Imagine you have a free Friday afternoon and you want to buy some new good books for your kids. Where do you start?
Well, get ready to dive.
Don't look on the surface for the best books. That's where you will see just the tip of the iceberg.
On the surface, you will often be bombarded by book promotions, movie tie-ins, TV spin-offs, holiday gift recommendations, sales of books that are stockpiled because no one wants them. They all look smashing... but then, don't forget advertising.
Some publications simply have better marketing than others.
You want the Real McCoy. A book that will last for many years in your family and that will help your kids learn something valuable.
If you want to find the best, you have to dive. Take a deep breath and go deep into the world of children's literature - of the past year, decade, century... Dive deep and bring back the treasures!!
OK, what should you buy or loan?
My approach is simple. Follow any of the six steps below to get the best children's books you need.
1. GO TO A LIBRARY - ALLOW YOUR KID TO BECOME A CONNOISSEUR
If you and your kid don't have a library card, well ... you are in luck.
Run, don't walk to the nearest library tomorrow and get one!
You are about to open a new world to your kid, the world of free children's books with a smorgasbord of choices.
Forget TV for a week. Yes you. Lead by example.
If you have free time, read a book from the library together with your kid.
Then do it every week. It's possible.
Develop your taste together, enjoy favorite authors and illustrators.
Allow your kid to become a connoisseur. Light up that fire.
Let him or her become an expert.
Sooner or later, our kids become connoisseurs.
But if they are going to know things by heart, isn't it better that they know everything about history, literature, fiction, art or science - than batting averages from 1989 or all jokes from a TV show?
If your library has story hours for kids .. don't miss them too!
Allow me to let you in on another secret. Libraries not only have great websites that help you find the books you want. They often also have blogs that are maintained by dedicated children's librarians. It's almost like talking to a children's librarian live!
A couple of great examples are the Early Childhood School Library Blog in Frisco ISD or From Tots To Teens (Arlington Public Library).
Check out your local library's website and blogs (and don't forget their Facebook page and Twitter presences!)
2. CALL IN THE EXPERTS
Even before I purchased the very first book for my twins' library - I ordered several books ... for myself.
I started with the Granddaddy of Read Alouds - Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook that is now in its 6th edition.Aside from informing parents about the research on the importance of reading aloud to your offspring, this book is a gem for containing a "Treasury of Read-Alouds" - books that Trelease recommends from his experience.
The books are classified by listener age, category (picture books, novels, chapter books, anthologies, short novels, poetry, etc.) and other criteria .. thus helping you find exactly what you need.
All the most important tips to make you a Read Aloud Wizard are in The Read-Aloud Handbook, so be sure to read it cover-to-cover.
This is a book that last an entire childhood and I sincerely recommend it to every parent - as it will assist you in your efforts to ensure that your kids fall in love and get the most out of books you read together.
Other books that you may find useful include:
What to Read When: The Books and Stories to Read with Your Child--and All the Best Times to Read Them (by Pam Allyn)
Reading Together: Everything You Need to Know to Raise a Child Who Loves to Read (by Diane W. Frankenstein)
Books That Build Character: A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories (by William Kilpatrick, Gregory Wolfe, Suzanne M. Wolfe) - I really love this one as well.
3. FIND YOUR PERSONAL YOYEN YONG
When you find an author or illustrator that your little ones and you enjoy, what better than to double or triple the enjoyment!
My son (and later my daughter) became fascinated with Loren Long as soon as we started reading his perfectly illustrated version of The Little Engine That Could.
Every time we came back to the book, my then two-year old son informed me - with his most important airs - that the book was illustrated by "Yoyyyyeeeeen Yoooonnnng".
And guess what - I immediately built on their enthusiasm.
We expanded our reading collection to include other Loren Long picture book hits such as Otis, Toy Boat and Drummer Boy. We even watched clips of Loren Long on his website together, talking about how he illustrates his books.
So, Loren Long-mania was officially born - in our house. Their enthusiasm was infectious.
[It seems that the LL virus spread from our house to the White House this year. Namely, Barack Obama's first children's picture book Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters was illustrated by no one other than ... you guessed it .... Yoyyyyeeeeen Yoooonnnng!]
4. BROWSE ONLINE BOOKSTORES
Yes, jump in - head first.
You don't have to know what you are doing - but do set aside half an hour or so.
Find a favorite book of your child or from your childhood and go on from there.
If you love Robert McCloskey's picture books - find one on Amazon (Barnes & Noble, Bookdepository or any other online retailer) and then snoop around Amazon's web site for more of the author's books AND don't forget to read book reviews from customers in detail.
For every book - on its product page - Amazon also reveals in percentages "What Do Customers Ultimately Buy After Viewing This Item?". I always look at this feature - I love it!! It is a great way of finding books that are often similar or better to what you were originally considering.
Every book/product page on Amazon - towards the bottom - also has lists of related book recommendations by customers (Listmania!). Check them out - they are fantastic sources of book ideas.
5. SKIM THROUGH CHILDREN'S BOOK AWARDS LISTS
Don't tell me you never checked out the annual list of Newberry (most distinguished contribution to American literature for children) medal winners and honor books? Well do not lose time! That's where the good stuff lies!
Newbery Medal and Honor Books, 1922-Present
Newberry medals and honors are given out since 1922 ... what a collection of gems!
Want more of the good stuff? Browse through the Caldecott medal and honor books - awarded to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.
This should keep you occupied.
But, don't just skim through the lists and give up because you are overwhelmed.
Here is a tip:
a. Find one or two Newberry or Caldecott books that appeal to you.
b. Look them up on Amazon or on GoodReads. Browse through the reviews, see if the book is for you.
c. Repeat steps a. and b. When you find a book that captivates you - congratulations. Find it. Read it.
The great news is that's just the beginning! There are many fantastic awards out there.
6. FOLLOW A CHILDREN'S BOOK REVIEW BLOG
Yes, I know this step may seem superflous. You are already on a blog. But, there are many other fantastic blogs out there.
Some of the very best include:
Jen Robinson's Book Page
Book Dads (I'm doing a guest post on Book Dads soon!)
And of course don't miss the Cybils - Children's and Young Adult Bloggers' Literary Awards. This is technically an award, but I put it in the blogger category.
Cybils awards are given each year by bloggers for the year's best children's and young adult titles!
Out of these five steps, did you choose one approach or several approaches that suit you best in your quest for the best children's books to line up on your bookshelf? Congratulations!
Don't forget - if you really want to get the "most book for your buck", you have to get wet. Combine several of the "diving approaches" I mentioned.
I'd also love to know where do you dive for the books that you share with your kids?
SPECIAL NOTE: this post was originally (and erroneously) called: 5 ways to find the best read-aloud children`s books to share with your kid
It took months for me to understand, that the post was not good enough and what is worse - I didn't get it on my own.
Not until I read a friendly tip.
A post on From Tots To Tweens, a blog of the Children's Librarians in the Arlington Public Library Youth Services highlighted the enormous gap in my post.
I forgot to mention libraries brimming with children's books.
How could I forget the countless hours I spent in my elementary and high school libraries, not the speak of my municipal library?
No apology is strong enough.
Thank you Arlington Public Library Youth Services, for making this post much better than it was.