On Children’s Book Curation

“Butter and honey shall He eat, that He may know to reject the evil and choose the good.” (Isaiah 7:15

These days I have the pleasant problem of keeping up with four young readers with varied ages and interests. After dinner is read-aloud time at my house, then the older kids grab flashlights and their own books for “staying-up time” in bed. Our local librarians are good sports, gamely checking in and out the piles of books we chew through each week.

There’s an art to finding the right book for a child: a glossy encyclopedia of cat breeds for a kitten-crazy kid or a sprawling fantasy epic for a dreamy one. There’s also an art to filtering out the wrong books. “Censorship” usually refers to an action by a governing body or institution, so let’s call how I choose the books coming into my house “curation.”

Because I do curate, as almost every parent does. If those debating book bans can agree on one thing, it’s that parents care deeply about who gets to put what in front of their children. My kids have invited some curation; one of them doesn’t want any snakes in a book. But some parental curation happens without my kids being aware of it, and every once in a while it happens against their will. 

When my kids push back against limits to book or internet access, I fall back on a food metaphor: would I give their four-year-old sibling free rein in a grocery store? That usually gets a laugh, and they’re open to hearing why I wouldn’t give them unfettered access to all sections of the library. As kids get older, I can invite them more and more into the process of choosing the food they consume—and their food for thought. Curation turns into a conversation. I want to equip my kids to think critically about books and other media, because I won’t always be there to ask, “What does this story glorify?” or “What is the creator trying to tell readers?”

Curation will look different for different families. Some books don’t make the cut here because they have too much potty humor, and some books get rejected because they undermine virtues I’m trying to cultivate. My threshold for bad language is pretty high as long as a kid is willing to discuss meaning, context, and expectations about what they do with this new vocabulary. N.D. Wilson, a best-selling novelist and Christian, has compelling reasons for the level of violence and horror in the books he writes and the media his kids consume. I’m not completely sold, but I like having my opinions challenged by thoughtful believers. 

So how to keep up with young readers’ appetites? I lean on websites that offer book lists and book reviews, then I request books that look like a good fit through the library’s hold system. Here are a few resources I use in the never-ending search for satisfying, healthy book-food:

Readaloud Revival
I appreciate RAR’s frequently updated book lists—some seasonal, some topical, others sorted by genre or age. The RAR podcast is also excellent; I think of it as continuing education for parents, educators, and homeschoolers. Sarah Mackenzie, the mom behind the movement, makes you feel good about “just” reading good books to your kids.

Redeemed Reader
RR offers well-organized, searchable book lists backed by thorough reviews. This website keeps up with the latest books, and I’m currently enjoying their 2024 “Newbery Buzz” reviews. I tend to take their age recommendations with a grain of salt. For example, they list Watership Down for 10-12 year-olds, but I’d personally punt that to 13+.

The Good and the Beautiful
I appreciate the granular rating system this program offers. Each book comes with a score for its educational, moral, literary, and entertainment value. A caveat: some books on the list are internally created as part of TGaTB curriculum, and my kids usually find these bland.

Story Warren
SW isn’t as logically organized as previous resources, but it’s a cozy nook of the internet that makes me feel less alone in my work as a mother and story-bringer. An offshoot of The Rabbit Room, a community of Christ-following artists, it exists to help parents and children cultivate a holy imagination.

Do you have favorite resources or booklists? I’d love to hear yours.

2 thoughts on “On Children’s Book Curation

  1. Taryn, THANK YOU for sharing your wealth of knowledge and resources. I have been feeling overwhelmed in keeping up with my voracious eldest reader and this article is so very helpful. Thank you!

  2. Dear Taryn,
    I was fascinated to read your post about how to “curate” your children’s books and reading. We were very conscious of that raising our children. We too brought a huge bag of books back from the library each week or two so I smiled when I read that you do that. I compiled a list of the books we read with our kids when they were very young in my book, “To Gently Lead” published by the NC in 1999. Of course, many of those books are now out of print and may be hard to find.

    You mentioned a number of sources of reviews and I think that a further source is our own childhood reading. Many parents will have favorites from their childhood that they would love to share with their own children but may find that some of those are out of print. There are two sources I have used to find out of print books. One is betterworldbooks.com. Anyone can donate books to them and they sell them online and then support literacy and library collections at libraries where they have donation kiosks. I have donated many books at the kiosk at our local library and also found many books I wanted online there. The other source is http://www.addall.com that is an online source that helps you find books from many sources. I hope these might be a help to others looking for special books for their children.

    I would also like to mention that we all are selective of what we read. We can’t read everything so we choose what to read based on our values and interests. This means we are “curating” our reading or spiritual and mental food just like we “curate” our physical food by selecting what we deem nutritious and tasty.

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