Thursday, January 20, 2011

Beginning a Checklist for Evaluating Children's Literature

Found on the Web

The American Library Association lists the YALSA Book Lists Awards and the Alex Awards. The Young Adult Library Association annually lists what it considers the best books written for Young Adults. There is also an Alex award given to the 10 best books published that year that are suitable for Young Adults but that were written for adults. Winners of the Alex Awards are considered to have a special appeal for youth.

Cybils Awards are given by bloggers to children's literature that is suggested by bloggers and after a round of judging that includes adult and teen judges. gives 3 awards annually to science fiction works in 3 divisions: prek-grade 3 picture books; upper elementary/middle school books; and young adult books. These Golden Duck Awards are given to books written specifically for youth.

Some children's literature authors list books that they recommend for children and young adults, usually in genres related to the one that the author writes for or has a special interest in. Some organizations responsible for fantasy and/or science fiction conventions offer annual awards, including a few for YA and Children's science fiction.

What Makes a Children's or Young Adult Book "Good" or Worthy of an Award?

Awards go annually to fictional books for young adults, suitable for YA, children's books, and picture books. When the award is not specifically for a work of speculative fiction or the sub-genre science fiction, often the list of nominated books include fantasy and science fiction books. But what makes a book worthy of an award? What makes a book good literature? How does one decide that a book can be recommended for a certain age level?

From; used with permission.
To begin an answer these questions, I examined a few websites that grant awards for children's literature or that define children's literature; I looked for definitions of quality in children's literature.

What criteria is used to evaluate the nominated books? That is a question for a future posting. A list of awards is part of the Resources page and another topic for a future posting.

In this post I want to introduce a few definitions of children's literature and young adult literature.

(c) Reading for the Future, Inc.

What is Children's Literature?

For some, children's literature is suitable for youth up to age 12. Some exclude comic books and books for young adults, some don't. It can include books written by children because the author was a child, or not. Various professors, organizations, and groups have given different criteria for classifying fiction as children's literature. (Wikipedia 1and Wikipedia 2)

Wikipedia (1)  reports within the various definitions of children's literature, the extremes are these. "The most restrictive definition of children's literature are those books various authorities determine are "appropriate" for children, such as teachers, reviewers, scholars, parents, publishers, librarians, retailers, and the various book-award committees." Alternately, "[t]he broadest definition of children's literature applies to books that are actually selected and read by children."

Sample Rubrics for Evaluating Books

When an organization gives an award, there is usually some restrictive criteria that makes a book suitable as a representative of the organization's philosophy. One example of a restrictive definition and criteria is that posted online by The AntiDefamation League's Checklist For Assessing Children's Literature. The ADL checklist includes for the category "characters" these criteria:

  • Do characters represent people from a variety of cultural groups?
  • Do "good" characters reflect a variety of backgrounds?
  • Are females as well as males depicted in leadership roles?
Compare this checklist to the one provided by a Canadian department of education to be used in choosing children's literature for schools.
  • provide motivating and challenging experiences suitable for the learner’s age, ability and social maturity
  • elicit personal, thoughtful critical responses
  • represent a range of styles and literary structures
  • have literary merit
  • use language effectively and responsibly, and use language that is essential to the work
  • broaden students’ understanding of social, historical, geographical and cultural diversity
  • develop sensitivity to and an understanding that reflects individual differences such as age, gender, ethnicity, religion, disability, class and political/social values"

Another useful checklist is the one from Circle of Inclusion that focuses on literature for and about disabilities.

Sub-Genre of Children's Literature

Nancy Anderson (Wikipedia 2), of the Univ. of So. Florida, separates children's literature into these sub-genre's; for which the fictional descriptions are, I think, informative.
  • Picture books, including board books, concept books (teaching an alphabet or counting), pattern books, and wordless books
  • Traditional literature: there are ten characteristics of traditional literature: (1) unknown authorship, (2) conventional introductions and conclusions, (3) vague settings, (4) stereotyped characters, (5) anthropomorphism, (6) cause and effect, (7) happy ending for the hero, (8) magic accepted as normal, (9) brief stories with simple and direct plots, and (10) repetition of action and verbal patterns.[6] The bulk of traditional Literature consists of folktales, which conveys the legends, customs, superstitions, and beliefs of people in past times. This large genre can be further broken down into sub-genres: myths, fables, ballads, folk music, legends, and fairy tales.
  • Fiction, including the sub-genres of fantasy and realistic fiction (both contemporary and historical). This genre would also include the school story, a genre unique to children's literature in which the boarding school is a common setting.
  • Non-fiction
  • Biography, including autobiography
  • Poetry and verse.

A Call for Help in Designing my Checklist Rubric

Basically, I have listed information to consider in evaluating a book for children or young adults. My goal is to build a checklist that I would be comfortable using in evaluating science fiction either written for or suitable for youth. Obviously I have more research to do. Why, vocabulary and taboo topics and words are not yet listed. I invite you to comment with suggestions, checklists and criteria from you that will help me make my list.

Note: All lists are quoted text with bullets changed. The link prior to the list is to the website cited.

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