With 40,000 titles to choose from, lists can help; How to find and select books for children

By , Children's book editor of The Christian Science Monitor

''When do I start to read to my new daughter?'' ''How do I know which books to begin with?'' ''How can I encourage my little boy to love books and to read well?''

With the current ''boom'' in babies, these are questions teachers, librarians , and bookstore managers are hearing more often today than a few years ago.

At the same time educators are placing greater emphasis on teaching very young children, and publishers are abetting this trend with a corresponding increase in new books written especially for infants and toddlers.

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Add to these the thousands of older books still in print but seldom advertised or stocked in local bookstores, and the problem of selection can overwhelm parents who want to do the utmost to help develop the skill and joy of reading in their young sons and daughters.

To help such parents, there are a number of booklists available, including one compiled especially for the Monitor and published in this section. More concise than most, it offers 50 recommended books for children from infancy up to third grade. It is hoped that readers can use it as a starting point for selecting from the more than 40,000 children's books currently in print, and from the even larger number on the shelves of public libraries.

In addition to the Monitor list, readers may find several other lists useful. They range from one page to several hundred in length and are usually compiled by organizations devoted to education or to the study of children's literature.

Among the scores that appear each year, a good example is Children's Books of the Year (New York: The Child Study Children's Book Committee, Bank Street College of Education, 610 West 112th Street, New York, N.Y., 10025, 40 pp., $3 postpaid).

Like most lists, it is compiled by a committee that meets regularly to review the crop of 2,500 to 3,000 new children's books annually. In this case, the committee is made up of parents, teachers, librarians, writers, illustrators, and specialists in related fields, who meet every Thursday throughout the year. Each book is read by three of the committee members. Then the entire group discusses the book and makes its recommendation for or against listing it.

The criteria for selection, stated at the beginning of most lists, are very explicit in the case of the Bank Street committee. These include: ''the author's sincerity and respect for the young audience; credibility of characterization and plot; the authenticity of background, time and place; the treatment of minority characters and religious differences, where these appear; and suitability of text and illustrations for the age to which the book may appeal.''

And in addition, Bank Street considers ''the possible impact of the book on the young reader or listener; emotional, intellectual, or motivational,'' in its search for books that reflect ''positive values in life -- along with its griefs and difficulties, its triumphs and its hopes.''

A different method of selection is used by the International Reading Association and the Children's Book Council to compile the Children's Choices ( 23 pp., reprints available free by sending a stamped, self-addressed, 61/2-by-9 -inch envelope to Children's Choices, 67 Irving Place, New York, N.Y., 10003).

For this list, a group of some 500 titles on a variety of subjects is sent to each of five teams of teachers, who test them in the classroom. Each team presents the books in question to at least 2,000 children. Pupils' votes are then tabulated to determine the annual list, published in the October issue of The Reading Teacher magazine.

Although the various lists often reflect a consensus on several outstanding books in any given year, the main body of the lists vary considerably. Editors generally acknowledge that a list shows a certain degree of subjectivity because the background, experiences, and expectations of the evaluators are inevitably different.

Among the other helpful lists I've found for use in the home are those compiled by:

* The National Council of Teachers of English, available through the American Library Association, 50 E. Huron Street, Chicago, Ill. 60611.

* The New York Public Library, 455 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10016.

* The Association for Childhood Education International, 3615 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Washington, D. C. 20016.

* The Horn Book Inc., 31 St. James Avenue, Boston, Mass. 02116.

Each of these groups publishes more than one list and welcomes inquiries.

Apart from the lists themselves, there are other guides for parents. In my own family of four children, I've found that a good anthology is not only a fine source when one wants a story to read aloud, but also when a fourth-grader asks at bedtime after the library has closed, ''Where can I find a poem with hissing sounds for an 8 o'clock class in the morning,'' or when a fifth-grader suddenly needs material about the Norsemen for her social studies report. For such occasions, I recommend The Arbuthnot Anthology of Children's Literature, 4th Ed. , by May H. Arbuthnot (New York: Lothrup, Lee & Shepard Division of William Morrow & Company Inc., 1,208 pp., $29.50).

In the early years, when a baby is trying out new sounds, a good volume of Mother Goose rhymes is also invaluable. As children begin to recognize letters and numbers, books that help them retain that information are a must. Then, as the letters combine into word-recognition, books with interesting pictures and simple texts are useful. And eventually there comes the happy day when children are reading whole stories all by themselves.

One book that is especially helpful to new parents who are just beginning to learn with their infants is Raising Readers: A Guide to Sharing Literature with Young Children, sponsored by the Committee on Literature in the Elementary Language Arts of the National Council of Teachers of English and written by Linda Leonard Lamme, with Vivian Cox, Jane Matanzo, and Miken Olson (New York: Walker & Company, 200 pp. $9.95). Another is They're Never Too Young For Books: Literature for Pre-Schoolers, by Edythe M . McGovern (Los Angeles: Mar Vista Publishing Company, 11917 Westminster Place, 90066, 282 pp., $10).

Still other books that might help parents of preschool and early elementary children through the maze of literature written for these children are:

* ''Reading With Children Through Age 5,'' New edition. Prepared by Child Study Children's Book Committee at Bank St. College. (610 W. 112th St., New York , N.Y., 10025. 44 pp. $2.00 prepaid).

* ''Picture Books for Children, 2nd Ed.,'' sponsored by the Picture Book Committee of the National Council of Teachers of English and edited by Patricia Jean Cianciolo (Chicago: American Library Association, 50 E. Huron Street, Chicago, Ill. 60611, 254 pp., $12.50).

* Down the Rabbit Hole: Adventures and Misadventures in the Realm of Children's Literature, by Selma Lanes (New York: Atheneum. 256 pp. $4.95 in paperback).

* Introducing Books to Children, by Aidan Chambers. (Boston: The Horn Book Inc. 31 St. James Avenue 02116, 152 pp., $7.50 in paperback).

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