Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Key to Discovering Your Child's Next Favorite Tale: Why Age Guidelines Don't Matter As Much As You Think

So the other day while at Barnes and Noble, baby bookworm and I each got a magazine.  She got Highlights Hidden Pictures, and I got REAL SIMPLE family (um...yea, so you know you are getting older when your magazine tastes change from Glamour, Lucky, and Cosmo to family themed magazines - sigh). 

Overall, both delightful choices.  Even in the age of technology, I am still a huge fan of printed text.

What made my magazine especially delightful was finding an article titled "8 Soon-To-Be-Classic Kids' Books" by Christopher Healy.

I would link to it online, only there isn't a link to this particular article; so you too will have to go out and actually buy some printed text to read it for yourself.  It really gives a nice overview of these 8 books, some of which are chapter books for older kids, and the author suggests "best for" age ranges for each book.

A couple of the books he listed were ones baby bookworm and I had already read and enjoyed:

Art and Max by David Wiesner

The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood and Renata Liwska 

Baby bookworm liked both of these books very much.  Although, had I read this article before checking out these books and gone strictly by his "best for" guidelines, these books might not have ever made it to our library list!  Baby bookworm's age doesn't fall anywhere near the "best for" age recommendations for these two books.

Don't worry, I'm not cutting on Christopher Healy for including age guidelines for the books in his article. I do it myself on this blog all the time; in fact, I just did it in this post about bug books

All I'm saying is to take age guidelines for books with a grain of salt - mine included.  Why? 

1). A book is a book is a book; and books are good for you! Concepts of print like holding the book upright, identifying words and/or punctuation, identifying the front and the back of the book, the title, and the author are all things that can be learned from almost any book. 

2). Pictures can tell a story too.  The illustrations in some of these kids' books are AMAZING.  If there are too many words for your child to sit still and listen to, paraphrase the story or make up your own all together.

3). Only you know your child. Does your 2-year old have a dinosaur obsession?  Well then maybe Art & Max is a perfect story for him, despite the "best for" label of 5-to 8-year olds. 

4). Sometimes challenge is good.  Learning often occurs when a child is working slightly above his comfort level.  So, you might want to select a book that is a wee-bit difficult for your child (but don't forget to support his learning, too).

5). Sometimes familiar is even better.  On the contrary, kids love repetition and repetition and repetition!  Even though your 6-year old child may know Goodnight Moon by heart, trust me, he's still learning from that familiar (and what is now seemingly easy) book.  Plus, reading something familiar or even "easy" can boost your child's confidence, which can positively effect his motivation to read.

And I know....I know.....sometimes it's the CONCEPTS, not just the number of words in a book that make the book "advanced" or not appropriate for a little one.  But again, if the concepts are well above your child's understanding, I still think you can find something valuable in the book.  It is VERY rare that we get a book from the library that has absolutely NO learning potential.  At the very least, ask your baby bookworm to point out everything blue in the book, or all of the letter "A"s, or name the objects, or find a pattern - the list is really endless.

 {Now, of course, I'm not suggesting you read Maxim magazine to your 5-year old; or a book full of foul language or adult pictures/topics!  Use your best judgement.}

All that said, I'm sure you DO want SOME books on your bookshelves that become your baby bookworm's favorites.  That you read cover to cover, and enjoy over and over.  That become your very own "classics," so to speak. 

So how do I try to pick out books for baby bookworm if I'm not looking at age guidelines or recommendations? 

Here's my personal checklist that I use to judge whether a book is going to be a "good" one for us:

*Does the book have a certain set of skills that we can work on?  For example, does it have new or interesting vocabulary that will help language or comprehension, or rhyming text that will help teach phonemic awareness?

*Can I use the book as a starting point for other activities or to make connections to new learning?  You can read several of my past posts to figure out how I've done this with baby bookworm.  Here's a post on building connections with books, and one on building vocabulary through new experiences.

*Can the book build on other subjects or activities we've already done?  That is, suppose baby bookworm and I just played a color matching game, well, a book about colors would be a great way to reinforce her learning; and a book about mixing colors would be a great way to expand her understanding of colors.

*Does the book have exceptionally interesting pictures?  You know that old saying  - don't judge a book by it's cover....but honestly, I do that all the time!  Illustrations can "sell" a book because when I'm flipping through the pages, they are one of the first things I notice.  Chances are if I find the illustrations intriguing, then so will baby bookworm. 

*Does the book have exceptionally interesting characters?  The Ladybug Girl book is a perfect example of a story that is probably above baby bookworm's ability level, but because she is such a great character and wears that cute little ladybug outfit, baby bookworm loved the story.

*Is the book about a topic that baby bookworm LOVES?  Baby bookworm likes princesses, fairies, and ballerinas lately, so books on this topic are generally a hit - no matter what. 

If I can answer yes to 3 of these things, then the book has some real value to us and we check it out regardless of whether it's a "baby" book, picture book, or book for adults! 

What helps YOU to decide whether a book will be a hit with your child?

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