By Catherine Word
One of the best things about being a school librarian is seeing the world of books open up for children. Children’s literature offers incredible stories, fascinating topics to explore, silliness and fun, and a whole lot more.
But the most important thing parents can do to foster a lifelong love of reading in their children is to let their child lead the way. We often bring our own adult perspectives to reading—this book is too easy, children shouldn’t read books below their grade level, graphic novels aren’t real books—that can easily discourage budding readers and limit their ability to explore and find the books they love. Children should be encouraged to read and explore widely books that align with their interests and that engage them, whether it’s because they love a good silly read-aloud book or love to read nonfiction books that do a deep dive into dinosaurs and their characteristics.
Creating the perfect library for your child is not one size fits all. But there are types of books that I always recommend children explore. Here’s my list of 10 types of books you should have on your child’s bookshelf if you want to help them become avid book lovers.
Children may not always be drawn strongly to nonfiction works. But nonfiction offers such a diverse range of topics to explore that all children should be able to find books they love. Whether your child loves reading biographical stories of people who lived long ago or is fascinated by learning all about the exciting world of coral reefs, there’s something for everyone in nonfiction. One of my particular favorites is the Who Is/Who Was series the offers compelling biographies of a wide range of current and historical figures. And when in doubt, books about animals are always a hit!
Books that Build Compassion and Empathy
Seeing the world through another person’s eyes is one of the joys of reading. In fact, several recent studies have shown that reading fiction helps people develop emotional intelligence, empathy, and understanding of others.
For young children, picture books can help them see the world through a wide range of characters’ perspectives, and for older children, chapter books can build on that and take them deeper into understanding another person’s experiences. A few of my favorite books that help children develop empathy and compassion are Wonder by R. J. Palacio and Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, both of which offer beautifully written stories told from the perspective of a child with a disability.
Great Read-Aloud Books
No child’s library is complete without wonderfully fun read-aloud books. Read-aloud books offer a chance to enjoy the way language works and create a connection with your child while they experience wonderful, engaging stories. An all-time favorite read-aloud book for many, many children is Mo Williams’ Elephant and Piggy series. These wonderful books offer fun, engaging stories centered around a friendship between an elephant and a pig that will delight young readers. Other great read-aloud books include Kevin Hinks’ Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse and the classic Amelia Bedilia by Peggy Parish.
Reading with your child at bedtime is a beloved daily ritual in many households, an opportunity to snuggle up with a good book and connect at the end of a long day. Children often carry fond memories of sleepily listening to bedtime stories well into their adult lives and look forward to sharing the tradition with their own children one day. And even after children can read independently, many still enjoy reading a bedtime story with mom or dad, even as old as 3rd or 4th grade (and sometimes even older!). Some wonderful bedtime stories include Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney and I Love You to the Moon and Back by Amelia Hepworth.
It may take a bit more work to help a child connect with a classic that may not have a bright, shiny cover, but it’s well worth it. These stories offer rich tales of other times and places and reveal what life was like in the past. The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White, for example, features a 12-year-old boy who goes camping with his dad and enjoys the freedom of roaming through nature on his own in a way that’s very different from how many children live their lives today. But reading about those experiences can be powerful for young minds and can teach them many things about both how others live and about their experiences compare. Other wonderful options are the Anne of Green Gables series by L. M. Montgomery and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.
Many people worry that listening to audiobooks doesn’t “count” when it comes to reading, but of course, it does. Although a different format, listening to an audiobook offers the same experience of becoming lost in a story, while also helping improve listening skills. And audiobooks allow you to build books into daily tasks like running errands or driving to school and to make them a special part of a trip or family vacation. The Harry Potter audiobook series allows children to discover the wondrous wizarding world through a fantastical, theatrical audio production. It really is a treat for children and adults alike.
Funny books help you share the joy of reading with your child. When you read the book and laugh along, you not only show children that books are fun and engaging but you also bond with your child by engaging in silliness and fun. Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson books feature a hilarious main character, the pig Mercy Watson, an unexpected heroine in pursuit of her favorite food, buttered toast.
Seasonal books are a wonderful addition to a child’s library. Reading books on holidays, the different seasons, and special occasions together as a family can become a beloved part of those traditions looked forward to each year. Aaron Reynold’s “Creepy” series (which rest assured are really not too creepy at all) make for fun Halloween reading, and Johnette Downing’s Today Is Monday in Louisiana highlights our unique Louisiana culture.
No child’s library is complete without children’s poetry. Poetry offers children the opportunity to explore the richness of language and examine how it works. Children often delight in the rhythm and pattern of poetry, and poetry is an excellent choice to read aloud. Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends holds its place as a wonderful classic in the genre, but newer works like You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You series by Mary Ann Hoberman and Michael Emberley offer a new take. This book used “two voices” to invite your child to read along with you.
Join us for our book fair hosted by local bookstore Cavalier House Books on Tuesday, Nov 15 from 8 am to 2 pm, Wednesday, Nov 16 from 8 am to 3 pm, and Friday from 9 am to 1 pm, and let your child explore the rich selection of books—and take home ones they will truly love.