Tips for Choosing Books with Children.

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Sadly, children's libraries aren't staffed as fully as they used to be, and, even though most teachers would rather be recommending books to your child, than taking Teacher Effectiveness workshops, they are under enormous pressure to perform and conform. If you child has a summer reading list from school, or just wants some help choosing a book, these ideas from a life-long teacher may help.


What books have you liked recently?

What books have you had a hard time finishing recently? Why? Don't skip this one; it can provide the most information. Sometimes a book has been at the wrong emotional level or reading skill level; sometimes the tone or subject is one the child dislikes.

What do you like to read stories about? Cats, sports, planes.... This question may lead to ideas; many children prefer nonfiction or books with a lot of factual content. Usually children will tell you that what they like is "a good book." i.e. good writing matters, content doesn't matter as much as one might think.

What kinds of stories do you like? Mystery, adventure, animal fantasy, historical fiction, horse books. You'll notice that some libraries shelve different genres of children's books in separate sections.

What about reading level? If you're concerned about reading level, ask your child to read a page or so aloud, and see how well it goes. If you know  children have trouble reading aloud accurately but have good comprehension, ask them to read a few pages silently and see if they understand the main ideas. Their teachers have probably talked about selecting a "just right book". If your child is a confident reader, it really won't hurt him or her to select a book that is "too hard", and everyone enjoys reading junk once in a while. However, your child should be able to read the majority of his or her choices fluently, with understanding, and a few challenges along the way.




What books do I like? If you will be reading aloud to your children, think back on some books you loved as a child and some types of children's books you did not like. Only read books aloud that you personally enjoy. I'd say ones that will not put you to sleep but there's a certain stage of  reading when children want to hear Make Way for Ducklings over and over and over!

Will I be comfortable reading this book? Many modern books, even ones that are not "problem books," make references to situations which would have been unacceptable in a young child's book 40 years ago. So if it bothers you to run across material like this when you are reading aloud, skim first, or look through some of the recommended guides on Resources for Parents.

What if I don't read English easily? Ask your public librarian. There are so many new bilingual books published now, with beautiful illlustrations. You may be surprised.

What if I don't read aloud easily?  The cozy sharing of a book is so much more important to your child than a misread word here and there. Don't worry about it! If you're just out of practice, you could pre-read the story; teachers do it all the time. If you have a serious disability, tell the story as you turn the pages, and let your child know that you discovered the story by reading silently to yourself. That should interest them in reading!




Share books you enjoyed as a child. Because of the emotional connection you have with your child or grandchild, he or she will try books they ordinarily wouldn't pick up. I once had a fourth grader who loved the Elsie Dinsmore series because it was her grandmother's. (Not that I am necessarily recommending Elsie, but it certainly was a surprise.)

Try modern literature as well as "Classics". The 20th century saw some wonderful books for children, beautifully written and illustrated. Some of these, like Millions of Cats, or Tom's Midnight Garden are considered classics in our time.

Find a book guide author whose selections you and your child like. Investigate those books which seem to show up on all lists, but use your own judgement.  It's important to find someone whose tastes agree with yours and your child's. Not all books from a published list will speak to your own child, and certainly not all award winners.

Let your child read through a book guide's listings and  pick a special book to borrow or purchase. If you pick the guide, the books have already been "vetted" Let kids pick anything from it they want.



Please, please don't rush your child to a "Higher Level". A bright child at seven can listen to books written with syntax and vocabulary usually suited to an older child, or even read these books aloud easily. For this reason, older books are often suited to a strong reader, like Lang's Fairy Tales or Black Beauty. However, the books should be on a young child's emotional level: i.e. read "The Jungle Books", not "Kidnapped." 

But if a strong reader picks up a book that looks too hard, relax. Generally they'll come away with what they can understand and ignore the rest.

Encourage your older child to read the original versions of classic novels, rather than abridged books.  Many books written in the 19th century contain preachy digressions and wordy descriptions (Swiss Family Robinson) which can well be skipped on the first reading. Others contain beautiful passages which are simply too sophisticated for a child (Tale of Two Cities). Encourage your child to skim these passages. If a book is good enough, it will be reread many times.

If you really want your child to know the plots of Shakespeare plays, you might as well use the comic book versions, which are  more fun to read and don't pretend to hold the poetry. Or better yet, watch a live performance.

For a our recommended 19th and 20th c books see our Children's Book List; age sections are on the left.

For the best guides to selecting books with children (in my opinion)  see New Reader's Books Available.  You'll find current books with direct links to their Amazon page where you can read reviews and make a purchase; also, older recommended guides, and links to websites and blogs with current children's book reviews.

To find out more about children's books and their creators, see Books for CollectorsLinks for Collectors, and our New Children's Reference Available