________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 22. . . .June 26, 2009


Good Books Matter: How to Choose and Use Children's Literature to Help Students Grow as Readers.

Shelley Stagg Peterson & Larry Swartz.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2008.
184 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 978-1-55138-232-6.

Subject Headings:
Children-Books and reading.
Children's literature-History and criticism.

Professional: Kindergarten-grade 8.

Review by Betty Klassen.

***½ /4



We teach literature to help students become more human. Much of what we teach in school is based on learning facts and acquiring information. Incorporating literature helps us to inform our feelings and connect them to the intellect, creating a stronger impact. Our students can learn about the lives of others and learn about themselves through the skins of others...

For us, the word "good" denotes a book that will have significant impact on a young reader, that will stay with the child long after it has been returned to the shelf. Good books matter, depending on the child, the context, the culture, and the occasion...

We hope that you will have children by your side or in your heart as you read this book. New discoveries and old favorites await you as read about the literature, the creative people who made them, and all the ways that the books broaden and enrich children's lives and learning.


The enthusiasm of the authors is evident as they introduce the reader to a vast variety of potential books that teachers can bring into their classrooms. Peterson and Swartz have written a book that beginning and experienced teachers will find to be a useful resource to assist them in choosing books to engage children in reading a wide variety of books and to create interesting classroom libraries. Each of the seven chapters focuses on a different genre including children's literature, poetry, fairy tales and other traditional literature, picture books, novels, multicultural literature, and nonfiction.

      Teachers from Kindergarten to grade 8 will appreciate the extensive book lists that are included at the end of every chapter. Children's literature books are classified by the age appropriateness: K-2, 3-5, 6-8, while poetry books are categorized as nursery rhymes, classics, collections, humour and everyday life, natural world, multicultural poetry and poetry forms. Books in each genre are classified according to categories the authors have determined are useful for teaching.

      Chapters open with leading research and suggestions on how to apply what has been learned in our classrooms. This also creates a list of resources that teachers could use for future reading to explore certain topics in more depth. The authors use many examples of children's books in their discussion of how to choose books and how to use them in your teaching. Additional bits of interesting information are included on the left side of each page, also creating blank margin space for the reader's own notes.

      Within each genre chapter, there are four categories of teaching suggestions for ways to: (1) encourage students to respond personally, (2) teach reading and writing skills, (3) raise awareness of literary elements, and (4) involve students in critical reading and writing.

      "Chapter 1: Teaching with Children's Literature" provides reasons for not classifying books according to reading levels; elaborating on the benefits of reading to children, promoting independent, shared and guided reading; suggests some drama experiences; includes sample questions for literature discussion groups and a comprehension assessment tool. This checklist tool assesses reading, thinking and social processes, and was developed in an action research study with a grade 8 classroom teacher.

      "Chapter 2: Poetry" cautions us to choose poetry children can make sense of and enjoy; poetry that excites imagination and provides fresh insights; shows creativity in the use of language, syntax and format; creates sharp, new images; touches the readers' emotions and presents universal ideas that resonate with today's children. Their lively discussion of teaching with poetry evoked memories of poems I have read and had me placing sticky notes with "find this book" on certain pages.

      "Chapter 3: Fairy Tales and Other Traditional Literature" is a comprehensive look at the characteristics and types of fairy tales, fables, myths and legends. Three black line masters that would assist students to tell a story, compare and contrast variations of the same story, and to analyse characters in fairy tales are included.

      "Chapter 4: Picture Books" features an interesting timeline of significant picture books from 1658 to 2007, along with an informative discussion of many illustrators and author/illustrators. The graphic organizer "Tic Tac Tell" is an interesting format for assisting students in choosing what to say for a book talk about a picture book, but it can be adapted to work with any genre.

      "Chapter 5: Novels" goes beyond the traditional definition of a chapter book to include verse novels, such as Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, multi-genre books like Barry Boyhound by Andy Spearman, and a variety of graphic novels. The overview of novel types also includes adventure and animal stories, biographies and diaries, humour, horror and historical novels, fantasy and mystery, and science fiction and sports. A separate section is given to novels dealing with the issue of bullying. Three blackline masters provide examples of personal connections, response questions and categories to use as a book reviewer.

      "Chapter 6: Multicultural Literature" discusses selecting literature based on the stereotyping of characters, insight in to socio-political issues, the authority of the author, and whether a book provides a current or historical perspective. Books are not just listed under categories as this text highlights how they address issues such as racial diversity and social class, gender, sexual orientation and ableness. Examples of books suitable for younger and older readers are elaborated on.

      The final chapter is written to assist teachers in selecting "Nonfiction Literature" in the areas of visual arts and music, health and physical education, mathematics, social studies and science. Advice on selection focuses on accuracy, design, organization and style. Using literature in these curricular areas is a way to link these topics to real life and, in some cases, can provide more current information than the textbooks available in the school.

      Two appendices are included, with the first being a discussion of Censorship and Selecting Books, and the second providing a look at many of the Literature Awards given by various countries. A brief history of each award and websites that can be used to locate up-to-date lists, are provided. These appendices are followed by a list of professional resources, a list of books about children's literature, and a useful index.

      Good Books Matter is a very useful resource book to assist teachers in the choice and use of "good" literature books of all genres. It is well-organized and easy to read, but the many proofreading errors are a source of annoyance as you read.

Highly Recommended.

Betty Klassen teaches in the Faculty of Education in the Middle Years Program at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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