Books for children – Choosing the Right Books
Each one of us has different ideas on what kind of books we want our children to read. Based on our own personal preferences and experiences, we choose books for them. However there are certain guidelines that all of us can follow while choosing a book: –
- The book should match the age of the child and should not contain any material that might frighten her.
- The child should enjoy the book – it’s not your choice alone.
- Ideally the book should contain a message or value that you want your child to imbibe, but this should be so well woven into the story that the child doesn’t realize he’s being influenced.
Books for different age groups :-
Infants like books with –
- Nursery rhymes and lullabies.
- Brightly coloured pictures and mobiles.
- Baby pictures.
- Actions along with reading / singing.
- Animal sounds.
- Books they can play with e.g. Board books, cloth books
Today a wide variety of books for infants are available. The good quality books with glossy pictures and beautiful illustrations are all foreign imports and are priced accordingly. From these try and buy only board books or a cloth books as these last longer. Pop up books should be strictly avoided – unless you want to see it torn the very first time your child gets his hands on them. That could lead to a nasty scene involving you and your child and defeat the very purpose of making books attractive!
Look for bargain shops, where you can buy the books slightly cheaper than elsewhere. You can also try and beg, borrow or steal from family and neighbours. Or you could haunt a few libraries in your neighbourhood.
For infants start with books about/of babies – animals and human. Excellent first vocabulary books are available in the markets. Don’t pick up the first book you find, browse around. Resist buying too many of the soft cloth, non toxic variety – they cost a great deal and have too few pages to keep your baby amused for very long. Buy books with pictures of daily activities (bathing, brushing, playing) and books showing everyday objects that the baby can relate to.
- Like to read the same book over and over.
- Like to pick out favourite books on their own.
- Like large clear, realistic pictures.
- Like to name objects in books & magazines.
- Don’t like too many unanticipated surprises.
Pretty soon your baby will be a toddler and given our problems with schools admissions, he is also a pre-schooler who needs to be taught a great deal of stuff to give him an edge over the competition. So buy a few alphabet books and books with big printed words. When you read to him, run your finger under the words you are reading, so that he learns what is obvious to you – that the meaning comes from words, that those strange symbols can be read, and that you read from left to right.
It is at this age that most parents find themselves facing a dilemma – should they buy story books or more educational books? The thumb rule is let your child decide. If she likes the books you buy her, she will be more receptive and motivated to pick up reading faster. If you let her choose most times, a few times you can get away by slipping in books of your choice.
Amongst educational books you can buy him good picture books depicting words and actions the child is learning about. You can buy him counting books, alphabet books, word books. As the child starts ‘reading’ the books he will appreciate good quality books even more. Earlier on he is just looking at bright colours and the actual content of the books is not as important to him. Now that he can recognize the pictures it is important that the books be of excellent quality to let him derive maximum benefit from them.
While choosing storybooks keep in mind that the story should be relevant to the child. There is no point reading a story about witches or elves, things unheard of by most Indian children. Also be careful when picking up a fairy tale to read to your child.
Most of the fairy tales are not fit to be read to young children.
Not only do the fairy tales re-enforce stereotypes like bad step-mother, etc but they also pass on messages that are not good for children.
- Hansel and Gratel is a story of two children abandoned by their parents!
- Snow-White and the seven Dwarfs overstresses beauty/looks. This beauty is associated with fairness. Also the step-mother is shown as attempting to murder Snow White.
- Most of the fairy tales stress on the role of ‘Prince Charming’ in a girl’s life.
At this age, books are more for building up a love of reading and for keeping the child engaged and entertained. Books do provide much needed information, but any parent who spends time with her child talking to her, pointing out colours and shapes and objects – will make available the same information.
· When talking to your child – pronounce the words properly, use descriptive colour or action words.
· Keep pointing out objects whenever you take the child out, even when you don’t get a response. At some level the information is being absorbed and assimilated.
· Take your child shopping and try and make it fun for her. Encourage her to pick out her favourite foods based on colour, size, and later, name. Incorporate small treats and let your child help in carrying small parcels.
- Use words and proverbs to express themselves.
- Want to do things themselves.
- Play with language and nonsense sounds.
- Are fascinated by other children
- Share grudgingly.
- Are fearful of the dark & strangers.
- Like simple tales.
As the child grows a little older, parents provide both story and educational books. But now the concern is what kind of storybook is preferable – Western, which has concepts foreign to the child or Indian books which are of poor print quality. Generally, children should be encouraged to read both types. One old favourite remains Enid Blytons. They teach fundamental values such as honesty, loyalty, friendship, courage, caring and consideration. The more imperialistic/ chauvinistic attitudes inherent in the time period these books belong to, normally escape younger children. Therefore they are ideal for teaching values and they do not depict any violence. However such books need to be supplemented by others that are more rooted in everyday Indian life.
Other good books for children include Panchtantra Tales, Jataka tales, Mahabharat, Ramayana, Stories from the Bible, Folktales of different regions etc. These books give children a sense of their heritage and a feeling of belonging. They are also satisfy the parents as they impart important cultural and traditional values. Let children in primary school read Amar Chitra Kathas. Each Amar Chitra Katha contains a story taken from our epics or classical literature and puts it in a readable form for young readers.
As far as educational books go there are a lot of activity books available for different subjects like Maths, Science, Geography, etc. These contain many activities and games designed to make concept learning fun as well as simple.
Pre teens and Teens :-
Parents often assume that children of this age will select their own books and no monitoring is necessary. Also they encourage more educational texts for such children. Obviously you are the best judge, but we suggest that you continue to monitor the type of books a teenager reads. Even if you are unable to screen undesirable content, atleast you will be aware of what your child is exposed to. You will also be able to discuss the issues involved in the book so as to give your child your own point of view and clear up any misconception they may have.
Many children are attracted to Comics. You will have your own preferences on the matter but you may like to consider the following: –
- If you categorically deny your child the right to read comics – be sure he will continue to read them behind your back. Apart from the fact that he has learnt to deceive you, the objective itself has not been achieved. Let him read a few but if you dislike them, use them as treats or rewards only.
- Even if you are in favour of comics, try and limit their number. However good a comic, it reduces attention span and concentration. As they are picture-based they take the child back to the toddlers years as far as skill enhancement and learning is concerned! Make a pact with your child – so many comics a month and in return he will clean up his room / help you in the kitchen / walk the dog etc without argument.
- Try and bring more Asterix or Tintin comics – they contain a wealth of accurate historical and geographical information. Next preference may be Archies – they are superficial and extremely Americanized but they make a point to teach a few values (such as no drugs, friendship) and also contain no unnecessary violence. They also periodically attempt to increase GK and vocabulary.
Whatever the age group of the child, make it a point to be familiar with the books she reads. In fact with younger children read them first –
- 1. It helps you to know your child better – his likes and dislikes, areas of interest, the information she is absorbing. This is crucial if you are planning to guide your child in decisions such as career planning and also helps in avoiding pitfalls such as drugs or other vices.
- 2. You will be able to screen out harmful content such as violence, abusive language, too much sexual related descriptions, hate content, racism etc. This is particularly relevant in the era of cable TV and Internet where the child already has too much access to filth.
3. Within each child’s range of preferences you can find and introduce books which convey best the values you want to teach.
- 4. Even with an older child / teenager, you can use the book to discuss important social issues such as AIDS, drugs, rape, violence, caste, riots, environmental degradation, pollution etc. Your child is going to make up her mind on all such issues anyway, it is better that you give her your input as well.
- 5. Whatever you discover about the child’s taste in literature, try and be non-judgmental. Your child is a person in her own right and has her own temperament and nature. You cannot impose your choices upon her.
- 6. Lastly and most importantly – relax! You are the most important influence in your child’s life. Your child will learn from not only what you say but far more from your example. So be yourself, enjoy yourself and the chances are your children will become just what you dreamed of while they were still in the womb!