For the month of January, the Giggle Book Award is focusing on the art of creating a family library.
Adulting Is Hard
Choosing books for kids can be a frustrating endeavor. As the adult, the first questions are about quality and content. Does this teach useful skills or proper values? Is this something a child can quote or discuss with friends and family, without insulting people or raising eyebrows? How does it handle race, gender, family and other relationships?
Personally, I have found children’s books at used books sales and on library shelves that leave me wondering HOW this thing got published in the first place! I have no doubt that there are books quoted, reviewed and discussed on this blog that leave other parents scratching their heads and wondering the same.
To further complicate matters, walking into a bookstore, browsing stacks of hundreds (thousands?) of books and flipping through pages only provides the adult half of the matter. Even if you manage to randomly select a book that meets all of your own criteria, there’s no guarantee the child(ren) will like it.
What to do?
The Library Is Your Best Resource
Personally, I have found the library to be the best possible resource for encouraging kids to read while identifying really good books for the family library. Here’s the process that works for us:
- Take the kids to the library and let them play. These days libraries have a lot more than books and kids are not expected to be ultra-quiet all of the time. It’s a wonderful way to spend a super-cold winter day or a super-hot summer afternoon. As a bonus, children learn early on that the one place in every geographical location that is really and truly devoted to the care and use of books is a fun and welcoming spot to spend a few hours.
- While the kids play, select 15 books that seem like a good fit. Don’t spent a lot of time flipping through pages or reading the text; just browse through the stacks and grab books with covers that jump out at you. Here are a few of my own go-to topics: dinosaurs, pirates, superheros, ninjas, adventure stories, rescue pets (e.g.: lost cats and dogs finding a home) anti-bully stories, friendship stories and stories about building families or communities. While some of these topics may seem either difficult or overly common, I’ve passed over many books that don’t fall into any of these categories. It’s amazing just how wide and varied children’s books really are.
- Visit the library a couple times each month. Make library-time a regular part of the family schedule. Books are checked out for 2 weeks, so we usually make a library visit once every two weeks.
- Read every day at the same time. Most people read books right before bed. Some people like to set up a daily story-time earlier in the day. It doesn’t matter when it happens, as long as it happens in a consistent and predictable manner.
- Let the child(ren) know that you have NOT pre-read this book. Most adults don’t think about this (I didn’t!) but part of reading to children is introducing them to the basics about BOOKS. Specifically:
- Some books are disappointing because the story isn’t about what you thought it would be about. If a book turns out to be a dud SAY THAT – and let the children provide their own opinions on the matter.
- Sometimes I like a book and you don’t. Sometimes you like a book and I don’t. That’s OK. Encourage kids to respond to a story and express an opinion.
- Books contain lots of information, sometimes they are right and sometimes they are wrong. I once found a children’s illustrated book at used book sales that was blatantly (mouth-droppingly) racist, which put me in the unexpected and uncomfortable position of having to (semi-publicly) explain the negative side of race relations to a child who had simply asked me to take a break from shopping and read a book. In the end I realized the book was a problem but the conversation about race was not – it was just one of those uncomfortable things that the big-people in the family have to do. Also, the child witnessed a book-sale staff-member remove the book from the stacks after hearing me read-and-explain the book – that was a positive. Remember: When a book presents information that is inaccurate or offensive, reading-time is an excellent opportunity to discuss and explain why the information is wrong or bad. Don’t worry about protecting children from every bad thing, teach them how to discern the good from the bad, right from wrong, polite from offensive, etc.
- Books can be informative without being entertaining. Not everything has to be a super-fun, wild and exciting adventure! Sometimes books can be collections of facts that are interesting to the reader. An example? Dictionaries of dinosaurs complete with drawings, long Latin names, and current scientific evidence pertaining to potential habitats and behaviors. For a child interested in dinosaurs, this stuff is FASCINATING!
- Some stories are happy and some are sad. Most children’s books have happy endings, but some tell stories that are really sad or hard to hear, particularly for children. Again, this is an opportunity for discussion and not (necessarily) something a child should be protected from ever experiencing. Personally, I’ve found the most heart-wrenching stories in the biography and history sections of the children’s library, so I tend to preview those more than others – that way reading time focuses primarily on books that are fun with happy endings, with a few sad stories thrown into the mix here and there.
- Let the child choose the books during story-time. Personally, I lay out all of the library books and let the child(ren) pick out three based on the title and cover. Sometimes the child will look over the library books and decide to pick something from the family library instead. Usually, one or two books from the library will be requested over and over again. Sometimes a few library books will never get read. All of this is OK.
- When a book is a hit with both the children AND the adults, add it to the list. We keep a shopping list of children’s books that worked really well for the members of this household. A couple of times a month we buy one or two books from the list and add them to the family library – which is why I caution all adults to take a moment to evaluate whether or not they want to read a particular book over-and-over-and-over again BEFORE placing it on the list. Sometimes a book is a huge hit with the kids, contains information or a story that is perfectly fine, and gets on the nerves of the big-person reading it. If you can’t imagine yourself happily reading a book many times over, then don’t add it to the library.
- When a book is a hit with just the adults, add it to the list. Every once in a while I will find a children’s book that I REALLY like. It gets added to the list and the family library because I like it. Sometimes I will pull these books out and read them on my own. Honestly, I never thought I would enjoy a children’s illustrated story that much, but there have been a few that have proven me wrong. It’s good for children to see adults reading books, including kids books, so adding the big-people favorites to the library is both natural and positive. It’s important to note that I don’t force the children to listen to (read) these books, I just read them to myself. Of course, when they see me reading, this usually results in the child(ren) asking me to read it out loud, but that’s a bonus. When it comes to story-time, the child(ren) choose the books.
- When it’s time to buy a book, let the children choose something off of the list. We order books online and have them delivered to our home via standard mail. Looking over the list of books and picking out a copy that will be in the family library and, therefore, always available for story-time is an important job. Kids LOVE it!
- Put the child’s name on the shipping address. To a child, receiving a packing in the mail, with their name on it, is like getting a birthday or holiday present, even if the book inside if one of the big-people favorites.
- Give the child the honor of shelving the book. Putting the new book on the shelf, along with all of the others, is also a fun and important-feeling thing to do. Sometimes simple things like this are a big part of our lives.
Making the joy of receiving/acquiring a new book part of a child’s life is a positive influence on their lives as readers, curious fact-seekers and future problem solvers. Have fun with it!
I hope these tips help other families build their own family library. I would love to see reactions and ideas from others!