How to Choose the Right Book for Your Child
In case you missed the announcement, the research is in: students who do not read between June and September suffer learning loss, aka brain drain, aka summer slide. Summer is a great time to emphasize that reading for pleasure is important. Reading should also be easy and enjoyable—pick a book, settle in, and be transported to new places. Just in case you don’t find it quite so simple, here are a few tips to help you and your child select wonderful books that will both entertain and keep that learning loss at bay.
- Ask for suggestions. Whenever a student recommends a book, I always read it! I’ve discovered Blue Balliett’s Chasing Vermeer and Cynthia Kadohata’s Cracker! The Best Dog in Vietnam through student reviews. If you can’t ask a teacher, try asking the parents of your child’s friends about the books their kids have liked. Or, find a book your child has enjoyed previously, and ask a librarian to recommend something similar.
- Look at the lists. Each year, the American Library Association publishes a list of Notable Children’s Books, which has been gathered by its Association for Library Service to Children division. Both the current list and the previous lists are excellent sources of high-quality reading recommendations.
- Keep it in sequence. I enjoyed Christopher Paolini’s Eragon, another student suggestion, so I continued to read the rest of the series. If your children enjoyed Magic Tree House, look for additional books in the series. If Little House in the Big Woods appeals to readers, they might enjoy the rest of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tales.
- Same subject, different book. Topical connections work well for book hunts, too. Search the library database for an interesting topic. Does your child find the Civil War fascinating? Look for historical fiction. Dragons or magic or time travel? Look for fantasy or science fiction. Olympic sports? Look for books about up-and-coming young athletes or medalists from the 2008 games.
- Hunt for the awards. Prizewinning authors are another source of good reading. They’re fairly easy to spot, because honored books often sport a medal on the front cover. The Newbery Medal is awarded to the best young adult novel published each year. For younger children’s literature, the Caldecott Medal is awarded annually by the American Library Association to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book.
- Follow the storyteller—or the genre. Linda Sue Park won the Newbery for A Single Shard, which led me to fall in love with another of her books, Project Mulberry. After I read Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech, I looked for more. This led me to Creech’s Love That Dog and Hate That Cat, two books written in verse. Books in verse led me to Out of the Dust and Locomotion, plus Inside Out & Back Again, which is a 2012 Newbery Honor book.
- Check the reading level. Finding a book that fits a student’s reading level can be a little tougher. I recommend the three-word technique. Open the book to any page. Read the page and count the number of words that would be unfamiliar to your child. If there are more than three unfamiliar words, then the book is likely to be too difficult. Proper nouns (character names, places, and similar words) do not count. Be sure to note that students can sometimes read more challenging books on familiar topics because they already know the vocabulary. A student who knows gymnastics, for example, is more likely to know the language of the sport and be able to read and understand at a high level. You could also try mobile apps, like Book Retriever, which allows parents to match a child’s reading level to items found in a database of more than 130,000 books.
Parents, if you need an “excuse” to read some of these wonderful books, then claim that you’re reading to screen the books for appropriateness. Really, though, you don’t need an excuse. Help your children find a book or two or three, and pick out a few for yourself. Then pull up a lawn chair, put your feet up, and start reading!
If you’ve found a fun and fantastic book that really got your child excited, please share the title and author’s name in the comments—and be sure to list your child’s age or grade level, too. Happy reading!