Tuesday, April 7, 2009

15 Suggestions for Picking the Best Children's Books for Your Little Readers

For a few weeks, it seemed like our little guy wasn't liking many of the books I picked. As you might have read in yesterday's post, now the opposite seems to be true. It would be a shame if a parent stopped getting books for their kids, thinking they just weren't interested in them, when really they just needed some help picking out the right books.

Sometimes I wonder when choosing books: should I feed the obsessions he currently has (trucks, birds, buses, etc.), or encourage him to read books with words and topics he doesn't yet know? Since he is only 16 months old, should I relegate him to the board book section (as has been suggested to me by at least one very kind librarian), or try picture books (some of which, like Bubblebath Pirates and a Lion in the Meadow, have turned out to be favorites). Do I risk discouraging him if I keep trying books for older kids? Do I risk boring him or holding him back by reading only board books? For the most part, I just try to have fun with it, present a variety of reading material, and follow his lead (with a bit of gentle coaxing here and there).

I was curious, though, what the experts would recommend on this topic. As parents, we know our own children better than anyone else. But are we the best people to pick books for them? Probably, but it doesn't mean we can't use a little help. So, I contacted a few librarian bloggers and asked them to share a few tips for selecting the best children's books for our kids. I hope you appreciate their advice as much as I did.

First, we received some tips from Adrienne (a Children's Librarian at Webster Public Library in Webster, New York) at What Adrienne Thinks About That, about picking books for babies. Here's what Adrienne had to say:
"A lot of people ask me how to pick out books for babies.
  1. First, I recommend books with clear illustrations. Babies’ visual acuity isn’t the same as adults, and babies are most likely to be able to make sense of illustrations with bold lines and contrasts and lots of white space. A lot of babies will respond particularly well to books with photographs of faces, like Valorie Fisher’s My Big Brother and My Big Sister.
  2. Second, you want to look for straightforward texts with relatively few words. Babies’ worlds are relatively concrete and literal, and they’re more likely to respond positively to books that reflect their reality.
  3. Third, share a lot of books with enthusiasm, pay attention to what your baby responds to, and find more books like the ones your baby likes. This advice seems simple on the surface, but I think sometimes parents don’t think babies are getting much out of reading time—but they do! Even when they don’t sit and listen quietly to a whole story, babies are still learning important things, like what a book looks like and how you hold it and how you turn the pages. What’s more important than anything else at this stage is to keep reading light and fun, to create positive associations that will encourage children to turn to books again and again as they grow."
Next, Laura (of Bib-Laura-graphy), a Children's Librarian at a branch of Boston's wonderful public library, offered the following suggestions:
  1. "Involve your child in the process of picking out books at the library or bookstore. Kids love to make their own choices, and the library is a great place to let that happen. Many kids will feel more invested in a book that they picked out themselves.
  2. Ask lots of questions. If your child loves or hates a book that you've read together, try to find out why. Does he always tune out during books that rhyme? Does she only like books that make her laugh? You may discover some surprising things! Use what you find out to guide your book choices. This is also a great way to make your reading experience more interactive.
  3. Let your child read a series heavily or frequently re-read a book. Kids crave things that are familiar, and seeing their favorite characters over and over again is reassuring. Don't fret when your little one refuses to check out anything except the next Magic Tree House book. Let your children read what they love, and in almost all cases they will move on to something else when they are ready.
  4. Don't forget about nonfiction! Many kids, and especially boys, respond well to nonfiction books. If your child is showing strong interest in a topic - trucks, or rabbits, or ballerinas - try a nonfiction book on that topic. There are lots of wonderful picture book and easy reader nonfiction titles available for very young, but remember that it's ok to take home a book that's too hard to read if your child just loves looking at the pictures. Even flipping through the pages can help young readers develop important literacy skills.
  5. Make use of your local librarians and booksellers. They will be happy to help guide you and your child to wonderful new books. We've all gone into this profession because we love connecting books and children, so please don't be afraid to ask for advice."
Last but not least, Valerie, who can be found at The Almost Librarian and is nearing the end of her education to become a librarian, offered the following advice.
  1. "Leverage your local library. This way you can check out many authors and styles of books without having to worry if you've found just the right ones. If you don't love some of the books you chose, then it's nothing lost.
  2. Keep a list of previous favorite titles and authors and ask your local librarian or book seller to make further recommendations for similar titles.
  3. Seek out books that have the same theme as some of your child's favorite activities - these are sure to be a hit! For example, if your little one is into dress-up, go for Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor. Or if your toddler is into trains, try Chugga Chugga Choo Choo by Kevin Lewis."
So, the experts seem to agree that I can keep getting those truck books!

The point of this post was to offer expert advice from librarians, but I guess I'll use my author's prerogative to throw in a couple of "mom tips" in addition (and to make it to the round number of 15 tips!):
  1. Don't feel bad about having many library books out at once. When I first started getting books for our little guy, I'd get 2 or 3. Now I have 10-20 out at a time. We go there extremely frequently, so we really only have them out for a few days, but it's the only way to guarantee that he'll love some of them. We return the ones he doesn't like right away (once allowing for my next piece of advice...)
  2. Give a book a few tries. If she/he doesn't like it the first time, you might have just tried it at a bad time - when he was tired, cranky, hungry, or in the mood for something different. So I try to give each book a fighting chance by offering it to him a few times (without insisting he read it) before we bring it back.
  3. I'm curious what the librarians think about this suggestion, because I'm not sure if it is out of line, but I now go onto the library request system and put books on hold all the time, even if they are in stock, and just pick them up at the desk when we visit. If I try to hunt stuff down at the library, our little guy is way overstimulated, wanting to just run around and pull down every book, and I can never get the books that I want. This has helped immensely in getting books that he'll love, but it might annoy the librarians a bit.
  4. This suggestion is a little self serving, but: Read blogs with suggestions by other moms on what their kids love! I started this blog because I would always scour the net for recommendations from moms. (No offense to the librarians; I think children's librarians are also great judges, because they see children so often, and run storytimes). Here are just a few of the parent blogs I know of that offer book reviews of what their children enjoy reading (there are so many more. I'm just grabbing a few out of my reader): No Time for Flashcards, Bookie Woogie, Mommy's Favorite Children's Books, Read Em and Leap, and Thrifty Craft Mama
If you're still looking for Easter books for your baskets, be sure to check out my list of 75 recommended Easter books, nearly all of which came from parents suggesting their kids' favorite choices.

Have another tip? Have a site that also reviews books your kids love? Please comment and share it with us!


Bookworm said...


Thank you for your comments on my blog! It was so nice to hear from you!

I wanted to tell you that I too utilize the library's online service and request books to be placed on hold. I think that's a wonderful idea, and you'd be surprised how many people dont know they can do that. I am so glad you're getting the word out about it. I dont think the librarians mind it at all. My librarians are always telling me they love serving me.

Thanks for this wonderful list! You really put alot of time and effort into this and it turned out to be a terrific list! Thank you to all the librarians too!

Infant Bibliophile said...

Thanks - glad to someone doesn't think it's annoying to always be putting books on hold! The only thing I wonder about is using it for books that are on the shelves available, but I just tell myself that if it wasn't meant to be used that way, a library could easily enable the hold request to only work for books not currently available.

teachingtinytots said...

you know with both my girls we got all kinds of books i never stuck to just the board books! how are they going ot learn to take care of and repect books if they are always the indestructable board books ( although my nephew has eaten a few of those:)

Also i would get some that was their obession and some that weren't like my oldest loves Frogs so we would get some frogs, some pond type animals and then some about another topic!

I say follow your gut and just have fun! you do a great job at introducing him to books! I wish more parents did it! my oldest kindergarten teacher told me once she has had in her 40 + years of teaching some kids who never have been to a library or seen a book really until they head off to kindergarten how sad!

Love this post by the way Can i Write a post about coming over to read it in my Bookworms Book Nook blog! its perfect!

The Bookworm Blog said...

Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving your comments! I enjoyed reading this post. We are frequent library visitors, usually going every Saturday, and always leaving with a large stack of books. There are 7 in our family and every one of us loves to read so we always have about 60-70 books checked out at a time. (I recently instituted a 5 book each rule, but have a hard time sticking to it myself, so we usually go over)

My 18 month old loves his library visits and generally will pick any book with puppies, babies or trucks. I usually go to the board books because he hasn't quite learned to be delicate on the pages of regular books. We've racked up plenty of fines for that. But occasionally throw in regular books so he'll learn how to handle them.

MaryAnne said...

I put books on hold all the time, too. I used to work in a library, and I definitely preferred people requesting books off the shelves over taking a toddler into the adult section especially where it really matters if books get out of order (by toddlers yanking them off the shelves and desperate parents putting them back as quickly as possible). We check out 10-20 children's books at a time, too - and read them all. It's especially nice to have a lot if I'm not sure if my kids will like them - that way we still have plenty of others they do enjoy.

I sometimes review books my kids read on my blog - once a week or so:


I haven't written a review for a couple weeks, because we haven't found any new books they especially like (hopefully I will soon!)

Britt said...

My toddler LOVES LOVES LOVES books, but mommy is not allowed to turn the pages, which makes actual reading difficult.
We're going to do the summer reading program this year, though. He's at the same age as the older one was when we started doing it with her and she loves it.

We put lots on hold. I don't have a lot of time at the library sometimes, so it's easier.
We need to try some of those truck books...

Infant Bibliophile said...

teachingtinytots: Of course you can link to it; thanks!

MaryAnne: I've added you to the list of links above.

The Bookworm Blog: I love to hear that other families have 60-70 books checked out, because then I don't feel so guilty! We're only at 21 at the moment, but we only have one child. I usually turn the pages in the non board books for our little guy, or else he'll just flip 10 at once or accidentally rip them too.

Britt: I think I'll feature another truck book today for our weekly "watermelon award". Summer reading program sounds fun! I look forward to when our son is old enough.

MaryAnne said...

Thanks for adding me!

Corey Schwartz said...

My kids never liked those photography books of faces or those black and white books when they were babies. They always liked books with rhyme and repetition, books with strong rhythm, and books that could actually be sung (i.e. Little White Duck)

ReadingTub said...

What a wonderful resource. I'm so glad to have found you. My original reason for creating the Reading Tub was to help parents find great books. My daughter's reactions to books that were supposed to be "perfect" convinced me that there were probably other parents who wanted to know what other kids thought of a book before they picked it up at the library.

Thanks so much for these great tips.

Love and Lollipops said...

Hi there!!

I just found you today via Preschool Corner and have been here for the past hour reading all your book favourites...I just LOVE reading what other Tots and children enjoy!

I have been considering doing a regular post on our favourite books for awhile now and I think you have just convinced me to go with it! So far all my book posts have been linked to a craft or a related topic, never just a book review.

I recently did a post on something I call "Heart Stories"...books that touch, teach, heal and inspire. Hope you will pop by.


Kindest Regards,