June 19, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Books as Allies: SLJ’s Best Books Help Kids Find Their Way | Editorial

slj_cv_dec2016With the 2016 list of Best Books, SLJ celebrates 50 years of acknowledging the top titles in publishing for kids. The list, the reviews editors note, “represent the books that opened our minds, lifted our spirits, and help us see the world with fresh eyes.” Importantly, they provide 66 unique tools with which to make a difference in a child’s life.

“We know that books can change—even save—lives, that handing children or teens the right book at the right moment can alter the course of their lives,” says Kiera Parrott, SLJ reviews director. “And because of the way children absorb information about themselves and the world around them, children’s books in particular are some of the most powerful forms of media. Books can build empathy, show a positive way forward, and help young people find and nurture their strengths. When the editors sat down to select the best books published this year, we were conscious about the impact of these titles in the hands of librarians and, ultimately, readers. We looked for books that reflect the experiences of a diverse array of readers and respect the cognitive and emotional intelligence of kids and teens.”

The resulting list offers much for any reader to chew on and creates pathways for children and teens to learn about the diversity of human experience. It also offers stories that will support our kids as they find their way in the angry and often frightening cultural climate that has emerged during the presidential campaign and after the election.

1612-gn-top10-march-book-threeNotably, among them is March: Book Three, winner of the 2016 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Written by Congressman John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, and illustrated by Nate Powell, it is a graphic memoir of Lewis’s life and work in the civil rights movement. Katherine Paterson, chair of the committee that determined the winner, said the judges considered these key things: how does the book speak to the head, heart, and ear; how does it contribute to the vast conversation it joins; and is it a book for our time that will also stand the test of time? The “March” trilogy uses the graphic format to create access to this important part of our history, offering insight for those who want to stand up to injustice, to be brave in the face of oppression, and to build a kinder, more inclusive world.

We Are the AntsWhen I think about the power of books, I imagine pleasure, learning, and transport, but I also often think of a sort of salvation, if not actual survival. The increasing body of LGBTQ literature, for instance, provides a much-needed haven for kids and teens desperate to see themselves reflected positively in media. This was the experience that Shaun David Hutchinson, author of SLJ Best Book We Are the Ants, shared in his presentation at the SLJ Leadership Summit.

In my experience as a tween and teen living in a disrupted home and riddled with anxiety about nuclear holocaust and earthquakes, books helped me cope. I never had enough of them. How lucky I was to have a copy of To Kill a Mockingbird (which I read 17 times). I am still thankful for Scout’s companionship—and I am acutely aware of the disparities in our society that mean too many children grow up without books as allies.

All this informs much of my work with literature and libraries and fuels my belief that books are transformational tools at all ages. They are especially powerful when the right story finds its way into the hands of a child who needs it at the right moment. This is what libraries are all about, and their important work in this regard has never been more critical than it is today.


Rebecca T. Miller

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This article was published in School Library Journal's December 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

Rebecca T. Miller About Rebecca T. Miller

Rebecca T. Miller (rmiller@mediasourceinc.com) is Editorial Director, Library Journal and School Library Journal.