William Kilpatrick on Choosing the Best Children’s Books

Here and below, two of Robert Ingpen’s illustrations from The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame.

It is so important to choose the right books for our students. But how do we know which ones to choose?

William Kilpatrick’s Books that Build Character (1994) is one good place to start. Here’s some of his advice:

The danger facing children’s literature does not come from the ogres and villains that haunt the pages of fairy tales and adventure stories; the danger lies, rather, in the continued proliferation of normless books that cater to anxiety and self-absorption, and have nothing to teach about life, except, perhaps, that whatever happens is okay. The danger is not that such books lead to a life of crime, but to a life of boredom, selfishness, and, limited horizons.

The best books show us how to look outside ourselves, to understand the world in which we live and our place in it. Too many books today cause us to look inward, narrowing our horizons and never asking us to rise to a challenge. But there is good news, Kilpatrick says:

Fortunately, there is no shortage of stories of another sort: books that challenge, thrill, excite, and awaken young readers to the potential drama of life, especially to the drama of a life lived in obedience to the highest ideals.  Such books have something better to offer than therapeutic reassurance.  Like true friends they encourage us to be our best selves.”