Friday, December 27, 2013

Navigating the Children's Department of the Book Store

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.  I'd say over half of the books read in our house are from the library.  We rarely buy a book unless it has been test run from the library.  Free library books are awesome, but they have to be returned.  There is value in a child owning books, 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 new readers devour by the stack.   But, other books hold interest over many years.  For example, there are many books both my two and four year old enjoy hearing which could also be read to a newborn.  These titles are often time honored classics, best sellers, or award winners.
  • Will this book hold up physically?  Look for complicated pop-ups or delicate flaps that will quickly be torn.  Paper pages for children younger than three.
  • If the gimmick of this book is removed, is it still entertaining or educational?  Perfect example: Eric Carle.  Many of his books, including The Very Hungry Caterpillar, contain a gimmick.  There are lights, sounds, touch and feel patches, cut outs, etc.  But, when they are removed from Carle's work, you are left with stunning art, simple yet engaging plots, and often embedded educational material.  Books with gimmicks are great, especailly for keeping a child entertained independently.  Just invest in ones that are more than the gimmick whenever possible.
  • What is this book teaching?  A book doesn't need to be overtly educational to be good.  But, you do have to look at what is being taught.  Is it just teaching vocabulary words with no story?  Well, that might be boring.  What is the story teaching about life?  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 about gender 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.  For example, reading all of Mo Willems Elephant and Piggie series or all of Olivier Dunrea's gossling stories 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 ones that 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 probably isn't good quality is if you can not find an author's name.  Its better to own a smaller library full of quality texts than a large library lacking in quality.
  • Is the price right?  Almost anything might come home with us for free, but if I have to pay for it, that's a different story.  I fulfill most of my kids' desire for books about TV and movie characters through new books from Dollar Tree.  A dollar is the going rate for a used children's book at Good Will.  A new book for a child can cost between $4 and $20.  Don't buy hardcovers.  Paperback is cheapest, but board books is still less than hardcover.

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