DCPLive is a blog by library staff at the DeKalb County Public Library!

reading aloud

Dec 16 2011

Choosing the best book for a child

by Patricia D

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.

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Dec 14 2009

The Best Thing to Spend on Children

by Patricia D

Years ago I had the pleasure of working with Mr. Eddie Bonnemere.  He had played piano for Duke Ellington and told wonderful stories of late rehearsals and long road trips.  One story that stuck with me was this: whenever the band finally stopped for a meal Mr. Ellington would return thanks not only for the food but for the time and company as well.  All these years later I’m still grateful to Mr. Ellington, by way of Mr. Bonnemere, for reminding me that time and the people we choose to spend it on are precious.

Now, let me get to my point.  As a children’s librarian I am frequently asked, especially this time of year, by Grandma and Uncle and godpapa to help them choose books for the darling young person in their lives.  They have gotten the message that books are good for youngsters and are eager to do their part in setting that child on the path to academic success.  There’s a second, delicious part to the equation though.  Books are great gifts, but they are all the better when a much loved adult spends time reading them with the child.  If the adult is too far away there is reading together over the phone, or a video call, or even a homemade read-along with a CD or (yikes) a cassette tape of the adult reading.  Jim Trelease can tell you all about the benefits of reading aloud, even to older children, and offers many wonderful suggestions.  Any children’s staff member at DCPL can do the same.  So, buy the books, check them out of the library, it really doesn’t matter either way but be certain to treat yourself, and that special child, to time together talking, laughing or crying over a book.  Books are great, but books + time together is the best.

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