When I worked in the Children’s Room there was one question, above all others, that we were asked this time of year. “What is the best book for a holiday gift for my child/niece/nephew/young friend?” We would ask about the child’s interests and age, and offer up some of our favorite titles, things that were new during the year and also things we loved, either from our childhood or from our own experiences with children. I completely understand the worry over choosing just the best book for that special child. I ordered books for children for a living and was stopped in my tracks by indecision at the bookstore every time I tried to buy a gift.
It’s almost impossible to predict what a child will actually like—I hated, hated, hated Dr. Seuss as a child (still do in fact) but Junior can’t get enough of Fox in Socks. Thank the great Great Panjandrum there are other adults in her life who are thrilled to read him to her. I have yet to be able to interest her in The Cricket in Times Square (charming and age appropriate) but she couldn’t wait each night for the next chapter in Calico Captive, something I thought was way too much for her but that she picked off the shelf herself.
There’s a secret to choosing the best book for a child. Wanna hear it? Lean in, and pay close attention because I’m only going to say this once: The best book for a child is the one you are reading together.
That’s it, that’s the secret. Books and children work best, even when the child is older, when you are sharing them. If they hate it, if they love it—doesn’t matter. Shared reading isn’t really about phonemic awareness, sequencing and decoding of letters. Those things are part of it, sure, but it’s really about you and the child. It’s about your undivided attention as you snuggle in the oversized easy chair or under the covers. It’s about crying together when Charlotte or Ann & Dan dies, and cheering in one voice when Taran is finally revealed to be the High King. It’s about taking the time to show your child that reading matters and that it matters to you.
I read aloud to a blind classmate during my college years. I didn’t really want to read The Last Temptation of Christ or Mr. Sammler’s Planet and I well and truly did not want to read Anna Karenina but we read them together and the memories of those times are still sweet. I think the same will be true for that special child in your life. Is it tough to work reading into the nighttime routine? Absolutely—there’s dinner to manage and that always takes longer than I think it will (seriously? 75 minutes to eat a hotdog and some slaw?) and then there’s the goofy homework assignments and the bedtime fight over how well the teeth got brushed, among other things. So yeah, it is tough to work in some print time. I promise you though, this gift will keep on giving long after that amazing pop-up book by Robert Sabuda that I’m going to recommend has fallen to bits.
- Read-aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
- Baby Read-aloud Basics by Caroline Blakemore
- Best Time to Read by Debbie Bertram
- Once Upon A Time, the End: Asleep in 60 Seconds by Geoffrey Kloske
- Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox
- Reading Promise: my Father and the Books we Shared by Alice Ozma