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How to Choose Children’s Books

It goes without saying that a child’s engagement with good books is important and valuable to her development.  Not only can reading good kids’ books expand a child’s cognitive abilities, but it can also spur a child’s emotional, moral, and spiritual development.  However, a quick visit to one of the big online or brick-and-mortar book retailers is enough to make you realize there are zillions of children’s books.  Some of these books are good, but many are not.  So, if you are looking to buy children’s books, you are left with a question: “How do I choose good children’s books?”

In this post I begin a multi-part series that I hope can go some way toward answering the question of how to choose children’s books in a general way, such that after reading the series (or part of it) you will be more equipped to choose kids’ books, even if you don’t have access to reviews or recommendations.  I have chosen to write on this topic in a series of posts since I hope to treat the topic in some depth.  So, consider this post an introduction.

How to Choose Children’s Books: A Roadmap

The roadmap for this series is as follows.  In the first part of the series I will discuss the factors that make up what I call the subjective appeal of a children’s book.  In other words, I will try to explain the considerations that might make a book appealing to the key person we have in mind, namely the child that will engage with the book.  Simply put, these are the reasons that the child will like the book.  So, for example, in the posts on subjective appeal I will be talking about things like humor and illustration quality.  Some of these considerations will be general—i.e., they will apply to all children—and some will be particular to the child you have in mind.   In addition to simply listing and explaining these considerations, I will try to emphasize the importance of considering subjective appeal when choosing children’s books.

After discussing subjective appeal, in the second part of the series I plan to take up the factors relevant to the developmental value of a kids’ book.  The factors I have in mind here are those that allow a book to contribute to a child’s cognitive, emotional, moral, and even spiritual development. The assumption here is that as an adult choosing a children’s book you have some goals for your young reader that go beyond sheer delight (though this is important, as I will emphasize); presumably you will want the book to educate or spur growth in the child in some way, or at least not to detract from this process.  In my lingo, books that educate or spur growth in this way have developmental value.  Moreover, you might think of a book with developmental value as possessing certain qualities that you hope your child will one day fully appreciate in a book, such as beautiful language, or creativity.  Given this hope, you will want to choose books that exhibit these lofty qualities—even if the child doesn’t fully appreciate them now—so that she can develop a taste for them.  As a bonus, some of the considerations that make a book developmentally valuable will also make the book attractive to you as an adult, which will help you want to read it to your child!

In the third part of the series I will discuss an important pitfall to avoid when choosing children’s books, namely books that are overly commercialized.  In the final part of the series I will point out the value of “trusted opinions” in choosing kids’ books.  I’m thinking here of such things as “top-100” children’s book lists and children’s book reviews, where authoritative voices weigh in and help you decide which books to choose.

In the next post in the series, “Selection Criteria for Children’s Books: Subjective Appeal” I will take up the topic of the importance of considering subjective appeal when choosing children’s books.

Thoughts? Start a discussion in the comments!

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  1. […] post is the second in a series of posts on how to choose a children’s book.  The series starts here with “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 – Introduction” if you want to read from the beginning.  Last time, in laying out the road map for this series, I […]

  2. […] funny, I give this juvenile fiction comic book a mere two-star rating since it is woefully thin on developmental value. Indeed, my worry is that will actually detract from a child’s development in character.  […]

  3. […] board book has tremendous subjective appeal for children in the infant-to-2-years age range.  One reason for this appeal is the themes the […]

  4. […] problem of global warming and the importance of conservation, and as such it has considerable developmental value for […]

  5. […] addition to these factors that give the picture book subjective appeal, the book has significant developmental value.  First, the book introduces children to the life of […]

  6. […] subjectively appealing words and illustrations of I Have A Dream, this kids’ book has much developmental value for children in the 9-to-12-years category.  First, the kids’ book constitutes an obvious […]

  7. […] in a series of posts on how to choose children’s books.  If you want to read from the beginning, Click here for the first article in the series, “Childrens Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 &….  Last time, in “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 3 – Themes”, I […]

  8. […] picture book is that mercy is a good character trait that human beings ought to embody. I take the developmental value of the book for children to lie chiefly in this […]

  9. […] addition to its subjective appeal, the book has many qualities that render it developmentally valuable for children ten years and older.  First, the complexity of the kids’ book (both in its plot […]

  10. […] the contrarian part: despite being genuinely funny, the book is very thin on developmental value.  Or, more precisely, I think the book may well be developmentally detrimental.  The central […]

  11. […] kids’ books are developmentally valuable for several reasons.  First, the books offer a look at healthy inner-city life, in all its […]

  12. […] is the fifth in a series of posts on how to choose children’s books.  “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1” is the first in the series if you would like to read from the beginning.  Last time, in […]

  13. […] post is part 6 in a series on how to choose children’s books. “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1” is the first in the series if you would like to read from the beginning. Last time, in […]

  14. […] insistent battle between good and evil also contributes to the developmental value of the book.  As for the other books in the series, the dominant moral lesson is clear: evil is to […]

  15. […] developmental value of this chapter book lies chiefly in its potential to help children deal with difficult younger […]

  16. […] on how to choose children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 – Introduction.”  In this article, I will explain the concept of “developmental value,” and its importance […]

  17. […] Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 – Introduction […]

  18. […] This article is the eighth in a series on how to choose children’s books.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click on “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 – Introduction.” […]

  19. […] If you would like to read from the first article in this series, “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 1 – Introduction,” click here. […]

  20. […] central developmental value of this baby board book is its calming influence as a bedtime story.  As I suggested above, […]

  21. […] picture book is also developmentally valuable in several ways.  First, as an “easy reader”, the picture book is ideal for a child […]

  22. […] Patron Saint of Ireland is also developmentally valuable for children in the 6-to-8-years age group for several reasons.  First, Patrick is an exemplar of […]

  23. […] to these factors that give When You Reach Me subjective appeal, this juvenile fiction book is developmentally valuable for young readers. In particular, the book communicates hopeful positive messages about some of […]

  24. […] This article is an installment in my continuing series on criteria for choosing books for children.  For the last article in this series, “Character Development in Children: Books with Exemplary Characters”, click here.  To read the series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books for Your Students.” […]

  25. […] If you would like to read this series from the beginning, start with “How to Choose Children’s Books for Your Students, Part 1 – Introduction”. […]

  26. […] article is an installment in my continuing series on how to choose children’s books, which begins here.  In the previous article in this series I discussed the question of how adults should handle […]

  27. […] you would like to read this series from the beginning, click here for the first article, “How to Choose Children’s Books”.  For the previous article in this series, “Choosing Children’s Books with Educational […]

  28. […] a continuing series on how to choose children’s books.  To read the series from the beginning, click here for “How to Choose Children’s Books”.  For the prior article in the series, “Stories of Virtue: Character Building Stories,” click […]

  29. […] At Children’s Books and Reviews, Aaron Mead has a series about How to Choose Good Children’s Book. I just discovered the series at part 9 (Story Complexity and Character), but have since gone back to read it from the beginning. […]

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