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The Right Books to Read to the Right Children

May 13, 2010 | By Derek Webster

The only thing more difficult than finding the time to read to children, is choosing the right books. It can be an intimidating process, but one well worth the effort.

Kids reading a personalized children's bookOnce a parent has overcome the monumental (or incremental, depending on how it's regarded) task of finding the time to read to his or her child, the next rush of confusion can sometimes come from a surprisingly innocuous direction: What should the parent read to his or her children?

Just about anything that can be read to kids (short of inappropriate content, of course) is a whole world better than reading them nothing at all. But assuming the caregivers have already mastered a healthy story time schedule, they should now be looking upward and onward.

They have, in fact, arrived at the separate craft of selecting material worthy of the very specific curiosity in his or her trust. In these advanced cases, here are a few extra (and not so advanced) thoughts to be kept in mind:

Read Kids What They Like

The investment of literacy pays a lifetime of dividends, yes, but for the child to ever benefit from these early “stock options” the overriding concern is that they willingly buy into the experience. There will be a lifetime’s worth of formal (as well as personally driven) education to make sure a formative mind derives the best from its reading abilities. Out of the box, however, a parent is better concerned making sure the kid is having fun. A few ideas to this end:

  • Use the local library. It offers an endless supply of material and, being free, it provides the lowest risk, highest reward outlet for sampling a child’s varied interests. Try different flavors and genres, and enjoy an immediate response. There's no better filtering process for literary taste than the public library.
  • Make a list of what they’re interested in outside of books. If they’re allowed to watch TV, what are their favorite shows, favorite characters? When they play, what sort of fantasies do their imaginations conjure up? A parent cannot be afraid to mine the materials (as TV mentioned above) that they might otherwise not fully support. Even if a parent finds the shows, and games, his child is investing in less than inspired, he would do well to feed these enthusiasms with matching literary content.

Children reading books in a library

After all, soon enough the children will be off and reading on their own. The less a parent censors her child’s interests early, the more of a chance she’ll be given to share in, and responsibly editorialize, those interests that continue down the road.

Read Children What Parents Like Too

If a child’s broad interest level comes first, then the parent’s more particular taste must soon follow. As important as the material itself is in engaging the child’s interest, the necessity of the parent being able to conjure up enthusiasm in the reading cannot be over spoken. Parents, especially the tired and otherwise distracted ones, cannot well hide boredom or disinterest while reading. They should not even attempt the charade.

Instead, a parent needs to carry out the leg work of finding the best, brightest, and most entertaining versions of whatever material her children are consistently requesting. If a child has the tooth for the kind of fairy-tales that his parent might otherwise find dry and pasty, there’s nothing to stop the parent from chasing down that collection of modern re-imaginings edited together by her favorite New York Times best-selling author.

Don’t be Afraid of Reading Ambition

Kids reading fun personalized story books

When seeking out books deemed “appropriate” for his or her child’s interest, the parent should not allow the quest to be shackled by pre-conceptions of developmental cognition and reading “age”. Each parent knows his or her child’s individual needs – some of these special – and those considerations cannot be dismissed. But within that framework, parents should not be afraid to read up to the children’s interest, instead of down to their own expectation.

Once children begin reading on their own, they will need to deal with the built in barriers of comprehension and vocabulary. Until then, however, the parent is there to serve as a rock solid bridge, offering the child easy passage across to lands that would otherwise remain only accessible via TV and film. As examples:

  • If the child has an inclination to fantasy Oz, Narnia, Prydain, even Hogwarts, Middle-Earth and Camelot are all within immediate reach.
  • If they love nature or animals, consider trickling in readings from youth encyclopedias, or elementary school science texts, even amidst the softer palette of traditional children’s fare. The internet can prove a great bastion for these more practical, but still user-friendly, texts.
  • If their taste remains solidly in the more modern, popular landscape, don’t be afraid to venture into the wild world of tween literature. There is something for everyone in that direction, and, as long as the parent remains vigilante, even books written to a teenage fascination can be suitably digested by a much younger audience.

And there it is, the basics for a parent looking to enrich their story time reading list: find out what the child likes, explore versions that will keep the parent active and engaged, and don’t be reluctant to search deeper for such mutually appealing stories.

When parents stand at the threshold of the greatest gift they can give their child, they need not remain so concerned with the details. Read to them with love, interest, and conviction. The rest is certain to find its way off the page.

About the author:
Derek Webster graduated from Yale University, where he split his time between studying esoteric film narrative and getting his face pounded as Captain of the Yale Rugby Football team. A decade spent in the Hollywood film industry was highlighted by his two year run as columnist for Screentalk Magazine, and the establishment of a successful story consultation service, Creation-Point.
Returned to Connecticut, Derek continues as a freelance writer and story editor. When he’s not watching his precocious little girls grow up way too fast, he is known to procrastinate away many an hour scouring the internet for worthy material.
Read more of Derek's writing on his blog,

Tags : reading, books, children, selecting books, choosing stories, kids, parents

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