A comfortable place to visit

Published 6:20 pm Wednesday, March 9, 2005

By By RANDI K. PICKLEY / Niles Daily Star
If you want to know what the latest reading trend is for children, just ask a librarian … specifically a children's librarian.
Darlene Jackson, a specialist in the children's section of the Niles Community Library at 620 East Main, is up-to-date on the latest reading trends for girls, boys, and just about any age range and reading level for children. She has been a welcome sight to many children over the years who enjoy talking with her and listening to her readings of their favorite stories. "Last evening, three teenage boys came in to ask if she had recommendations for books. They've been coming here for years," Jackson said.
The first rule of library etiquette according Jackson is to be polite. She believes that adults must be respectful to children so that they can learn to be polite in return. "I prefer to call them by name when I can or address them as Miss Bonnie or Mr. Luke. They know I'm giving them something," Jackson said, meaning "respect." She also refers to any age child as "young lady" or "young man."
Even if parents are sometimes the ones asking the question, Jackson tries to address the answers directly to the child, she said.
When kids enter the children's section of the library, they often ask to see the miniature train. It runs along the upper part of the wall of the room on a small track. The train sounds like an old fashioned steam engine with puffs and whistles echoing as it travels around the room. To get the train to run, children need to know the magic word, "please."
They also see stuffed animals and colorful decorations. The latest addition to the stuffed animal collection is a blue sparkly dragon who will tie into the summer reading program titled "Fantastic Beaks and How To Find Them," which is the title of a book by Rawlings. There are about 14 toy dragons that will be used in the program.
Jackson wears a long necklace made of colorful beads. When children are shy, she asks them to find the seahorse bead, or the pink fish bead on her necklace to help catch their interest.
If she is standing behind her desk, she asks, " 'Would you like to see what I'm wearing on my feet?' "I've never had one shy child answer no to that question," Jackson said. That's because she has a variety of slippers and shoes that are very unusual. Her footware encompasses anything from Mr. and Mrs. Potatohead slippers to see-through tennis shoes with colorful socks.
Jackson's observations about her experience with young readers are perceptive. "Left to their own devices, girls will read longer than boys, but many young men will sit here and read for hours," Jackson said.
She also sees a difference in the subject matter between girls and boys in what they choose to read. "Boys like gory, icky books like 'Goosebumps' by R.L. Stein or 'Michigan Chillers' by Jonathon Rand," Jackson said. Library staff jokingly call those types of books "grossology" because to girls they can seem pretty gross. "Most boys don't go in for "sissy" books," Jackson said. "Worms are more the thing."
Young boys also enjoy stories about cars, trucks, road equipment, and fire trucks … just about anything with wheels, according to Jackson.
The latest trend for older boys also includes weaponry such as tanks and military vehicles. Stories about guns and knives are not considered appropriate reading at early ages, however, unless they are read in an historical context such as stories about World War I or II.
In addition, boys tend to enjoy reading books that come in a series, authored by the same writer, Jackson said. After a while, though, they begin to realize that many of the series use pretty much the same plot in each book, making only minor changes like the place or the names. "I suppose boys just need that comfort zone found in a series," Jackson said.
Books written in a series can get a young boy interested in reading though, and as they mature, their tastes become more defined. "They become connoisseurs,"Jackson said.
Girls on the other hand, enjoy reading just about anything. They like variety.
American Girl is a popular reading concept today, even though the books and magazines have been around for a while. Stories are written about a particular period of history which correlate to dolls that can be purchased to match the main character of the books. Girls also enjoy clever and funny books.
According to Jackson, the most popular books right now for toddlers are "Brown Bear, Brown Bear" by Martin, "I Went Walking" by Williams, "Little Critter by Mayer, and "Goodnight Gorilla" by Rathman.
For Preschool children, favorite books include "1,2,3" or "ABC" books by Robert Munch and Richard Scarry.
Children who have started school and have begun to read really enjoy reading "Little Critter Read-it Yourself" by Mayer, "Minnie and Moo" by Cazet, and "Nate the Great" by Sharmat.
Once the kids are reading well and are able to handle books with chapters in the story, popular choices are "A Series of Unfortunate Events" by Snicket (related to the recent movie), "The Best Christmas Pageant Ever" by Robinson, and "The Magic Treehouse" series by Osborne.
Girls in this category also like "Junie B. Jones" by Park and "Because of Winn Dixie" by DeCamillo.
Boys at this level prefer "Time Warp Trio" by Scieska, "Encyclopedia Brown" by Sobol, and "Hank, the Cowdog" by Erickson.
For children who are more advanced readers, the selection includes the "Spiderwick" series by DiTerlizzi and "Left Behind" by Jenkins.
Girls in this category prefer "The Ugly Princess and the Wise Fool" by Gray and "Frog Princess" by Baker. Boys, on the other hand, might choose "Young Heroes" by Yolen or "The Young Merlin Trilogy" by Yolen.
Teens like to read "Surviving the Applewhites" by Tolan, "The Giver", "Gathering Blue", and "The Messenger", all by Lowry.
Teenage girls enjoy historical fiction like "Any Rinaldi" or fractured fairy tales such as "The Blue Sword" by McKinley. Teenage boys are reading "Artemis Fowl" by Colfer, "The High Seas Trilogy" by Lawrence, "Redwall" series by Jacques, and "Lord of the Rings" by Tolkien.
But gender aside, Jackson still believes that well-written books have a universal appeal. "We keep eight or nine copies of each "Harry Potter" volume on the shelves. The author, J.K. Rawlings, treats each volume as if it were an individual book," Jackson said. "As far as writing and skill, none of the others come close."