Thursday, July 12, 2007

Counting Books

For the past week or so I have been working on book lists of one sort or another, both creating them as well as examining what makes for a useful list. As part of that process, and as part of a reality check, I collected book lists from twenty-eight randomly selected libraries, these lists being compiled by librarians. The nature of the lists were not so much the best of the best (I am working on that as a separate exercise) but rather lists of recommended books based on the experience of those librarians.

Some of these lists were just a couple of dozen books for a single grade, some lists reaching to a hundred or more titles and covering several grades. I am still in the process of cleaning up the data but have completed infant through Grade Three. I thought you might be interested in some of the initial observations, allowing for the fact that this is not a particularly rigorous analysis; while randomly selected, these lists were the ones that were readily available.

The outcome that struck me most was how little consensus there was between the lists. Had I been asked, I would have guessed that if you put 10 librarians in a room and asked them to create ten lists of recommended books for young children, 80% of the titles would have shown up on two or more of the lists (compared to 23% in the sample actually collected). I would have also guessed that at least a quarter of the titles would have shown up on the majority of lists (as opposed to none, in this sample).
From the twenty eight library lists covering infant to Grade Three, there were a total of 2,736 unique titles recommended. 77% of all titles mentioned were only mentioned once.
Of the total 2,736 titles mentioned, there were only 633 books (23%) that showed up on two or more lists out of the twenty-eight.
This is almost the inverse of what I would have expected.
The number of titles mentioned more than once had, what seemed to me, an astonishingly low average citation rate of 2.8, i.e. if a book was chosen by more than one librarian, it was on average chosen by about three of them (out of twenty-eight).
No book showed up on a majority of lists (more than fourteen of the twenty-eight). The highest number of citations were garnered by Amelia Bedelia and Frog and Toad are Friends which were each mentioned by 12 out of twenty-eight librarians.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do You See?; Chicka Chicka Boom Boom; and Goodnight Moon each came in with ten citations.
There were only twenty-five titles that showed up on at least a quarter of the lists.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz

Amber Brown is Not a Crayon by Paula Danziger and illustrated by Tony Ross

Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parrish and illustrated by Fritz Siebel

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Eric Carle

Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. and John Archambault, and illustrated by Lois Ehlert

Corduroy by Don Freeeman

Curious George by H.A. Rey

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne and illustrated by Sal Murdocca

Encyclopedia Brown Boy Detective by Donald Sobol and illustrated by Leonard Shortall

Freckle Juice by Judy Blume and illustrated by Sonia O. Lisker

Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Borwn and illustrated by Clement Hurd

Horrible Harry in Room 2B by Suzy Kline and illustrated by Frank Remkiewicz

Jumanji by Chris van Allsburg

Little Bear by Else Holmelund Minark and illustrated by Maurice Sendak

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans

Make Way for Ducklings by Robert McCloskey

Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and illustrated by James Marshall

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan

Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss

The Napping House by Don & Audrey Wood

The Stories Julian Tells by Ann Cameron and illustrated by Ann Strugnell

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Take it all with a pinch of salt, while I did my best to collect lists created for similar purposes by similarly qualified practitioners, done independently of one another, etc. this is not a scientifically controlled sample. You can read much or little into the results but I find them interesting and will be writing these up in more detail in later entries (and lists).

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