Have you ever heard someone make this seemingly innocuous statement? Is it true? How important is it to carefully select books for a child to read?
Over the years, I’ve heard more than one person give this simple advice to a concerned parent or to an overworked after-school coordinator. While reading consistently is important in strengthening reading skills, research points to evidence that kids spend more time reading and comprehend more when they read books that interest them. In fact, studies tell us that children are more likely to become stronger readers, perform well in school and develop a love of learning when they read books that they enjoy.
Helping a child select the “right” blend of books can be challenging and time consuming. So let’s look at a checklist of six factors to consider in helping children discover books that will nurture a lifelong love of reading.
Not sure what a child is interested in? Lay out a variety of books and see which ones they pick up and browse. For example, adventure stories, trickster tales, science fiction, mysteries, animal stories, scary stories, biographies, nature books, etc. Remember children comprehend more and tend to read more when they read material that interests them.
2. Reading Level
A good rule of thumb for pleasure reading is to select books a level or two below a child’s reading level. An argument can be made that children need to be challenged with text above their reading level but for recreational or supplemental reading, giving emerging readers time to solidify their skills also helps them build confidence in their reading habits. As a result, they are more likely to spend time reading.
Children tend to select books that look inviting and don’t seem too overwhelming. Checkout the font style, size and simplicity. Look at the “white space” - is the text layout easy for children to follow? Is the text jammed together? Does the page “feel” crowded; are there too many words on the page? Is there adequate space between the spine and the text? For chapter books, do the chapter lengths seem too long or too short? Even page count can seem overwhelming to many children. Remember most children tend to choose books that look easier to read.
Think about the ethnicity, culture or region depicted in a book. Some children prefer stories about people and places where they have a unique connection so stories from a family’s culture of origin, even several generations removed can attract a devoted following. The opposite can apply equally: stories set in a faraway, remote location or removed in time can exert a powerful pull on a child’s imagination.
Another rule of thumb: children generally prefer reading about characters who are 2-3 years older so a book that targets 8-9 year old readers might feature characters who are 11-12 years old or a book that is aimed at pre-teens might feature a 14-15 year old protagonist. Similarly, boys tend to prefer reading stories that feature male protagonists and likewise, girls like to read about females they can relate to whether they are humans or animals.
For picture books, the illustrations should highlight, clarify, enhance or reinforce the plot and characters. The illustrations need to give the plot more meaning and invite the child to dive deeper into the story. Think of illustrations as storyboards for a movie, then ask yourself: do the illustrations drive the story forward and make it more exciting?
Although these six characteristics certainly aren’t exhaustive, if you pay attention to these elements, you can make the selection process easier, have more fun discovering books and help children expand their taste in reading.
Remember, not that long ago most of us who love to read as adults had someone: a parent, sibling, teacher, librarian or even a friend help us explore a broader range of books than we would have found on our own.