I love books. I love reading. I have very fond memories as a child, reading for hours on end, legs falling asleep under me. Fond memories of going to the library and picking just the right books. Oh the elation of getting my adult card and scouring the never before read books of the YA section!
Some of these books were good, some not so good. Some had fantastic writers with great morals. Some were trash. I sifted through these myself, and I can’t say I always came out on the right side.
Fast forward several years. I am now a mom who can’t wait to share books and reading with my kids. I had a whole shelf a children’s books displayed even before we knew we were expecting. I was so excited!
I knew by now that eventually I would have to censor their reading. There were certainly some books I had read that I now knew were no good for adults let alone children. However, I had no idea that I would have to start weeding through poorly written, poorly thought out, and sometimes offensive picture books and elementary-geared chapter books!
There I was, a good mom, reading to my children before their naps. (thankfully I have a habit of glancing ahead as I read out loud.) I would slow down and would quickly say, “Ok, we are going to have to put that story away. Nap time!”
Where did I go wrong? The cover looked inviting, the pictures were beautiful, the story was about a unicorn. After a few of these experiences I knew I needed to be more careful. Especially now that there is a voracious independent reader in the house.
So, what should you look for when you chose your children’s books or direct them to choose for themselves? Most certainly you cannot judge by the cover! *Wink* But there are also some other things you should not judge a book by. I have thought through this quite a bit as I decide what Ruth, seven, can and cannot read and wanted to share these five things to consider for how to choose books for your child.
1. Reading level
When Ruth first started to read, those little stickers on the sides of the books at the library were so handy. Phonics readers and other easy readers could be chosen very easily by her if I said, “Only books with ones on the front of them.”
Then we moved on to the books with twos on the spine. However, I quickly learned that reading level has nothing to do with the content, just the readability. Books with a fourth grade reading level surprised me with their level of mature content. Not to mention the sometimes overall nastiness of the main character.
To be fair, there are wonderful books written at a fourth to eighth grade reading level that are simply meant to be read by an older reader. Which brings me to my next thought.
2. No for now is “OK”
The world is full of mountains to climb, diseases to find the cures for, mysteries that need answers, relationship difficulties to work through, and many other grand adventures. The beauty of literature is that we get to experience so much more than we normally would in an average lifetime.
But just as you would not send your nine year old to hike 500 miles to Grandma’s house on his own, asking him to read and enjoy Dante’s Inferno is also unrealistic.
There are two reasons I would wait to let my child read a certain book.:
There are topics in the book my child has no context for. I picked up and loved Thanhha Lai’s book, Inside Out and Back Again. However, because the book is about a refugee from Vietnam, I wouldn’t let Ruth read it. She has no context for Vietnam or what was going on in our country at the time. It is something I would like to save for when she can really appreciate it.
I simply want to save the book. There are books I know Ruth would enjoy now, like the Redwall series. But, I know she will like them later too.
There are many concepts you may want to think about such as boy/girl relationships, blood and killing, level of angst created by the story, scariness, and topics specific for your family.
3. Choose how you would like to introduce difficult concepts
There are so many books to choose from. When dealing with difficult concepts or events, choose which books would be best for your child.
I love the way Inside Out and Back Again is written in prose from the perspective of a ten year old girl. For a child who is sensitive this is perfect. You get just enough of her life to really identify with the refuge and understand some of the consequences of war without a painful narrative of the war at large.
When looking at books that portray a boy/girl relationship think about the qualities you would like to see. Does the boy treat the girl with respect? Does the girl behave in an appropriate manner? According to your standards, is this what “right” looks like?
Literature can be a great way to begin difficult conversations with your child. The great thing is you get to choose the when, where, how, and with what books.
4. No need to follow the crowd
Your child is an individual and so their book lists should look different from their friends and even their siblings.
Some of my mom friends are surprised at the books I will not let Ruth read. I am quick to mention that she scares easily and can be very sensitive to relationship angst. For her, ghost stories or dark mysteries are out, for now. Some of these books are great! I know my son will love them, but not my daughter.
Also, I sometimes say no to books our friends are reading simply because I don’t like them. That is ok too.
Look for book lists from people you trust or who have similar values. Ask questions about a book when another parent suggests it. Read it first yourself if you have doubts.
5. Accept some twaddle but be sure it fits with your goals
“Twaddle, twaddle, twaddle; it has no place in my house!,” I smugly thought to myself just one year ago. However, I am quickly realizing that it can have a place. It is useful for keeping an eager reader happy when books appropriate for age level become hard to find.
Even so, I try to make sure that the content fits some sort of purpose. The Rainbow Fairies add to the imaginative world my girls have already created for their fairies. Flat Stanley offers adventure. Magic Tree House can reinforce history.
I hope I have given you a few things to think about when choosing books for your kids.
Do you have any other criteria when choosing books for your kids?
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