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What’s a parent to do? Choosing the right book for your child.

By Adrienne Ehlert Bashista
Posted Monday, August 30, 2004

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a column about books for kids

When I’m having problems, I typically look for a book to find the answers. My son Jamie is two, so naturally I have five books on taming the terrible toddler. I know that over the past twenty years I’ve purchased at least 20 books (probably more) on the topic of losing weight – low carb, low fat, low calorie, hypnosis, you name it. If I weren’t happily married, I know I’d have a bookshelf full of books on the rules of getting a man, keeping a man, or how to get rid of one you didn’t want any more.

It’s natural for me to look to a book for solutions to my problems.

It’s natural for me to look to a book for solutions to my problems. When it comes to my kids, my instinct, as well as my professional training as a children’s librarian, tells me that the answer to many of their problems can also be found between the pages of a good story. But how to choose the right book for the problem? I happen to have a degree in book selection. It’s my job to assess literature, read the reviews, and be ‘in-the know’ about children’s lit. But the average parent? How do you do it? Even if a book seems to be about the topic you want to address, how do you decide if the book is right for your particular child? Have you ever gotten a book from the library or bought one from the bookstore and brought it home, only to be bitterly disappointed by its preachy tone or poor treatment of the subject matter? Is it necessary to pre-read every book before you check it out of the library? Should the average parent read back issues of Library Journal or Horn Book Review before buying a book on-line or at a bookstore?

Never fear! Relief is here in the form of Cheryl Coon’s helpful guide to choosing children’s books, Books to Grow With: A Guide to Using the Best Children’s Fiction for Everyday Issues and Tough Challenges (Lutra Press, 0-9748025-7-3). Coon provides an annotated bibliography of over 500 children’s books on 100 topics, as well as a guide to using fiction to help children and indexes that break the books down by author, title, multicultural content, and books that are available in Spanish.

The books that Coon recommends are all fiction and are limited to books fewer than 100 pages, which means that only picture books, easy readers, and very short chapter books are included. I found it unusual that she only chose fiction for her list, since we’re talking about books that are about specific topics, but she explains that in her experience, young children need to have a main character with whom to identify. Just providing the facts can seem preachy or didactic. Coon’s philosophy is that reading a book about a character with a problem is what engages a child and makes the reader apply what happens in the book to his or her own life.

I recommend this book to all parents of young children who want a trustworthy guide to choosing books for their kids. I’ve already used it to find a book for my 2-year-old on giving up his pacifier and for my 5-year old, who just started kindergarten. Hopefully I won’t have to consult it for other, more serious topics, like parents getting divorced, alcoholism, childhood illnesses, and the death of a loved one, but it’s good to know that sections of Books to Grow With addresses them.

Lucky for us parents of growing children, her next publication will be a book about literature for slightly older children: the tweens and the mid-grades. Puberty, here we come!


Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is a writer, librarian, and mother of two small children who lives near Silk Hope, NC. Her children’s picture book about adopting from Russia, When I Met You, will be published in the spring of 2005 through DRT Press. A second book, Peter’s Gift, about a little boy whose family is adopting a sibling from Eastern Europe, will be published in 2006.

Copyright 2004. Adrienne Ehlert Bashista. All rights reserved.

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