Weekend Wonderings

Here’s a new feature: each weekend here at

, I will post a question and invite other bloggers to answer it, here or in their own blogs.  I’ll also provide an explanation of how I came up with the question.

This weekend’s question:

What does it mean to have a “thorough knowledge of children’s literature”?

It’s no secret that one of my aspirations is to be a librarian, specifically a school media specialist or a public librarian for children/teens.  In looking at my local library’s job listings, I came upon the description for the children’s librarian, which included a “thorough knowledge of children’s literature” as one of its requirements.  This seems vague to me, and I’m wondering what it would take to have such knowledge.  My plan is to get a library degree and take lots of classes in children’s literature, classes with titles like “Young Adult Literature and Related Materials” and “Children’s Literature and Related Materials.”  But are two semesters of class enough to grant me a thorough knowledge?  It doesn’t seem likely.  What about a lifetime of reading?  I’ve been away from Children’s Literature for a while, though I’m coming back to it now.

I’m curious to hear your answers.  Can you set me on the path to thorough knowledge?  Post your definition in the comments or in a post at your own blog.  If you post at your own blog, be sure to leave a link!  I’d love to hear from bloggers who might not read my blog as well, so if you do blog about it and get responses from others, please let me know.

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  1. Learning about Children’s Literature

    I was a classroom teacher for more than three decades. Over the years, I became knowledgeable about children’s literature because it was my passion. I became close friends with our wonderful school librarian–who had a wealth of information about and a true love of children’s literature. She taught me so much about children’s books. I have also learned from the owner of a children’s book shop. She and one of her assistants are former children’s librarians. Both these women were –and still are–there to always give me suggestions and book recommendations. I visit the shop at least once a week. I attend(ed) children’s literature festivals and conferences. I participated in in-service courses on children’s literature when I was still teaching–and I spent lots of money on children’s books for my classroom.

    In addition to taking courses at the college level, there are many other ways to immerse oneself in children’s literature and learn. I think having a passion for the subject is the most important thing of all.

    Elaine of Wild Rose Reader

  2. Ongoing Process

    To have a ‘thorough knowledge of children’s literature’ requires a lifelong commitment…and passion. It’s not enough to have two or three courses in college. It’s only the beginning of the journey. There is simply too much material–past, present, and future–to ever call the process complete. Reading is essential. The best way to become familiar with the genre is to read it regularly–titles both past and present. You don’t necessarily have to read every genre within the field…but it would be good to know a few authors or titles in every genre…that you could point out to a patron if he/she asks. Reading is key to the process, but I also think it is important for librarians to be involved within the library community. List servs, forums, yahoo groups, etc. all can be great sources of information. They can keep you up-to-date with what is going on in the field…what the next “best” book is…what the latest controversy is…etc.

    Passion is important. But I think it’s also important for a person to realize that they’ll never be a time when the process is complete. The field is always growing, always changing, always expanding. If you say, “I’m done” then in a few years time…you’ll be hopelessly outdated and out of touch with the field. They’ll always be new authors, new books, new trends, etc.

    Another suggestion…be open-minded. What do I mean??? It is easy to judge a book by its cover. It’s easy to say, “I don’t want to read that because it is science fiction” (Or fantasy, or Sports, or whatever). I have been surprised countless times. I would pick up a book and think that I would never, could never like such a book. It didn’t appear to be my style…it was out of my comfort zone…and yet…once I started reading it…I discovered that it was great. It’s always a good idea to stretch your comfort zones and go where you might not have gone before.

  3. “Thorough” makes me think “comprehensive,” so I would take it to mean that they are searching for applicants that know about the entire children’s department rather than a specified expertise in one age group or area. I would ask if they include the teen department in the children’s section and want someone to work with infants through high schoolers, or if they split off the young adult section and make the children’s area for infants through pre-teens, say babies + ages 3 through 12. So there’s my brief answer to your actual question: I think if someone claims to have a thorough knowledge of children’s literature, he or she ought to have read and studied (and be able to recommend and speak openly on) books for kids of all ages, from babies to teenagers, and all topics and genres, from classics to contemporary works.

  4. To me it means that you read with breadth (if not necessarily depth) and that you recognize a wide array of books even if you haven’t read them personally. That’s one of the things that makes blog reading or reading review journals so useful to me–I’m apprised of ten times as many books as I actually have time to read.

    A thorough knowledge of children’s literature means that you know the classics, you know what’s popular now, and you know what’s getting good reviews and award buzz now. If I were interviewing a person who answered a question about children’s literature with only books that had been published 30 years ago or only the most popular and obvious books, that would be a bad sign.

    You should be able to name a handful of fantasy books or African-American books or books about the immigrant experience or books about gay teens or books for eight-year-old reluctant readers or Christian books or… so on and so forth. You should read enough that when you read a new book, you can place it in the context of other horse books, or other chick-lit books, or other geek books, or other post-apocalyptic books.

    I do think a baseline awareness is more important than individual titles read, but the flip side of that is that 90% of the time I won’t recommend a book that I haven’t read personally. (The other ten percent is when it’s a kid with very specific requirements). I work in a pretty conservative area and it reflects badly on me if I recommend a book with surprise graphic sex. So you do have to read a lot, but combine that with a knowledge of what is important to read. And you don’t need a class to start on that. Start with the Newbery list, the Printz list, the weekly bestseller lists, etc. To me, it takes a hundred or two hundred books to qualify as a “good start,” so classes are definitely not going to suffice there– I was reading a book a week in my classes, and even that seemed like a lot on top of my other schoolwork.

    blogging at

  5. You know you have a thorough knowledge of children’s literature when kids trust you and depend on you to help them find a good book to read, and you are able to come through for them most of the time. Like you, after 2 semesters of children’s lit courses (even with the amazing Kay Vandergrift), I didn’t start my school library career as an expert in children’s lit. But after ten years of talking and listening to kids and reading A LOT, I have learned enough to know that the path to thorough knowledge is a lifelong pursuit – a glorious road paved with books!

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