The Baltimore County Public Library is offering parents help in navigating the annual flood of children's literature: "Best Books of 2000," a list of titles ranging from pre-reader picture books to the latest in young-adult fiction.
Compiled with the help of librarians from the Baltimore metropolitan area, the 41-book list is offered to help parents sift through the thousands of books published each year for children and young adults, with an eye toward literary quality and reader appeal.
"We really wanted fun books, things that kids will read and that parents will enjoy with them if they are pre-readers," said Lila Wisotzki, materials selection coordinator for the library system.
Though these titles might not all end up winning the prestigious Newbery or Caldecott awards for children's literature, "they might be award winners to children in terms of popularity," she said.
The list - compiled for the second year - grew from a long-standing effort by Baltimore County librarians to come up with a roster of quality titles they could recommend to patrons.
The books are chosen by two committees, one that looks at picture books for children to age 8 and another that reviews books for ages 8 or 9 and older. Each committee has about 15 members, about half of whom are Baltimore County librarians. The other members are from the Anne Arundel, Carroll, Harford, Howard and Montgomery county library systems and the Enoch Pratt Free Library system in Baltimore City.
The committees meet at least eight times a year to discuss recently released books that have been screened by the Baltimore County library's materials selection department.
After working their way through about 100 books, members vote on whether to include a book on the list. At the end of the process, each panel has a list of 50 to 60 books, which is circulated to librarians throughout the state. The list is further shortened before it is made available to the public.
Library officials said that in past years the selection panelists chose only books that would be considered "good literature." But this year, the emphasis changed.
"We're not as focused on the artistic merit as we are on the overall appeal," said Lynn Supp, a materials selection specialist for the Baltimore County system and the coordinator of the committee for younger children's books.
Supp said that for the public list, her committee sought to present a variety of books. "We wanted to have more materials for all ethnic groups, for all religious groups and to bring in more material for the very youngest, the pre-reader," she said.
Cindy Swanson, a children's librarian at the Catonsville branch library and a member of Supp's committee, said the list offers "a good way to give your kids a broad variety of reading experiences."
Swanson, the mother of girls ages 5 and 3, frequently enlisted her children for the book list, reading many of the books to them as bedtime stories and getting their reactions. "They're the perfect age for a test audience," she said.
The criteria for choosing books for the younger-than-8 set are the quality of the illustrations and how the book holds a child's interest.
"There's one that just jumps out," Supp said. "It's called `Olivia.'" A successful first attempt by writer-illustrator Ian Falconer, the book makes minimal but creative use of color. "The personality of Olivia, who is a pig, just shines," Supp said.
Her other favorites are "If You Take a Mouse to the Movies" by Laura Numeroff, and "How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?" by Jane Yolen.
Eileen Kuhl, also a materials selection specialist for the Baltimore County library, coordinates a committee to review books for children older than 8. Because these are chapter books, the most important criterion is a strong plot.
"We're really looking at how the plot holds together," Kuhl said. "The committee puts a lot of work into reading these titles and to selecting the titles for the list."
Kuhl's recommendations for preteens and young teen-agers include "Because of Winn-Dixie" by Kate DiCamillo and "Me Tarzan" by Betsy Cromer Byars, both novels that feature girls as the main character.
She said books that might appeal more to boys include "Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves" by Carol Hughes, an adventure novel, and "The Stones are Hatching," by Geraldine McCaughrean, a fantasy that draws on English folklore.
Best Books of 2000
The "Best Books of 2000," children's and young adult literature, according to a list released by the Baltimore County Public Library:
Up to age 3
"I Knew Two Who Said Moo," Judi Barrett, illustrated by Daniel Moreton.
"Snail Trail," Ruth Brown, writer and illustrator.
"Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?" Eric Carle, writer and illustrator.
"Off We Go," Jane Yolen, illustrated by Laura Molk.
Ages 3 to 8
"Rattlesnake Dance," Jim Arnosky, writer and illustrator.
"Night Worker," Kate Banks, illustrated by Georg Hallensleben.
"Olivia," Ian Falconer, writer and illustrator.
"Mammalabilia," Douglas Florian, writer and illustrator.