Good Reading for Children

I cut my political teeth on United Farm Worker grape boycotts in California's San Joaquin Valley. The flip side to boycotts is informed elective patronage: forgoing a pre-stamped burger for Ethiopian fare and buying gifts from local artisans come to mind. Books represent another important economic leverage opportunity.

Merger mania has hit publishing, with a concurrent loss of both art and idea. But small publishers exist continue to produce good books. My biases are a predilection for poetry and writing that sing off the page, graceful art depicting a rainbow of families, and stories that serve as a warp and woof in weaving together a fragile world. Following are some of the brightest lights in children's publishing.

Plough Publishing House of the Society of Brothers. Bring the rich tradition of family singing into your home with two anthologies of songs: Sing Through the Seasons and Sing Through the Day. Plough has many resources for families, each marked by quiet beauty and joyful reverence. (412) 329-1100.

Liturgy Training Publications. LTP produces a number of liturgy and worship aids for children, perfect for use in the home. The art and graphics are first-rate, with Gail Ramshaw's Sunday Morning notable for its whimsical and multicultural pictorial Bible stories. Parents will appreciate the classic The Religious Potential of the Child: Experiencing Scripture and Liturgy With Young Children. (800) 933-1800.

Kane/Miller Books. Founded by a brother and sister, K/M scans the world for books and translates them into English. Reading books by Venezuelan, Japanese, and European authors amounts to a primordial multiculturalism. K/M has many English-Spanish editions and an outstanding international folk tales series. (718) 624-5120.

Chicago Review Press and the Independent Publishers Group. Through the Ziggurat imprint, CRP leads the juvenile non-fiction market by producing intelligent books for young adults on architecture, astronomy, book-making, singing, photography, and other topics. Distribution of small presses through the IPG makes browses for important but offbeat books easy. (800) 888-4741.

Kingfisher Books. Now selling in U.S. markets, this British company combines classical taste with multicultural sensitivity. Classic Poems to Read Aloud, compiled by James Berry, reflects a canon that includes works of Caribbean, African, and Native American poets. Also notable is The Little Book of Prayers. (800) 497-1657.

Boyds Mill Press. Boyds Mill is committed to poetry, old and new, through its Wordsong imprint. Reissues like Lorenz Graham's Every Heart Man Lay Down, a Liberian idiomatic telling of salvation history, should not be missed. Likewise is Frane Lessac's picture-book anthology, Caribbean Canvas: Reflections From the West Indies . (800) 949-7777.

Chronical Books. This San Francisco publisher carries diverse and artsy titles. Becoming Brave and Dancing Colors are about Native American coming of age. Particularly beautiful is a reissue of Janus Press' woodcut classic, St. Francis Preaches to the Birds. (800) 858-7787.

Floris Books. The history of this European publisher includes influences from Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf education movement. The 1995 list includes Petra Berger's Felt Craft: Making Dolls, Gifts, and Toys. Available in the United States from Gryphon House Books. (800) 638-0928.

Children Circle/Weston Woods. CC/WW brings books to video format with years of service to libraries and schools. Simple yet highly artistic renderings of beloved stories are a welcome relief to technology overload. Notable is the Ezra Jack Keats collection. Keats published stories of African-American life in the '60s, including Corduroy, Peter's Chair, and The Snowy Day, pioneering an important aesthetic shift in children's publishing. (800) 243-5020.

Harcourt Brace Jovanovich has decided to use recycled paper and soy-based inks in the production of all its 1995 children's book division releases-no small accomplishment. I hope this signals that children's publishing will not only lighten our hearts, but cast a smaller shadow on the Earth's resources.

A final note: When purchasing books, consider patronizing small and independent book sellers or order direct from publishers by first requesting a catalog. Encourage your library acquisition committee to review these publishers' work, and bring small companies to the attention of bookstore chains by requesting titles.

MARYBETH SHEA writes from Mt. Rainier, Maryland, where she lives with her husband and three children. She has been a poet in residence at area schools and is on the faculty of the University of Maryland Art Center.

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