Children’s Books: Stick with the Real Thing!

As a recent article from the New York Times reminds us, when it comes to children’s books, print is still where it’s at. E-books may be perfect for a bus ride home after a long day in the office, easily tucked away into a briefcase or backpack. And an iPad can help distract us and our children during a long wait in the doctor’s office. But when it comes to the beloved bedtime story or a read-aloud at school, parents and teachers turn to the tried-and-true paper and glue book.

There is something magical about children’s books. Our favorites are those which create the perfect marriage between image and text: a magical storyline weaving and dancing against vivid illustrations and images. We each must have a memory of cuddling up with just such a book from our childhood. It isn’t impossible to recreate this in today’s digital age, but it just doesn’t feel quite the same, does it?

Even though children will often select the same book to be read out loud, this doesn’t mean that having plenty around isn’t worthwhile. Looking through piles of books, each with its own size, shape and colors, can be pure bliss for a young child. It  helps children come to realize just how diverse our literary world really is.

Ultimately, the storyline is only part of what matters to a young child when we read out loud to them. The overall experience is the real payback. The way we read a story out loud to children transports them to another world. Holding a book in the hand, feeling the texture of the pages as they are turned, and touching the images is as much part of the experience as reading the text. So is the warmth and comfort of snuggling on a parents’ lap or laying back on a floor pillow while being read to.

Finding books that help to create everlasting impressions can take a bit of preparation. Here are some tips on how to select books that will create experiences of a lifetime:

  • Hardback or soft cover: Given the cost of hardback books, paperbacks are often the ideal choice. However, when it comes to special books, consider going for the hardback: the books will most likely last longer and can be passed down from one generation to the next. For very young children, board books can be ideal; especially when there are flaps or special textures inside (for example, Wheels on the Bus, with holes for little fingers to touch, and Dear Zoo, with flaps for opening and closing). There is also something especially magical about holding a hardback children’s book in our hands –  it gives us a sense of stability and timelessness.
  • Size does matter: Books that are oversized command a presence that standard-sized books just can’t match. You don’t want all of your child’s books to be oversized (it would become too cumbersome) but some books simply lend themselves to a more awesome presentation: Fairy tales, fantasy, myths and folklore are prime candidates for oversized books, especially if they are bursting with quality illustrations. Put these books in a spot where children can learn to treat them with care and attention.
  • Illustrations are key: We may have heard the story Cinderella hundreds of times, yet we are always eager to get our hands on a newly illustrated version. The images associated with a story are essential to young children. Children pay rapt attention to the colors and details, and the illustrations will dance around in a young child’s mind for longer than we might imagine. It is well worth spending a few extra dollars for a book containing quality illustrations as a child will enjoy it so much more.  Also, make sure to choose books which have illustrations that match the storyline. There is nothing more frustrating for a child than to hear one thing read out loud and to see an illustration that doesn’t match perfectly. Children notice every detail!
  • Keep it simple: For young children, less words on each page is often the right way to go. As children get older they will have more of an ability to create their own images in their mind from what is being read out loud; but for young children, the images on the page help the story come to life. Children often have a short attention span so keep them interested by choosing books that have the amount of text which matches the time it takes your children or students to examine the pictures. If the text is shorter, you will have opportunities to discuss the images on the page.
  • Let children choose: Tired of reading the same book out loud for what seems like the millionth time? It is very common for children to choose the same book over and over again, listening with the same rapt attention as when it was first read aloud. The challenge for parents and teachers is to find ways to read the same books with the same gusto and interest as the first time – not such an easy task! Often children like the feel of the “safe anticipation” that a known book provides. They like looking forward to what will happen on the next page and being able to get ready for it in advance. Other times children want something new that will lead them into a whole new experience.
  • Go with the flow: Different children engage with stories differently. Some want to talk about the pictures or say what they know about the story before you have even started reading it. Others just want to sit back and enjoy the experience. Unless you are reading out loud to a diverse group of children, let your little ones guide the type of engagement, at least to some degree. You don’t even have to read each and every sentence if children are more eager to move to the next page, keeping it engaging and fun for everyone!

Although the use of digital media is growing in homes and schools across the United States, consider sticking with real, print books for as long as possible, especially while children are young. For reading and literacy to have the deep impact and experience that we hope it will have in the lives of growing children, it is essential that we provide more than just a path toward reading words on a page. Our goal should be literary experiences that our children will remember for the rest of their lives and will hopefully share with their own children and grandchildren.

Photo credit: one2c900d

What were your favorite books in your youth? Who in your family read books out loud the best?

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8 thoughts on “Children’s Books: Stick with the Real Thing!”

  1. My librarian and I are trying to get a grant to help parents who are literate in their native language read to their children in dual-language books, however she has requested hard cover books for the library and most seem to be paperback. If children are taking them home often, the paperbacks will quickly get damaged. Any suggestions…I heard about you at an Atlantic City NJEA convention this past November.

    1. We think it’s a great idea to work with your librarian to obtain dual-language books to encourage reading in heritage languages. We work with many libraries and they are generally very receptive to meeting the needs of their entire community, including those speaking other languages. We do have some board books and hardcover books, though it is true that the majority of the books are paperback. (We’ve found that most people prefer the paperbacks at the lower prices. Some of the libraries we work with have reinforced the bindings of the paperbacks.) We will send you a direct email to find out the specific languages that you are interested in to make some specific suggestions. Readers can also always feel free to contact us via our online contact form (http://www.languagelizard.com/articles.asp?id=147) with specific requests.

      As a side note, you may be interested in sharing the following article with your librarian: “The Multicultural Library: How Librarians are Responding to the Needs of Ethnically Diverse Communities” (http://www.languagelizard.com/newsarticle8.htm).

  2. Very useful article, to remind us that the combination of hard copy and digital are now part of many kids daily experience.
    Kids do benefit from the reading in a hard copy book. I wonder how long can we keep this without the hard copy reading being an optional activity or a vintage activity.

  3. Thank you for many strategies provided in your article. My students love working with “the real deal” – you can touch it, point to letters (specially if you work with Kinders) and most of all everyone can pay attention and be amused at the same time if this book is a pop-up book! We love Robert Sabuda’s stories! So many new ways to teach, but I feel that human interaction is still a major factor in this process.

  4. I keep hearing people say, “save a tree, read a digital book.”

    And I say, “read a REAL book and a save a printer’s job!”

    Can you tell that my husband works in a print shop? 🙂
    My husband says that most paper companies grow their own forests as a renewable resource anyway, so if you put them out of business, they will stop planting trees!

    All that aside, there is certainly something magical about curling up with a good book. Especially if a grandchild is curled up with you, too. 🙂

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