How to Pick Great Books for Kids

Jul 27, 2017 | Kids Books | 0 comments

I grew up in a house full of books.  My mum was a librarian and has books on every level of their house with a basket of library books that is constantly full.  Growing up, there were books in every room and I was allowed to buy as many books from the bookstore that I wanted (this is probably an exaggeration – there was a limit I am sure – but this is how my memory works).

My dad is always reading random mystery paperbacks and seems to have several on the go depending on which room he is in.

I have fond memories of sitting on my mum’s lap and having her read to me.  And even a memory of my dad telling me stories that were terrible:  “once upon a time there was a horse.  The end”.  I have memories of listening to books on tape on road trips with my mum (or listening to their books when both were in the car).   I have memories of my grandma reading to me “One thumb drumming on a drum” and I have memories of using a flashlight to read under my covers far past bedtime (Harriet the Spy – and then I pretended I too was a spy.  I was terrible. I would use binoculars with my bedroom lights turned on so that my neighbours would wave to me.  As I was spying on them).

Needless to say they raised a reader in me.  Ironically my mum thinks I have too many books that clutter up my house.  Pshhish I say.  She’s the one who started me on this obsession with books.

I get asked (albeit by three people) how to (a) raise a reader and (b) how to pick good books.

Today we are talking about the latter.

Just how do you pick books for your children?  This is how I do it

1. The Library: We love love love the library. I haven’t gotten so much use out of my library card since I was a university student writing papers. Each library card we have (three in total: myself, George and now Alice) allows for fifty books at a time and I have more than once hit our max. The library is your best friend.

2. Bookstores.  And not just the department store bookstores we have (and I link to) here in Canada but actual, local, independent bookstores.  Bonus if they are focused solely on kids books.  Here are my favourite stores in various cities across Canada:

And that is as far as I go.  I clearly need to go further east of Ontario. Engineer – are you reading?

Oh and then this one that is in Brooklyn and I covet over Instagram and need to go – stat!

Stories Bookshop + Storytelling Lab

If you know a great bookstore please tell me in the comment section!

Library Photo Library Photo

3. Instagram.  I find a ton of my ideas from accounts I follow that focus on children’s literature.  Once you find one, you will find ten more.  Search out #bookmom or #raiseareader or #bookish and you will start seeing great accounts. I will link my favourites below.

4. Pinterest.  I have always been a category/theme-type person so I really enjoy clumping together books with the same theme.  If George takes an interest in say, horses, I can pop onto pinterest and search ‘kids books about horses’ and hopefully tons of inspiring ideas pop up.

5. Get more the same.  This means if you discover  an author, illustrator or even publisher that you like –  chances are you will like more of their books.  And then you will go down a rabbit hole of discovering tons of new books.  For example:  I really love books published under Nosy Crow so I starred to follow them on instagram. And then I saw a cute book so I started to follow the author.  That author had written other books published by other publishing companies so I started to  follow them.  By the time I was out of that rabbit hole, we had placed holds on thirty books to check out of the library!

Now to explore some of these ideas further.  You are probably thinking, “duh Sarah, obviously the library is the best place to get books” but I know that libraries can be a bit overwhelming and the kids sections are often a bit disastrous after a busy story time with books strewn everywhere.  And as a friend of mine says “libraries smell like they have traces of feces and vomit” so I understand if you don’t want to linger.

So here is how you tackle the library:

  • Find a great story time.  To be fair, I lucked out on this one.  I found a fantastic story time and librarian on my first try.  Trust me, not all librarians or storytellers are of the same calibre.  Since finding our favourite (Librarian Samantha at the Queen/Saulter branch on Wednesday mornings), I have found that other librarians don’t seem as fun, enthusiastic or engaging as Samantha.  So it might take you a few tries to find a librarian who leads a great story time – but don’t give up!  I don’t get to go often (how about ever) to see Samantha anymore, but when we did I would always take out the books she had read and they would inevitably lead to more books by the same author/illustrator/publisher.
  • Find a beautiful library.  Some libraries are so easy to spend hours in exploring the shelves.  My local one is certainly stunning on the outside but sadly lacks in its kids department.  One of my most favourite libraries is the West Vancouver Memorial Library in West Vancouver.  If you happen to be there – check it out.  Anyways, when you have a library with a fabulous kids section it’s really a matter of letting your kids play and letting them discover which books appeal to them.
  • Trust your library.  Librarians loves books.  And most librarians love kids books.  You will see that it’s not hard to find books when your librarian has already selected great finds and places them on top of tables and shelves.  We always hit these ones first.  I was pleased to see in both Calgary and Vancouver that librarians had grouped together four or five picture books under different themes like ‘shapes’ or ‘trucks’ and I could just grab the bundle.  My librarian Sam and her cohorts often wrap books at the Queen/Saulter branch that are surprises – so you child feels like they are getting a present.  Love finding these touches at libraries.

Bookstores is yet again a pretty obvious choice.  My goodness do I love a bookstore.  The Engineer once commented as we drove past our local bookstore that he noticed that name on our Visa bill so often he wondered what the heck it was.  So yes, it’s easy to spend a small fortune at the bookstore!

My mum definitely created my devotion to bookstores and the belief that spending money on books was money well spent.  I once went through a massive de-cluttering phase and got rid of so many books and have regretted it ever since.  To sound absolutely corny and cheesy, having bookshelves around your home with books both read and to-be read is like having familiar friends surrounding you.

I love everything about bookstores:  the smell of the new books, the quirky touches great local bookstores will have (like hand-written staff recommendations), the pretty displays that publishers have forced on them.

The great thing about having a local bookstore, especially a kids book store, is that the staff actually know and care about kids books and will readily help you.

My advice here is to start making the bookstore a magical place for you child.  Allow them to find their own book on the shelf and maybe have a bi-monthy treat of getting a book or small toy from the bookstore.  I don’t think this will spoil them, and most likely they will take it for granted, but when they are 37 writing a blog post similar to this they will remember days spent reading and exploring with their mum (or dad or grandma or aunt).

And once you have found your favourite bookstore, the staff will become familiar with you and have recommendations based on what they know you like.

I walked into my bookstore, Ella Minnow just the other day looking for books about feelings.  Right away Yvette had half a dozen suggestions for me and they were placed all over the bookstore.  I mentioned that George and I have started to look for birds and learn their calls – well she had a sound book just out of a box about backyard birds of Canada.

What I am trying to say is create a relationship with your bookseller. They know the ins and outs of the publishing world and are fountains of information for you.

Pinterest and “getting more of the same” are hopefully self-explanatory.  They can be definite rabbit holes of hours looking at books in the wee small hours of the morning.  This is when I put endless books on hold at the library.  I have to wonder if my librarian secretly hates me and the 30-odd books they often have to place hold slips on with elastic bands and then watch me in disgust as I take them all off and forget to separate the paper and rubber bands. Oh well. Maybe I should get them a ‘thank you’ coffee card.

Instagram might be a new idea to you though as it was for me.  I don’t know how I started discovering these accounts on Instagram that were devoted to kids books but once I started – I could not stop.  The recommendations are often awesome and the pictures are pretty and creative.  You can start with searching hashtags like:   #bookish #picturebook #kidsbooks #kidlitart #booksforkids #kidsbookstagram and BOOM – you will find a ton of people to follow.

Here are some of my favourites:

Start with these and each time you follow one, ten suggestions pop up – so in no time you will have a feed full of great books to read to your kids!

I hope this guide is helpful if you have felt overwhelmed at picking books for your kids. There are lots and lots and lots of horrible books out there but there are even more fabulous books out there.  Just start exploring and you will discover a way to fill your library with books you and your kids love.

As always, Happy Reading,

Curious in Wonderland

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© 2021 Curious in Wonderland