Finding GREAT books for YOUNG children
There are SOOO many children’s books out there. Some are beautiful, some are based on familiar characters, some have sequenced stories, some are very open ended. What makes a book GREAT for a toddler, or a preschooler? The main goal is to find books that:
· Engage the child’s interest
· Promote interaction between the book, the reader, and the child
· Promote confidence in the child as a “reader” (WAY before they can read)
· Offer ways to develop the pre-reading and reading skills a child needs
· Develop, in the child, a LOVE of BOOKS, and what they can offer
Before buying a lot of books for your child, consider these “qualities” as you look through your own library, and as you make regular trips to the city library. You’ll get a much better idea of books that you will want to check out for a few weeks versus books that you will want to ADD to their own library.
Look for books with large, colorful illustrations. Young children thrive on getting the story through the pictures, so look for illustrations that are clearly representing the characters and what is happening in the story. There are some books in which the story is evident even without words. These are wonderful, as the story can be told in so many different ways. Even with text, it is not always required to read the words exactly. And really good books have the illustrations depict even MORE of a story than the words identify. Asking the child about more of the story based on the picture is a great way for children to add to the story line. It is also wonderful to find illustrations that include a small character that is located on each page in different places, such as the cricket and spider in the Little Critter series. This series of books EXCEL in having the pictures tell MORE of a story than the words.
For Toddlers, look for sturdy books in which each page can have its own focus – that it can be, but does not need to be read in any particular order. A character may be doing a variety of things centered on a theme. Toddlers like to turn the pages themselves and will stop on a page that captures their attention. That is the time to focus on whatever is on that page. Have them point to one of the pictures that is prominent on the page, and try to connect it with something they are familiar with in their own life. If it is an animal, talk about what it is, what it sounds like, and refer to an animal they might know. If it is a character doing an activity – talk about the activity and when it might happen in their own life. This type of interaction helps them feel confident in their ability to “use” books, and helps them see what are in books relates to things outside of books.
Choose topics that relate to real life, esp. for children 2 years or younger, even if it is funny animal characters that are doing human things. Imaginary creatures and activities, like magic, are abstract and more difficult to keep straight in their heads as to what is real and what is not real. Concrete activities that reflect more of what is real in their life, and in the world around them helps develop a more full sense of who they are and where they live. Although this age child likes pretend play – mostly it is about real life things. Encourage a concrete understanding of this world before delving into fiction and non-reality. Once a child is “around” 3 years old, their imagination takes off, and then it is fine to begin introducing a few books with more imaginary topics, as long as there is good discussion about the difference between what is real or not, and that there is a good balance of books which are presented.
When considering the words, choose books that encourage fun expressive reading. Read the book aloud to listen to the sounds. Reading aloud with an expressive voice more actively engages a child’s interest, and promotes good language skills. Although not all of the following things will be found in a single book, these are things to look for:
- It is fun to read phrases that rhyme. This helps develop phoneme awareness in children, which is an important pre-reading skill. Dr. Suess books were designed specifically with this purpose. “One Shoe, Two Shoes, Red Shoes, Blue Shoes”. After a few readings, the child may be able to fill in the second part of the rhyme.
- When the words promote a strong rhythm it helps the child feel the cadence of speech, and a feel for how phrasing can aid in the understanding of the meaning of words. Encourage the child to keep a steady beat while you are reading by clapping.
- Find books with interesting characters that encourage fun vocal changes – high female voices, slow tedious and low voices, voices of all sorts? I especially enjoyed reading the Winnie the Pooh books to my children because of the fun unique voices and accents of each of the characters (Tigger & Eeyore are my favorite voices!). Listening to various voices helps children feel more comfortable around new people they meet who speak differently.
- Especially enjoyable are repetitive phrases featured regularly or at the end of each page. Children LOVE being the “reader” of this type of repetitive phrase, especially if you can encourage some type of activity with it, like clapping, or “chugging” the arms, etc. MANY of the Kindermusik books features this types of phrase. One of the Kindermusik favorites is “Choo-choo, Choo-choo! Dinah, Dinah, Dinah Dinah. Shoo! Shoo! Shoo! Shoo! Shine-a, Shine-a, shine-a .” from the book, “Shiny Dinah” in the Our Time AWAY WE GO semester. For each part the children “pull the whistle”, clap their hands, swish their hands, the rub their hands in circles to shine the train.
- Books that have a PART that can be sung can really capture a child’s attention, and can connect in a more emotional way. One of my favorites is “Love you Forever” by Robert Munsch. (Although it took me a long time to read that all the way through without crying.)
- Repetitiveness can also be a springboard for sequencing. Stories that reuse phrases, continuing to add another phrase on top of each other, such as “The Green Grass Grew All Around”, “with the branch on the tree, and the tree in the hole, and the hole in the ground… “ help build neural connections toward spatial relationships and sequential ordering. PLUS, they’re FUN ! My son’s favorite is an old book called “Drummer Hoff” = “And Drummer Hoff FIRED it OFF!”
When choosing a book with a story line, choose stories that make sense and are meaningful to your child. Young children respond only to books that tell stories that feel “real”, feel complete, and feel satisfying. Strongly consider what your child is interested in, and what they know already. Try to choose books that give them a little more information or understanding about their object(s) of interest, or character(s) they find fascinating. Ask all sorts of open ended questions to spark conversations that will help them explore the ideas presented in the book, helping them connect with ideas they know and “discover” new bits of information. Children learn best by discovering for themselves rather than being told.
To me, great books for young children fit into three categories:
a. Activity books – Books that encourage people to make noise and move, and act out what is occurring on the pages and in the story. These books encourage personal involvement in reading materials. They strengthen language articulation skills, as well as give opportunities for large and small motor development. These may also be alphabet books which help them make the sounds of the alphabet and relate these sounds to what they know. This could include tracing the letters with their fingers, and exploring other objects with those sounds. Activity books are a springboard for more action!
b. Bedtime books – Books that have a lulling rhythm as you read them aloud. Their story is comforting and without a crisis or scary moment. These books reassure loving feelings and safety, and welcome the night as a peaceful companion.
c. Story books – Books that encourage discussion, conversations about the characters and what they are doing. These books build vocabulary and understanding. They might have a crisis, or problem that will be resolved somehow, hopefully in a way that sparks children to discuss and solve their own problems, or at least understand others that experience them.
A Great book is made so much better by a good interactive reader.
- Allow the child to hold the book and turn the pages. It’s OK if they do not go in order, or if they turn the page before you finish reading. Later on, you may try this “trick” I started with my daughter as she got to the right developmental stage (she was 2 years old, but it may vary with your child). I would say “BEEP” when I finished reading the words on the page, so she would know it was time to turn the page. This also set her up to use the audio books that we could get from the library.
- Ask questions that identify or spark interest.
- Read expressively, using your voice to enliven, or soothe, or build intensity for a story line.
- Offer the child the opportunity to “tell” the story , or parts of the story, based solely on the pictures, or by what they can remember.
- After a few readings, start a sentence, then encourage the child finish the thought. Show enthusiasm for their version, and do NOT correct them if they say the words differently.
These are ways to engage the child and build their confidence in books as a source of enjoyment, and in their ability to be a significant part of the reading process.
Review the current research on the benefits of Music and Literature on a child’s development.
Books are an important part of each Kindermusik program, as there are at least one or two children’s literature books that are included in the home materials. Each of these books meet several of the above criteria for being a GREAT book. The Creative Team at Kindermusik International recognizes the benefits of good books for young children, and therefore integrate their books with the themes of the curriculum.
There is even a WONDERFUL summary of research they have developed that will help parents understand how music benefits a child’s development of the reading process. PLEASE check out the following links at www.kindermusik.com/benefits . It talks about the critical aspects of developing the skills of Active Listening, building vocabulary, developing phonological awareness, Print Awareness, and promoting Comprehension.
There are resources available for each age group; Our Time (1 ½ – 3 ½ years) and Imagine That (3-5 years), so that the materials is specifically focused on what to expect from, and what is developing in a child at each of these ages, and has some great ideas for what you can do at home based on current research in this field. It is well worth your time to read it. It easily explains the research, and if you are interested further, the actual research documents are also available for your curious mind.
In this blog, “Music Connections Recommends…” , I suggest many books that I believe fit the above criteria. Some are Kindermusik books (or Do-Re-Me & You – which are developed by Kindermusik International), but MOST are other books I have found along the way – through teaching, and especially through experiences with my two children. They are usually presented based on a particular theme. Please feel free to add your comments to these postings with list with books you have found to be GREAT, so that we can all find GREAT books that will OPEN up the world to our children.
Or if you have other ideas on what makes a book GREAT for young children, please add your comments. I would LOVE to hear them.
READING is MAGICAL.
Read it, feel it, live it, and love it.
Then, your child will too.
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- 2 – 5 years
- Ages 6 and up
- All ages
- Animal Fun
- Bathtime fun
- Birth to Five Years
- Classical Music
- Cultural Influences
- Discovery Toys
- Do-Re-Me & You!
- Music Recording
- Online Tools
- Promotes fun interaction
- Prop play
- Seasonal Fun
- Sign Language