Choosing good books for children can be a challenge if reading is not something you do in your own leisure time. While personal preference plays a part, there are some things you can look for in a book to encourage a taste for reading in your child.

Art

There’s good, there’s bad and there’s ugly. I avoid what I term as “cheap art”, (think Disney cartoon style), as there are so many better options. Choosing something with great art work gives your child an opportunity to truly enjoy the story both while you are reading it, and when they look at it by themselves.

Some examples of fine art in books for the young are;

  • “The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey”, illustrated by P.J. Lynch. Of particular note is Lynch’s ability to capture the emotions of his people.
  • “Berlioz the Bear”, written and illustrated by Jan Brett.
  • It would be hard to tire of gazing at Brett’s amazingly detailed, richly coloured illustrations. Highly recommended.
  • “The Sleeping Rose”, illustrated by Chuck Gillies. A very individual style, Gillies’ use of colour and movement produce pictures with depth and appeal.
  • “A Child’s Christmas at St. Nicholas Circle”, illustrated by Thomas Kinkade. The paintings in the book are very easy on the eye, and the use of light in each is characteristic of his work.
  • “Rhymes for Annie Rose”, Shirley Hughes. Hughes has a highly distinctive, easily identifiable style. Her subjects are those which children relate to well, and the pictures have energy and warmth.
  • “The Boy Who Held Back the Sea”, illustrated by Thomas Locker. Careful, conservative paintings reflect the simple times the tale is set in.
  • “What’s for Lunch?” David Miller uses 3D paper sculptures to illustrates his books, with a delightfully original result.
  • “Martin Leman’s Comic and Curious Cats”, Leman does what he’s famous for – gorgeous, quirky cats.

Subject matter

Very young children enjoy books with subjects they can relate to. Home, animals, toys, and children are the themes they appreciate. Slightly older children, while still at the picture book stage, find their horizons broadening. Don’t be afraid to introduce young children to non fiction and reference.

Books with large colour plates of birds and animals relevant to your country, particularly if there are pictures of species common to your area, will encourage observation, and delight in nature. Stories of explorers and inventors can also capture interest.

Text

Who can go past a good rhyme? As you read, the rhythmic cadence of your voice will entrance your young audience. Don’t avoid texts with big words, providing the context makes the meaning clear. Children enjoy the sounds of words like “hippopotamus” and “soporific”, a classic example being Lynley Dodd’s “Hairy Maclary’s Caterwaul Caper”, in which the word “cacophony” is used to describe the noise of six dogs barking at a yowling cat. The preceding verses leave the young reader in no doubt as to the implication of the word.

Genres

Introduce your child to as many different styles of writing and subject matter as you can find to interest them. Examples of allegorical work for children in picture books include,

  • “The Sleeping Rose”, by Angela Elwell Hunt
  • “The Evergreen Wood”, an adaptation of “The Pilgrim’s Progress”, for children.

Some examples of tales in a historical vein would be,

  • “New Hope”, by Henri Sorensen (immigrant Americana)
  • “Papa and the Olden Days”, by Ian Edwards (early Australia)
  • “What Was the War Like, Grandma?’, by Rachel Tonkin (memories of Australian family life during world war 2)
  • “The Everyday Life Of…” series by Giovanni Caselli (looks at life through the eyes of children throughout history.)

Based on legend;

  • “The Apple and The Arrow”, by Mary and Conrad Buff (the story of William Tell)
  • “Johnny Appleseed” by Eva Moore

Non fiction/reference examples;

  • “Tom’s Rabbit”, by Meredith Hooper ( a true story from Scott’s last voyage)
  • “Eureka Stockade”, by Alan Boardman (Australian gold rush era)
  • Cookbooks. Yes really! Get a recipe book for children with lots of colourful photographs. At a pinch, any of your own cookbooks which contain lots of pictures will do. Go through them together and talk about health, flavours, likes and dislikes.

For the sheer love of language;

  • put on your best British accent and read anything by Beatrix Potter, or
  • Stories by A.A. Milne. Be sure to get the original, not Disney version, and don’t try to read these while you’re tired.

Libraries are great for trying out books, however children need some favourites at home to read again and again. It needn’t cost you the earth. Libraries sell off books regularly to make room for the newly published. Watch your local paper for the advertised sale. Garage sales and thrift stores are two of the best places to source books: they are great for “trying out” books, and a better copy can be found if the book proves to be a keeper.  Book fairs are wonderful for stocking your shelves, while book exchanges (second-hand bookstores) are more expensive, but still a cheaper option than buying new.

If you are after a title you feel you can’t live without, ebay is an option, or you can check the worldwide book search.

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