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Choosing books for your child

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Children are very individualistic and often quite picky about what books they like, and that’s only become more true in our digital age, when entertainments such as video games, tablet puzzles, and on-demand TV also constantly beckon.

So parents are understandably hesitant about choosing books their child will like. I see this clearly among most of the customers who visit our book booth: when it comes to baby gifts, people select and buy board books fairly freely, but once a child’s personality develops they become less sure about which picture book that child will like — and with older kids they will never even contemplate buying a chapter book or novel for their tween or teen, unless that young reader is right there and able to pick one out.

Another thing that parents often say is, “my six-year-old is already learning to read; do you have chapter books that help young kids read by themselves?”   Which tends to flummox me, since many of our very best titles are picture books aimed at children who are 7, 8, or 9 years old!  I hate to think of all these fabulous books going to waste because kids past a certain age aren’t “supposed” to read picture books any more.

There’s one piece of advice that works well for both sets of parents — the uncertain ones, and the ones eager to launch their kids into independent reading. And that advice is:  Keep reading to your children!! Don’t stop!!

This approach solves quite a few problems in one fell swoop:

1.  If you yourself love the book, you’ll  love reading it, and your children (by which I also mean grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and possibly assorted small neighbors…) will appreciate your enthusiasm, and be drawn into the experience.   So you don’t have to worry so much about what they will like, just go with what floats your own boat!

Here are some of my own very favorite read-aloud books, including a rollicking sing-along tale (Abiyoyo), a quiet but fun bedtime story (Hush!), a lovely book to read to middle-elementary kids about traveling far from a beloved homeland (The Turtle of Oman), and one of the most dramatic and poetic memoirs ever, perfect for teens (The Wind, Sand, and Stars)

2.  Expecting a beginning reader to read alone all the time, or to read only chapter books, can be discouraging and counter-productive.  As soon as your child learns to read well enough to follow simple recipes, you don’t send him off to cook his own dinner every night, do you?  In the same way, just because a child can technically read chapter books doesn’t mean she no longer should enjoy picture books, or being read to.

If you’re new to reading-aloud, or want to brush up on your skills, a good book to start with is Handa’s Surprise (Read and Share series). It’a a charming, inexpensive paperback book that combines counting, basic big-print words, and adorable pictures.  The best part is the introductory section on “how to read to a child.”  Step by step, with variations.  (I think everyone should own a copy of Handa’s Surprise just for these operating instructions – but the Read and Share series also has a separate parents handbook you can order, with much more information about reading to children and encouraging literacy and reading fluency!)

3.  Reason three to read aloud (my favorite!):  There is a whole genre of beautifully-illustrated picture books that I like to think of as “coffee table books for kids.”  Often, neither the text nor the ideas in such books are simple, and the pictures are every bit as compelling as the words.  Adults have their picture books (aka coffee-table books), so why shouldn’t children and teens enjoy them too?  What a treat it is to pore over a beautiful, content-rich picture book together with your child.

There are many, many such “coffee-table books for kids” in the globally-focused collection that is our specialty.   A great example: the sumptuous books by Demi, an award-winning author/illustrator of more than 300 titles including biographies of Jesus, Buddha, and Rumi, as well as folktales such as The Empty Pot and One Grain of Rice.

We hope that we’ve given you some new ideas for reading with your kids, and that you’re full of enthusiasm once more! Please send us your own read-aloud favorites, and we’ll be happy to add them to this page.