I realise that I am getting WAY ahead of myself with this post but my niece was born last Sunday (welcome to the world Emma!) and whenever a baby is born I like to give the parents a great book or two that the baby will hopefully grow up to love. For Emma I found the great boxed set of Harry Potter books in this picture. It got me thinking and I couldn’t resist writing this post about one of my favourite topics: books for kids!
I have always been an avid reader – in fact my very first memory is of reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar at kindy! I am determined to do everything I can to encourage my children (when I have them!) to grow up to be readers. There is plenty of research out there to tell you why it is advantageous for your children to read – how it will boost their vocabulary, help them in their studies, etc., etc. But the reason I want my kids to be readers is because I want them to know the pure joy of sinking into a great book and disappearing into a different world… again and again and again! Books have come with me around the world – making long flights and train trips something to look forward to, rather than something to be endured. These days I read a crazy number of books during my commute into Tokyo and back everyday. And I have a confession to make: I still read children’s books. I don’t read them for research or so that I will be familiar with some of what my children read, although that is part of it. The real reason I read them is because children’s books are awesome! It is great to get away from the recurring topics of novels written for adults: sex, coming of age, adultery, romance, war, etc., etc. and read about, for example, the trials and adventures of the poor Baudelaire children in the wonderful A Series of Unfortunate Events, or to be privy to the private thoughts of a teenager who has recently discovered she is, in fact, a princess, in The Princess Diaries.
I’m sure that it is possible to look deeply into the field of children’s literature and find out all kinds of wonderful facts about the intricacies of getting children to read. I could look into what level of vocabulary is appropriate for a three year old, read about the pros and cons of different book lengths, genres, and even font sizes! But I know my Mum didn’t do that – and somehow I still grew up to be an avid (and somewhat obsessive!) reader. I have a feeling that a big part of the picture is good books. This post sets out some of the information I have found that can help lead you to good books for kids.
Let me start with the wonderful Paul Jennings. As a child I loved every single one of Paul Jennings’ books (still do!) – they are funny, they are quirky and they get stuck in your head. So when I saw his book on getting kids to love reading on a recent trip back to Australia I had to pick it up . I knew that Paul Jennings knew what he was talking about because he writes books that kids love. The Reading Bug… and how to help your child catch it was even better than I expected. It turns out that Paul Jennings is not only a writer of brilliant and funny children’s books – he also used to be a special-education teacher and knows a lot about helping children learn to read. There are a lot of great tips throughout the book, but the thing I really took away from it is that if your child is reading something they want to read it won’t be a chore. This brings us back to the importance of finding great books for kids! The book contains a twenty-nine-page list of “brilliant books,” including many old favourites, but also introduces plenty of more modern titles. Some of my favourite books recommended in The Reading Bug are: John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat, the Hairy Maclary books, and (for older readers) Goodnight Mister Tom. The other great thing about this book are the very clever cartoons throughout – I embarrassed myself time and time again by bursting out laughing in public places because of these!
Getting recommendations from people you know and trust is a great place to start when looking for good books for kids. Friends, family and colleagues are great sources of information. Recently, one of the lawyers at work posted a list of his favourite picture books on our in-house website, which was great because I needed an introduction into the world of Japanese children’s books. I haven’t tested them out yet but some of the books he recommended that intrigued me were おしり (oshiri), which features the bottoms of various different animals, and いないないばあ (Inainaiba), apparently the top-selling picture book in Japan and meaning something similar to “peek-a-boo” in English. I am excited about discovering all the awesome Japanese children’s books out there – but I think my husband will have to do the reading aloud part unless we want our kids to grow up with dodgy gaijin accents!
Another slant on the idea of getting recommendations from people you know and trust is my favourite way to look for good children’s books at the moment. I like to see what books my favourite bloggers recommend. My favourite blogs at the moment are blogs on getting to where you want to be in your life and at first glance they don’t seem to be good places to go looking for children’s book recommendations… but at least two of my favourite bloggers have written great posts on this topic. There are a couple of really brilliant things about finding out about books for kids this way. Firstly, you can usually just click through to more information about the book, or even just go straight to Amazon and grab a copy. Even better, the comments section following the blog post usually offers even more suggestions. Leo at Zen Habits wrote a post on this topic titled Best All-Time Children’s Books a while ago and with six kids I assume he knows what he’s talking about! If you don’t find anything you like among his recommendations you’re sure to find something good among the 138 comments the post attracted! Another blogger I’ve recently discovered also did a great post on books: Annabel Candy at Get in the Hot Spot. Her post was a bit broader, as it was a reading list for writers, travelers and parents but it included a great selection of books for kids and apparently it is a work in progress so it can be expected to grow in the future.
I hope these suggestions lead you to some brilliant books for kids – enjoy!