When children are really little, you will do most of the book choosing for them. This is probably a good thing bearing in mind it is YOU who will regularly hear the “just one more time.” chorus or gesture and your enthusiasm for the book, or lack thereof, will rub off. (Though clearly after the 100th rendition, even Knuffle Bunny can grow a little stale.)
With Pre K kids, I would usually preselect maybe a dozen books and then let the child browse and choose a few. Young children will often be drawn to a picture book by its images and unless you discover something completely inappropriate in the illustrations (which is unlikely), I say let them choose it. I mean you will be the one telling the story and you can adapt or shorten the text if needs be. Allowing a child to choose his/her own books is helping that child develop a lifelong love of reading. My personal take is unless a book has some serious contradictions with your values or is overtly inappropriate for their age, if a child insists they want to borrow it, I let them.
As children start to become independent readers, especially if they are slightly weaker readers, they will often go for a reading level that is above their own, whether through wanting to keep up with peers or from genuine interest. Especially when it is from interest, it is often astounding how much effort a child will use to read that book. I do think we should be encouraging reading at a child’s reading level and I am all for strategies like the five finger strategy in enabling a child to choose appropriately, but I feel strongly about letting kids choose, even if 4 of the 5 books they borrow, you feel aren’t a “best fit”. Of course kids reading under their level will also need to be coaxed towards more challenging texts. There will be kids who will only choose dinosaur books for an entire year, or only non-fiction books about animals. But you know, even in looking at all those non-fiction illustrations and reading just a little bit of the text, they are growing to love books, and they will probably know far more than you about amphibians by the end of the year! I encourage you to go to the school library and choose books with your child. I know as a librarian I was more than happy for moms to come outside library time and select books together with their kids. I also, of course, am a great fan of getting to know one’s local library. Bookshop visits can then become real treats where the child gets to choose a book they will keep. Discussing why a book wasn’t enjoyed or wasn’t a great choice is also part of the process, just make sure you explain your not so successful choices to your child too ;).
I remember reading Lord of the Rings as a ten year old. Was the language not too advanced for me? Well sure it was, but it didn’t stop me becoming immersed in the power struggle raging on Middle-earth and following Frodo’s quest to its finale. My brother was a scant reader growing up. For years he delved into comic books and memorized redundant facts from encyclopedias, as boys annoyingly do, only to retrieve them years later to beat you in Trivial Pursuit. As an adult he has become one of the most well-read and eclectic readers that I know. My parents were not great readers but they certainly did not deem Tintin and Asterix inappropriate reading.
The goal is to preserve the pleasure of reading as long as possible in a generation pulled in all sorts of technological directions away from the bookshelves. Most children will receive plenty of directed/prescribed reading in the classroom, thus my feeling is that while many children will appreciate some adult guidance, plenty of liberty should be given for free choice during library time.
« A man ought to read just as inclination leads him; for what he reads as a task will do him little good. (Samuel Johnson) »