Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Creating a Library of Good Children's Books: #1 Establish Your Criteria

A sweet friend of mine, who knows how much my girls love to read, recently asked me for a list of books she should buy to start a library for her newborn. The bookworm that I am jumped at the opportunity to compile such a list.

As I set to work, though, I realized that a good library--one free of twaddle (i.e., character books, politically correct books, "forced" morality, etc.)--does not happen overnight. It's a process that requires serious thought, some research, and a little money (or some generous friends and family). 

The FIRST step in creating a library of good books for your children is to ESTABLISH YOUR CRITERIA. Decide for yourself what does and does not belong in a child's library.

Criteria for Selecting Good Books for Children

When our first child was born, we knew we wanted to instill a love of reading at an early age, so I registered for books instead of fancy baby gadgets and bought classics in lieu of toys for her first birthday and Christmas

Yet as I read a wide range of children's books, I discovered--not too surprisingly--that not all books are created equal. You really have to read through each book and determine if it's something your child should or should not read. Sure the book may be "popular" or have won an award, but that doesn't always translate into "good." That's why having a set of criteria for the children's books you buy is so important.  

Here are the qualities I look for in selecting books for our children's library. 

The book must . . .

(1) Be a classic
This book has stood the test of time and is still popular today. Although the times may have changed, this book is still cherished and relevant even 50 years later. There's a reason The Cat in the Hat is considered a classic.

Some helpful links:

(2) Have excellent illustrations
This is especially important for small children who need pictures to aid their imaginations. As children mature, pictures aren't as important because they can conjure images in their minds, but when they're little, make sure there are lots of good illustrations. 

And if you'd like to see what books have been awarded for their illustrations, check out the Caldecott Award winners from 1938 to today.

(3) Uphold Christian morals & values
There aren't a lot of specifically "Christian books" on my list, but what my girls read must be in keeping with God's Word. That means no books that demean parents or uphold or condone sin of any kind even grumbling and whining. Instead, we want books that model Godly character and morals and encourage integrity.

(4) Be enjoyable for multiple age levels

My girls are now 4.5 years, 2.5 years, and 15 months old, so books that can entertain all three at different ages and stages are keepers for us. These books have layers to them. That's why we like books by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle.

(5) Present a positive and/or educational message in a natural, not forced, way
The world is full of trouble but I don't want my children being inundated by it at a young age. Instead, I prefer they read books at times that . . .
  • are light & fun
  • are thoughtful and challenging,
  • provide opportunities for discussion
  • encourage a love of reading
  • promote creativity
  • stimulate their minds
  • teach them empathy or sensitivity to others 
  • fuel their budding imaginations
 Good children's books should present a message, but it shouldn't be contrived. No one wants a mean narrator beating them over the head with a lesson. Instead, a good book will show how a character learned from his mistakes.

Those are my primary criteria for the books I buy for our children. As you create your own library of good books, you'll need to determine your own priorities. 

Here are some questions you might ask:

  1. What kinds of literature do you/do you not want your children to read? (i.e., fairy tales, books with magic/sorcery)
  2. Are there certain books, authors, topics you know you want to expose your children to?
  3. What about books, authors, or topics you do not want them exposed to?
  4. Do you want to broaden your child's understanding of diversity or help them develop sensitivity to others through books? 
  5. Are their books you enjoyed as a child that you want to pass on to your children? 
 Consider your personal views on literature for children and create your own set of criteria for selecting books for your child's library.

All that being said, we do have books that do not fit this criteria. My girls love Dora and Fancy Nancy. They like Disney-related books and anything princess. So, we do not have a twaddle-free library. For now, though, I'm okay with that.

My goal right now is to encourage a love of reading and that means reading basically anything my children want to read. So if my daughter will only sit and listen to a Dora book, then by golly I'm going to read Dora books. For right now.

Ultimately, though, my goal is for my children to discern good versus bad literature so they will stop asking for Dora and reach for Winnie-the-Pooh instead. 

What criteria do YOU use in selecting good books for your child's library?  

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  1. Keri, I had to laugh when you said your daughter loves Dora books! My little guy loves Bob the Builder and I'd much rather read Frog and Toad or Little Bear. : )

    1. Jillian, why can't they make GOOD character books? That's my question. I wouldn't mind reading Dora so much if her books actually had a point. They're so boring. Hopefully, our kiddos will figure that out sooner rather than later!

  2. Great criteria, Keri. Often, when you meet the first criteria and find a classic, that book also meets the third criteria and upholds Christian morals and values. I love finding books that were written before the 1960's. These are good criteria for older children as well. I am slightly lenient depending on the child and the book. When I was desperate to get my 8yo boy to enjoy reading (he's 9 now), I let him read Scooby Doo and Geronimo Stilton. Definitely twaddle. But he LOVED reading them. And, quite frankly, Scooby Doo always ends with the bad guys learning their lesson. Now that he's found he enjoys reading, I'm nudging him toward better choices.

    1. You are right, Meghan. I think of a few exceptions, but for the most part I agree. Most classics do uphold Christian morals, which is why, I think, they've succeeded.

      Keep on nudging :) I am too!

  3. So true! I would love to do it all and just hand pick the books, but DD has her own "likes" and whether or not I like it, it really matters to her :) I also would like to add that its a good idea to mix up poetry, non fiction in the mix as they get a variety of content to read. Wonderful post as always Keri!

  4. Hi there--I found this entry through Booknificent Thursdays--I like your philosophy of encouraging love of reading by just letting kids read the books they want to read--there will be time enough later to move them "above and beyond"--the first step is to help our kids find out that books are to be enjoyed!

  5. This is really helpful in thinking through my own priorities for literature in our home. As I read this, I know that I have some criteria in my head, but I'm having a hard time articulating it. You've encouraged me to take some time and do that. Thanks for linking up at Booknificent Thursday!
    Tina from

  6. Thank you for this great post! I think we all get to a point and realize good literature from twaddle. Sometimes, we mix it up, but as time goes by, the bad gets weeded out! Thank you for your criteria lists! Appreciated! Holly

  7. This is really great for anyone, new parent or not. Other sources for good quality book lists are the Before Five in a Row book list and Jim Trelease's book, The Complete Read-Aloud Handbook. And some of us have really good memories from the elementary school days, so often if I spot something that we read in elementary and it's STILL around, then I know it's a keeper--i.e. Mike Mulligan's Steam Shovel, Frog & Toad, etc.