Helping Kids Find Books
by Susan Stephenson, www.thebookchook.com
I like kids to be able to choose their own reading material. But I also advocate parents keeping a watchful eye on any of the media their kids consume. As usual, being a parent is a delicate balancing act! Fortunately, children are amazingly resilient. If your child does get hold of reading material you find inappropriate, consider a frank and calm discussion about it. Banning books, demanding censorship and other extreme measures are not, in my opinion, ways to encourage a love of reading in kids. Explaining why you want your child to read books that feed their minds and hearts makes more sense.
If you're finding it difficult to keep up a supply of books to your young reader, here are some suggestions:
* Talk to your local and school librarians. Librarians are a vastly underrated and underpaid resource in our communities. Many local libraries have a staff member who specialises in children's literature. School librarians spend most waking moments immersed in children's literature and LOVE to get books into children's hands. So take your child to have a chat with a librarian. Encourage your child to explain the sorts of books he's enjoyed, and ask for help in finding new titles.
* If you've plumbed the depths of libraries within reach of your neighbourhood, try your local book store. It may be you need to go past local and get to a town big enough to have a decent book store. Find one and chat to the staff there.
* Ask your child to ask his friends or kids from school what they're reading. Encourage kids who come to your house to share their favourite books or even start a book club. How about a Bring-a-Book party?
* Take time to browse with your child among garage sales and second-hand book shops. This mightn't be the quickest way to find new books, but it can be the most serendipitous! Don't forget your local library's sale table.
* Consider subscribing to magazines like Alphabet Soup, or to newsletters from publishers. Both are great sources of information on new and interesting titles for kids.
* Encourage your child to start writing her own book. If she's fallen in love with a series, and refuses to try books by any other author, maybe she would like to create her own story set in that series' world. What a wonderful learning experience!
Sometimes that useful tool known as the internet can help:
1. Check out What Should I Read Next. Enter a book, and it will suggest similar books you might like. For example, I typed in The Warriors, chose one of Erin Hunter's titles, and it gave me a list of books to investigate further. It tends to be US books rather than Australian. I think it's nice to have a balance of books from different countries. Another useful one is AllReaders.com which gives you an idea of the tone of a book, or how much violence is in it.
2. Research the publisher of the books your child likes. Go to the publisher's website and poke around there. Often, that will lead to some new books of similar quality. I review a lot of Walker books because they rarely let me down, whereas I rarely review some other publishers as in my opinion, the quality isn't there.
3. Once you find a new title, check it out on the net. Often a writer might have an excerpt published on their own website, and you can gauge the quality of the writing at least. I use Google to find author, publisher and review sites, Amazon Advanced Search for research, Book Depository for adding to my wish list so I can keep a record of what interests me. You don't need to buy from these big sites to make use of their features. Reading a couple of reviews can give you some idea as to whether or not a book will work for you/your child. But sadly, some of the reviews we get on the internet are not impartial. There are review sites that charge authors for reviews!
4. If you decide to buy books online, check out BOOKO, an Australian website that compares sites like AbeBooks, Book Depository etc re cost and delivery charge. I love it!
5. Search for book trailers on Youtube. Sometimes, you can get the flavour of a book as well as learning a little of its content, by watching a video preview of it. I wrote about this process in Find Picture Books on Youtube.
I believe that helping kids access books is a privilege, not a pain. There are so many wonderful resources in our communities and online, all we need to do is plunder them!
UPDATE: Thanks to Zoya, for this helpful hint posted via my Facebook page. "Perhaps start with their interests too - dogs, horses, even graphic novels for boys. I remember 'Footrot Flats' worked for my brother!"
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