When picking books for children, a lot of parents seem to be guided by age, gender and use (does it teach something? does it transmit good values?). And by ‘brands’–Harry Potter is recommended for everyone from five and up! As is poor Dickens.
The one thing which seems to be left out rather often is what the individual child’s likes and dislikes are.
Five things which are not important when picking books:
1. Does it teach anything?
Books are for pleasure; not explicit learning. And all books teach something, if you are really hung up on the education bit. Even if it is something as useless as what a cravat is.
2. Have you read it?
Unless you only read children’s books, and read all the time, you could not have possibly read every children’s book available in the market. It is fine for your child to read things you have not.
3. Is it by a famous author?
There are lovely books by famous authors–and there are lovely books by authors who are yet to be famous. Or who will never be famous but have written fabulous books anyway. We have a parental desire to make kids read books by famous authors from our childhood–Enid Blyton and R.K. Narayan, for example, who some kids may enjoy but others may equally not. Yes, a best-selling book means that a lot of kids have read it and loved it, but that does not mean that every child will love it. And a lot of fabulous books never become bestsellers. A steady diet of only bestsellers means that your child does not have the joy of discovery of a book that speaks to her–and only her!
4. Is it for a girl or a boy?
Books have no gender–and there are no boys’ books and girls’ books. These are preconceptions in our aged, sad parental minds. Kids enjoy books regardless of the gender of the protagonist, or the colour of the cover.
5. What age group is it for?
Age group is important for some things–vocabulary, content–but it is a subjective concept. Your child’s reading level may be higher or lower than what the publisher thinks the age group of a book is. (Age levels also vary across publishers, so that is no authoritative guide.) Often kids can read higher-level books if it is a subject that they are immersed in, say football or space travel. Never force a child to read according to age group. Sometimes older kids are embarrassed about publicly reading a book ostensibly for a younger age group–say a picture book, but as we as adults read them! It is best to treat age group as a useful indicator but no more!
Five things which are important when picking books:
1. Who chooses the book?
A child is more likely to pick a book she chooses. Whether at a bookshop or online, let your child pick! Don’t force your choices–if you have to ‘suggest’, do so gently so that a no is not a mortal insult.
2. What kind of a book is it?
Children often have fairly strong preferences about whether they like fiction or non-fiction, or graphic novels or even dictionaries. Yes, it is good if a child reads a diverse range of books, across subjects and genres, but do let the child pick whatever kind of book he likes, even if it is something not to your taste.
3. What is the book about?
If your child likes reading fiction, even within that, she may have specific favourites. If you are picking a book for her, try more books which fall within that broad spectrum–be it adventure, humour, school stories, fantasy or whatever she likes. Again, diversity is good but since as an adult your comfort zone is certain kinds of books, you should grant a child that freedom too!
4. Have you read the first chapter?
Reading the opening of a book is a great way to know if you want to read more or not! In a physical bookstore, this is easy; even if you are buying online, many publishers give you the option of reading the first few pages or the first chapter online.
5. What mood are you (or your child) in?
We read for a variety of reasons–for excitement, for comfort, to beguile the tedium of a long journey or a boring day, for distraction when one should be studying. If you are picking a book for your child, try to figure out what mood your child is in–and pick a genre and a book accordingly. For example, Lord of the Rings may be a great trilogy to give the child at the beginning of the summer holidays, but not perhaps a good one when she is getting ready for exams. Or not!
Each child is different, and picking a book can be challenging. We decided to categorise some of our books to help you if you are looking. And yes, we do mention age groups–but that is a suggestion only!
For younger readers
For readers a little older