How can I help my child choose a book she can read successfully?
Whether your child is an emergent reader, learning to read or an enthusiastic, independent reader, finding a book the child finds interesting is key to raising a reader according to llsley Public Library Children’s Librarian Tricia Allen. We reached out to Tricia to ask how we can help our kids choose books. In this sassy interview, Tricia reminds us that at the end of the day, a book that sparks a child’s interest and imagination trumps reading level and comprehension, especially during summer!
MiniBury: First off, how frequently do kids and parents ask for your help in choosing books?
Tricia: The fancy library term for this is “Reader’s Advisory” and it happens every day.
MiniBury: How do you help you kids choose “best fit” books?
Tricia: This is actually a trickier question than you might think. I am guessing that you are asking about how to judge if a child can read a book independently. There are many methods for doing so, and a quick google search will bring up several. I remember being taught the 5 finger method as a child and have seen it applied in local schools. At the public library, a “best fit” book is one that sparks a child’s interest and imagination and may in fact be a book that a child can’t read – yet.* This usually happens when a child falls in love with a cover on the shelf, or has heard their friends talking about a particular book. This is great! Your child is excited about reading! Check that book out! You should also ask your child what they like about that book, and with that information a librarian will likely be able to find you an ADDITIONAL book to check out that may be closer to their reading level. I get nervous when parents start talking about reading level as a primary criteria for checking out a book. Children who are able to pick out their own books read significantly more than children who are handed books to read, and the best way to become a better reader is to read!
MiniBury: Do you have a favorite method that you suggests to kids?
Tricia: I have found that the most successful way to open up a reader’s advisory conversation is to ask a child “what was the last thing you read that you loved?” and go from there. Sometimes I recognize the book and have similar titles at the ready to recommend. Sometimes they hit me with a book I’ve never read before (It’s true! Librarians have not read every book in the library!), or rarely, a book I’ve never heard of. My next question is “what did you like about that book?” and if they need prompting: “Was it the characters, the action, where it took place?”
MiniBury: What is your go-to recommendation for kids when all else fails for a pre-reader, emergent reader, and independent reader?
Tricia: Mo Willems is one of my all-time favorite authors. I am shocked and pleased whenever a meet a pre-k parent unfamiliar with Mo Willems. Shocked because Mo Willems is awesome, pleased because I am now able to introduce an author I know both the parent and child will love. From his well-known Pigeon books to Elephant and Piggie (the 25th and final book just came out! *sniff*) to the lesser-known Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed and Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct, Mo Willems titles are sure to be a hit.
The Kingdom of Wrenly books by Jordan Quinn are one of my favorite transitional chapter book series. Fantastical creatures, male and female protagonists, and gentle adventure are all wrapped up into a book that is easily enjoyed either read aloud or alone. Shannon Hale’s Princess in Black series is also a great read for both parents and children.
I have been raving about The Wild Robot by Peter Brown lately. The story of a robot trying to survive on a small island in the middle of the ocean is a fabulous blend of the classic animal story and desert island/survival story.
MiniBury: My kid is obsessed with _____ how can I get him to read something anything else?
Tricia: Honestly? You can make gentle suggestions of alternate titles, bring them in to the library for “read-alike” recommendations from the librarians, and make sure to leave other books in places where they are likely to be picked up by your child, but if they are enjoying what they are reading I would ask that you don’t push too hard for them to switch just to relieve your mind. Many transitional chapter books are written in huge series, The Magic Tree House and Rainbow Magic Fairies being two of the most popular and each with well over 50 titles, because children who are just beginning to read on their own like to have a good idea of what they are going to find when they start reading a book. They are still working out how the whole chapter-book thing works – new characters! new settings! new plot lines! longer stories! – and sticking with a series takes a lot of guesswork out of the equation and leads to a more confident reader who enjoys reading. If your child has exhausted their series/subject/author and refuses to try anything else then intervention is needed. Librarians are great at “if you liked _____, then you will likely enjoy _____”, and we love a challenge!
* We asked Tricia to elaborate with specific advice to summer reading. She suggested parents think of kids summer book choices as similar to adult “beach reads.” The goal of summer reading is to keep kids minds engaged, it’s not necessarily a time for structured learning. Books for summer can reflect this idea as well. Let your children pick books that strike their fancy, not yours.