Choosing bedtime stories and books to read with your kids
With almost 20,000 new children’s books published in the UK every year, it’s no wonder that choosing the right book can be a difficult or overwhelming task.
Faced with shelf upon shelf of bright, shiny titles in the bookshop or library, where do you start?
Perhaps your confidence has been dashed because you bought a book and found that your child just wasn’t interested in it.
Perhaps your child won’t sit still for five minutes to read with you.
Or perhaps you just think that your child doesn’t like reading?
But remember that finding the right book to share will reinforce your child’s love of reading and will also help strengthen the relationship between the two of you, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right.
Taking an early, easy start to reading books
Start off with books that you and your child can just dip into, especially if their concentration isn’t great.
A classic is John Burningham’s picture book Would you rather?
Children love to choose between the four situations on each page:
“Would you rather an elephant drank your bath water, an eagle stole your dinner, a pig tried on your clothes, or a hippo slept in your bed?”
Great for reading out loud and a great way to encourage children to think about choices.
The important thing is to enjoy a shared experience, spending more time each session on having fun.
If they’re happy to sit still for a whole story, you can’t go wrong with a comforting story such as Dogger, by Shirley Hughes (one that I grew up with and now read with my own daughter).
Bored of the story?
If your child loses interest in a book, try to find out what they didn’t like about it. It could just be that it wasn’t right for them at that time, so bring it out again at a later date (though that date may be much later).
They need to be involved in the selection of their reading matter, and understanding why they don’t like a book helps them to make better choices as they grow older.
If they have a say in choosing their own books, they’re more likely to keep reading.
In fact, my daughter’s primary school have a daily policy whereby each child choosing a book from the library to take home and read that evening and then changing it the next day.
She loves this autonomy over what she reads and is now quite happy to explain “I know I chose it, but I don’t like it, can we read something else?” when she realizes that she doesn’t in fact like the book or it’s not what she thought it was about.
Remember that finishing a book is not compulsory; we all have the right to put it down and start another!
Matching books to your children’s age, skills and interests
When you’re choosing, think about the age range that the book is intended for.
I have to say that there is normally a suggested age on the back cover.
But remember that this is just a guide; the book may be too difficult for a child who is struggling, or too easy for a good reader.
Even if they can actually read all the words, it doesn’t mean that the book is appropriate for them.
The subject matter needs to be suitable for their level of maturity, so think twice about encouraging a seven year old to read Harry Potter!
Whichever book you’re flicking through, try to judge whether the ratio of text to pictures will work for your child.
Encourage them to judge whether the pages inside live up to the exciting picture on the front, by reading a sample page and the blurb on the back.
Most important of all, don’t fall into the trap of refusing to let them have a book because it’s “too easy” for them.
Reading is meant to be fun, not a challenge. They’ll move on when they’re ready.
Books for Boys and Books for Girls
Let’s face it: it’s probably going to be the boys who will struggle to find a book that they want to read.
So try to think laterally and slip a few information books into the mix.
If he loves football, find a book on tactics and skills, or facts about his favourite team.
Sit with him and browse through a children’s atlas, looking for countries taking part in the World Cup.
Or pick out a few poems from Fantastic Football Poems
by John Foster.
If they really don’t want to know, pre-order the DK Flags of the world ultimate sticker book
and look for footballing countries: it’s still a book. Kind of.
Any joke books will go down well, too, especially as they can be read in short bursts.
Ultimately, it really doesn’t matter what they read.
A boy who reads a Dr Who comic may then progress to the annual at Christmas and move on to the books of the series (start with Book 1 – Doctor Who: Heart of Stone / Death Riders.
He might also be interested enough to read a book about space or try a book about aliens….
Once you have found a book that they like, don’t worry if they want more of the same.
They’re still subconsciously improving their spelling, grammar and concentration and learning about story sequencing.
Try to be relaxed about it; after all, you’re not still reading the Enid Blyton books you loved as a child, are you?
If you really can’t find anything, ask.
Your friends and family will have their own favourites and staff in bookshops and libraries have a wealth of knowledge.
So don’t despair: the perfect book for your child is out there, but perhaps you haven’t found it yet.
Take your time, don’t expect a 100% success rate and keep trying!