The children’s section of a bookstore is overwhelming. Books for ages zero through young adult. Displays of series and leveled readers mixed with character themed games and toys. Where to start? What is any good?
- Is this available at the library? We LOVE the library. More than half of the books read in our house come from the library. We rarely buy a book unless its test run from the library. Free library books are awesome, but they have to be returned, so when we find a gem, we buy it.
- Is this book developmentally appropriate, and will it hold interest over several years? Over specialized books are best borrowed from the library. For example: Black and white books that stimulate newborns or short leveled readers that first graders devour by the dozen. But, other books hold interest over many years. Many books both my two and four year old enjoy hearing. These titles are often time honored classics, best sellers, or award winners.
- Will this book hold up physically? Red flags include paper pages for children younger than three or complicated pop-ups or delicate flaps.
- Without the gimmick, is it still entertaining or educational? Perfect example: Eric Carle. Many of his books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, contain a gimmicks, such as lights, sounds, touch and feel patches, or cut outs. But, remove these from Carle’s work, and stunning art, simple yet engaging plots, and embedded educational material remain.
- What is this book teaching? A book doesn’t need to be overtly educational. But, do look at what is being taught. Is the book merely teaching vocabulary words with no story? Well, that might be boring. Are the characters learning about emotions, friendship, new experiences, family? Especially be on the outlook for books that teach negative messages, for example rigid stereotypes or unchecked violence.
- Does my child already have a book like this? What is new about this book? The library, not the bookstore, is the place to explore many of the same type of book. Reading all of Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie series or fifty books about dinosaurs are pursuits for the library. Purchase only one or two books in a series or on a loved topic.
- Does this book feature characters we know? Do we know the author or illustrator? This is probably the biggest factor when we buy a book. Its Fancy Nancy? Well, I know she will love it. Lucy Cousins? Then, how could we go wrong! This can also be true for TV and movie characters, though I caution you to look at the next characteristic carefully before purchasing those.
- Is there quality? Is the writing any good? Are the pictures appealing? There are a lot of horrible quality kids books out there. Usually, they are the cheapest. You find them in bargain sections and discount bins, or grocery stores or everything-for-a-dollar stores. One clue that it isn’t good quality: No author’s name.
- Is the price right? A new book for a child can cost between $1 and $20. Avoid hardcovers. Paperback is cheapest, but board books are still less than hardcovers. If its older and popular, search your used options before spending full price on a new copy.