How to Choose Just-Right Books for Your Child

These tips will help you to build a library of titles your child will cherish.




Do you recall your favorite dog-eared tale about a far-away kingdom or a backyard adventure? Or the first time you hid a flashlight under the covers because you had to find out how a story ended? Selecting terrific books for your small child will put him on the road to learning, build his vocabulary and object recognition skills, spark his curiosity about the world, and create wonderful memories. As he grows, great book recommendations will help him become passionate about reading and promote school success by developing vocabulary, writing, comprehension, and study skills.

Before buying, see how your selection rates by asking yourself:

  • Are these book recommendations age-appropriate?
    Take note of the age guidelines and learning benefits of your selections. For your baby or toddler, board books constructed of sturdy cardboard and wipeable plastic titles make good choices. Older toddlers and preschoolers can handle paper pages and will delight in larger picture and lift-the-flap books that invite them to lose themselves in the story. The best books will grow with your child. For example, you might buy your 5 year old a picture book you read to him. At 6, he's reciting the words to you, and by 8 he's curled up in a corner reading it alone. For an independent reader, select titles that will challenge him without causing too much frustration.
  • What will my child learn from these book recommendations?
    Books for babies and preschoolers tend to focus on basic concepts, like ABCs, feelings, or friendship, as well as use repetition, phonics, and other literacy tools to prepare him for reading. For an older child, consider how a book will develop her comprehension and vocabulary, as well as the themes and possibilities she'll learn through reading. 
  • Is the subject matter of these book recommendations appealing?
    As a general rule, the younger your child is, the more stories need to speak to his life experiences. As he gets older, fantasy becomes more important. Let his interests guide you, and be creative in your selections. Is he a dinosaur buff? Try a rhyming dinosaur picture book at bedtime, and for solo reading, offer him a nonfiction book about archeological digs.
  • Will my child find the text and illustrations of these book recommendations appealing?
    This is a gut reaction. In picture books, look for illustrations that catch your eye and familiar characters that will engage her attention. Your choices should invite her to point, touch, and talk about the pictures. Also check for books that sound like they'd be fun to read out loud. If she likes repeating words and phrases aloud, poetry or nonsense stories are a great choice.

If you know your older child has enjoyed a particular author, illustrator, or series in the past, go with titles from the same creators. Choosing award-winners will also help you select high quality books.

Developmental Edge

For read-alouds, choose appealing tales that build basic literacy skills. When buying books for independent readers, strike a balance between fun, learning, and challenging. Use our age-by-age guide to different formats and subjects to help you select the right reads. For specific book recommendations, check out our extensive collection of book lists.

  • Grades 3 to 5
    Mix fiction and nonfiction that follows her fascinations. Young history buffs can travel back in time with Dear America diaries, and kids curious about how things work will enjoy science adventures aboard the Magic School Bus. If your child is having difficulty making the transition from picture to chapter books, try those with easy-to-read, large-print text and illustrations on each page. Also try series fiction like Harry Potter or the Powerpuff Girls, and humor stories like Captain Underpants.

Extending the Fun

  • When reading to your child, talk about the illustrations, storyline, and characters. Read the text and point to each word, bringing the story off the page with a dramatic reading style. Ask him questions about the story and to predict what will happen next.
  • Stage a puppet show based on a favorite book with your little one. You can share storytelling and puppeteering duties and put on a performance for the entire family. Don't forget to record it!
  • Encourage your child to think of books as entertainment by renting a movie version of a treasured tale or going to see a live performance starring a favorite character.
  • Develop your older child's writing skills by asking him to write a short sequel to a beloved chapter book. Challenge him to illustrate the cover!
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