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How To Choose Read-Alouds For Your Child: 4 Key Tips

Christian School

Imagine you walk into the kids’ section of the library, two-year-old in tow. You are surrounded by shelves packed with books. Books are standing displayed on top of the shelves. Where do you begin? You see parents thumbing through colorful texts, adding some to their stacks and rejecting others. What are they looking for?

Reading to your child from babyhood is one of the most important activities you can do together. Reading aloud creates a bond and boosts social and mental development. As I stated in the previous post about reading to babies and toddlers:

There is something especially powerful about interacting with these growing little ones through books. Profound mental development takes place during infancy and childhood, and this early life stage is an important opportunity for parents to help their child reach his/her often great cognitive potential. . . . [T]here is special value in the medium of books that can help the parent maximize the child’s development.

In the post, I expressed a wish to recommend for you some delightful children’s books, ones that will get you and your child on the way to a lifetime of reading. When you are starting from scratch, it may take conscious effort for you to create a home environment rich with engaging books and habitual reading.


"When you are starting from scratch, it may take conscious effort for you to create a home environment rich with engaging books and habitual reading."


Here are FOUR general guidelines for selecting books that will connect your child to a lifelong love of reading.


When choosing books for a young child, I tended toward bright, crisp, colorful illustrations. I preferred realism (not of subject matter, but of style) and avoided much that was chaotic, abstract, or very whimsical. If the illustrated cover was attractive and appealing, then the story told in its pages might have much to offer as well. For infants and toddlers, pictures should be simple and bold, clearly delineating everyday objects. For preschoolers on up, I gravitated toward more intricate pictures, sometimes with bonus features to be discovered upon careful examination.

Length of Text

Stories for children should be simple and told in spare language. If you open the book to find big blocks of text on each page, the story might be for older kids, or might not be of the best quality. Some books have illustrations on one page with the whole facing page reserved for text. That was usually a no-go for me.


As I flipped through a book, I would mentally sample the language. Was it rhythmic? Soothing? Immediate? Some authors have great skill in conveying a story simply and beautifully, inviting your child in to marvel at commonplace wonders, enjoy wordplay, explore new terrain, or journey with characters through a narrative. Is the author talking to your child with carefully selected vocabulary and constructions, speaking powerfully with the best the English language has to offer? If so, that could be the book you want. I was often drawn to quiet rhymes, but prose was frequently lovely and lyrical as well.

Story/Subject Matter

The story and subject matter should be pleasing. In opting for positive topics, you are not settling for preachy, but for books that elevate, build, and delight your child. I went with my gut in previewing books for these qualities. I wanted to come away thinking, how great if my daughter could be exposed to this. I wanted that click of satisfaction in knowing that what I was sharing with my child would help her grow. In nonfiction, I looked for high quality books explaining everyday phenomenon in ways a preschooler could understand. Roads, leaves, the senses, even gas stations were all good topics. We found excellent books about cultures outside the United States. Fiction can offer funny, sympathetic characters and tight, clever storyline. I usually–not always, but usually–veered away from stories about very naughty, hyper children. Negative, over-the-top, super silly or frantic stories I avoided as well.

Are there certain books or authors to look for in the juvenile section of the library? Of course!

I will share some specific recommendations in our next post.

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