I have always imagined that paradise will be some kind of library…

Two weeks ago I got offered my dream job. It doesn’t pay enough for us to live on it alone, even now while we’re paying no rent, so it isn’t perfect. But it’s perfect for me. It’s exactly the job I would have chosen if I could have picked any job in the library. I’m at the reference desk, so I’m the one people come to if they can’t find something. I give recommendations, help with research, choose the books that go on the displays, straighten the books on the shelves, help people figure out what the name is of that one book they used to love. And when I’m not helping a patron, I can sort and shelve books—which is one of my favorite things to do at the library, and the reason I also would have been happy if they’d hired me for the page job (I applied for both), even though it pays minimum wage and really wouldn’t have been enough of a source of income for us.
But the funny thing is that they put me in children’s reference, which is the area where I have the least expertise (and I even told them that in the interview). I have read some middle grade fiction that I really love, and I’ve read more children’s books than most people who don’t have children have read (example: I created this list on Goodreads several months ago, long before I got a library job). But the vast majority of my reading is adult and YA, and after just a couple days working in children’s, I realized that I need to start doing some research. So, in the last week, I have read 65 books checked out from the children’s and juvenile sections. I thought I’d share my favorites with you.
I started, for no particular reason, with juvenile nonfiction—children’s biographies in particular. On my second day of training, one of the librarians showed me that section and said it was one of her favorites. Just at a glance I saw several books that looked really interesting, so I decided that was where I would start. And guys, if you didn’t think children’s biographies could be interesting—well, I wouldn’t blame you, because neither did I—but we were both wrong.
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Galileo and Charles Darwin were done by the same author, Peter Sís (who also has a couple autobiographicalones), and I was really struck by their style—not just the lovely illustrations, but that they included quotes on almost every page from Galileo and Darwin themselves, which is something that children’s books often don’t bother to do. Some of these books are notable for their absolutely stunning illustrations, like Saint Francis, Mermaid Queen, Odetta: The Queen of Folk, and John Muir: America’s First Environmentalist. And some I thought were amazing just because of the variety of subjects you can find now. When I was a kid, children’s biographies were pretty much just former presidents and civil rights activitsts. Now you can find beautifully-illustrated books on Pablo Neruda, Hypatia, Frank Baum, Vivaldi, Charles Dickens, Marcel Marceau, Sarah WinnemuccaSarah Breedlove Walker, Noah Webster, Shakespearethe prophet Muhammad, Maria Anna Mozart (Wolfgang’s older sister who was a child prodigy before he was), Black Elk, John James Audubon, Sequoyah, Margaret Chase Smith, and Ida B. Wells—and these are just the ones I’ve read in one week.

I’ve also picked up some picture books, with no particular pattern except that I’ve been looking for ones with really fantastic illustrations. Many of them are ones I saw on the reshelving cart and looked through before putting them away (which, it turns out, is a pretty good way of doing things). I didn’t include a picture of The Conductor because the shape wouldn’t fit with the others here, but it’s an especially beautiful one.
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These three that I found while straightening juvenile nonfiction are some of my favorites. World of Faith is a book written by Peggy Fletcher Stack, religion writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, in cooperation with the Inter-faith Roundtable of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. It’s essentially a dictionary of important world religions, with lovely illustrations depicting things that are particular to each faith. Red Sings From Treetops is a poetry book by Joyce Sidman, who is one of my favorites right now because she has several of these books of poetry and they are all just gorgeous (each done by a different illustrator, and they all won the Caldecott). And Remember: The Journey to School Integration is Toni Morrison’s first children’s nonfiction, I think. It’s full of huge, fantastic photographs of schoolchildren in the 60s, and each page is written as if from the thoughts of the child in the photograph next to it. It’s so, so brilliant.
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Kind of mixed in to each of these categories are the 2012-2013 Beehive nominees I’ve read (some picture, some nonfiction, some junior fiction). The Beehive Book Awards are done each year by the Children’s Literature Association of Utah, and the winners are chosen by children who vote as they read them.
The last category—and, I have to admit, my least favorite—is juvenile fiction for second and third graders. I think this age group is probably the hardest for adults to read, because it’s not beautifully-illustrated like the picture books are, and it’s not as well-written as teen fiction. This age group is where we’re talking about things like Captain UnderpantsDiary of a Wimpy Kid, and so on. But based on the number of times it’s come up with patrons, I decided this was a category I needed to do some research in. So I am. I’m not going to do the book covers because I’ve already spent probably an hour writing this post, but so far I have read:
and up next on my shelf I have (yes, at this point you don’t even get links anymore, because I have to go eat lunch (and by lunch I mean breakfast) okay?):
  • Moon Pie by Simon Mason
  • From Russia with Lunch by Bruce Hale
  • Frankie Pickle and the Closet of Doom by Eric Wight
  • The Forests of Silence by Emily Rodda (book one in the Deltora Quest series)
  • The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
  • Mr. Mysterious & Company by Sid Fleischman
  • Leprechauns Don’t Play Basketball by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones (book four in the Bailey School Kids series)
  • Starting with Alice by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

So there you have it. When I’m reading books at this pace, I’m not going to be doing full reviews of them here (you’re welcome) but for most of them I’m trying to include at least a quick sentence or two in my review on Goodreads. If you have any suggestions, let me know, and if you want to know more details about a particular book, feel free to ask! Cause, you know, that’s my job now.

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