We’ve all been there…we walk into the Children’s Section of a bookstore or library and are completely bombarded with thousands of books. How in the world are we supposed to choose a good book for our children? What defines a good book, anyway?
Here are just a few suggestions for ensuring that the books you spend your hard-earned money buying are worth the price (and the time it takes to read them).
Rule #1: If it’s based upon an already popular movie character or toy, it’s probably not a high-quality piece of literature.
When I was teaching first grade, I had to put all of my “character” books (including Barbie, Nemo, Batman, etc.) into a bin labeled “For Indoor Recess Only”. The reason I did this is because if I left them with the rest of the books, the kids would choose these books first because they like these characters and are already fascinated with them. The problem, however, is that these books are not typically written by authors aspiring to write a valuable piece of literature to be treasured by children and families for years to come. No, usually these books are part of a marketing scheme adopted by big businesses to literally suck every penny they can out of a popular character. More often than not, these books just plain stink when it comes to vocabulary, plot, character development and other important literary features.
With that being said, however, these books can sometimes be a great way to encourage a child who is initially uninterested in reading to finally pick up a book due to the fact that they are already interested in that particular character. Having a few of these ‘character books’ around your house isn’t going to hurt anything. Definitely encourage your child to branch out in his/her reading, however. Keep in mind that any book is better than no book at all!
Rule #2: Find a seasoned and successful author and expand your library to include more of his/her books.
If you’re not sure where to start, research a particular children’s author (who has written several books and is esteemed in the Children’s Literature community) and look for other books written by that author. The reason for this is simple: A successful author isn’t going to scathe his/her good name by writing an awful book. This author has been around the block. He/she knows what makes a good book (that’s why he/she is already successful) and won’t typically settle for less than his/her best. Some of my personal favorite authors for early childhood are Eric Carle, Dr. Seuss, Jan Brett, Donald Crews, Kevin Henkes, and Mem Fox.
I feel it necessary to give just a humble word of warning when it comes to sequels. In my opinion, it seems that sometimes an author can get carried away with the popularity of an excellent book and then try to duplicate it over and over and over again. Case in point: I discovered the first Fancy Nancy book in a book store back in 2006 when I was taking a children’s literature course (prior to having children of my own). I absolutely loved the vocabulary as well as the story line and recommended it to several of my female students the following year. I have read a few of the many sequels since then and haven’t been nearly as impressed with them. I’m not bashing Fancy Nancy (or Curious George, for that matter). However, it is a rarity when an author can continue writing in such a high-caliber fashion with the same characters and similar story lines.
Rule #3: Explore the classics.
Ask any parent or grandparent what their favorite book was as a child and you will often find that book still gracing the shelves of most libraries or bookstores. There is a reason for this: The book is well-written, beloved by children and families alike, and has stood the test of time.
Here are just a few of my favorite classics:
Corduroy by Don Freeman
The Little Engine that Could by Watty Piper
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett (Big Brother’s FAVORITE)
Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina
Fireflies! by Julie Brinckloe
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter
Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion
Librarians are an excellent resource for finding classic children’s picture books (or any book, for that matter). Be sure to ask for his/her recommendation the next time you visit the library. When in doubt, ask the librarian!
Rule #4: Expose your child to various genres of children’s literature.
There are 5 main genres of children’s literature in preschool and early elementary that your child should be reading in my opinion: Realistic Fiction, Fantasy, Alphabet Books, Song Books and Nonfiction. Realistic Fiction are books that aren’t necessarily true but could actually happen in real life. Fantasy books are those that can only happen in our imaginations and not in real life (talking animals, magic, etc).
Alphabet books are an excellent way to introduce children to letters of the alphabet as well as their sounds. Nowadays, you can find an alphabet book for nearly every subject, including one for every state! Song books are often repetitive, rhyming, and have a natural rhythm when reading them…which make them excellent read-alouds. Children will often easily memorize the words to song books, which in turn builds their confidence in themselves as a reader.
Nonfiction books are those that tell actual facts about a topic or person. We often wait until children are older to expose them to nonfiction texts, but I believe this is doing a huge disservice to our children. Young children are naturally curious and find it fascinating to learn real facts about dinosaurs, dolphins, and volcanoes! Harness that curiosity by reading an assortment of nonfiction books. I personally really like the National Geographic Readers as a whole, but there are TONS of other great nonfiction books for every reading level.
Rule #4: Use beginning readers and sight-word readers in moderation.
When children are learning to read, they must be given opportunities to practice their decoding skills. Beginning readers offer an opportunity for children to do just that. We must use these readers in moderation, however, because the end goal of reading should always be comprehension. Beginning readers are often extremely simple (rightly so) and have very little when it comes to plot, character development, etc. For this reason, make sure that this is not the only reading material your child is engaged in.
I’ve said it a thousand times and I’ll say it again: It does your child little good to know how to “read” if he/she can’t remember what was read! While your child is learning to read, be sure to make time to continue to read to him! Read for pure enjoyment some of the time and ask questions before, during, and after reading at other times. Most of all, make reading fun and enjoyable for your child!
On a side note: If you are interested in learning more about how to encourage reading comprehension, I would HIGHLY suggest Reading with Meaning by Debbie Miller. It completely transformed how I taught reading in my first grade classroom. This book is written for teachers in a classroom setting but can be easily adapted for parents as well!
Looking for more tips on reading? Be sure to read “10 Steps to Teaching Your Child to Read”.
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