- posters, banners, book marks, streamers, and friezes by some of the best artists illustrating children's books today -- the Council is both celebrating and emphasizing the right of children in a democracy such as ours to read freely and widely. The Children's Book Council also encourages parents and families, schools and libraries to read books together, to make reading an act of community-building and a part of the conversation that goes on between us.
Just as children are free to read, publishers, of course, are free to publish -- and publish they do. Depending on your count, there are close to ten thousand new books appear each year for children. One of the problems these days is that fewer and fewer of these books seem to get more and more of the publishers' publicity budgets and the media's attentions. That leaves hundreds of other good books languishing in the shadows.
It would be easy to blame Harry Potter for this trend. Certainly, the astonishing financial success of that series has pushed nearly every publisher into the hunt for the next big thing, whether it's more wizards, beleaguered orphans, a rock star's fables, or a fifteen-year-old's first novel. With few exceptions, publishers today are part of large corporations, and there seems to be a keener eye kept on short-term profit margins than on the long-term artistic quality of catalogues. But to be fair, publishers are producing lots of terrific books, and the Harry Potter phenomenon has had the effect of creating a new appetite for reading among many children who had abandoned the book for the game boy.
So where does one begin to look for these compelling new reads? You could start by asking the children's librarians in your local public library; they make it a point of keeping up on the latest, and they talk to young people who are actively reading and searching out books for themselves. Be sure to visit your local bookstores, especially your independent booksellers; they also pride themselves on knowing what's good. Take a look at the lists and reviews of reviews of recommended children's books that you can get on-line at booksense.com. And above all, feel free -- to read.
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