Children’s Books: How Should You Choose?
“What books should my children read?”
Many mothers ask that question.
Having taught children from six and up, here’s a teacher’s perspective on this thorny question.
First, here’s some authors and books that children tend to like. Then I’ll explain why you shouldn’t sweat on them but try finding your own.
This quick list comes from the top of my head (where I like storing most kids’ books!):
- For little ones up to seven, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is usually a hit with children everywhere.
- Anything by Australian author Paul Jennings for children 8-13 is appreciated by struggling readers who often lap his stories up with pleasure (though perhaps you might want to pre-read to ensure his short stories suit).
- Dr Seuss books often go down a treat, though some are better than others. Favorites include The Cat in the Hat, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, A Fish Out of Water, Green Eggs and Ham, and McElligot’s Pool to mention a few.
- Ah yes, do check out Janet and Allan Ahlberg! Their children’s books are superb.
- You can bung in some Beatrix Potter and Enid Blyton too. Both authors really grasped what children like. Despite falling in and out of fashion for generations they have been enduring favorites for young children.
- For contrast, weave in some traditional fairytales too. Don’t underestimate them as there is a lot going on in these old-fashioned stories. Like paintings from the grand masters, each is full to the brim with symbolism, making them good books for reading aloud.
- Then there’s E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web (perfect for eight year olds). As are Roald Dahl’s books, such as James and the Giant Peach, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The BFG, and those revolting types, The Twits.
- From ten years and on you might try Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and of course, The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien; just to get started.
But wait! At this point you might be feeling annoyed if your favorites haven’t even been mentioned. You might be cross because this children’s list is desperately inadequate. There are simply so many good books and wonderful authors out there it’s criminal to overlook them. So I apologize for leaving out what you and your children have grown to love.
Which leads me to say why you shouldn’t sweat on this list too much. With so much worthy children’s literature now it seems silly and far too subjective to make a shortlist.
Worse, cultural differences make a good story in one setting fall flat in another. For instance, what is a big hit with children in Chanai might not rate a raised eyebrow for kids in Rochester.
Certainly there are perennial favorites that get the attention of children worldwide. But not all children will like them. Whilst some children will love each nuance, others yawn loudly before the first page has ended. Even the mightily popular Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling fascinates some children and teens, yet leaves others wondering what all the fuss is about.
Which is why you need to look based on your own children’s personality. Giving an eleven your old boy Ann of Green Gables to read, for example, is unlikely to win you a Mother-of-the-Year Award. Just as Charlotte’s Web would annoy many teens, leading to them to do dastardly things with cobwebs and spiders.
Ask children what they like and cater accordingly. If in doubt, ask their teacher. Personally, I am a great fan of reading to children; even if they’re bookworms. But if your children turn out to be tentative readers, then reading to them is crucial. No ifs or buts. Reading to your children out loud is a parental essential.
The more you do it, the more you’ll get a handle on what they like best. This is critical to counteract the inherent condition we adults suffer from, called “Knowing-What-Our-Children-Want Disease.”
Despite all the experts on children’s literature certainly knowing lots about it., what they don’t is what’s best for your child. Somewhere in the choosing, children need to have a say too. Meaning, if it came down to an expert’s opinion and that of one of your children, I’d side with your child.
So here’s my three R’s:
- Regularly read aloud to your children (because there’s so much more to a shared book than the story).
- Recognize that children have their own preferences that are decidedly not adult. As much as possible, let them read what they like. Then gently encourage a wider range to enhance their understanding.
- Then review the experience (e.g. What did they like best? And what do they want to read about next? ).
How do you choose books for your children? Is it a simple choice or one you sometimes find tricky?
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