A love of books is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. Reports have shown that children who read for pleasure are more likely to do well at school and the earlier you start the better. It’s great to set aside a quiet time just for them so they will learn to enjoy books and gradually absorb how books work e.g. reading from left to right and page by page. This lays good foundations for learning to read. Even after they have learned to read themselves children still enjoy being read to which lets them experience great stories that they may not quite be able to read themselves just yet.
But how on earth do you choose from the huge number of wonderful books available?
Read children’s librarian Greta Paterson’s top tips for how to choose books for your child aged 3–7 years or Beverley Humphrey’s top tips for how to choose books for older readers aged 7–11 years.
EnjoyGreta Paterson, expert
Choose books you think your child will enjoy, or better still, let them choose themselves. Children who enjoy books are far more likely to keep reading. Remember they don’t have to finish a book if they discover they don’t like it and never make them read a book just because you think they ought to. Reading should be fun.
Some children will love scary stories, others prefer funny stories and many love to follow a series or favourite author. Some children, particularly boys, may prefer factual books. Children who struggle with reading may prefer comic books or short stories. Babies and toddlers will love bright colours, repetition of words or rhymes, or books that invite you to touch, scrunch and prod!
Babies and toddlers will love board books and picture books, beginner readers like short stories with pictures and children around the age of 7+ will be ready for short chapter books. Some books have age guidelines on the back but remember that is just what they are, guidelines. They may be too easy for good readers or too hard for children who struggle. Either way it could put them off reading.
Are the words used appropriate for your child’s reading ability? Many teachers advise that if there are more than five hard words on a sample page in early reading books, the book is too difficult. It’s not a good idea to push your child to read books they are not ready for yet. That could put them off reading for good.
Favourite authors and series
If your child has a favourite author or is addicted to a series of books then choosing is easy but what happens when they have read them all? Your local children’s librarian or bookseller will be able to suggest similar books or you can try some of the suggested websites below.
Look at the book
Does the cover make you want to pick it up? Does the blurb make you want to read it? Is the print clear and well spaced on the page? Are the pictures bright and colourful? Is the story easy to read aloud? Try reading a page at random to see if you like the style. Try reading it aloud if you are choosing a bedtime story.
Newspapers and magazines sometimes have reviews of children’s books and there are specialist children’s book magazines which are listed in the websites below. Online booksellers like Amazon will have reviews and publishers’ websites are a good source for what’s new.
Your local library, school or bookseller may have a children’s book group like Chatterbooks, where children can come together to talk about books and try new things. There may be a local Children’s Book Group in your area where you can meet people like authors, publishers and teachers who are interested in children’s books. You can find out from the Federation of Children’s Book Groups. www.fcbg.org.uk
Talk to other parents, children and teachers or ask your local bookseller or librarian. Check out websites such as www.lovereading4kids.co.uk too.
It’s great to own books and have lots of books around the house but it can get expensive. If you join the library you can try out lots of different books free of charge or attend a storytime session. There may be displays or book lists to help you to choose and every year most libraries run the Summer Reading Challenge, a fun promotion with lots of rewards to keep children reading in the summer holidays.
Now that your son or daughter is in the juniors, hopefully they will be starting to read more confidently and will begin to develop their own reading tastes. It’s really important that you now guide and support them to become more independent at choosing books and taking risks with their choices. This helps to extend their reading range. But don’t forget that reading still needs to be fun.
Beverley Humphrey expert
Literacy, School Libraries
& Technology Consultant
Carry on visiting your local library regularly with your child. Libraries are an ideal place for children to experiment and discover new reading genres outside their normal reading choices. The librarian can also help guide book choices and recommend other good 'reads' whether they are in print, audio books or online.
Visits to a good independent bookshop can be invaluable, allowing your child time to browse for as long as they like and letting them choose a book to purchase. Check if any children's authors are doing book signings in your area and take your child along. A book signed by the author is always more exciting to read for some reason!
Encourage your child to check out book reviews in bookshops, newspapers, magazines and on children's TV, for example. There are also some excellent reading blogs that give book suggestions for all ages, so try out some of these:
Trapped By Monsters
Book Zone (For Boys)
The History Girls
There are so many wonderful children's author and book websites, so share and enjoy these with your child. Here are just a few good ones offering a range of appeal:
Cows In Action
Taster chapters and trailers
In the same way that films have always been preceded by a trailer advertising the movie, many authors and publishers are now releasing a taster trailer or chapter before books are published. You can find lots of these on YouTube or publishers' websites.
Try searching for a few of these:
The World of Norm, Jonathan Meres
Dolphin Tale, Gabrielle Rees
Fever Crumb, Philip Reeve
Judy Moody, Megan McDonald
Or look at the videos available at:
If you're going to the cinema to see a film based on a book, why not read the book as well. It can be fun to talk about which you preferred and why. It's a good reason to choose a book and I would suggest that your child reads the book first, before enjoying the film. Good examples of films from children's books are Matilda, The Chronicles of Narnia, Percy Jackson, The Eagle, and Inkheart.
You wouldn't necessarily associate picture books with this age group, but there are some really challenging books in this category that your child may enjoy without having to read lots of text. Try some of these authors: Colin Thompson, Shaun Tan, Chris Van Allsburg and David Wiesner. And also try these timeless favourites, Raymond Briggs' The Man, Michael Foreman's War Boy, or Anthony Browne's Voices in the Park.
Graphic novels and comics
There are some popular graphic novels (comic books) available for this age group. Try Andi Watson's Glister, Paul Collicutt's Robot City, Sarah McIntyre's Vern and Lettuce or Herge´s Tintin for example. Don't rule out comics either, especially those that tie in with a favourite TV programme such as Dr Who. Comics have a universal appeal and anything that encourages reading is a good thing! Because of their brevity they are not necessarily seen as such a challenge to read for children and the fact that they are often only released fortnightly means that you can build up the anticipation of reading them.
Book Club beginnings
Peer recommendation can be very powerful; if your child has a friend over to play, encourage them to bring some books that they have enjoyed reading. Have some favourite books to hand so that the children can tell each other about the characters in the books, what sort of stories they are and why they think their friend should read them. A return play date for a discussion can be set up, and if you had several children visiting at the same time they could form their own book group, but not all reading the same book at the same time!
Trip down memory lane
Why not encourage your child to read some of the books you read as a child? Enid Blyton books, for example, seem to be having a revival of popularity with children – or you could try other classics from authors such as Arthur Ransom, A. A. Milne, Richmal Crompton or Charles Dodgson. Some of these books also provide an interesting 'time capsule' of fads and fashions and this can be intriguing (and amusing) for today's technologically savvy and young.