Two Pros Offer Tips for Adults to Help Children Choose the Right Stuff to Read

Monday, March 24, 2008

Not every book is appropriate for every 7-year-old, or children of any age, experts say. So how do you make the right selection?

Rachel Harlan , supervisor of young adult services at the Arlington County Public Library:

Q: What's the first thing a parent or other adult should do in helping a child find a book to read?

A: Find out what your kids like, what kinds of things engage your child. We all know that if we are trying to do something that doesn't interest us, it can be a chore.

When you create your recommended books list each year, how do you decide a book should be in, say, fourth grade?

Is it at a level that the average fourth-grader would be comfortable reading? We look at the vocabulary, sentence structure and content. Is it of something that is of interest or appropriate for the grade level?

How hard is it to determine content appropriateness?

Very, especially for kids who have very strong reading skills. The books they are able to read have content that may not be as appropriate for them. "Star Wars" is big. Kids love "Star Wars" . . . but the books are for teens and older adults. Yet you've got third-graders who want to read them.

Why shouldn't they?

Most "Star Wars" books have a level of violence that might not be appropriate for younger kids. It also has difficult themes. The theme of going to the dark side can be a hard concept for a child to understand. . . . We don't want to sell kids short. They are smart. But hard topics, consumed in a vacuum, can be very hard. A hard topic that is viewed in a safe environment, with trusted people around who can explain or add to it, is a different story.

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Teri S. Lesesne, professor of children's and young adult literature at Sam Houston State University and author of "Making the Match: The Right Book for the Right Reader at the Right Time, Grades 4-12":

Q Children often like to reread books, or read books that seem beneath their ability. Should parents worry?

AWell-intentioned parents say you will never grow if you stay fixated in this rut of reading, say, those "Goosebumps" books or those "Magic Treehouse" books. There is a fear they won't grow as a reader. But what kids are doing is finding comfort. They think, "Every time I pick up a 'Magic Treehouse' book, I know what I'm getting."

And there is value in that?

Absolutely. They know they are going to be successful with them, and that is important. Success leads to better motivation. If you are successful on a diet, you are more motivated to stay on the diet. If you pick up a book that you are familiar with, you will finish it, which is a huge accomplishment, and move on to the next one.

Is there an age when children should be pushing themselves?

[Reading researchers] say that when the kid is ready, they will move, and I think there is some wisdom there. We panic as parents, but we shouldn't.

-- Valerie Strauss

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