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Choosing the Right Books for Your Child

Experience the joys of reading together with your child. Reading together stimulates exploration and discussion of text and pictures and is a fun way for parents and children to engage with one another. It also promotes children’s healthy development as well as helps prevent behavioral problems that could lead to bullying or substance abuse later in life.  Research from the past decade shows the importance of shared reading on healthy brain development and children’s overall success as they grow into adults (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). In addition, the routine of reading together is enjoyable and sets the stage for a lifetime love of reading and writing.  

Benefits of Reading

Reading together can have beneficial effects on children’s development. These benefits can be achieved in several ways:

  1. Positive behavior: Children between the ages of 3 and 6 learn from imitating what they see, including how book characters act.  Children are likely to copy words and actions from books when they face similar situations in their own lives; reading the right books can help children learn to share and communicate their feelings.  Reading also helps children learn to sit still and listen and these are crucial skills for learning later on.  Through reading, “children can learn to listen, and then listen to learn” (Jalonga, 1983).

  2. Coping skills: Books can help your children deal with many emotional and social problems they may be struggling with. Parents can use books to give children the chance to meet characters who are facing and dealing with similar issues. Listening to your children’s reactions to the characters and their problems is important as it can help you better understand what may be going on in their life.

  3. Thought processes: Reading, thinking, and talking about stories together help your children begin to understand and make sense of their world. The characters in the books help children see things from someone else’s point of view, a critical skill in getting along with others.

  4. Language skills: Reading helps develop language and communication skills in the early years and academic success in later years. Not being able to communicate verbally is closely tied to increased temper tantrums and frustration, which are risk factors for substance abuse later on in life. A study conducted on children in the Head Start program found that children with better language skills are likely to have fewer behavior issues when they are older (Lee, 2010).

  5. Parent–child bonding: Shared reading strengthens your relationship and your emotional bond with your child (Bus, 2001). By reading and talking together, you and your child can share feelings, which help create trust and closeness.

It is important to note that although a 3-year-old may not understand a complex story or learn the words on the page, just the act of sitting in your lap and listening to the words and connecting them to illustrations makes your child feel safe and open to exploring new ideas and feelings. It also provides an opportunity for parents to bond with their children and engage with them in a fun, low-key setting.

How To Read?

It is not just reading the book but the conversations that happen that count too.

  1. Shared reading time should be enjoyable. If your child does not like a book you are reading together, put it away. Reading is a fun time to share, not a time to fight.

  2. Reading does not have to be a time when there is a “right” and “wrong” answer. You can ask questions, such as “I wonder why she said that” or “I wonder what happens next,” which encourage your child to think about other plots, adventures, or endings that could happen.

  3. Talking about a book can happen any time, not just during shared reading time. You can use themes/characters/words in the book to later help your child understand and deal with real situations in their daily life (Baker, Mackler, Sonnenschein, & Serpell, 2001).

What To Read?

You can choose books that help your child cope with certain issues or to help you address a specific problem with your child. Well-chosen books can guide you and your child through difficult situations, such as dealing with the stress of moving, a new baby in the family, divorce or separation of parents, death of a loved one, or the start of daycare.

Research conducted by Sesame Workshop revealed the following:

“…it is rarely acknowledged how young kids really experience stressful situations, or even what a stressful situation might be. For young kids, it can be anything from losing a favorite object to moving to changing a childcare provider.” (See Resources: “You Can Ask Helps Children Cope With Difficult Times.”)

Reading together can help your children open up and talk about what may be bothering them. Through books, children can learn how others have dealt with problems that cause anger, sadness, stress, and fear and use the same solutions in their own lives.

Through entertaining stories and situations, books can also reinforce positive behaviors, such as using good manners, valuing friendship, and sharing with others.

Choosing books to read together can be as much fun as reading them. The best books teach and entertain at the same time. So whether you shop for books at bookstores, exchange books with friends, or check books out of your neighborhood library, following a few guidelines for selecting them can help ignite a lifelong love of reading and communicating.

Between the ages of 2 and 6, children are ready for stories. They can follow a simple story line with characters, conflict, and resolution. Language skills develop quickly during these years, and imagination and curiosity are blossoming. Picture books stimulate toddlers and preschoolers visually and mentally and encourage them to make up their own stories.

The first thing you should know is that there are no rules in choosing a good book. Any book your child likes is the right one. The following are general guidelines to help you find the best books for your child.

  • Choose topics your child enjoys (e.g., butterflies), or is curious about to keep him or her interested and engaged.
  • Let children choose their own books, from an appropriate selection. This helps build a lifelong love of reading.  
  • Consider pictures and words. Younger children enjoy more illustrations and fewer words. For preschool-aged children, you can choose slightly more complex texts with good rhythm, word repetition, and stories.
  • Be sure that the subject matter is appropriate for your children's age and/or maturity level. Are they ready to learn about sibling jealousy, loss, or grief?
  • Choose books to help explain an upcoming experience. If your child is anxious about an event coming up (trip to the zoo, a play date), choosing similar themes in a book will help the child to get excited and feel more comfortable with the idea. 
  • Choose books that reflect your child’s everyday activities, such as playing with friends, visiting family, and going-to-sleep routines. Not only do these books help you teach valuable lessons, but they also help you avoid conflicts with your child. 
  • Choose books that reflect your child’s concerns, such as the start of new daycare or a fear of the dark. These books help children realize that their feelings are normal and that they’re not alone. These books also help your child learn how to handle their anxiety in a positive way.
  • Select a wide variety of books and reading materials, including fiction and nonfiction books, magazines, chapter books, graphic novels and comics, folk and fairy tales, and joke and riddle books.

Remember that the process of choosing books should be a joyful time for both parents and children. This is the time for your children to connect with characters and choose books that pique their interest.

Also, don’t forget to use your local library. Librarians are an excellent resource if you are looking for a particular book or a book on a specific topic. The library also gives children the chance to browse and look into books on topics that are new to them.

Family Activity:  Choosing the Right Books: Going to the Library
Educator Activity:  Choosing the Right Books in the Classroom
Quiz for Parents: Choosing the Right Books


“Curious George Campaign,” from the Library of Congress, encourages parents to help their children get excited about reading by offering suggestions about reading aloud and motivating children to read.

“You Can Ask Helps Children Cope With Difficult Times,” from Sesame Workshop, relates research conducted in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, that revealed the need to create strategies to deal with early childhood stress.

“Help My Child Read,” from the U.S. Department of Education, provides resources for parents to read with their child.

“My Child’s Academic Success,” from the U.S. Department of Education, provides sampling of books, computer programs, and Web sites for parents.

“Selecting Books for Your Child: Finding ‘Just Right’ Books,” from Reading Rockets, provides tips on choosing the appropriate book.

Book Lists

“Composite Book List for Years 1999–2009,” by Read Aloud America, lists book titles, their authors, and the year each book was added to the list:

“100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know” is the New York Public Library’s recommended reading list of some of the best, most engaging books for young kids.

Scholastic Books and Reading (Preschool)

Issues Books

Reference List

Baker, L., Mackler, K., Sonnenschein, S. & Serpell, R. (2001). Parents’ interactions with their first-grade children during storybook reading and relations with subsequent home reading activity and reading achievement. Journal of School Psychology, 39(5), 415–438.

Bus, A. G. (2001). Joint caregiver–child storybook reading: A route to literacy development. In S. B. Neuman & D. K. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook of Early Literacy Research. New York: Guilford Press, 179–191.

Jalongo, M. R. (1983). Bibliotherapy: Literature to promote socioemotional growth. The Reading Teacher, 36, 796–802.

Lee, K. (2010). Do early academic achievement and behavior problems predict long-term effects among Head Start children? Children and Youth Services Review, 32(12), 1690–1703.

Shonkoff, J., & Phillips, D. A. (Eds.). (2000). From neurons to neighborhoods: The science of early childhood development. Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.

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Updated on 3/21/2012