By Sarah Sivright
We know that shared book reading builds and strengthens connections between children and adults. But does it really matter what you read to children? Yes! A study funded by the National Science Foundation demonstrates that even babies respond differently to better books. Quality books contain thought-provoking characters and plots. In addition to providing a mirror to our children, quality literature expands children’s experiences beyond themselves. After many years in early childhood, here are some of my take-aways.
What are “good books?”
There are classics, which by their longevity in the “beloved” category are clearly Good Books. Folk/fairly tales and nursery rhymes were the classic staple in our grandparents’ era. Nowadays, there is a huge collection of books written specifically for young children. But, like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead, some are very good, and some are very, very bad.*
What I’ve recommended are personal choices, as all books must be. My choices are partially guided by the belief that young children are routinely under-estimated. “Big messages” are delivered in a heavy-handed, preachy manner, with little or no subtlety. (In that category, Thunder Cake comes the closest to that failing, but has other good qualities.) Also, humor is over-done, like a slapstick comedy. Some books are fun in that way, but are not usually the ones requested over and over, one of the marks of a Good Book. And poorly illustrated books are just off my list.
*[See the nursery rhyme “There was a little girl who had a little curl…” I was going to include some examples of Bad Books, but that didn’t seem very nice.]
Promoting a child’s love of books involves several key pieces:
- Being read to from an early age
- Watching the people in their lives enjoy reading
- Being exposed to books with text that speaks in some thoughtful, creative way to the child’s mind and illustrations that are beautiful, creative or charming
A note about the illustrations—the Newberry Award is given by the American Library Association to the author of the most distinguished American children’s book, and the Caldecott is given to the artist of the best picture book, so the “experts” put a high value on both.
Some of my favorites…
Fire Cat—Esther Averill (a very big exception to my illustration standard!)
Mr. Gumpy’s Outing—Burningham
Anything by Leo Lionni
Drama—just scary enough for preschoolers
Edward and the Pirates—McPhail
Abiyoyo—Seeger and Hays
Tough Boris—Mem Fox
Boo and Baa series—Landstrom
Anything by Jon Klassen
Frog and Toad series—Lobel
Jenny and the Cat Club–Averill
Gilberto and the Wind—Ets
Any nature books by Jim Arnosky—nature info with enough of a story to engage young children.
And the Are you a Bee/Butterfly/Spider series by Allen and Humphries
Hush! Minfong Ho
Little Fur Family—Margaret Wise Brown
Grandmas and Grandpas
Nana Upstiars and Nana Downstairs—dePaola
Now One Foot, Now the Other — dePaola
My Little Grandmother Often Forgets—Lindbergh
Wilfred Gordon McDonald Partridge—Mem Fox
My Grandson Lew—Charlotte Zolotow
The Two of Them–Aliki
Nursery rhymes/Mother Goose
Lack of exposure these days, partly because of the increase in good children’s lit these days, but don’t neglect this important part of every child’s education!
The beauty of many of these books is that there is no Big Message. They are books about children and families just being themselves—many colors, many styles.
Jamaica series—Havill. (African-American).
Louie, Peter’s Chair—Keats. (African-American)
Sam—Ann Herbert Scott ((African-American)
Fancy Nancy series—O’Connor/Glasser—individualism of family members, especially Nancy, is supported.
Mrs. Katz and Tush—Polacco—(Jewish)
A Different Pond—Phi/bui (Hmong)
Crow Boy (Japanese)
And for some returning families, this blog will look familiar. We have sent it out before, but I think it merits a second round.