Choosing Good Books for Your Child’s Library

Advice from the experts—parents, of course
December 29, 2019 Updated: March 19, 2020

Parents looking for high-quality literature for their children’s library may find navigating the bookstore challenging. The great thing about introducing children to literature is that, no matter when a book was originally published, it’s all new to them. A parent isn’t limited to only the modern day’s best-sellers. This also means, though, that the options are nearly endless.

So, how does one go about finding the best books for one’s children? Well, I went to the experts—other parents—to find out how they look at the importance of keeping books in their home and curating a library for their kids.

Reading Is Fundamental

The parents I spoke to all view reading as an essential priority in their children’s upbringing. YouTuber and homeschooling mom Ashlee Williams said having good books in her home is “extremely important, and one of the many reasons we chose to homeschool so that our children’s exposure to things would be chosen by us.”

Similarly, Melissa Corkum a 16-year homeschool veteran said, “Books are an essential part of our education and entertainment for our kids.”

Alexandra Fung, CEO of Upparent aims to share her love of books with her children. “I have loved reading since I was a child, and know that it has enriched my life in countless ways. From providing a constant source of entertainment and learning, to cultivating my sense of imagination and empathy for others, books have long been an integral part of my life, and one that has been important for me to share with my children.”

Author and mom of nine, Libby Kiszner also calls upon fond memories from childhood to inspire her approach. “As a mother of nine, having good books in my home is a high priority, as is reading bedtime stories (as bonding time) before they drift off to dreamland. When I was a kid I was the quintessential bookworm, and the stories I read nurtured my imagination, created worlds, allowed me to feel things and visit places I would never otherwise know, and taught me spelling, grammar, word usage and, of course, life skills.”

Writer and former teacher Leslie Kiel said, “On a scale of 1-10, having good books in our home for each family member is a 10.”

Where to Look

So, what are the best resources for finding good books? Williams told me she refers to The Good and the Beautiful library and book lists from homeschool curriculum companies.

Many parents I spoke to pointed to their library as their primary resource for books.

“We rely heavily on our library. It’s free, and they keep the books neatly organized and dusted. If you’re short on time, librarians can make fabulous suggestions on demand,” Corkum said.

“We adore our public library, and try to go once a week, so we are always bringing new books into our home,” said Kiel. “For the books that we want to remain a part of our collection, we love referencing the Usborne book lists and then adding them to our birthday or Christmas lists or finding them used.”

Fung starts with what she knows. “Typically, I focus on books I have read and loved, though recommendations from people I trust—family and friends with shared values and other parents—are other important secondary sources.” she said.

Choosing Good Books

Amidst the vast array of books available to children, quality varies significantly. The parents I spoke to considered different criteria to evaluate books for their kids.

Williams said she looks at the “content as a whole—is there foul language? Are the characters disrespectful to adults or other children? Does the book contain moral lessons?”

Nurse and blogger Jordan Foster considers educational and entertainment value for her little one. “I always consider the concepts included in the book. Currently, I have a 2 1/2-year-old, so I make sure the books provide new and exciting information, but are still short enough for her relatively short attention span.”

“We start reading to them when they are just a few months old,” Corkum explained. “When our kids are preschool and school-aged, we strive to read to them above their reading level almost every day. Once they read independently, we have them read silently at reading level and read out loud to others with material below their reading level so they can practice reading with inflection. We read a lot of classics and look for books with strong plot lines and use of the English language.”

“It’s so important to inspire a love of reading early on,” Kiel said, “so I only have two criteria: they are intrigued by the topic and the book is age/ability appropriate. For my 9-year-old, ability appropriate no longer means he is reading books for third graders, but that he is reading books that challenge him just enough to help his skills grow but not so much he becomes frustrated.”

But Who Has Time?

Parents are busy, no doubt about it. Some may find it challenging to make time for reading and curating a library for their children.

Williams suggests “finding a group of like-minded parents, whether on the internet or in real life, and take their recommendations. Stick to classics written long ago.”

Therapist Puja Parikh also offered some advice to busy parents. “It is all about quality, so even if you have 15 minutes to spare for a book, make it count. Ask your child to pick a book one night and you can pick one the next night. Read the book with your child and make it seem interesting and fun. Pick books that teach valuable skills such as emotional intelligence, taking risks to try new things, overcoming adversity, learning new concepts and that encourage imagination and creativity. Pair books with positive reinforcement—make the experience of reading fun. Give your child your full attention when you are reading to or with them; this is really the key.”

“If parents of young children feel short on time for reading to their children, combine activities: bathtime and bath book, mealtime and a board book about food or babies eating, bedtime snuggles and a bedtime book,” Kiel suggested.

“If it’s the children who are short on time because of after school obligations,” she added, “remove some of the extracurriculars, limit screen time, or extend bedtime. Research shows that reading is important enough to be prioritized, and if there’s not a 30-minute window in a kid’s day to sit and read, their routine and commitments need to be revisited.”

Follow Barbara on Twitter: @barbaradanza