The Children’s Book Committee began in 1909 as part of the family life education program of the Child Study Association of America, an organization devoted to guiding parents in their understanding of child development.
At the time, a nascent “parent education” movement fostered a growing awareness of the emotional needs of children and how books might affect children’s feelings of themselves and the world around them. As “expert” opinions of psychiatrists, psychologists, and educators filtered down to parents, the Child Study Association decided to evaluate current literature for children and to prepare and publish book lists to guide parents, librarians, and teachers in the selection of developmentally appropriate reading materials. Interestingly enough, the committee decided right from the start to publish only positive reviews and recommendations.
Its first product was a modest pamphlet, but more ambitious lists soon followed. Eventually, with a rapidly expanding number of new children’s books being published, the committee adopted a more organized reviewing process, which continues to this day.
For many years the committee’s reviews appeared in the monthly (and later quarterly) magazine published by the Association. When the magazine was discontinued, the committee compiled “Children’s Books of the Year,” its own annual booklet that has been published and distributed yearly since 1936.
The committee eventually expanded its mandate in a number of significant ways. It collected and edited anthologies of children’s stories and published specific lists in response to requests from parents, organizations, or specific needs that arose in the community. It also arranged lectures to promote public interest in children’s literature and invited children to discuss their preferences in books, which eventually led to the inclusion of Young Reviewers on the Committee.
In addition, the committee established an annual award in 1942 to encourage the writing and publishing of books “for children and young people dealing realistically with some of the problems in the world.” The Committee now also bestows an annual award for the best poetry book for young readers as well as an award for a nonfiction book that “serves as an inspiration for young readers.”
By 1977, the Child Study Association was forced to discontinue its programs because of financial difficulties, but the Children’s Book Committee was invited to continue its groundbreaking work at the Bank Street College of Education, where it remains to this day. Here its outreach broadened, not only in increasing the circulation of its list, but in the wider range of its membership.
Today’s committee comprises some 40 members—all volunteers—from various professions and backgrounds concerned with children and books, including writers, illustrators, editors, librarians, teachers, and parents. Members use their skills and expertise to foster the unique point of view bequeathed to us by our founding organization—namely, how books can affect young readers and what books can do for them.