Children can choose!

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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) »


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8 Responses to Children can choose!

  1. Oh, what a great post! It’s good to read about book choice — and your take on encouraging reluctant readers — from a librarian’s perspective.

    When I was small, we didn’t have a library in our town, but were regular visitors at the library in the larger town 20 or 25 miles away. I remember how warm and welcoming the librarian was — but I also don’t remember her ever leaving her place behind the circulation desk. I suppose there wasn’t enough staff to enable her to do that, but she must have sometimes wanted to guide a child toward certain books…

    It seems to me that there’s value in both receiving some guidance from the librarian, and in allowing the child free-range “grazing” of the library. The librarian may help the child discover some gems that otherwise would go un-mined (yes, I know I’m mixing my metaphors!), but definitely allowing children to follow their interests, whether it’s amphibians or princesses or books about large families is important in helping them to become eagaer readers. (As an only child, I repeatedly borrowed a book about a family welcoming their sixth baby. I can even still remember where it was shelved!)

    Have you read Emma’s “Raising Bookworms”?

  2. Joanna says:

    Beth I wholeheartedly agree about the value of both guidance and free-grazing! Indeed they do go hand in hand. I guess the post was a little reactive to when I see a child being refused a book he/she so clearly wants because it is; too difficult, you have already had that one seven times etc… I actually love helping kids choose and offering suggestions. *Joanna smiles as she imagines a little Beth rereading yet again about the book about that large family* 🙂

    I have not yet read Emma’s “Raising Bookworms” as am trying to limit a little my Amazon-spending! I have, however, put it on the list of books for our librarian to buy so the school should have it for the summer. It sounds like one our school library will appreciate.

  3. Iris says:

    Darf ich hier einfach etwas schreiben???
    Das ist ein super Text,den du geschrieben hast und er stimmt!!(Leider verstehe ich nicht ganz alles,so gut ist mein englisch doch nicht!).
    Bei uns haben Bücher und lesen einen sehr grossen Stellenwert.
    Leider ist das Thema Bücher und lesen nicht nur Postiv behaftet, Aufgrund Giosuè’s schwerer dyslessia…
    Dennoch lesen wir jeden Tag und regelmässig.Er wird 10 und kann natürlich beiweitem nicht Herr der Ringe lesen.Er braucht noch sehr viel kindlicheres…:)..Aber ich habe festgestellt,dass ER sich ganz andere Bücher aussucht,als die ich ihm immer Angeboten habe.ICH habe bis vor kuzem immer entschieden was er lesen soll,aber erkannt,dass ER es selbst kann.Er hat es schwer diese gewählten Bücher zu lesen,aber nicht schwer um sie zu verstehen,darum wird lesen für uns jetzt immer spannender und nicht nur lästige Pflicht.Ich bin sehr, sehr dankbar,dass Giosuè trotzallem Bücher liebt und fleissig liest….
    Liebe Grüsse Joanna..Baci

    • Joanna says:

      Sicher kannst Du was schreiben, Iris, das freuet Mich sehr 🙂 Ich liebe dieses Beispiel von Giosuè, es ist genau was ich unterschreiben wollte. Dass sieht man auch dass, Du eine tolle Mutter bist um soviel zu investieren um dieses Bücherlieben zu unterstützen. Viele Kinder mit Dyslexie können eigentlich viel verstehen auch wenn es Ihnen sehr schwer ist wenn Sie laut lesen müssen. Hat er noch gern dass, Du zu Ihm liest?


  4. Patricia says:

    Excellent article filled with good ideas. I loved the libraries as a child and was given a lot of freedom to choose my own books…until I got hooked on Nancy Drew books and my mother and teacher said I should read other books. Also loved the book mobiles that made the rounds in the summer. I lived to read and still do.

    With my daughter, I always read to her and took her to meet many of the popular authors when they came to do book signings. She still treasures those books today. But, when it came to getting her to read early readers and simple chapter books on her own, it was quite challenging. She had some special needs with her hearing impairment, and some learning issues. Even today, she won’t pick up a book — maybe a magazine. Her focus is elsewhere. She did read Harry Potter. I thought I was raising a bookworm until she was about 7 yrs. old, but sadly found it became a battle ground if she had to sit and read alone. Tried to find many creative ways to get her to read, but it just didn’t happen. She liked action, not sitting still.

    • Joanna says:

      Thanks for your thoughts. I confess that I would probably have let you read ALL the Nancy Drew. As an adult I have gone through seasons where I have read predominantly one author for months on end ;). I wish I had known about author-signings as a child. In an ideal world we believe all kids should love reading for pleasure (and, we also think, for the many other benefits) but do you think there are kids that even given all the “right” encouragements simply won’t find pleasure in this? With your daughter, it is hard to know how much the hearing impairment and learning issues played into her association with reading. My Dad never read until maybe 4 years ago, after he had been widowed a number of years. Now he is into Le Carré. It is so strange for me to see him with a book in his hands when I visit. But it is possible to become a reader after 70+ years as a non-reader!!

  5. Iris says:

    Giosuè hat natürlich lieber,wenn ich ihm vorlese,als wenn er es selber machen muss.Denn ja,laut lesen geht ganz schlecht und langsam.
    Aber wir haben einen Kompromiss geschlossen.Er liest einige Sätze und ich den rest der Seite.So liebt er es und wir übern trotzdem…:)

  6. Joanna says:

    Hör nicht auf Ihm zu lesen, solang wie er will 🙂 ich habe auch genau solche Kompromissen gemacht mit Studenten die Dyslexie hatten.

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