Choosing High-Quality Children’s Books

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What makes a book high quality? How do you choose the best titles to read with kids?

My first answer is that any reading is good. Fostering a love of books and making it a pleasant experience are stepping stones to lifelong reading. And all reading builds early literacy skills.

Early literacy is important because kids who start kindergarten with budding skills will be ready to jump into learning. Some of these skills include vocabulary and print awareness (recognizing that words are all around and contain meaning). Reading to children at a young age builds up these skills.

With that said, we often want to choose books that go a bit further. We want books that are well-written, with stories that are meaningful and age-appropriate.

Here are some tips to help you select great books for your preschoolers (and kids of any age!).

Look at awards lists. Every year, the American Library Association and other national organizations pore over new titles and choose their favorites for awards. The criteria they use depend on their goals, but they all look for outstanding writing and illustrations. Some of the most well-known awards include the Randolph Caldecott MedalCoretta Scott King Book Awards and Pura Belpré Award.

Consider smaller, or local awards as well, like the Best Books for Babies lists posted annually on Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s website.

Check reviews. With your library card, you can access the NoveList Plus K-8 database. One of the many features it offers is reviews from major publications like Kirkus and School Library Journal.

When a journal gives a “starred review,” it’s an indication that this is a high-quality book. Just search for the title of the book you’re interested in, click on the entry and scroll down to see reviews.

Don’t forget to check out recommendations from blogs and websites, particularly if you are interested in diversifying your selections. The Brown Bookshelf and We Need Diverse Books are two good places to start.

For nonfiction, pay attention to the publication date. Libraries try to keep informational books up-to-date. Newer is usually better. When it comes to ever-changing topics like science, engineering and culture, this is especially true

Ask your library staff! We’re always happy to suggest books and help you make selections based on your kids’ interests. When we can’t connect in person—or if you just want even more suggestions—check out our online booklists, which offer ideas by age, grade or topic.

Are classics always high quality? Books that remain in print after many years are probably well-written and appealing to a lot of readers. However, sometimes older books may include outdated or discriminatory language and images. You can always ask a librarian to help you find more modern read-alikes.

Are graphic novels lower in quality? Not at all! Like picture books, they require readers and listeners to interpret how the words and pictures work together, building important visual literacy skills (in addition to other skills). Many graphic novels are written with a preschool audience in mind, too. As with any book, reviews and awards lists will help you to find the best titles.

What about books based on cartoons, toys and movies? Reading about favorite characters can be highly motivating for kids, which is great. I’ve seen children very excited to check out a stack of books based on shows they love.

However, these books are not always held to the same standards as other books. With that said, if your child enjoys them, there is nothing wrong with including them in your reading rotation.

Let kids pick out a few books on their own. Sometimes the most appealing book is one a child selects on their ownIt might not be an award-winner, but when kids choose for themselves, they are building the early literacy skill called print motivation. 

Maybe the book they select will even become a favorite. Reading the same book repeatedly reinforces literacy skills. Kids notice new things in the words and pictures over time, begin to recognize familiar words and build narrative skills by learning the story.

Hopefully these tips will help you find great books to share. Enjoy your reading journey together!

You can sign up for a free library card here. If you are new to our eResources, check out these tutorial videos on how to get started. If you have any additional questions, you can contact a librarian through FacebookInstagram or Twitter. You can also call us at 412-622-3114 or email us at info@carnegielibrary.org.

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