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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