________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV . . . . August 31, 2007


Book Crush: For Kids and Teens: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Interest.

Nancy Pearl.
Seattle, WA: Sasquatch Books (Distributed in Canada by Publishers Group Canada), 2007.
288 pp., pbk., $20.95.
ISBN 978-1-57061-500-9.

Subject Headings:
Children - Books and reading.
Children's literature - Bibliography.
Teenagers - Books and reading.

Professional / Parental Resource.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

**½  /4


My happiest memories of a childhood that was otherwise scarred by an anxious and raging father and a depressed and angry mother were of escaping into books. I read. I went to the Parkman branch of the Detroit Public Library after school and on Saturdays, checked out armloads of books, brought them home, and read. I climbed the apricot tree in our backyard and, wishing I had a tree house just like Suzie Green, one of the two main characters in the Best Friends series by Mary Bard, I read. I closed my bedroom door, risking my father’s incomprehensible and unpredictable wrath, lay on my stomach on my bed, and read. (Looking back now, one of the things I most regret is that I didn’t keep a list of those books. While my memory is pretty good, I know there are many books I’ve simply forgotten.)


Librarian/author, Nancy Pearl, has a deep love of reading—evidently much more than just the “crush” of the title of her latest collection of recommended books. Following the popular success of Book Lust and More Book Lust, in Book Crush, Pearl again recommends hundreds of titles she feels will help others to develop the love of books that has been so important in enriching her life. Where Book Crush is different from its predecessors is that all of the recommended titles are aimed specifically at children and teenagers. Having said that, Book Crush is written primarily for parents, grandparents, librarians and educators—those in a position from which to influence and direct the reading selections of young people.

     Book Crush presents over a thousand recommended titles. The resource is organized into 118 lists, and one can search for books suitable for a child with an interest, say, in cats, or sports, or dolls, or Greek mythology.  Furthermore, the book is organized into three broad age ranges. The first third of the book is organized, under subject headings, into books for the youngest of readers—from birth through to age seven. The second third of the book presents titles suitable for middle-grade readers, aged eight to twelve. Finally, the last third of the book contains titles recommended for teenaged readers, aged thirteen to eighteen.

     Pearl lives in Seattle, Washington, and her publisher, Sasquatch Books, is also located in Seattle. Book Crush does, however, contain some Canadian content. Works by Canadian authors, Farley Mowat, Iain Lawrence, Gordon Korman, John Wilson and L. M. Montgomery all gain a mention. It is, however, difficult for me to see how prodigious Canadian authors like Jean Little, Eric Walters, Paulette Bourgeois and Robert Munsch can be overlooked completely.

     Depending on the topic, Pearl generally includes many book recommendations. For instance, for the youngest readers, she specifies 27 suitable titles about cats. She specifies 26 young readers’ titles about dogs. Pearl makes mention of 35 King Arthur/Camelot books suitable for middle-grade readers. She recommends 19 different vampire books for teenaged readers. Elsewhere, she occasionally mentions only one or two titles for a given subject, but this is most often the exception to the useful rule of including many titles under each subject heading.

     Pearl makes many wonderful suggestions, and I feel that the book is a useful resource for teachers, librarians and, perhaps above all else, for grandparents and parents. Having said that, however, I have a number of reservations. Many of my reservations have to do with the organization of the book. I believe the organization makes the book cumbersome and difficult to use.

     I should note that there are book features that contribute to easier use. One useful feature is the fact that the book category is written in the page margin on the right hand side of each opened double page. In the left-hand margin of the left hand page, the age group is listed. Another useful feature is that the title of each recommended book is written in bold text. On the other hand, however, I find the index of only limited value in that it includes only authors/illustrators and book titles. Given the somewhat arbitrary nature of the subject organization, I need the index to be far more valuable in terms of cross-referencing and searching. Let me explain further. For young readers, Halloween books are positioned alphabetically under “B”—the category heading is “Boo! Halloween Books to Treasure.” For middle school books, this same type of book is alphabetically organised under “G”—for “Goosebumps” (although it needs to be noted that this category is not limited only to the R.L. Stine “Goosebumps” series of books). For teenaged readers, the Halloween / Scary type of books appear under the heading of “Ghosts.” Given such inconsistency and the arbitrary category designation (especially in the case of “Boo”), the book can be awkward to navigate. Humorous or funny books for youngest readers appear under the heading, “Just for Fun.” Biographies appear under “Let Me Introduce You to…” Alphabet books appear under “Simple as ABC.” War stories for middle grade readers appear under the heading of “D@%! the Torpedoes, Full Steam Ahead.” In light of these odd, unhelpful, category headings, a more expansive index would have proved of great worth. One needs to remember that a book such as this is, in many ways, competing in the market against electronic databases (I know of one that contains 20,000 children’s literature titles). With such databases, it can be much easier to navigate, crosscheck and to search by a topic of interest.

     I decided to try to search for books with a First Nation theme. This is a growing area within children’s literature and is also an area in which many teachers will have an interest, given curriculum links to the topic. Given that Book Crush is an American publication, I did not expect to find anything in any of the three age groupings under “First Nations,” and this proved correct. I did, however, expect to find some books under “Native Americans” or “Indians,” but I could find no such listings. This example illustrates the problems with the organization of the book (again, particularly in comparison to an electronic database). If I, as a parent and educator, am looking for books appropriate for a specific child with particular areas of interest, it is very difficult to find where suitable books might be listed. In its current form, one must read the entire text in order to happen across recommendations suitable for the child or children in one’s life. This seems to me not to be in keeping with the intended purpose of the book. Pearl writes that she sees Book Crush as “a small library catalog[ue].” One certainly does not often work through an entire library catalogue in the hope of coming across subjects of interest. Rather, one relies upon the organization of the catalogue to help one locate books within one’s pre-determined topic areas.

     I also have a problem with a comment that Pearl makes when introducing early chapter books for young readers. She writes, “when a child is past the age of picture books and wants something a little more substantial,” they can move to chapter books. There is so much wrong with that way of thinking that I know not where to start. I don’t know that there are many people in children’s literature who still think of moving “past the age of picture books.” If it ever has been the case, the picture books of today are certainly not something that one moves past. Indeed, the opposite is often true. One cannot fully appreciate many picture books without certain amounts of maturity and life experience. Furthermore, to suggest that picture books (as a very broad classification) lack substance or that chapter books necessarily contain more substance is patently incorrect.

     Despite the fact that I acknowledge and applaud the fact that the appropriate age grouping is recorded in the left-hand margins, I would like to see colour coding of the three sections. The outer edge of each page leaf might have been coloured so that the first third was, say, red, the second section, say, yellow, and the third section, blue. For me, that would have made it easier to locate books according to Pearl’s age designations.  

     Although the number of recommendations recorded for the various topics is a strength, I noticed what I consider some glaring omissions. For instance, the “Poems as Novels and Novels as Poems” category for teen readers contains 10 recommendations. One wonders, however, how Karen Hesse’s Newbery medal wining novel in verse, Out of the Dust can be excluded from any such list. On the Canadian front, Pamela Porter’s Governor General’s Literary Award winning The Crazy Man has now been in print long enough and has won enough awards that it also deserves a place on any list of recommended novels in verse. I guess that, for sport lovers such as me, it is akin to picking a “Team of the Century.” Not everyone can be included, but there seem to be some players that just cannot be left out. For me, Out of the Dust and The Crazy Man are two such “certain starters.”

     I do recommend Book Crush. Despite my reservations, I think that there is here much of value. Helping young people to switch onto reading can profoundly influence their lives. As such, a resource like this is potentially of inestimable value. I would just have preferred better organization. Pearl’s love of books, however, is inspiring and motivational. Her passion compensates for some book failings and I believe that Book Crush will be a tremendous aid to many of its readers.
Recommended with reservations.

Gregory Bryan is a father of two young daughters and a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba where he teaches children’s literature and literacy education.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.