Here are some tips from our bookreviewer Terri on choosing books for children.
(Birth to 2 years)
Why buy a book for someone who can’t read? Because it leads to reading!
Choose one of those cloth books that are virtually indestructible. They can be mangled, chewed-on, and man… uh, kid-handled, then tossed in the laundry for the next go-around. You could also find a book the child can “grow into” or something you think (s)he might like in the future. Think classic, like fairy tales.
The truth is, though, that this age group loves the sound of your voice, so the book itself doesn’t matter quite as much as the fact that you’re cuddled together, reading. I’ve known at least one father-child combination that was riveted by an automotive repair manual read aloud, and they were just fine…
Toddlers and Preschoolers (2-4 years)
Pictures. Pictures. And more pictures.
Kids this age love ‘em, and the more colorful, the better, but with fewer words.
Look for “Outside Over There” by Maurice Sendak. It’s a much-overlooked book by this author, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Should I tell you now that it’s one of my favorites?
Remember how much you loved Dr. Seuss? Then go look for “Go Dog Go” or “Put Me in the Zoo.” There’s more to life, you see, than “Cat in the Hat.”
I also love the hilarious illustrations of Berkeley Breathed, so “A Wish for Wings That Work” should get a look-see, or maybe “Mars Needs Moms.” Or just look for any of his picture books; they’re all good for this age group, as well as for older kids who still love a good read-aloud.
Big kids (5-to-8-years old)
Here’s where it gets tricky. Choose carefully, because it does matter.
Still, I always loved “Half Magic” by Edward Eager, the story of a bunch of kids who find a magic coin that gives them half of what they wish for. The book first came out in the ‘50s, and the fact that it’s still in print says something, don’t you think?
Look for the Joan Steiner Look-Alike books, which are books in which the pictures are created by everyday objects. You have to see them to believe them, but beware: there are several Look-Alike books and they’re as addicting as potato chips on a picnic. Seriously, you’ll want to steal these books back from your child now and then.
I also like some of the kids’ trivia books for this age group. Is there a six-year-old alive who doesn’t like to be smarter than somebody else?
Grade school – early middle school (8-to-12-year-olds)
By this age, you’ve undoubtedly got a reader on your hands. Congratulations!
When searching for a book for a child this age, though, think hard about his or her interests. While it’s nice to say “I loved this when I was your age…” you know that’s probably going to get you one of Those Looks.
Nope, ask questions now and buy later.
Even so… it’s hard not to be drawn to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not! books. They’re based on the Ripley’s you grew up with, only the new version has real (sometimes gross and disgusting) pictures mixed in with old-time drawings. Bonus: there are at least two new, updated editions each year.
Speaking of Believe it or Not – believe it or not, kids this age were almost babies during the initial Harry Potter years! Wouldn’t it be nice to see those books with fresh eyes?
And keep your eyes peeled for kids books by your favorite grown-up author. Many novelists have written books for children and teens. If you love the adult books, wouldn’t your child love a kids’ book by that author?
Young adults (12-to-17-year-olds)
You’re in luck here. Buying a book for a teenager is fun and relatively easy because they like the same kinds of things you do.
Jodi Picoult fans will love “Between the Lines” (written with her daughter, Samantha). It’s meant for teen girls, but the girls’ Moms will eat it up, too. Jacquelyn Mitchard has her Moonlight Twins series. Even James Patterson has books for this age group.
But don’t just look for YA books.
Find “Here, There Be Dragons” by James Owen. There’s a new, huge 60-year history of MAD Magazine out this fall. Drag out your old copies of “Siddhartha,” “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” or “Lord of the Flies” and share.
And therein lies the easiest part of all here: Kids in this category might very well appreciate it if you share what you’re reading (as long as it’s not gray or anything). You can also find new authors for yourself by asking what (s)he’s enjoying. Imagine the discussions this could lead to…
So there you are, the easiest shopping to get your holiday a-hopping: buy a book for your favorite kid and when you see a smile, you’ll be glad you did. If you’re undecided, booksellers are in the know so ask them and listen.
Oh, and Season’s Readings!