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Each month, you'll be able to get answers directly from experts covering a wide range of parenting topics. You'll also have a chance to share your own expert tips with other parents. Join the conversation!

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Inspire Curiosity and Independence in Girls with Nature

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The Power and Wonder of Children's Books

by Jen Robinson

Jen Robinson

Jen Robinson reviews and blogs about books for children. She has a passion for children's books and promoting reading. Read more »

I've been in love with books for as long as I can remember. When I was a child, I used to read in all sorts of places -- in a tree in the backyard, up on the roof, on a dock in the lake, and even while I was swimming (holding the book up in the air!). I always read in the car, no matter how short the trip. Waiting in a doctor's office wasn't so tedious for me - it was just another opportunity to read. I loved libraries and bookstores, anywhere that I could find books. I volunteered in my elementary school library, shelving books before school. I read my way through the Children's Room of my hometown library, shelf-by-shelf. I used to ride my bike there, even in the rain.  

My favorite authors were Elizabeth Enright, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, and E. L. Konigsburg, among many, many others. Books were my friends, my companions. They opened up new worlds for me, and introduced me to characters who were larger than life. I'll never forget Pippi Longstocking, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls, Jo March, the Famous Five, or the Boxcar Children. I cried with Sara Crewe (A Little Princess), solved mysteries with Trixie Belden, and shared Lucy Pevensie's wonder (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). As I grew a bit older, John Christopher, Alexander Key, Ben Bova, and Lois Lowry all expanded my horizons through science fiction tales. 

Books have repaid my affection time and time again. I've always had a strong vocabulary and tested well. I'm convinced that all of my reading helped me to do well on the SATs and get into my dream college. Being a fast reader certainly made college and graduate school easier. And the stories are still with me. 

I still love reading children's and young adult books. During college and graduate school I would read children's books for a study break. When I went home during the holidays, I would revisit old favorites from my bookshelves. I would hear about new children's books, too, and be unable to resist making their acquaintance. I was an early convert to the Harry Potter books and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series. I also kept reading books by Lois Duncan and Zilpha Keatley Snyder, whenever I found a new one in the stores.  

 When my friends started having children, I naturally bought books for those children, and read with them whenever I could. Somewhere along the way, I realized that helping children grow up loving books was the way that I wanted to make a positive difference in the world. That's why I started my blog.  

Kids who love to read have so many advantages -- they have higher reading and math scores, they're able to entertain and console themselves, and they learn about new worlds. For children who have difficult home lives, books can be a lifeline. In addition to all of that, the driving factor for me is that I personally gained so much from reading children's books that I want to share that gift with children. And that's why I'm here at PBS Parents this month. 

What are some of your family's favorite children's books? 


Megan Germano writes...

YEA,YOU! How exciting! Here is my question for you... If you were putting together a basket of books for a new baby, which books would you include?
Megan Germano
Read, Read, Read!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for the support, Megan! It's nice to see a friendly face over here at PBS (in a virtual "seeing" sort of way). You raise an excellent question. Of course there are tons or amazing books for babies out there. What I suggest for a new baby is a mix of board books (which are teething friendly) and nice hardcover books to start the baby's library. The hardcovers should be things that will keep the parents entertained and willing to re-read aloud, and books that will grow with the baby. I tend to skip the most well-known titles (Dr. Seuss, Goodnight Moon, Where the Wild Things Are, etc), because I imagine that someone else will buy those, and go for things a bit more off the beaten track. Here are some ideas:

Board Books:
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See by Eric Carle
Good Dog Carl by Alexandra Day
Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman
Gossie and Gertie by Olivier Dunrea
Hug by Jez Alborough
Miss Mary Mack by by Mary Ann Hoberman (Author) and Nadine Bernard Westcott (Illustrator)

Picture Books:
Click, Clack, Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin (Author) and Betsy Lewin (Illustrator) (This one is especially good for parents who work with computers)
Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems
Duck and Goose by Tad Hills
House Takes a Vacation by Jacqueline Davies (Author) and Lee White (Illustrator)
Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett
Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt

I have lots of other suggestions for kids, by age group, here. Thanks for asking!

Nicole writes...

Hi Jen. I have a 2 yr. old and a 4 yr. old. They both love the Jane Yolen/Mark Teague Dinosaur series. Truth be told, I really enjoy reading them too. We just discovered Jane Yolen's "Baby Bear" books. The poems are really lovely. I'm a visual person, so illustrations are very important to me. A book's text can be interesting, but if the images don't capture me, it'll stay on the shelf. Oh, another one of our favorites is "Violet's Music." I think Angela Johnson is the author?? Anyway, thanks for getting kids to love books.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for commenting, Nicole! I love to hear from people who not only read to their kids, but enjoy it. That's what will make the experience lasting. I agree - the Dinosaur series is wonderfully illustrated. And of course, compelling illustrations are a huge part of getting kids engaged, and keeping them reading. I haven't seen Violet's Music, but I will definitely check it out. Thanks for the recommendation!

If you want to see a book that has truly captivating illustrations (though it's more of a topic for slightly older kids than yours), check out Ziba Came on a Boat by Liz Lofthouse (Author), Robert Ingpen (Illustrator). It's like something that should be hanging in an art gallery. I reviewed it here. For a very different, more graphic design approach, you might also enjoy Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon (reviewed here). I also liked Kid Tea by Elizabeth Ficocelli (Author) and Glin Dibley (Illustrator), for a lovely use of color. Oh, and don't miss Hugo and Miles in I've Painted Everything, by Scott Magoon, which is actually about art (review here). Anyway, thanks for raising readers! It's been fun talking books with you.

Stacy writes...

Your mission is wonderful!
Looking forward to continued inspiration from your blog!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks, Stacy, for visiting me here and on my blog. I look forward to future discussion with you about books and inspiring kids to read them.

Little Willow writes...

As you know, I too love Anne of Green Gables as well as the works of Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Which Snyder books are your favorites?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting, Little Willow. I love that we share so many favorite books in common. My favorite Snyder books are all books that I first read as a child: The Velvet Room, The Changeling, and the Green Sky Trilogy (Below the Root, And All Between, Until the Celebration. I wrote about these books in detail here (Velvet Room and Changeling) and here (Green Sky). I also have a fondness for the books about the Stanley children. My favorite poem, one I've known by heart for some 20+ years, is from The Changeling:

"Know all the Questions, but not the Answers
Look for the Different, instead of the Same
Never Walk when there's room for Running
Don't do anything that can't be a Game."

My favorite Anne Shirley book is actually Anne of Windy Poplars. Thanks for asking me about books that I LOVE to talk about.

Liz B writes...

A A Milne, both the poetry and the Pooh books.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for stopping by to visit, Liz. I really need to go back re-read some A.A. Milne. I love the poetry, too, especially:

"They're changing guard at Buckingham Palace --
Christopher Robin went down with Alice.
Alice is marrying one of the guard
"A soldier's life is terrible hard,""

... etc.

I also had a phase in which I was obsessed by The Tao of Pooh, but I haven't read that in a while either.

Gabrielle writes...

Wow, Jen, you're really passionate about kids books! My 2 year old son loves to read Byron Barton's books. "Airport," "Machines at Work" and "Building a House" are some of his favorites.

Have you found that boys like to read less than girls? My friends keep telling me that their boys don't show the same interest in books as their girls do. I'm trying to counteract this theory by reading to my son every day and taking him to the library regularly. What do you think?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Gabrielle. Yes, I am certainly passionate about kid's books. Which just goes to show that if you get your son hooked young, he might be passionate about them for his whole life, too. (Though I'm probably a bit of a statistical outlier in the degree of my passion in this area).

I don't think it's that boys inherently like to read less than girls - I think that there are other factors going on. The first is that boys often (and this is a huge generalization, but we'll go with it for the sake of discussion) prefer books about FACTS rather than stories. And the problem is that women, including their mothers and many of their teachers tend (another generalization) to prefer stories. So you get into a bad cycle where the women keep giving the boys books that aren't what they are interested in, and then shaking their heads that they boys don't like to read. I think giving your son as many books as he asks for about machines and airports and things, as you're doing, is absolutely the way to go.

The challenge is to not dismiss what your son's interests are in favor of what anyone else thinks that they should be. As he gets older, if he likes Captain Underpants, great. Let him read Captain Underpants. If he's obsessed with comic books, well, that's still reading. Eventually, if he continues to find reading entertaining, he'll branch out into other things. But if you teach him that reading = boring (by his definition), then he'll end up reading less.

The other thing is that boys do, biologically, tend to have a harder time sitting still and reading books. So one thing you might do, as he gets older, is try listening to audiobooks while you also kick a ball around, and things like that. Listen to books while you're in the car. Once he's able to read, have him read aloud to you. Make reading a fun part of a more active life. Taking your son to the library, as you're doing, is perfect, because you're again making the whole reading thing active. Also, librarians are an excellent resource, and can certainly recommend additional boy-friendly titles for you.

I would also recommend checking out Guys Read, a website dedicated to "motivat(ing) boys to read by connecting them with materials they will want to read, in ways they like to read." Site founder Jon Scieszka was just named the first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. You can read more about that, including his suggestions for reaching reluctant readers, here. I think that Scieszka's nomination to this position is a very positive step towards a more concentrated focus on getting kids, and especially boys, reading.

I hope this helps, Gabrielle! I think that it's wonderful that you're actively working to counteract the prevailing wisdom about boy readers. You're giving your son a gift that will last his whole life. Thanks for asking this great question.

Marie writes...

Hi Jen,

I too am passionate about books. I am a former Kindergarten teacher and I really saw what reading to kids can do for each child. Seeing the faces of the kids you're reading to is amazing. I wrote a post in my blog about parents and tips on reading to their kids. Here is the link:

Here are a few of my favorite children's stories:

Goggles by Ezra Jack Keats
Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox
Jan Brett Books
Joy Cowley Books

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for commenting, Marie! I love talking with other people who are also passionate about books. I sometimes think that I missed my calling, not being in a profession where I could read to kids on a regular basis. I do read with my friends' children whenever I get the chance, and nothing pleases me more than seeing them enjoy a book that I've picked out for them, and hearing them laugh.

I read your post, and I think that the poem is great! It definitely makes one appreciate having grown up knowing English, instead of trying to learn it as an adult. I think it's also quite the statement about why it's important to read aloud, because guessing at the pronunciation of those words from purely seeing them written down would be quite difficult. I'm still occasionally surprised when I listen to audiobooks, and learn that I've been mis-pronouncing a word in my head all this time. (Like "quay"). I'm afraid that I wasn't able to open the PDF file that you linked to, for some reason, but I certainly love the idea of sharing reading tips in the form of a bookmark for parents.

I love the Jan Brett books, too, especially The Mitten and Trouble with Trolls. I haven't read the other ones that you mentioned. I think I need to start keeping a list of all of the titles mentioned in these comments, so that I can go and track them all down.

Thanks again!

Beth writes...

My son will be three in April. I'm thrilled that he loves books as much as his dad and I do. He is a very active busy little boy, but the second we pull out a book, he's sitting, settled, and ready to hear a story. For Christmas when he was 20 months old, he would sit still for two full readings of The Grinch, which is a MUCH longer book than I remembered. *grin* He knows all of his letters in both upper- and lower-case, with no pushing from us. He's already starting to understand that groups of letters represent words, though the only group he recognizes is his name. I'm sure he'll be reading to himself within the next year. Then I'll have to find books that are interesting story-wise but still a little too challenging to read alone, so we can still share book time together!

Some books that he really loves are:
* Snowmen at Night; Caralyn Buehner
* Special love for Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs, Hippos Go Berserk, and Your Personal Penguin, all by Sandra Boynton. He likes her other books as well.
* If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and If You Give a Pig a Pancake, both by Laura Joffe Numeroff
* Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, by Bill Martin, Jr.
* Is Your Mama a Llama?, by Deborah Guarino

Some books I adored as a kid:
* The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (I still love this and can't wait to share it with my son! Whenever I'm asked what my favorite book is, this one tops the list.)
* Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls (makes me sob every time)
* Bridge to Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson (this one does too!)
* Island of the Blue Dolphin, by Scott O'Dell
* Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George
* The Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle series, by Betty McDonald
* Tailchaser's Song, by Tad Williams. It's an adult fantasy novel in the same genre as Watership Down, only it's cats instead of rabbits.

I also started reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz novels in 4th grade, but I imagine some parents wouldn't be quite so open to those for their 8/9 year old children. In junior high, I read a lot of Piers Anthony's Xanth series, which is fluffy, pun-impregnated silliness. They're quite simple and entertaining reads, especially in the beginning of the series. I read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy, by Douglas Adams, for the first time in 7th or 8th grade, and I love it still. My autographed copy is tattered from repeated readings.

As an adult, I discovered Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine, and Holes, by Louis Sachar. I'm a little sad that so many of these books are being made into movies. I know that it may encourage some kids to read them, but I think a lot more will say, "Why should I read it when it can just be poured into my head by the movie screen?" Why? Because the book version is almost always vastly superior, of course.

I've taken up rather enough space in your comments section, but I'm just so passionate about books and reading, and I'm really excited about seeing my child's interest in books.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Beth, I love hearing about young children who already enjoy books. I'm not sure if you've read Jim Trelease's book The Read-Aloud Handbook (which I highly recommend), but you're definitely experiencing the kind of success that he talks about. I think that for a 20 month old to sit through multiple readings of The Grinch is very impressive. And I'm thrilled that you're planning to find challenging books to keep reading together, even after he's old enough to read on his own. I think that's SO important. I truly believe that one of the reasons interest in reading drops off for many kids around fourth grade is that their parents aren't reading with them any more. Even if you do get past a point of reading aloud together one day, it's still helpful if you can read the same books that your child reads, so that you can talk about them together, etc. (I wrote about that idea in more detail here.)

Thanks for sharing recommendations of books that your son loves, and that you love (or loved as a kid). I think that the Laura Numeroff books are wonderful, too. And of course Sandra Boynton. The nice thing about the Boynton books, and Bill Martin's books, is that so many of them are available in board book format - perfect for toddlers. I'm ashamed to admit that I haven't read Is Your Mama A Llama (and the sequels), but I hear that they're a lot of fun.

As for your books, you clearly have a weakness for tear-jerkers. I do, too (at least sometimes). I adore Bridge to Terebithia and The Giver. If you want a wonderful new tear-jerker, I highly recommend Julia's Kitchen by Brenda Ferber, about a girl who copes with the loss of her mother and sister by finding joy in something that her mother loved. I first read Island of the Blue Dolphins as an adult, and was wowed by it. I'm on the fence about The Phantom Tollbooth. I remember loving it as a kid, but when I tried to re-read it as an adult, I had trouble getting into it. I never read Sign of the Beaver, but I read The Witch of Blackbird Pond by the same author, as an adult, and enjoyed that one. I do agree about the books that you added in your other comment, Amelia Bedelia, Trixie Belden, and Beverly Cleary. I'm amazed by how well Cleary's books hold up over time and growing up. As for Trixie, I wanted to be her. I loved mysteries. I enjoyed the Boxcar Children and Nancy Drew also (but I preferred Trixie to Nancy).

As I started branching out to adult books in junior high, I liked Agatha Christie, and the Gerogette Heyer regency romances (sort of a lighter Jane Austen), and eventually other mysteries. By high school I was just working my way through the adult section of the library, shelf by shelf. I read science fiction sporadically, only liking certain authors (Asimov and Bova). I didn't read much YA fiction (as it sounds like you didn't), but that's mostly because there wasn't much. I did have a fondness for Lois Duncan's books, though. Oh, and I will admit to having been briefly consumed by the V.C. Andrews books in junior high.

I do agree about movies, that the books are almost always better. But I can never resist giving the movie a chance, when I love the book, because it would be so nice to live in the world of a book for a couple of hours, by watching it on screen. I mostly enjoyed Bridge to Terebithia, but I didn't like the way they made the fantasy elements that the kids were seeing explicit. I can see why it made sense for a movie, but I preferred them as imaginary.

Anyway, that's more than enough for one comment. But it's been great chatting with you. Thanks for sharing so many bookish thoughts.

Beth writes...

(Jen, if you want to add this to the comment I previously submitted under the second section (the books I loved as a kid) instead of putting up a double post, I'm fine with that. I just posted and realized I'd forgotten some. There are LOTS more, of course, but these are IMPORTANT! :)

* Amelia Bedelia series, by Herman Parish.
* Anything by Beverly Cleary, especially the Ramona books, The Mouse and the Motorcycle, and Dear Mr. Henshaw.
* Trixie Belden series, by Julie Campbell. I wanted a best friend named Honey because of her hair, even though even back then I couldn't relate to girly-girls.

I was an adult the first time I read The Giver, by Lois Lowry, and I found it very well written, and very disturbing. However, I read 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 in 6th grade. I liked the latter more, but the former definitely had its moments.

Thanks for listening to me babble on and on about books. I'm sure you're just glad I didn't give detailed specifics on why I liked them, since we'd be here until the end of next week talking about it. :D

MotherReader writes...

Yeah Jen on your new home. I'd give you - as a PBS blog-warming gift:

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Knuffle Bunny
Knuffle Bunny Too
Today I Can Fly!
There is a Bird on Your Head!

all by Mo Willems.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

What a surprising set of suggestions, MotherReader (grin). For those not already in the know, MotherReader is the world's biggest Mo Willems fan. I do like his books, too, but my favorite is Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn't Know She was Extinct. So funny! As a general rule, though, in selecting books for preschoolers, you can't go wrong with anything by Willems. His early readers are supposed to be fabulous, too, though I haven't read them. Thanks for stopping by, MR.

Tracy writes...

My son is 5 yrs old, and loves books that are silly, or have anything gross in them.
He loves all of the Skippyjohn Jones Books. He really loves Are You Quite Polite?, I am still here in the Bathtub, Take me out of the Bathtub. Also, he loves any book by the author David Shannon.
I grew up with a love for books, and I agree they were my companions that I loved to revisit over and over.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for sharing your love of books, Tracy, and some of your son's favorites. The Skippyjon Jones books look like a lot of fun. I hope your son can continue to find plenty of silly and gross books. Whatever keeps his interest, and makes reading fun. I suspect that Jon Scieszka's Stinky Cheese Man would be a hit, too, and that the Captain Underpants books are probably in your future. Thanks so much for commenting!

Anamaria (bookstogether) writes...

I'm really enjoying this discussion; thank you, Jen! I would also love to hear your thoughts on reading aloud to two children of different ages. I have a 7 year old son and a 3 year old daughter, and some things that have worked for us are encouraging Leo to read aloud to Milly (sometimes this works, sometimes not); reading episodic chapter books like the Russell and Elisa books or the Jamie and Angus stories; and reading longer picture books. I love reading together as a family (although we do give each child their own special reading time, with lots of picture books for Milly and novels over several nights for Leo)--can you recommend any other books that might work for us?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting me over here, Anamaria. And thanks for asking me such a challenging question. I was a bit slower than usual to answer this one, because I had to think about it. I do think it's great for you to be able to have family reading time with both kids together, and of course that will get easier as the kids get a little bit older. I know families that have had good success with listening to audiobooks as a family when they're on long-ish car trips.

I think that there are still picture books out there that are interesting enough to hold Leo's attention, and hopefully some chapter books that Milly is getting ready for. Kids can definitely understand books that are at a much higher level than they could read themselves. I would think that the trick is to find some early chapter books that are about subjects that resonate with Milly, and then appeal to Leo's grown-up-ness by showing him that he can read these books. Like, if Milly is into cats, you might try Patches and Scratches by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor.

For other chapter books, a couple that I've had pretty good success with for young boys, and that have pictures to amuse a younger sibling, are Star Jumper and Gravity Buster, by Frank Asch. For a more classic approach, try The Cricket in Times Square by George Selden or the Ralph Mouse books by Beverly Cleary. And of course there are the Frog and Toad books, by Arnold Lobel and the Amelia Bedelia books by Peggy Parish. A more current funny early chapter book that might work for a younger child is A Girl, A Boy, and a Monster Cat by Gail Gauthier.

For a few picture books that I think will hold the attention of older kids, you might try:

Author Day for Room 3T, by Robin Pulver (ill. Chuck Richards)
Crazy Cars, by Mark David
Diary of a Spider and Diary of a Worm, by Doreen Cronin (ill. Harry Bliss)
Hugo and Miles in I've Painted Everything by Scott Magoon
The House Takes a Vacation, Jacqueline Davies (ill. Lee White)
Kali and the Rat Snake, by Zai Whitaker (ill. Srividya Natarajan)
The Pink Refrigerator, by Tim Egan

You might also try nonfiction that has great pictures, like An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy, both by Dianna Hutts Aston (Author) and Sylvia Long (Illustrator). Milly can focus on the pictures, and Leo can get into more of the facts.

I hope something in here helps! And I'd welcome suggestions from other readers, who have first-hand experience in reading aloud with kids of different ages. Thanks!

Gregory K. writes...

I have to say that the knockout gift this year was Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret. It's perfect for a ton of kids (at least based on the feedback from the giftees!).

I personally give a lot of Seuss (and am amazed at how many people don't know a lot of his work), as well as Douglas Florian and Shel Silverstein, too.

So many good choices, though, it's hard to just list a few!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting me over here, Gregory K. I think I would also find it amazing that many people aren't familiar with a lot of Dr. Seuss. I deliberately don't give those books myself because I figure anyone can pick those out. I may have to re-think my strategy on that. Glad to hear that you're getting a good response to The Invention of Hugo Cabaret. I'll have to try that one as a gift book. As for Shel Silverstein, my Grandmother was actually a big fan, late in life, and i have some Silverstein books that were hers. Those are truly for all ages.

Overall, though, I agree with you. There are so many great choices that you can't really go wrong. I do find it sad to be in bookstores sometimes, though, after two years of reading blog book reviews, which often feature less well-known titles. I'm always disappointed when I can't find these titles in the bookstore, when I'm looking for a gift (a definite argument in favor of shopping the independents, though this isn't always possible). Anyway, thanks for commenting, and for the suggestions.

Jules writes...

Jen, just dropping in to say that it's fabulous to have you sharing your knowledge and passion with everyone here at PBS! Wahoo!

I came to children's lit way too late. I did read as a child, but not enough. I missed out on some serious classics and otherwise, and I love catching up now.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jules! I think that you're absolutely making up for your missed childhood reading opportunities now. I think it must be kind of nice NOT having already read all of the great books, because it means that you still have their discovery ahead of you. For me, I read a lot as a kid, but definitely read fewer children's books during my late 20s and early 30 (still some, but not at the same pace), so I have some catching up to do there. And I'm ok with that. Thanks again for coming by and reading reading the post.

Rachel writes...

When I was a child, I loved Martin and Alice Provensen's "Roses Are Red, Are Violets Blue?", as well as the Narnia series, and Nancy Drew. And had Eric Carle been around when I was little, I would have loved him too. Now I have embarked on making my own children's books, starting with one for my niece. If anyone has any advice for a starting-out children's book author, I would love to know it!

Thanks, Rachel

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I've never read Roses Are Red, Violets are Blue?, Rachel, but I can tell you about a recent book about combining colors that is wonderful: Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon. I reviewed it here. I loved Narnia and Nancy Drew, too (though I preferred Trixie Belden, as I commented to someone else).

As for suggestions for starting out as a children's book author, I'm afraid that I don't have experience in that area myself. What I always do when I want to learn about something, though, is read a few books. Here are a couple of potential starting points:

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, Second Edition by Harold Underdown (despite the "idiot" title, I've read this one, and I think an excellent getting started resource). See also the author's website for more up to date information.

The Only Writing Series You'll Ever Need: Writing Children's Books by Lesley Bolton (I haven't seen this one, but it's very recently published, by someone with previous titles on this topic).

A Sense of Wonder: On Reading and Writing Books for Children by Katherine Paterson. This one is a classic, but is out of print.

Other general advice that I've heard is that if you're serious about being a children's book author, you should join your local section of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. And of course, read lots and lots of children's books, especially in your target age range. But again, I'm not an expert. Perhaps someone else would care to comment.

Good luck, Rachel! I'll hope to read one of your books one day.

Anamaria writes...

Thanks for the terrific suggestions, Jen! I'm lucky that Leo still loves to listen to picture books, and the ones you've suggested sound like they'll bridge the gap between him and Milly perfectly. I'm off to the library tomorrow; thanks again!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Glad I could help, Anamaria! Several of the titles that I mentioned are ones that I have reviewed (index here), if you want to know more about them. You are lucky that Leo will still listen to picture books - but of course it's not pure luck. It's because he's had such a positive experience with picture books for his whole life. They're lucky kids, to have a Mom who puts this kind of thought into finding the right books to read with them. I hope that some of those recommendations are hits.

Susan T. writes...

Yay! Go, Jen, go! You are an awesome advocate for books and reading. Can you get Elmo's autograph for me? (I still love Elmo even though my son is past the Sesame Street age.)

For older picture-book readers (or listeners), I'd also recommmend Patricia Polacco's work, like Thunder Cake, Some Birthday, and Meteor!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for stopping by, Susan! I'll have to see what I can do about getting Elmo's autograph.... Me, I'm a Cookie Monster fan. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in the back of my mother's car singing "C is for Cookie, that's good enough for me".

I'm not familiar with Patricia Polacco's work, but I'll definitely pass along the recommendation to Anamaria for her son. And for that matter, I'll just send her over to your blog (Chicken Spaghtetti) for more ideas. Thanks again!

Kelly writes...

Hi Jen! Had to stop by and see what all the hubbub at PBS was about!

To add to the basket of books for babies: Here's a Little Poem, edited by Jane Yolen, for sure.

Favorite books is a LONG list for me.

Favorite board books? I'm partial to Boynton: Moo Baa La La La, Barnyard Dance, and The Going to Bed Book, among others

Picture books? Janell Cannon's books (Stella Luna in particular), Lily's Purple Plastic Purse, Henry Goes to Work, Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters, and The Reptile Room are up there on my list. Oh, and Miss Rumphius. She may be my favorite.

Novels from when I was a kid: I loved Mandy by Julie Edwards, and Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp (recently reiussed in paperback!), and The Borrowers and Stuart Little and Pippi Longstocking and, when I was a bit older, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I read at least a dozen times when I was in high school. And had a Gandalf poster in my room.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for stopping by, Kelly! Here's a Little Poem sounds like a great addition to the basket. And a nice early introduction to Jane Yolen, who has so many other books for kids as they get older. Boyton, of course. I didn't list her initially because so many people are already familiar with the books. But they're all household favorites. And yes, I should clearly have included Stella Luna. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse is one that I'd give slightly older kids. I'm ashamed to admit that I never did read Miss Rumphius, though I know that she's a favorite of several families that I know. I think I'm going to have to move that one to the top my acquisition list.

I adored The Borrowers and Stuart Little and Pippi Longstocking, too. Especially Pippi. I played Annika in my second grade class play, and my very Pippi-like friend was Pippi. It was perfect! My favorite of the books was Pippi in the South Seas. I didn't come upon The Lord of the Rings until I was a bit older, for some reason. Certainly I didn't have a Gandalf poster, but I love that you did!

Anyway, thanks for sharing these great suggestions! It's so nice to talk children's books with other people who clearly love them as much as I do.

Holly writes...

Hi Jen! My two year old daughter loves books as much as I do. One of her favorite outings is to spend an hour browsing the children's section at the bookstore and selecting a couple of books to bring home. So far we've stuck to board books (since they hold up to toddlers well). Can you recommend a few books to look for as we move to the paper-paged and preschool sections?

Also, to add to the list of great books, below is a list of some of the favorites in our house.

ABC Animals: A Bedtime Story by Darice Bailer
The Very Best Daddy of All by Marion Dane Bauer
The Itsy Bitsy Spider by Iza Trapani (or any of her expanded nursery rhyme books)
The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood
and of course a well-worn copy of Goodnight Moon.

Thanks for your suggestions so far and for starting a great discussion.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Holly! I'm glad that your daughter loves books already. It sounds like she's off to a great start. And how fun for both of you, to make trips to the children's section of the bookstore on a regular basis. Thanks for sharing some favorite reads from your household. I love The Itsy Bitsy Spider especially, and we've been missing Don Wood from our combined list so far. It's always helpful to hear about truly kid-tested books. And I like that you have a Daddy book on your list, too.

As for other suggestions as your daughter gets a little bit past the board books, as MotherReader already pointed out in a comment above, you really can't go wrong with anything by Mo Willems. A new book that I'm hearing great things about (from kids and parents) is Iggy Peck, Architect by Andrea Beaty. Kids also seem to really like Not a Box by Antoinette Portis, and Flotsam by David Wiesner. Another new one that young friends of mine really liked was When Randolph Turned Rotten, by Charise Mericle Harper (it's about jealous). Oh, and The Zoo, by Suzy Lee. I could keep going all day. There are so many great titles. I reviewed some of the above-mentioned titles - you can find links here.

I'd also suggest checking out the recently announced short lists for the Cybils awards, a series of book awards selected by children's book bloggers. There are lists for fiction picture books and nonfiction picture books. The nominating committee sorted through many suggested titles to come up with these lists, and you can be sure that all of the listed books are winners. Last year's fiction picture book winner, Melanie Watt's Scaredy Squirrel, remains one of my all-time favorites, as does the sequel, Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend. This is my second year being involved with the Cybils awards, and I hope that lots of parents will find the short lists useful in selecting books. The other categories are middlge grade fiction, young adult fiction, science fiction and fantasy, graphic novels, poetry, and mg/ya nonfiction.

Laurel Snyder writes...

Oh. gosh... I totally forgot Jane Emily!

For me Edward Eager was the king of all authors. Also Roald Dahl, James Thurber. and a bunch of the ones already named.

For board books, my 2 year old has loved (as well as ingested) Peek a Who, Owl Babies, and a lot of the classics...


Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks, Laurel! I can't believe that I forgot to mention Owl Babies. I love that one. And Roald Dahl, of course. Matilda is my favorite (she's a bookworm, after all). I like the movie, too. Mara Wilson is perfect as Matilda. I taught myself to type in middle school by copying Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, so that one remains a favorite, too. I didn't read much Thurber, for some reason, though I associate his books with Dahl's. I liked Edward Eager, too, but I preferred Elizabeth Enright (right near him on the shelf). I also read as an adult Lucy Boston's Green Knowe series, and wished that I had known about that one as a kid.

Oh, all of these comments make me want to stop reading new books altogether, and go back and visit Dahl and Enright and L'Engle and Streatfeild and all the rest. Thanks for coming by, Laurel.

Jill T. writes...

Congratulations Jen! What you are doing for the world of reading and literacy is wonderful.

When I was about 10 years old, a neighbor gave me a box full of books she read when she was a child. This box contained the first 20 books of the Trixie Belden series and was probably one of the best gifts I've ever received. I was immediately hooked and read them over and over again. I also frequented the local library and checked out the books in the series I didn't have. I LOVED Trixie and desperately wanted to be a Bob-Whites. Di was the only person I "knew" with violet eyes, and I was quite disappointed when my mom wouldn't let me get violet-colored contacts. My favorite character though was Jim Frayne. I still have those books today and can't wait to pass them on to my daughter when she gets older.

Again, congrats!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for the positive feedback, Jill. I can't tell you gratifying it is to hear from so many other people who feel just as strongly as I do about the importance of reading and literacy. It gives me such hope for the future.

That was a great neighbor of yours, giving you the first 20 Trixie Belden books. What a treasure trove! I collected as many of those books as I could. I wanted to be Trixie, and have a cool group of friends, and go on adventures, and have a rich best friend like Honey Wheeler. My favorite, for some reason, was They Mystery in Arizona, the cover of which I can totally picture.

Even when I was a child I was picky about editions. I would accept the newer paperback editions, but I really wanted the old hardcovers with the colored covers. Some of the copies I had were originally my Mom's, which made them even more special (and made her more than happy to buy new titles for me). I still have them all in boxes, and will occasionally liberate them if I see them in used bookstores. I also have Bobbsey Twins and Nancy Drew books that were my Mom's, though I also added to both collections myself. I really should have a daughter to pass these along to, shouldn't I? Your daughter is very lucky - I know that you'll enjoy reading the books together one day.

Julie writes...

I'm a lifelong lover of children's books and I continue to read almost exclusively children's and young adult books.
I guess it started because the books I read as a child had so much of a profound effect on the person I've become.
Kids books tend to keep a quicker pace than many "adult" books, which appeals to the part of me that loves instant gratification.
Although all kids books tend to be classified together, there are so many available genres to choose from!
My son and I are able to read and enjoy a lot of kids books together. Either I read them aloud and we discuss them, or we read them separately and review them on public sites, like yabookscentral dot com, where he gets to see his reviews "in print."
Reading children's books gives so many bonding opportunities!
I'm off to read THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak. I've heard great things about it.
Thanks for this great post!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Oh, Julie, I know exactly what you mean, about the books you read as a child having such a profound effect on the person you've become. I really think that my core values have been influenced by Anne Shirley, Sara Crewe, Jo March, and Meg Murry, and all the rest. Not to mention my imagination and sense of story, and my vocabulary, and sometimes my knowledge of the world. I can't even fathom who I would have been if I hadn't been a reader.

As for your specific comments about why you like reading children's books now, I wrote an article on my blog about Why You Should Read Children's Books as an Adult, and included some of the same things that you mentioned. I especially love being able to get all genres in one location, and sometimes in one book. And reading with your son is great. I have a friend who has been reading with her now 13-year-old for the daughter's whole life, and they have great discussions, and have shared many books. Is it any wonder at all that the daughter is a reader? Or course not. I think that encouraging your son to write reviews is neat, too. I'm pretty sure if I'd had the opportunity to write online book reviews when I was a kid, I would have ended up doing something with writing as a career (not that your son has to, of course, but one thing that you're doing is making writing and critiquing a normal part of his life).

I hope you enjoy The Book Thief. It's not so upbeat, but the writing is phenomenal. One of the most unique voices I've ever seen in any literature. In my review I called Zusak "a genius at language."

Thanks for your comments. You so make me feel like I'm not alone in being a slightly outside of the mainstream adult who reads primarily children's and young adult books.

Laini Taylor writes...

Cool to see you here, Jen! I was just like you as a kid, a bookaholic. I read everything, everywhere, and I guess I still do, while trying to wedge in time to write my own books! The book that got me BACK into children's books as an "adult" (if a college student is an adult!) was Max Makes A Million by Maira Kalman. I worked in a bookstore and just fell in love with picture books all over again, and found my way from there back to youth fiction. There were years' worth of books to catch up on from all my time reading only "grownup" books! Now, it's hard to imagine life without children's lit. I would actually recommend Maira Kalman to Anamaria above -- great read-aloud books, lyrical cadence with colorful art, fun for a 3-year-old to hear, but with enough deeper meaning for an adult and a 7-year-old. Cheers!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting, Laini! I haven't read Max Makes A Million, but I'm clearly going to have to check it out, if it got you back into children's books as an adult. And it does sound like one to add to Anamaria's list.

I know what you mean about having to catch up from the time you only read "grownup" books, I have some holes in my children's and YA book experience, too. I never stopped reading them, but I definitely had a long period where I didn't read them nearly as much as I do now. But having great books to catch up on is a pretty good problem to have. Although, it's amazing, because I read almost 200 children's and YA books last year, and I still feel like I barely scratched the surface. There's so much great stuff out there (like your own book, which I loved). Anyway, thanks for stopping by to visit. Happy reading!

Cheryl Rainfield writes...

Jen, you said this so beautifully. What a lovely article! I love hearing about the positive effects that reading gave you. And I'm so glad you encourage children to read, that is such an important focus.

Reading can definitely open doors and worlds. Books helped me survive my childhood, and they also taught me about kindness in people. I also think books help children explore new ideas in a safe way, and help them to use their imaginations, their minds. And not just kids--adults, too.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Absolutely, Cheryl! I'm glad that you had books to turn to during your childhood. And I certainly agree about books letting people explore new ideas in a safe environment. By reading about people of other races and cultures and preferences, children and adults can learn to empathize with people who are different from themselves. And that's very valuable.

I posted this quote on my blog the other day (via the Kane/Miller newsletter):

"Good children's literature appeals not only to the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child." - Anonymous

I think that's in line with what you were saying. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this essential topic.

Marcie Atkins writes...

Hi Jen--It's great to see you posting here! My favorite books as a kid were Charlotte's Web and Anne of Green Gables. I read both over and over until the copies were falling apart. Those two books are still favorites, but I love reading and adding new favorites to my list. :)

Marcie at World of Words

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting over here, Marcie! And for posting about this Expert Q&A on your blog, too. Charlotte's Web and Anne of Green Gables! Two excellent choices. I still cry when Matthew dies, even after all these years.

I think I would have put A Little Princess on my "read over and over until it falls apart" list, too. I can still recite chapter titles from it, and I really feel Sara inside myself sometimes. I really wish I had more time, so that I could re-read all of my old favorites every couple of years, but still have time to add new ones. Oh well, at least we'll never run out of things that we want to read. Thanks for visiting!

Gail Gauthier writes...

Hi, Jen. Another advantage of reading: Serious reading can help kids with their writing. It can certainly reinforce any instruction they're receiving. Children who read a great deal will often develop a "feel" for dialogue and dialogue tags. They may learn to recognize that blocks of text need to be broken into paragraphs even if they don't quite have the hang of how to decide when to do it. They'll come to learn on their own that a satisfying story needs a climax before they learn what that term means.

Standardized testing usually deals with essay writing rather than fiction. Reading can help with that, too. I used to seek out good essays in newspapers and magazines on subjects I thought my kids would find interesting to help give them models for their essay writing.

The advantages of reading for a child (or anyone, for that matter) just go on and on.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

An excellent point, Gail! My seven-year-old niece, who likes writing and illustrating her own books, actually pointed out to me recently that she thinks reading helps with her writing, because she gets new ideas that way. I tried to explain that it would help her writing in other ways, as you describe above, but that was a little abstract for her. But of course it's true. And of course I turn cartwheels to encourage her working on her stories.

With all the fiction I've read in my life, I have a very strong sense of story and dramatic climax. Even though I haven't applied that sense to writing fiction, it's still there, flowing strong, as I evaluate any story (from anecdote to book to television show).

I actually give books credit for the fact that I got into the college that I wanted, because the reading made the SATs go easily for me (this was before they included essays). I like your idea of seeking out good essays to give your kids models for essay writing.

So yes, I'm right with you about the advantages of reading going on and on.

Kelly writes...

You look good over here, Jen!

My son loved Bill Martin's "A Beasty Story" and a book called "Dinosaur Roar" best of all as a toddler. Still reading strong today! He reads "boy stuff" to himself--Underpants, Stink, etc--but will listen to audiobooks of classic titles as well.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks, Kelly! I don't know "A Beasty Story" or "Dinosaur Rex" - I'll have to check those out. Glad that your son will listen to audiobooks of non-boy stuff (because while I completely support letting kids read Captain Underpants, I don't think that they would be your first choice for family group listening). Cheers!

Anamaria writes...

Thank you, thank you to everyone who's suggested books so far to read aloud to my 7 and 3 year old together: I'll try to check out every one we haven't already read!

What a great discussion, too; thanks, Jen! I don't even know where to begin writing about favorite children's books: there are so many, and of course they change over time. Right now we're reading everything we can find about the ancient Romans. Will think about it!

Stacy writes...

Hi Jen:

I, too, was reading all over the place when I was younger. As I children's librarian, I get to "shop" books to kids everyday! What fun! Some favorites for years among the younger set are When I Was Five, by Howe, No Jumping on the Bed, by Arnold and Jamberry, by Degen.

In the middle of the set, Chris Van Allsburg can do no wrong (Just a Dream, and The Garden of Abdul Gasazi bring up interesting discussion).

Personally, I loved funny poetry a la Dennis Lee when I was younger. I would write poems constantly, and put them together in "books" for my parents!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

You are very fortunate in your choice of career, Stacy. I'm convinced that I should have been a children's librarian. Somehow I thought that being an engineer would be more practical (which it probably was, but I didn't factor in the part about adoring books). Ah well, the blog helps a lot.

I had forgotten about No Jumping on the Bed and Jamberry, but both are a lot of fun. I'm not familiar with When I Was Five. Isn't it amazing how we can read so many books, and still have so many gaps? It's comforting, though, this never having a chance of running out of things to read. And Chris Van Allsburg, of course. I adored Jumanji before it was a movie.

I wasn't too much of a poetry reading person myself as a kid, though I did have a phase of writing it around middle school. I had an English teacher in 7th and 8th grade who assign poetry-writing all the time. My favorite prompt was "The universe is a box of toys for the enchanted child". I also wrote some dreck about rainbows that I still remember, but am not brave enough to share. I think that funny poetry really resonates with a lot of kids, though, and that there's no limit to the need for more. I actually personally think that more facts should be taught to young children in the form of song (shades of Schoolhouse Rocks), because boy those lyrics stick in one's head.

I hope you still have some of the poetry books that you made as a kid. If so, treasure it. Thanks for visiting!

Libby writes...

Hi, Jen--what a fabulous post and discussion here! I don't know the Snyder books you mentioned way up there, but otherwise I think our childhood reading was much the same. The fabulous new children's fantasy--Pullman and Rowling--is what really got me back into children's books as an adult, but there's so much. I love a lot of contemporary YA as well--John Green, Mitali Perkins, Sherman Alexie, M.T. Anderson.

As for boys & reading, I have a readerly son and I don't know why. (I wish I did: I could market my technique for making him a reader and get rich!) But I do know that mystery and fantasy--puzzle stories of one kind and another--are his special favorites, and I have seen that with other boys as well. As a younger kid (he's ten now) he loved non-fiction "fact" books, too--just lists of information--much to his story-loving mother's dismay! But we read them all, and he's now unstoppable on his own.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Libby, thanks for visiting. I'm sorry that you missed out on the Zilpha Keatley Snyder books as a kid. They are wonderful, and absolutely shaped my childhood, and the way that I played even when I wasn't reading. I'm sure that you would have liked them. Pullman and Rowling helped pull me in as an adult, too. I was an early convert to both series. I actually had to order the second or third Harry Potter book from the UK, because I couldn't wait until it was published here (the early books had different US and UK publication dates).

I love the contemporary YA authors that you mentioned, too. Well, I haven't read Sherman Alexie, but I just this afternoon picked up Diary of a Part-Time Indian from my library. And I'm looking forward to reading Mitali's new president's daughter book soon (though my favorite of hers is still Monsoon Summer). I'm a judge for the Cybils book awards for young adult fiction this year, so I'll be reading, or re-reading, seven excellent titles. But don't get me started - I could talk about young adult fiction all day.

Another contemporary author that I recommend to all and sundry, but especially people looking to keep boys reading, is Rick Riordan, with his Percy Jackson books. He's a bit advocate of helping kids find books that will keep them reading, which I think is very important. I interviewed him here. You are very lucky to have a son who likes to read so much. Though I'm sure that part of the key to that is hidden in your statement about how you read "fact" books with him when that was what interested him. You let him know that his interests were valid, and lo and behold, he kept reading. No coincidence there. If he hasn't read The Mysterious Benedict Society yet, you should definitely pick that one up. The Name of this Book is Secret is fun, too, for kids who like puzzles. And of course The Puzzling World of Winston Breen. There's also an interesting discussion going on about boys and reading over at Sara Lewis Holmes's blog, in the comments of this post. You might want to check that one out.

Thanks again for visiting, and for generally supporting my PBS Parents discussion.

Ari writes...

My son is 7 in the first grade. Reading is a struggle for him and we go to the library to pick out the books that he would like to read, but when it's time to read, he goes extremely slow and still struggles on words that I know we've practiced. I just want him to consider it fun and exciting rather than a challenge. He sometimes considers it a punishment when asked to read. How can do those skills come where he can accelerate the speed and be consistent? He'll read and then pause to look at the pictures, then forget where he left off, things like that. Thanks.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Ari, thanks for stopping by, and for asking such an important question. I'm not an expert on the learning to read part of this (vs the loving to read part), but my opinion (and maybe other commenters will have things to add here) is that if you want to make reading fun for your son, and he's struggling with the mechanics of it, you should concentrate on reading aloud to him. That way he has the positive experience of spending reading time with you, and reading the books that he's picked out, and he doesn't have to focus, say at bedtime, on the parts that he has trouble with.

Let him pause to look at the pictures, and just talk to him about that. What does he think the pictures mean? What story do the pictures tell without the words? Can he guess what's going to happen next from the pictures? Things like that. You want the whole reading experience to be pleasurable, especially when he's at home. All kids learn to read at different rates, and only his teacher can say if he's truly having trouble relative to his classmates, or whether he's just not quite there yet. But I say, keep reading aloud yourself for as long as he'll let you, and that the reading will come naturally with time, and with help from his teacher. I'll also add that having a Dad read aloud can be especially helpful with boys, because then they associate reading with something that men enjoy doing.

You might also want to check out The Read-Aloud Handbook, by Jim Trelease, which is a book for parents about raising kids who love books. It's a truly excellent book, one that I've given to many parents as a gift, and it's now in it's sixth edition. I was fortunate enough to hear Jim speak last year, and I wrote about some of his suggestions here. I highly recommend giving that a look.

Sara Lewis Holmes writes...

Hi, Jen! You've stirred up quite a reading discussion over here, and I love it. I'm going to put in a plug for my favorite childhood books: The Prydain Chronicles by Lloyd Alexander. I think I loved them not only because they were full of adventure and humor, but because my dad read them out loud to me. And I was in middle school at the time! So all you parents who read aloud when your kids are young, don't stop. I also read these books out loud to my own kids. My husband, knowing no fear, read all of Watership Down and the complete LOTR series out loud to them as well.

I liked your answer to the would-be writer, too, Jen. Books and SCBWI are definitely the place to start. I have probably 60 books on writing technique and/or biographies of writers. It's a self-designed apprenticeship. Read, write, talk to other writers, repeat over and over until you find yourself living your dream.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Sara! I am thrilled with the vibrancy of this discussion about books and reading. It's so wonderful to be talking children's books with people who care about them so much. I could do this all day, if time would allow.

I must confess that I never read The Prydain Chronicles. I know, I know. They're on my mental list - I have the first book - I just ... never cared much for high fantasy. I've always preferred my fantasy in the form of books where the magic is off in a corner of our world, or ordinary children travel to a place where there's magic. Things like that. So, Narnia or Harry Potter over The Lord of the Rings, for instance. I like Dystopian, futuristic, and post-apocalyptic fiction best, out of the fantasy/science fiction genre. Kind of projecting current situations forward, instead of stepping into a completely created world.

Anyway, I love that your dad read aloud to you when you were in middle school. That's great! And I completely agree, all you parents out there. The longer you can keep reading aloud to and with your kids, the better off they'll be. Read this in The Read-Aloud Handbook (discussed in the previous comment) if you don't believe Sara and me - Jim Trelease can cite studies. Your husband must have strong vocal cords, though, Sara, because those are some serious series to read aloud. Also as I mentioned above, it's especially powerful when dads read aloud, because otherwise kids tend to pick up a subtle message that reading is girl stuff (which of course it isn't - reading is for everyone).

Thanks for validating and augmenting my answer to the would-be writer, Rachel, above. Readers, Sara had her first middle grade novel published in 2007 (and it is wonderful), so she knows from which she speaks.

nicole writes...

my son gives me a very hard time doing
his lesons espesialy reading he always
says it is to hard. It also seems that
he does not have any confedence in
himself. Does any one have any sugestions
on how to help me in this mater?
thank you
Nicole Richard

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Nicole,

I'm sorry that your son is having a hard time with his reading. My best advice is what I said to Ari above: if you can read aloud to your son, or even listen to audiobooks together (the important part being that you both listen), you help him to see that books and reading are pleasurable things, not work. And by doing this together, you show him that you think that his reading is important - enjoyable, but also important.

The other thing is to let him read what he does enjoy, and feel comfortable reading, if there's anything like that (even comic books). This helps with confidence. I think kids have trouble when they feel pressured, by school or whatever, to read above what they're ready for. But if you let them read what they are comfortable with, they'll get practice through that, and this will help them to be ready for more challenging material.

I'm going to ask a couple of my teacher friends, to see if they have any other suggestions to add, and will be back with more. Thanks for bringing up this question - I'm sure that there are a lot of parents struggling with similar issues.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Just a quick note to Nicole and Ari, and anyone else interested in this topic of helping struggling readers. I put the question to some of my teacher and blog friends, and they have responded with some GREAT suggestions. It's going to take me a bit of time to compile them (that's how strongly they responded!), but if you check back tomorrow, I'll have some useful suggestions for you. Thanks!

Jean (PBS Parents)? writes...

Thanks so much Jen for all your great advice and book suggestions. Thanks, too, for going to the trouble of soliciting advice from your teacher and blog friends. I am eager to read what they say. In the meantime, I wanted to let Nicole, Ari and others know about the following resources on the PBS Parents site that they might find useful:
A Primer on Dyslexia
Understanding and Recognizing Reading Disabilities
And you'll find some tips for encouraging first graders to read here.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for sharing those links, Jean! I'm still working on putting together the recommendations that I've received, but they are coming together nicely. Thank YOU for putting me into this environment, where I have the opportunity to respond to important questions like these. I am SO enjoying these discussions.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I wasn't satisfied that I had given you enough help, Nicola and Ari, with your questions about helping reluctant readers. So, I turned for assistance to my friends from the Kidlitosphere Yahoo Group (a discussion group for those who read, write, and blog about children's and young adult literature). This is an amazing group. Within 24 hours, I had heard back from about fifteen people, including teachers, parents and authors, with useful, concrete, and creative solutions for helping children learn to enjoy reading. In this article, I compile their suggestions, along with my own thoughts, in the hope of providing some helpful ideas for parents. There is no quick-fix, of course, no pill that your child can take to suddenly become a reader. But there are straightforward things that parents can do.

First and Foremost: Make Reading an Enjoyable Experience

The most important thing that a parent can do to help a child who is struggling with reading is make reading an enjoyable experience. If the child feels like reading is work or punishment, he or she will end up being a resistant reader instead of a joyful reader. Sixth-grade teacher Sarah (who blogs at The Reading Zone) says: "As a teacher with a whole lot of reluctant 6th grade boy readers, I can't stress enough - LET READING BE FUN! Too many parents use reading as a punishment. If I had to read any time I was in trouble, I would probably hate it, too!" Another contributor, Jill T. (who blogs at The Well-Read Child), points out that "parents must be patient and supportive. If parents get frustrated, it will only make the child more reluctant to read."

Read Aloud

The number one thing that parents can do to make reading enjoyable is to read aloud to and with their children. Well-known reading advocate Jim Trelease wrote an entire book on this subject (reference below). Reading together should be a fun, comforting, shared experience, not work, definitely not a test. By reading aloud to your child, you can read more advanced stories than the child is ready for on his own. You can stop and discuss the ideas in the books, together. You show your child that you value reading, and that you value your time together. The benefits of reading aloud to your child are vast, and will endure for a lifetime.

For parents who have difficulty reading aloud, try reading wordless picture books and telling your child a story based on the illustrations. Or try graphic novels such as the Owly books by Andy Runton (suggested by multiple contributors). Another idea is for parents and children to listen to audiobooks together. Just make sure you have a way to pause easily, so that you can stop and discuss things. Also consider listening to an audiobook at home, and following along with the printed book. The site Just One More Book! features picture book reviews via podcast (audio file), which can also be helpful for parents.

Parent Charlotte (who blogs at Charlotte's Library) says: "My own son is not taking to reading like a duck to water. So to make it fun for him, we will read books together. I will do the bulk of the reading, but he will be responsible for some of the dialog. When it's his turn, I wait a breathe to see if he's been able to keep up with his eyes; mostly he hasn't, so I point, and he reads. Sometimes he'll read it again, with dramatic expression. This way we can read more interesting books without frustration. Shared reading also works well with graphic novels--we've read many Tintin books this way. Ricky Ricotta and Captain Underpants work well also. So do the Magic School Bus books--on every page there is something even tentative readers can read."

Writer and volunteer librarian Gregory K. (who blogs at Gotta Book) echoes the importance of reading aloud, and adds "read EVERYTHING you can, from cereal boxes to store signs to books."

Let Your Child Read the Kinds of Books that He or She Wants to Read

One of the biggest reasons why kids, especially boys, end up resistant to reading is that they are often encouraged to read books that aren't interesting to them, and they are discouraged from reading the things that they most enjoy. One of the best things that you can do if you want your child to read for pleasure is support your child's selection of reading material. If your child only likes FACTS, get him an almanac. Get sports fans biographies of sports figures. Have a kid who is fascinated by war? Find some accessible nonfiction books. Try comics, joke books, computer game manuals, books of baseball statistics, movie novelizations, sport and car magazines, quizzes and puzzles. Whatever works. Whatever your child finds interesting is worthwhile. Yes, even Captain Underpants and Gossip Girl novels. Teacher Mary Lee Hahn (who blogs at A Year of Reading) adds that home should be a "safe place for reading books that are at an appropriate or easy level (especially when/if school is a place of stress and struggle)." Liz Garton Scanlon (who blogs at Liz in Ink) adds: "About reluctant boy readers -- or girls, for that matter: the Zack Proton books seem to work some sort of intergalactic miracle."

This topic is also addressed, in the context of reluctant teen readers, in a recent Horn Book magazine article by Philip Charles Crawford. A high-school librarian, Crawford discusses kids who are not just reluctant, but actually resist reading, and says: "To help these resistant readers, I avoid stigmatizing value judgments about reading materials. I try to change the negative experience that occurs when resistant readers encounter books--the immediate revulsion they feel when presented with something they view as academic or boring. This often means putting into their hands books that many librarians, teachers, and children's book expert snub... these books have the power to engage and excite teens who would otherwise read nothing."

There are two important sub-points here: 1) fiction is not all that there is. Women (who still make up the bulk of primary caregivers, librarians, and teachers) tend to enjoy stories. But anything that gets your child reading is valid, and the child should not be made to feel that his or her reading is less valuable because it doesn't fall into a traditional fiction-sized box. Reading of any sort, if it's enjoyable, will lead to more reading. That's our purpose here.

2) Suggested reading levels are guidelines, and may not apply to all kids. Kids shouldn't be pushed (especially at home, when reading for pleasure) to read at higher levels than they are ready for. There are kids who happily read dozens of Magic Treehouse books, to the frustration of parents who would like their children to advance faster. But if the child is enjoying those Magic Treehouse books, great. They'll move past the series eventually. But if you push them to read things they find difficult, you might turn them off of reading forever.

Teacher Marcie Atkins (who blogs at World of Words) suggests: "I always tell parents of 4th grade boys that it's not as much a concern of WHAT they are reading as long as they ARE reading. I tell them get them a copy of Sports Illustrated for Kids--anything that they LIKE to read about. Parents often really want their kids to read novels, but that's not always what boys want to read. My brother was a reluctant reader, but he would cut articles out of the newspaper about the Gulf War (the first one) because he was fascinated with tanks. He hated to read, but he read knew more facts about tanks than anyone I knew.

For a struggling reader (not one who is just reluctant, but really struggling with the mechanics) I would recommend the HI-LO readers. There are many good books out there with topics that are interesting to kids that are written on a lower reading level. Sometimes kids get frustrated with the "baby books" because they are not interested in the content but they have difficulty reading anything harder."

Former reading tutor Jill T. weighs in on the topic of age-appropriateness: "I used to tutor students (children, teens, and adults who had difficultly reading), and I can't begin to tell you how this impacted their self-esteem and how often they just wanted to give up because reading was so difficult. The only other advice I can give is to try to find age-appropriate material that is also aligned with their reading and interest levels. This can be quite a challenge because a lot of the beginning reader stuff is full of bunnies and bears and themes that will turn off older kids and even embarrass them if their peers see what they're reading. When I was teaching ESL to high school students, I had a hard time finding books that were simple enough for a beginning English learner to comprehend but also age appropriate. I was able to find a lot of nonfiction books and biographies that helped me and that also interested my students, and I tried to steer clear of the ones that had "Grade 2," or "Ages 4-8" stamped on them."

Several responders pointed especially to comic books and graphic novels as a tool for making reading more fun, and a bit easier, for struggling readers.

Kelly Herold (who blogs at Big A little a) reminded me about this recent New York Times article: Superman Finds New Fans Among Reading Instructors. The gist of the article is that "a growing cadre of educators is looking to comics as part of the solution" to literacy problems. The article notes that "Proponents of comics in the classroom say that they can lure struggling readers who may be intimidated by pages crammed with text. They also say that comics, with their visual cues and panel-by-panel sequencing, are uniquely situated to reinforce key elements of literacy, like story structure and tone." There are people who question the appropriateness of comics in the classroom, but it seems clear that comics and graphic novels can be used at home to help struggling readers find stories that they enjoy, and can read a bit more easily than more dense novels.

Parent and school librarian Anna W. also recommends Sports Illustrated for Kids, and adds: "Comic books, comic books, comic books! My fourth grade son loves the new Alex Rider graphic novels, and a series called Tashi (1st or 2nd grade reading, but good enough stories for a 4th grader), and now he's working through Diary of a Wimpy Kid (also 2nd grade-ish level). He also worked his way through some leveled non-fiction (step 2 & step 3) because he was captivated by the topic... If a child is significantly below grade level, have him/her listen to grade-level books on CD. It will help develop the vocabulary and narrative skills they're not getting with reading, and it also helps some with self-esteem, being able to discuss the same books that the stronger readers have read. The trick is to find easy (easier than ability = success, speed and practice) AND interesting. And don't make it a battle -- as long as a child likes the idea of reading, he hasn't given up yet.

And, if you are stuck for book recommendations for boys, Gregory K. reminds us that Guys Read, created by new National Ambassador for Young People's Literature Jon Scieszka, is a must-visit site.

Model Reading Behavior

Another important point about encouraging kids to read is that parents should, if possible, model reading behavior. Parent Libby (who blogs at Lessons from the Tortoise) suggests: "Talk about your reading at the dinner table, go to libraries and bookstores together, let your kids see that you are happy to read, that you get pleasure from it, that it is important to you. Just saying that reading is important won't cut it; kids do what we do, not what we say. And then, maybe, let up a bit. I think some kids freeze up when they sense they're not doing well at something their parents value."

This modeling of reading behavior is especially important for fathers. If the only people boys ever see reading are their mothers and their female teachers, it's very easy for those boys to absorb the message that reading is a feminine activity. But if even some of the time your son sees his father reading instead of watching television, that message goes a long way. Author Barbara Haworth-Attard says that her son "had a special time with Dad which was the half hour before bedtime when he and Dad (and only Dad unless Dad was away) would read together. He did this until he was twelve years old because it was one on one time with Dad, plus Dad did all the voices and they snorted with laughter and it was such a fun time together. I think fun is the key. Make popcorn, get a drink, be consistent in that you do it every night and make it so special kids can hardly wait to read. It also helped that my husband liked reading, too."

Other Concrete Suggestions

Tricia Stohr-Hunt from The Miss Rumphius Effect contributed three suggestions that she likes, all from an article at Reading Rockets:

"* Encourage activities that require reading - Cooking (reading a recipe), constructing a kite (reading directions), or identifying a bird's nest or a shell at the beach (reading a reference book) are some examples.

* Write short notes for your child to read - Write down his/her weekly household responsibilities for him/her to keep track of or put a note in his/her lunch bag.

* Give your child writing materials - Reading and writing go hand in hand. Children want to learn to write and to practice writing. If you make pencils, crayons, and paper available at all times, your child will be more inclined to initiate writing activities on his/her own.

Scroll down to the section on Helping your School Age Child (in the above article) for more ideas."

Make Words into a Game: Charlotte says: "We have a box of words written on pieces of paper, and every so often my son gets them out and makes stories with them. He ends up practicing reading as a result, with the added bonus of writing when he needs new words (and it's good grammar practice too, because of having to choose the right verb form and punctuation marks."

Try Reader's Theater: Author Barbara Bietz suggests: "Reader's theatre can be a fun way for parents to help kids with reading comprehension. After reading together, they can act out portions of the story or a short summary. It can be fun, even silly - and no pressure like a book report."

Visit Your Local Library: Mary Lee Hahn reminds us that regular visits to the library help reinforce the importance of reading.

Make Real-World Connections to Books: Jill T. points out: "It's always helpful if parents can find a way to use books to make real-world connections with things that their children are interested in... If I found that one of my students had a particular interest, I tried to find books about it and then point them to a place where they could actually GO to learn more and experience it first hand. For example, one student loved tigers, and the tiger at the National Zoo gave birth to tiger cubs. I found a fact book about tigers that she was able to read and also pointed her to the website where there was information about the tiger and the cubs."

Be Aware of Possible Learning Differences

If your child is having trouble reading, it may be time to have some tests done, to see if your child needs help.

Gregory K., inventor of the poetic form "the Fib", notes: "it's also a good idea to make sure that there isn't some other issue going on besides just not liking books. By this I mean things simple like a need for glasses or things like dyslexia or other developmental issues. Imagine the frustration for a child who cannot seem to make sense of the words, not knowing that it isn't a lack of intelligence or desire, but rather a slightly different mental wiring!

Most public schools have a reading specialist (in the district, perhaps) or a program where they can test and see if there is an issue. Talking to the teacher (or principal or someone!) is the best first step, in my opinion. (And that'd be true in private schools, too). I'd note that sometimes kids are clever enough that they can mask reading difficulties from the teacher, so you might be doing both teacher and student a HUGE favor if you mention concerns."

Anastasia Suen writes: "I am a former elementary school teacher, a children's book author, and the mother of a child who had a VERY hard time learning how to read. He loved books, that wasn't the problem! It was reading words that was hard. My son has dyslexia. Dyslexia is very common, 1 in 10 people have it. My son is grown up now and runs his own business (something that is also common for dyslexics!) PBS has a GREAT series about kids who find it hard to learn called Misunderstood Minds. The webpage has info about how kids learn and how to find help for kids who have trouble learning. One of the topics is Learning to Read. The Reading Responses page has lots of practical advice!"

Librarian Jenny Schwartzberg adds: "There's a wonderful new book by Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain, which specifically discusses dyslexia. I recommend it for anyone who is interested in how reading developed and why. It's absolutely fascinating reading."


The challenge of helping kids learn to enjoy reading is one that the members of the Kidlitosphere (the community of people who write and blog about children's books) take seriously. While I can't guarantee that this article is exhaustive (in particular, parents may need to find out more about the last topic, learning differences), I can say that these ideas all have the potential to help. In summary, to help your child learn to read and enjoy reading:

  • Make reading fun, not work.
  • Read aloud to and with your child.
  • Let your child read the kinds of books that he or she wants, even if they are non-fiction, and even they aren't officially at your child's grade level. Explore a broad range of genres, including graphic novels.
  • Model reading behavior yourself.
  • Look for other activities, like going to the library, and performing reader's theater, that make reading enjoyable and relevant.
  • Be aware of possible learning differences and vision difficulties that may be compounding the problem.

If you do these things, consistently and patiently, I truly think that they'll help, and that reading will become more enjoyable to your child. And you'll be able to share wonderful experiences along the way. I welcome your feedback.

Anastasia Suen
Anna W., school librarian and parent
Barbara Bietz
Barbara Haworth-Attard
Charlotte: Charlotte's Library
Gregory K: Gotta Book
Jenny Schwartzberg, librarian (read an interview with Jenny here)
Jill T: The Well-Read Child
Kelly Herold: Big A little a
Libby: Lessons from the Tortoise
Liz Garton Scanlon: LIz in Ink
Mary Lee Hahn: A Year of Reading
Marcie Atkins: World of Words
Monica Edinger: Educating Alice
Sarah: The Reading Zone
Tricia Stohr-Hunt: The Miss Rumphius Effect

A Selection of Further Reading:

A Few Recommended Titles for Reluctant Boy Readers (from Sarah):

  • The Cirque du Freak series by Darren Shan
  • Oh Yuck! The Encyclopedia of Everything Nasty by Joy Masoff
  • The Bone series by Jeff Smith
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  • Stanford Wong Flunks Big Time by Lisa Yee
  • John Feinstein sports mysteries, like Last Show and Last Dance

I'll be cross-posting this information on my own blog, for ease of reference. You can also download a printable PDF version of this article. Many thanks to everyone who has participated in the discussion so far. I look forward to further feedback!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

By popular demand (and thanks to a suggestion from Megan Germano at Read, Read, Read), I'm making a printable PDF version of the previous article about helping readers available for download from my blog. I hope that you'll find it useful.

Sara Lewis Holmes writes...

Okay, now it's my mission to get you to read them, Jen. :) Because I feel the same way as you do about high fantasy. What I love about the Prydain Chronicles is that they feel so real world to me. Way, way more about human nature than large scale battles and magic.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I must say, that is exactly the way to get me to read them, Sara! See, that's why I love discussing books with people who "get it".

Anastasia writes...

Hi Nicole,

I am a former elementary school teacher, a children's book author, and the mother of a child who had a VERY hard time learning how to read. He loved books, that wasn't the problem! It was reading words that was hard. My son had dyslexia.

Dyslexia is very common, 1 in 10 people have it. My son is grown up now and runs his own business (something that is also common for dyslexics!)

PBS has a GREAT series about kids who find it hard to learn called Misunderstood Minds. The webpage has info about how kids learn and how to find help for kids who have trouble learning. One of the topics is Learning to Read. The Reading Responses page has lots of practical advice!

I wish you all the best!
Anastasia Suen

Tali writes...

I love fairy tales, the best part is to read my baby girl fairy tales, I can read the same story over and over again.

Libby writes...

I'm going to second Sara Lewis Holmes's recommendation of the Prydain Chronicles. I loved them as a kid, and so did both of my children. And, I'm still reading to my almost-middle-school aged son, and don't anticipate stopping any time soon. Jen, thanks for those recommendations. Nick & I both loved The Name of this Book is Secret, and he's a big fan of the Percy Jackson books as well (I haven't read them yet).

Great conversation here!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Libby,

Glad that you and your son liked The Name of this Book is Secret. And I adore the Percy Jackson books. You should definitely check them out yourself if you get a chance.

And yes, I will have to check out The Prydain Chronicles soon. As soon as I catch up on my Cybils-related reading, anyway. Thanks for seconding the recommendation!

Gregory K. writes...

On the reluctant and/or non-confident reader convo, I have a couple ideas (while noting that I am NOT a teacher or trained professional!).

Besides echoing the read-aloud idea (and that means read EVERYTHING you can, from cereal boxes to store signs to books), it's also a good idea to make sure that there isn't some other issue going on besides just not liking books. By this I mean things simple like a need for glasses or things like dyslexia or other developmental issues. Imagine the frustration for a child who cannot seem to make sense of the words, not knowing that it isn't a lack of intelligence or desire, but rather a slightly different mental wiring!

Most public schools have a reading specialist (in the district, perhaps) or a program where they can test and see if there is an issue. Talking to the teacher (or principal or someone!) is the best first step, imo. (And that'd be true in private schools, too). I'd note that sometimes kids are clever enough that they can mask reading difficulties from the teacher, so you might be doing both teacher and student a HUGE favor if you mention concerns.

If none of that is the case, then I re-re-echo the reading aloud idea as well as the "let 'em pick whatever they want" idea. If a boy, in particular, is stumped for ideas, there's Jon Scieszka's great site. For all, there are many lists on Amazon, too, that parents and kids and readers have compiled.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much, Gregory K and Anastasia, for bringing up these important points about dyslexia and other physical and mental reading difficulties. I had vision problems myself as a child. I don't think it stopped me from reading, but I do clearly remember seeing the small branches of trees for the first time, when I first got my glasses. My mother was horrified that she hadn't realized that my sight was so bad. Anastasia, I'm glad that your son was able to overcome dyslexia, and perhaps even turn his problem-solving ability into a strength. Thanks for sharing those PBS resources, too.

RM1(SS) (ret) writes...

Board books: I'll repeat the recommendation for Sandra Boynton's books. Particular favourites for our family were But Not the Hippopotamus, Moo Baa La La La, The Going to Bed Book, Hippos Go Berserk and Barnyard Dance. Jamberry, by Bruce Degen, was another favourite I highly recommend. And we had a lot of fun with Mouse Paint and Mouse Count (especially the latter, where the mice uncount themselves), by Ellen Stoll Walsh.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for stopping by, RMI(SS)! Those all sound like wonderful books. I am such a huge fan of board books in general - they make books so accessible for kids, easy to use, hard to damage. I would like to see even more titles make their way to the board book format. Anyway, thanks for these suggestions!

Liz Garton Scanlon writes...

What a fantastic thread -- and great facilitation, Jen. I think I'm going to scroll back up and take note of all the holes in my literary knowledge.
About reluctant boy readers -- or girls, for that matter: Zack Proton books seem to work some sort of intergalactic miracle.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Liz! Thanks for stopping by. This has surely been a wonderful discussion to be part of. I'll have to check out the Zack Proton books - I'm not familiar with those. But I'm in favor of anything that reaches reluctant readers.

Little Willow writes...

What children's books that were childhood favorites have you revisited as an adult? How did they compare to the memories?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

You are always making me think, aren't you, Little Willow? Well, obviously, I re-read my favorites from among the Zilpha Keatley Snyder series, and those held up well. Sadly, Enid Blyton's Famous Five books didn't hold up as well - the gender roles were too grating for me to tolerate. Some of her other books I've found held up better. I think that A Little Princess and The Secret Garden hold up very well, as do all of Elizabeth Enright's books (about the Melendy family, and the Gone-Away Lake books). I think that Enright has a timeless sense of what kids find interesting.

What else? I still love Alexander Key's books (Escape to Witch Mountain and The Forgotten Door), and I recently re-read a book by Walter Macken that I really loved, called Flight of the Doves, and was pleased with how that one compared to my memory of it. Right now I'm reading Prince in Waiting by John Christopher, an author that I loved as a child, and it's holding up fairly well, too. Perhaps a bit slower paced than I remember his other books being.

I also recently re-read most of the Anne of Green Gables series, and that one is truly timeless. I still cry over Matthew's death, and worry about Anne and Gilbert's future, even though I know how things turn out.

One thing I've done that I think helps keep the childhood favorites fresh is that I've listened to many of them on MP3. I have a membership to by which I get 2 books a month, and they have lots of classics. I've listened to A Wrinkle in Time, A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan, most of the Anne of Green Gables books, The Railway Children, and The Birchbark House within the past couple of years, and they all held up well. I was less taken with my attempts to listen to Robin Hood and The Wind in the Willows, but they weren't such strong favorites to begin with.

Oh, one other one that I listened to recently was The Swiss Family Robinson. That one is a bit hard to read with a modern perspective, because the family is downright callous to animals, and you just know that the book could never be published today. See a recent post about this book at Becky's Book Reviews.

What about you, Little Willow? Other readers? How have your childhood favorites held up?

kelly writes...

In our house spanning from our oldest daughter who is 22 to our youngest and quite possibly our most avid reader Roald Dahl is the favorite- all of his books have been very entertaining for all of us. All four of our girls have the joy of reading, we have no tv so they really explore the world this way.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I love Roald Dahl, Kelly. Matilda is my favorite, followed by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I love the over-the-top melodrama, taken to the extent of being ridiculous, and mixed with a heavy dose of whimsy. In fact, I feel a strong urge to re-read right now.

And I certainly think that not having a TV will help to get kids reading. It's not that I have anything against TV (PBS in particular has some wonderful shows, and I have several dramas that I follow). But there are only so many hours in the day, and the more of them that you spend watching TV, the less time there is for reading. Reading is also better for kids in the sense that they increase their vocabulary, and use their imaginations. Read is more mentally active, where TV (again, except for certain educational programming) tends to be more passive.

Congratulations on raising four daughters who all have the joy of reading.

Diana writes...

Do you have any predictions about what will win the Caldecott or Newbery awards which will be announced on Monday morning, January 14? I just finished reading Elijah of Buxton, the latest book by Christopher Paul Curtis and it is incredible, and in my opinion very likely to get the 2008 Newbery. It makes me wish I still taught middle school students just so I could share this story with them.

I loved Lily Brown's Paintings, by Angela Johnston which I thought should win a Caldecott, but I haven't seen anyone else mention it.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Diana,

You raise an interesting question. So few people actually pick the Newbery's correctly. I must admit that I haven't read many of the frontrunners, including Elijah of Buxton. But I do have an inkling that A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (reviewed here) is going to get an Honor. And I would love to see one go to The Talented Clementine (reviewed here), though I think that's a bit of a stretch. I would really love to see one go to The Titan's Curse, by Rick Riordan, but sadly, this is even less likely. I do think that Hugo Cabaret will not win the Newbery, because it doesn't meet the criteria of the story standing on it's own, without the illustrations. Actually, some people think that one could win the Caldecott, but I don't know.

The truth is that I hadn't even read the winning book for the past several years. Though last year I had highly praised all three Newbery Honor titles (and even had personally inscribed copies of all three already in hand when the awards were announced).

As for the Caldecott, I'm even less confident of my ability to predict that one. I just don't read enough picture books. But if you're looking for great 2007 picture books, I refer you to the Cybils shortlist for fiction picture books (a book award given by children's book bloggers). I would be happy to see any of those seven titles win the Caldecott.

I'll be interested to see if any of your picks pan out, Diana. I haven't read Lily Brown's Paintings, so I can't comment on that one. Good luck!

michelle writes...

family favorite books
the butter battle book by dr seuss, my fathers dragon by ruth stiles gannett, all the harry potter books jimmy zangwow by tony dimezza, all the little house on the prarie books

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for sharing your family's favorites, Michelle. I thought I knew Dr. Seuss pretty well, but I'm not familiar with The Butter Battle Book. It was apparently a NY Times Notable Book of the Year when it was published, though. I haven't read My Father's Dragon either, although that one was a Newbery Honor when it was published in the 1940's. Clearly, I need to go back and brush up on some of my reading. As for Jimmy Zangwow, I know Tony DiTerlizzi better as the co-author (with Holly Black) of The Spiderwick Chronicles. But Jimmy Z looks like a lot of fun.

I've read the Harry Potter books twice, and I give so much credit to J.K. Rowling for getting so many kids (and adults, for that matter) reading. And I still love the Little House books, too. I have distinct memories of reading those books, sitting on the windowsill in my third grade classroom. I think they must have been the first real chapter books that I read.

Thanks again for sharing these titles, Michelle! I love hearing from families who share such special books together.

Nicole writes...

Diana, I just got Lily Brown's Paintings for my 3 1/2 year old. The illustrations are so beautiful! The story is lovely as well. My daughter is fascinated by this book and identifies with it. She loves to paint and also has a little brother who likes to hold her hand. :) I'd love to see this one win a Caldecott too.

Liz writes...

I always read Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie to 3rd graders during their media time. Chapters stand alone for discussion. The book brings home that"no man is an island" or rather no man should have to be an island--how human beings need one another. This is a great book for all ages on different levels.
Katherine Paterson's Angels and other Strangers is a great read aloud of short stories for Christmas--especially Maggie's Gift.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Liz,

I enjoyed Because of Winn-Dixie, too. I'm glad that you've had such a positive experience reading it to third graders at your school. I agree that it's an excellent message, and delivered in a pretty un-messagelike package (one of my pet peeves is children's books where the author's primary point is the message, and the story is secondary).

I haven't read that book of Katherine Paterson's short stories, but I think that she's a wonderful writer, and one who isn't afraid to write children's books about topics that many people consider too difficult.

William writes...

Our favorite children's book:

One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads about a boy who has two dads.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

William, I'd like to see more children's books about different family configurations. And what I'd really like to see, and do expect to see increasing, is more children's books where there's some other primary story, and the child just happens to have two dads, or two moms. That is, the sexual preference of the parents, whatever it is, is just taken as regular background. An excellent bibiography of books in this area is maintained by Wendy Betts at Notes from the Windowsill.

Kimberly writes...

My sons favorite book was "Are You My Mother" by PD Eastman. My daughter around 12 , as I did, really enjoyed Judy Blumes "Are You There God, I'ts Me Margaret" by Judy Blume.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I loved Are You My Mother? when I was a kid, Kimberly. It was published in 1960. SUCH a classic! Funnily, I remember that one better than I do Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret, though I do remember the "I must, I must" chant. I'm of mixed feelings about the updating that's been done of the Judy Bloom book, since I prefer to read things as they were originally written, but I am happy that the book remains accessible and relevant to modern children. And did you know that Judy Blume has a blog now? It might be worth having your daughter check it out, if she's a fan. Thanks so much for commenting!

Little Willow writes...

I think that all of my favorites have held up through the years. I posted booklists of my favorite picture books and my favorite beginning readers, and most of the titles included were my favorites when I was little, with only a few titles released in the past decade. Since I was born old and reached and read beyond my age range, most of my classic picks (Anne!) and other fiction faves (The Westing Game, The Neverending Story) have stuck with me.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Little Willow, I think that you're fortunate that so many of your favorites have stayed with you. I just read The Neverending Story for the first time a couple of years ago, believe it or not.

I'm on a bit of quest for new and excellent beginning readers right now, but I agree that many of the classics still hold up well.

I've been thinking, since responding to all of these comments (and especially yours) that I want to spend more time re-reading some of my old favorites. They tend to get neglected because I have so many new books that I want to read. But there's a special, irreplaceable joy in re-reading an old favorite. It's like a time machine that takes you back to visit your childhood self.

Sallie writes...

When I was 7 my Dad bought the Red House, a summer house in New Hampshire. There was no TV there so reading was a major activity. The living room has one wall that is all bookshelves, filled to overflowing with adult and children's books, all good literature. There were a number of books we read every year--I Capture the Castle by Doddie Smith, perhaps not written for children but a wonderful bridge book; Two Little Savages by Earnest Thompson Seton; Mademoiselle Misfortune by Caroline Ryrie Brink; and perhaps our favorite, Jexium Island, which my brother discovered at the tiny town library. It is translated from the French, a thriller for kids about kidnapping and orphans. Every year we checked it out and then our friends checked it out, and eventually our kids checked it out. I began to worry that the book would be taken off the shelves it was so old and we were the only ones checking it out, so I asked if I could buy it and was told yes, for a $25 dollar donation to the library I could have this book. I still go back to these four books as often as I can.


Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

What a wonderful summer house to have growing up, Sallie! Oh, how I would have loved a place to go with plenty of books, and no TV. And a library nearby also. It's like something out of a story. (Perhaps you'll use it in a story one day). As for the books that you mentioned, I have yet to read I Capture the Castle, but it's on my list. I loved Carol Ryrie Brink's books, especially The Pink Motel, which I read over and over again (though I haven't re-read it in a long time). I wish that more of Brink's titles were still in print. I'm afraid that I'm not familiar with the other two that you mentioned, but I love your story about Jexium Island, and rescuing it from the library.

I was just commenting to someone else that I want to spend more time going back and re-reading my old favorites, and your comments just make me more determined to do that. I'm sure that The Pink Motel is in one of the boxes that my parents shipped me when they sold their house last year ... I just might have to dig it out. For me, the ones that I MUST re-read often include The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyer, Flight of the Doves by Walter Macken, The Forgotten Door by Alexander Key, the Maida books by Inez Haynes Irwin, and Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.

Thanks for sharing your books and your experiences, Sallie!

Sallie writes...

Jen, I've been scanning the comments and a number of people have commented on boys reading. i am the mother of two boys, now aged 25 and 28. . I did everything I could to model reading and promote reading. My older son struggled to learn to read and we worried about how he would do in school. I read aloud to him every night through eighth grade. With my younger son I read to him in the mornings before school for many years. We called it his snuggle time. During high school I despaired because neither of my boys liked to read. I would even read aloud to them from their assigned reading--Dickens, Zora Neal Hursten, whatever novel they were struggling with. Both boys did well in high school, although they read a minimum amount. But when we went on vacation I would see a change and they would both read. I realized at some point that I was not the main role model in their lives, their father was, and he only reads books on vacation. So I encouraged newspapers and magazines like Sports Illustrated. Now that they are graduated from college both boys are good readers, very eclectic readers. My older son will choose classics like Invisible Man or Hemingway; my younger son prefers non-fiction. Both boys give me their books to read.

I think the best way to handle reluctant readers is to read aloud to them. Until they master reading enough to be able to read faster to themselves than you can read aloud to them, they will not enjoy reading. Reading aloud encourages children to visualize, to create the story in their heads, something they cannot do when they are struggling to decode every word. Reading aloud keeps reading fun. You can choose books that are way beyond their ability to read, but not their ability to comprehend. Patience, and support for developing reading skills are key--we got tutoring for my oldest son in 5th and 6th grade to help him with decoding and by high school he was fairly proficient, though not a fast reader. But keeping reading fun is more important than making kids read. I think we expect kids to read with skill too soon. Most kids catch up to the group by about 4th grade.


Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Sallie, thanks for your comments on boy readers and reluctant readers. I'm glad that your sons have ended up as readers, and I'm sure that you worked hard to make that happen. Your point that your sons modeled their behavior on their father's actions, rather than yours, is an important one. It's tough, because it's not enough for the dad to read aloud to his kids, the sons will be a lot more likely to read for pleasure themselves if the dad reads for pleasure.

I completely agree with you about the benefits of reading aloud. I think that parents should keep reading aloud even after kids are reading fluently themselves. It's a great way to share literature, to show the kids that you care about their literacy, to talk about issues raised in books, as well as the excellent points that you made. As for your statement that "keeping reading fun is more important than making kids read. I think we expect kids to read with skill too soon." I agree 100%. I think that reading aloud helps, and I think that letting kids read books that they consider fun helps.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important topic, Sallie!

Emily writes...

Hands down one of my family's favorite books is Tooth Tales from around the World by Marlene Targ Brill. This historical account of how different cultures view losing teeth and how the idea of the tooth fairy orininated is a fascinating read not only for kids, but adults as well. My kids, ages 4 and 9, also love the brightly colored illustrations.

When my daughter began losing her teeth, she wanted to keep them (but still receive money, of course). She wrote letters to the tooth fairy with her non-traditional request. One day, she asked me, "Mom, do people in other countries believe in the tooth fairy?" I was lucky I stumbled upon this book!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I must admit that I'm not familiar with Tooth Tales, Emily. But it sounds like a lot of fun. Your family's response just goes to show what an impact can be made by the right book at the right time.

Vivian writes...

I love this discussion you're having over here. Your post for tips for reluctant readers is wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your love for literacy with all of us. Your knowledge is so appreciated.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for your support, Vivian! I think that you do a lot for readers (and writers) on your blog, too, like your posts about great books for girls and cool books for boys.

Little Willow, The Neverending Story is one of those books for which I'll always remember exactly where I was when I read it. I read it while on vacation in Turks and Caicos, and much of my reading time was spent in a little dipping pool, holding the book up out of the water. Hmmm.... maybe I haven't changed so much from that kid who swam out to the raft in the lake holding a book over her head.

Little Willow writes...

The Neverending Story is amazing.

Margaret writes...

Our Family Favorite:
In 1944, my mother purchased the 12-volum set of "My Book House", edited by Olive Beaupre` Miller. My earliest memories include snuggling with my mother as she read the beloved poems and stories. Each of the 12 volumes are age-appropriate and provide a wonderful and lasting foundation for a keen interest in fine literature, clear values in human living and the basis of common sense.

I recently purchased two additional 12-volumn sets to give my daughter and son because I could not bear to give up the original set my mother passed on to me. Today, my children and grandchildren still love to read and listen to the beautiful literature of "My Book House".

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

That's lovely, Margaret. What a beautiful family tradition you've made these books. Thanks for sharing it with us here at PBS Parents. I have books that came from my mother and both of my grandmothers, and I will always cherish them.

Toni writes...

I have brought up my five children to love reading also, their favorite outing when younger was the weekly trip to the library. The books I loved as a youngster were introduced to them as they grew up, some became their favorites as well. Some of the favorites were "The Twits" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Roald Dahl, Lois Lowry's books, and I think they read all of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. My grandson is almost five and he loves to have me read to him. Our favorite is "Fox in Socks", we like the Tweetle Beetles the best.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I'm so impressed that you could bring up five children to all love reading, Toni! I'm sure that the weekly trips to the library helped a lot.

And isn't it fun when kids you care about enjoy the same books that you loved when you were young? It doesn't always work, of course, but I've loved it when a childhood favorite resonated with my nieces. I think that the Roald Dahl books are particularly timeless. And of course Lois Lowry's books are excellent (did you know that she has a blog?). I'm pretty sure I read all of the Nancy Drew books, too, though only a few of the Hardy Boys books.

It must be wonderful now, reading with your grandson. He's lucky to have you!

Caroline writes...

Hi Jen,

Thanks for hosting this wonderful forum of recommended books for kids. Like your reply to William, I too would like to see more books where the family structure 'happens' to be non-traditional.

One that I know of is "The Dragon and the Doctor" by Barbara Danish. It is a quirky little story where one character gets the chicken pox and is taken home - to her two moms.

I will be sure to check out the link you recommended for more books like that.


Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Caroline,

You are very welcome. I could talk about recommended books for kids, and ways to encourage kids to read, all day. It's been wonderful finding so many other people who share this interest.

Glad that you liked my response to William, about the non-traditional families. I do think that this is a typical evolution in literature (I read this in a Horn Book magazine article a while back). The books start out as being purely about the issue, with only a thin story (whether the issue is gay kids, gay parents, adoption, whatever), and then as the field matures you get the fully realized story that just happens to include the issue at hand. As a reader, I'm not a big fan of "message books" where there's a point to be made, and the point comes first, with the story added on. I'm a fan of story and characters first and foremost. That said, I think that when a topic is first discussed, this is perhaps a necessary evolution, to get people more comfortable writing about it. Anyway, stepping off of soapbox, I hope that you find some gems in Wendy's list.

Little Willow writes...

I love the power of memory, the power of the senses, and how the two interact. As someone who has a knack for remembering things - ranging from trivial to important - I value memory a great deal.

Back to the topic, before I drift off too far in random thoughts:

I like recalling where I was when I read books. I associate this book with this car ride, that book with that day at work...

I still lack a comfy reading spot at home. Do you have one?

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Oh, Little Willow, how I wish I had a better knack for remembering things. I can only remember where I was when I read particular books in very special cases. Like the big thick book that I read on my first trip to Europe, that I ended up tearing half so that I didn't have to keep carrying it around (And the Ladies of the Club). And a couple that I read on particularly special vacations, things like that. But my childhood memory isn't good enough for me to know when I read which book.

At home, I mostly read on "my" couch. It's the smaller of the two in our living room, loveseat size. It's just the right length for me to lie down with a pillow under my head and put my feet up on the opposite arm. I also read quite a bit in bed, and on airplanes, but I prefer my couch. I wish you well in finding a comfy reading spot at home one day. Though it's a bit scary to think of you being able to read more than you already do.

pamela writes...

I am an voracious children's book reader/collector... Two of my favorite author/illustrators are Peter Catalanotto and Vera Rosenberry. Each have a wonderful painting style that allows children to "read" the pictures as well as the words. Their stories and paintings appeal to such a broad age range.. including this Grandma of 4.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting, Pamela! I love hearing from people who read and collect children's books. I'm not familiar with Peter Catalanotto or Vera Rosenberry, but they sound lovely. I wish more people realized that picture books are not just for tiny kids. They offer some of the best art, and thoughtful stories, around. I'll have to look for these two that you suggested. Enjoy your books and your grandkids, Pamela.

Laura writes...

A Wrinkle in Time is my all time favorite. Others that entranced me were
Sawdust in His Shoes
Follow my leader
The Yerling

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I love A Wrinkle in Time, too, Laura! It was recently reissued in a very nice paperback edition. I enjoyed the whole series, but that one is still the best. I could so identify with Meg, and her glasses and her not fitting in. I'm not familiar with Sawdust in His Shoes, but the reviews on Amazon suggest that there are a lot of people who would like to see it reissued. I think as the technology for print on demand continues to improve, that we'll start seeing more capability for people to request copies of their childhood favorites. At least I hope so. I don't know Follow My Leader, but that one is still in print and available from Amazon. I must admit that I didn't like The Yearling. I know that we studied it in school, and i think it may have been one of those cases in which over-analyzing spoils a book. (There's a good column about this topic of studying fiction in schools and whether it spoils joy in books here at Teacher Magazine).

Thanks for sharing your favorites, Laura! I hope that you still have copies of all of them, and can read them again if/when you want to.

Marcia writes...

It was wonderful knowing that there are
still other people out there who feel the
same way about reading and the same way
about children's books!

I still occasionally escape to my childhood by visiting Nancy Drew,
George and Bess (in the original
versions, of course!) I always loved those series books,working my way through the Dana Girls, Hardy Boys and
Cherry Ames books.My all-time favorie series is an old one called: Maida's Little Shop, Maida's Little House, etc. They were so wonderful that I felt like I was right there as the Big Eight had adventures!

I've been teaching English for 40 years, and my heart breaks every time I hear a
voice cry out, "I hate to read! It's
so boring!" Luckily, there are still
some 7th graders who appreciate the
magic of the printed page!

Hopefully, there will always be
children who love to read and pass this
love on to their own children!

Marcia de la Cerda

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Oh, Marcia, I ADORE the Maida books. I still re-read them regularly. I've managed to collect all but one of the titles in the series (I'm missing Maida's Little Zoo). I have multiple copies of some of the earlier books, because I can never pass them up in the bookstore. My favorite is Maida's Little School. My grandmother introduced me to these books, and among my copies are the two or three that I used to read and re-read at her house when I was young. It's so nice to find someone else who loves this series as much as I do.

I'm glad that in your work as a teacher you still find some kids who appreciate the magic of books. I still remember my 7th grade English teacher fondly (Miss Kinneen). She definitely supported my love for books - she had a big set of bookshelves at the back of her classroom, and you could borrow what you wanted.

Anyway, please enjoy your future visits to your childhood with Nancy and Maida and the rest. And thanks so much for commenting.

Sierra writes...

Lloyd Alexander. Too many to mention. Every thing he ever wrote basically. We found his books in the library and took them home. I googled him to find out more about him personally and found out that he had died three months earlier. So we read everything he ever wrote. I waited for several weeks before telling my ten year old boy that he had died. He had gotten attached to him very quickly. What a great imagination he had, what a great writer.

We love Kipling and CS Lewis.

Is there a source for "If you liked (blank), you like (blank)..." in the book world? They have it for movies, but I'd love to have it for books, authors... thx

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Hi Sierra,

Thanks for commenting. Glad that you and your son found an author that you enjoy so much. Lloyd Alexander has left quite a legacy, and that they are books that will bear re-reading. There's lots of other wonderful fantasy out there. You might try Susan Cooper next, if you haven't already.

I don't know of a formal source for "if you liked (blank) then you'll like (blank). But you can often find that information on Amazon, by looking at the lists that people recommend, and the "people who bought this bought this" feature. It's not perfect - it's more grass-roots than formal, but because of the sheer volume of data, I've found it to be surprisingly accurate. Especially for more popular books.

Another site that I would recommend that you check out is The Reading Tub. Their reviews do include a component like this, and they've reviewed lots of great titles.

Sorry I don't know of any other sources for this. If anyone else reading this does, please comment to share with us. Thanks!

Louie writes...

Favorite books:
anything by Roald Dahl
anything by Avi
The Redwall series
THe Little Prince
The 21 Balloons
Call of the Wild
anything by Gary Paulson
How to Eat Fried Worms
Alice In Wonderland
The Jungle Book and just about anything by Rudyard Kipling
I agree with you. My mother read to me from the time I could sit up on her lap. She continued to read to me until I was a Sophomore in high school. She read all the time: at breakfast, lunch, dinner, & bedtime. I am now a Senior. I was & still am an avid reader myself. Now, I love Russian literature. I also read everywhere I went: in the car, on planes,etc. Our house is walking distance to the library, and I "live" at the library. I love to get books as gifts. I received a perfect subtest score on my ACT in reading, and my composite score was very high. I have so many favorite books, I just couldn't list them all.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for writing, Louie! You have some amazing books on your list. I love Roald Dahl, too, and have enjoyed the Redwall books (though I haven't read them all). I haven't re-read The 21 Balloons in a long time. I'm glad that it still holds up for readers. Kipling, too. And How to Eat Fried Worms is a true, kid-friendly classic. I'm glad to hear that so many great books are your friends.

Your mother sounds amazing! I love the image of reading aloud to her high school age son at the breakfast table. It sounds to me like both of you are very fortunate in each other, and in your shared love of books. And I'm glad that you have other people in your life who give you books as gifts. But it's the enjoyment of books that's the gift that will last a lifetime.

Your perfect score on the ACT in reading, and your high overall score, are certainly not a coincidence, either. I had high SAT and GRE scores in my day, and I am certain that this was a result of all the reading that I had done. Not that I was reading to improve my vocabulary, of course, any more than you are. We read because we love great books. But the high test scores, and the ability to write easily, are certainly positive side effects. Oh, and I wish that I still lived within walking distance to the library. That's great!

Thanks so much for taking time to write, Louie! Reading your comments, especially your statement "I have so many favorite books, I just couldn't list them all" - has made my day.

Sara writes...

Hi Jen,

I read babies books as part of my New Moms Groups for Isis Maternity in Boston. I'd add Sandra Boynton's books, especially Moo, Baa, LA LA LA! I also love Hooray for Fish! by Lucy Cousins.

I suggest the following to the moms:
The 20th Century Children's Book Treasury (selected by Janet Schulman)- great for trips;
Wiggle Waggle Fun-Stories and Rhymes for the Very Very Young (Margaret Mayo);
My Very First Mother Goose (edited by Iona Opie)

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for visiting me at PBS, Sara! And you've convinced me. I should have at least one Boynton book in all of my baskets of books for new babies (that's a lot of B's). And one other great thing about those books is that you can find them anywhere. It's good to know that they are kid tested, and Sara-approved.

Thanks for those other suggestions, too, of good compilations. The 20th Century Children's Book Treasury is gorgeous - and definitely beats taking dozens of picture books on trips. I haven't seen the other two (Wiggle Waggle Fun and the My Very First Mother Goose), but I do love how timeless Mother Goose stories are. Some of my fondest memories are of reading nursery rhymes from an old, falling-apart book of nursery rhymes at my grandparents house.

minerva66 (bookadvice) writes...

Jen, you have a great list of ideas for difficulty with reading. I want to add that (1)age 7 is not an unusual age to not be wanting to read. Some of the foremost homeschool experts say up to 12yrs is normal. Most of the really motivating sources are too hard to read.
(2)My oldest son was unwilling to read other than schoolwork until he found something I couldn't teach him (electricity). So he started with nonfiction. The Eyewitness books are excellent for helping with reading-amazing pictures and short snippets of facts. The Magic School Bus also is great. Calvin & Hobbes is highly motivating. The pictures tell the story and words are an exceptional bonus. Nonfiction is great for young kids. Select fiction can always be introduced later when the student becomes stronger in reading.
(3)For someone who struggles a parent should be nearby to help with some words.
4)There are steps to reading that are sometimes not known. Most people think of sounding letters and then words. But I found there is another step with piecing the sentences and paragraphs and pages that is harder. Adults rush this step, and kids get discouraged.
(5)Parents becoming familiar with children's books may be one of the most important things to guarantee reading. Usually, the parents knows the child best, so they will be best to find a perfect fit for the child if they take the time and effort to learn what might appeal to their children. What I mean by this is look personally to see what is on the library shelves and select for them while remembering they won't like all of them. The important thing to remember is the child needs a reason to read before he/she will expend the effort it takes to learn and discover the pleasure of it.
(6)Picture books are also good for learning to read. There are varying levels of difficulty, and some are captivating enough for older kids.

The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle was my youngest son's favorite boardbook. Very simple and great for animal lovers. Two staples in our home for toddlers were Robert McCloskey's books (Blueberries for Sal, One Morning in Maine, Make Way for Ducklings, and Burt Dow) and Curious George by H A Rey (the originals-Curious George, C G Flies a Kite, C G Goes to the Hospital, C G Learns the Alphabet, C G Rides a Bike, C G Takes a Job, C G Gets a Medal)

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for your detailed comments, Minerva! I had forgotten to mention the Eyewitness books - I have seen those be huge hits with kids, especially books. And they're beautiful productions, too, with eye-catching illustrations, and text suitable for different age readers. You aren't the first person to mention the Calvin & Hobbes books in this context, and I agree. Anyone looking for a nice gift for a child could do a lot worse than one or more of the Calvin and Hobbes compilations.

That's a good point about the second step, after learning to decode words, of learning to decode paragraphs and pages. That's why the layout and spacing of early readers is so important. They need to have a non-intimidating visual appeal. And of course, this is another argument for continuing to read aloud to kids, even after they can read the words on their own. Agreed about parents becoming more familiar with children's books, too. I do know parents who do this, who read blogs, and talk to librarians, and so on. But, sadly, not every parent is comfortable doing this, and/or knowing that it's important.

Thanks for sharing your family's favorites, too. I love the Robert McCloskey books. I grew up just outside of Boston, and had an uncle who was a blueberry farmer in Maine, so both books have particular appeal. And Curious George has timeless appeal. Happy Reading and book advising!

Els writes...

This is a lovely column! Congrats!

We have several well-worn favorite books in our family. One is an old Berenstain Bears easy reader, "The Bike Lesson," in which the father bear attempts, with many mishaps, to teach his son how to ride a bike. The book's refrain--"This is what you should not do. Let this be a lesson to you"--always cracks us up.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for stopping by, Els! That Berenstain Bears book's refrain "this is what you should not do" cracks me up, too. Your comment reminds me that every family will have their own favorites, just because of how a particular book intersects with that family's interests, and the time in which it's first read. And all of these books are valuable and to be cherished. Thanks for visiting!

Ang writes...

Thanks for this wonderful discussion of kids books and reading. I was a bookworm as a child and am attempting to bring up my now-3-yr-old daughter as one. I've never let age guidelines limit the kinds of books I read to her, as long as they hold her interest. I love looking for picture books with beautiful illustrations, as well as well-written text and compelling stories. In addition to many that people have mentioned here, we've also enjoyed:

Spider Watching by Vivian French & Alison Wisenfeld (folksy illustrations & demystifies spiders)
Firehorse Max by Sara London & Ann Arnold (cute story, colorful illustrations)
When Sophie Gets Angry - Really Really Angry by Molly Bang (LOVE the vibrant colors on this one, and addresses kids' feelings of anger)
Sugarbush Spring by Marsha Wilson Chall & Jim Daly (beautiful illustrations for a story about maple sugaring)
Flotsam by David Wiesner (great fantastical illustrations)
Hello Ocean by Pam Munoz Ryan and Mark Astrella (the ocean & five senses)
Duck on a Bike by David Shannon (very cute)
Alphabet Poem by Michael Rosen & Herve Tullet (unusual & exuberant text & illustrations)
Vincent's Colors edited by William Lach, from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (paintings and text by Vincent van Gogh)
Elephants Swim by Linda Capus Riley and Steve Jenkins (beautiful paper illustrations & interesting animal facts)
Appaloosa Zebra by Jessie Haas and Margot Apple (accurate horse information, great text & cute illustrations)
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch (good look at the season and historical observances)
Grandfather Buffalo by Jim Arnosky (beautiful nature illustrations and about the value of elders)
I Dream of Trains by Angela Johnson and Loren Long (illustrations remind me of Thomas Hart Benton)
I'm a Pill Bug by Yukihisa Tokuda & Kiyoshi Takahasi (great paper illustrations & cool facts about a bug)

We also make a habit of checking out the non-fiction section because there are plenty of science & nature books aimed at younger readers...they often have beautiful photography and simple explanations, and you don't necessarily have to read all the text if it doesn't hold your child's attention.

We also read some young adult books aloud as 'bedtime chapters.' I was a big horse fan as a kid and we have read a few Marguerite Henry books that way. They have nice illustrations every few pages, and especially now that she's older and has more imagination and a bigger vocabulary they hold her interest pretty well. We are on "King of the Wind" right now and Henry does write some nice, rich descriptive don't get that kind of thing with shorter picture books.

I can't wait until my daughter is older and we can start reading some of my childhood favorites, including LOTR, and some newer favorites like Harry Potter. I'm really happy that reading is, so far at least, something we can enjoy sharing.

Will have to check out your blog, Jen!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks so much for providing such great feedback, Ang! I think that your daughter if very fortunate to have a mother who is so focused on raising her to love books. The fact that you're already reading chapter books to her, and that she has the attention span for them, is a very good sign.

And thanks for this amazing list of recommended titles. I'm always on the lookout for kid-tested titles that I might have missed. It's especially helpful that you've taken the time to say why you like these books - I think that your list will be a great resource for other parents. I love Flotsam - I think it's beautiful and smart and profound and fun. I've heard great things about I'm A Pill Bug, too, though I haven't seen it myself. I kind of feel like I have, because more than one of the blog reviewers that I read loved it. I'll have to check out the other titles on your list. I think that your point about checking out nonfiction titles, too, is a good one. You never know what will spark with each child, and the more broad a base a child is exposed to, the better the chance of finding those favorite books.

I do know what you mean about wanting to share some of your favorite books for older children with your daughter. When my nieces were little, I couldn't wait until I could buy them some of my beloved chapter books. Of course some ended up being hits and some misses, but we've had a good time overall. I'm sure that you and your daughter will, too.

Thanks so much for visiting, and sharing these details thoughts. Enjoy reading! And I would love it if you took time to check out my blog. Thanks!

Maryann writes...

My son LOVES to read & get books from the library. He just turned 3. We've exhausted the suggested book list that the librarian provided us. Can you suggest some of your favorites for a boy of that age? Thank you.

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

Thanks for visiting here at PBS Parents, Maryann. I'm always happy to suggest books. How about:

Diary of a Spider and Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin.
Duck and Goose and Duck, Duck, Goose by Tad Hills
Scaredy Squirrel and Scaredy Squirrel Makes a Friend by Melanie Watt
Oliver's Must-Do List by Susan Taylor Brown
Shells! Shells! Shells! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
The House Take a Vacation by Jacqueline Davies
Crazy Cars by Mark David
When Randolph Turned Rotten by Charise Mericle Harper
The Wonderful Thing About Hiccups by Cece Meng
Axel Annie by Robin Pulver
Righty and Lefty: A Tale of Two Feet by Rachel Vail
Flotsam by David Wiesner

I have detailed reviews of most of these books here, sorted by author, and some other recommended titles (by age range) here. But the above titles are all a lot of fun. I hope they help!

Donna writes...

does anyone have any info on carol ryrie brink?my son has to do an extremely long author bioggraphy report,but me & my son cant really find very much information.can anyone help us?please!& I'm a teacher!thanks to anyone who tries!!!

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I'm afraid I don't have any special information about Carol Ryrie Brink. Did you try her wikipedia page? There is some information, as well as some links, there. Sorry I can't be of more help...

Jen RobinsonAuthor Profile Page writes...

I just wanted to express my profound thanks to all of you who have commented here this month. It's been a joy talking with you about children's books and reading. It gives me hope for the future to hear from so many parents who care about raising children who love books.

PBS Parents Expert Q&A will be moving on to a new topic shortly (Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. will be taking questions about "how parents and caregivers can introduce family history to children."). But I'm very grateful to you, and to PBS Parents, for this wonderful conversation. I'll be continuing to talk about children's books on my own blog, and will be interested to see what conversations evolve on the Expert Q&A site in the future.

Many thanks!!

Mara writes...

Hi Jen,

Very enjoyable page.
Trying to remember the name of a book from the 1970's.
It might have been about bees or butterflies, one gets stuck in a flower?
Names Mitha and Mithy?
White hardcover, lovely watercolors.
If you can possibly figure out what I am looking for I would be so grateful.

Thanks very much.
Mara Kurtz
New York City

Sharon Gilbert writes...

I'm a grandma that has been passionate about reading ever since I can remember. I'm so delighted to find this blog. A suggestion for new parents that want their boys to love reading as much as girls. Mom and Dad both reading out loud to them every night at bedtime. My husband and I did this with our children until they were nearly in highschool. We'd all pile into one bed, including the dog, and read a book just a little above their own reading level. We never objected to stopping and explaining vocabulary--and their dad was as excited as the kids because of eye problem as a child he'd missed all the classics and loved reading them to them. Kids get this big time. My daughter met her husband at the back of the symphonic band (they played bassoon an tuba)in college, discussing "The Lord of the Rings"--way before the movies, etc. Her husband read out loud to their kids until middle school at least,and their oldest just graduated from the UMD with a literature degree and is beginning graduate school with an eye to teaching literature to highschool students. The bottom line, Moms, Dads, turn off the computer and TV for an hour or two and enjoy it. A favorite book that all my kids and grandkids recommended and still recommend to other read out loud families is "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be" by Farley Mowatt--I had to special order it for the last person I gave it to. Keep it up everyone--there is nothing that connects you better than READING a great book!!

Shel writes...

Nice article! I used to read a lot when I was younger. I don't read as much anymore. I have some young relatives I should start reading children's books to.

Edited by Tracey at PBS Parents.

maria writes...

Jennifer: Thank you for all the work you do to promote children's reading! I have a question for you... My daughter Julia (age nearly 3) LOVES Richard Scarry's book "What Do People Do All Day". However, much of the content is dated. Do you know of a book with more current content that might serve equally well as an explanation of the grown up world? Thanks for your help!

Maria writes...

Jennifer: Thank you for all the work you do to promote children's reading! I have a question for you... My daughter Julia (age nearly 3) LOVES Richard Scarry's book "What Do People Do All Day". However, much of the content is dated. Do you know of a book with more current content that might serve equally well as an explanation of the grown up world? Thanks for your help!

Jen Robinson writes...

Sorry for this very delayed response to some of the comments. I haven't been following since post since my official time as expert expired. Unfortunately, I don't have an answer to Mara's question.

Sharon, thanks for sharing your family's positive experiences with reading. I completely agree with your recommendations. Reading together, for as long as possible, and getting both mom and dad involved, is the path towards keeping kids reading. Your family is an excellent example!

Shel, I wish that everyone would read with their young relatives. I try to do that whenever I get the chance. And I am constantly buying books for nieces and nephews and the children of my friends. I love it!! And I really think that it makes a difference.

Maria, I didn't know the answer to your question, but I ran it by a discussion list that I belong to, and I received an enthusiastic recommendation from Jennifer, who blogs at Jean Little Library. She recommended Rotraut Berner's In the Town, All Year
'Round. You can find more details here. Hope that Julia enjoys the book!

haroldbrown2009 writes...

I reviewed it here. For a very different, more graphic design approach, you might also enjoy Mocking Birdies by Annette Simon (reviewed here). I also liked Kid Tea by Elizabeth Ficocelli (Author) and Glin Dibley (Illustrator), for a lovely use of color.

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LaRee writes...

My favorite children books are definitely the Dr Suess series. I grew up with them, and my 7 year old daughter just loves them.

There's a great top 100 children's book list over at findmybabyname that focuses on baby names.

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maranda writes...

Our Family Favorite:
In 1944, my mother purchased the 12-volum set of "My Book House", edited by Olive Beaupre` Miller. My earliest memories include snuggling with my mother as she read the beloved poems and stories. Each of the 12 volumes are age-appropriate and provide a wonderful and lasting foundation for a keen interest in fine literature, clear values in human living and the basis of common sense.

I recently purchased two additional 12-volumn sets to give my daughter and son because I could not bear to give up the original set my mother passed on to me. Today, my children and grandchildren still love to read and listen to the beautiful literature of "My Book House".

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Carla writes...

children are great. Last year we had a wedding and the children were dressed in these small white adorable clothes, carrying bruiloft bedankjes for the guests. It was such a nice thing to see, that I think children are the greatest magic in the world ;)

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Nichole writes...

Some of my fondest memories are of the books I used to read as a child. I guess you do not realize how important these books are to your grown and development

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Top dating site writes...

I enjoyed reading your interesting yet very informative insights. I am looking forward to reading more of your most recent articles and blogs.

Michael writes...

I also liked Kid Tea by Elizabeth Ficocelli (Author) blog and Glin Dibley (Illustrator), for a lovely use of color.

Lenka writes...

The Benefits of Reading on Children’s Mental Health and Development

It is a given that maths and sciences will keep the mind sharp. Developing math skills helps memory skills especially and overall mental health. But reading also has qualities and influences that can benefit everyone. Reading is especially good for children as they mature.

Books for Toddlers.

Giving children good books at an early age will encourage them to be well read and smart individuals. Reading with the children will encourage them even more so. Reading a story with children at bedtime is a part of many families’ bedtime routine and is an excellent way to let the kids relax just before they are to sleep. Not only will the children learn to love reading and become well-read, but they will love the time spent and the memories they are left with. They may even sleep better.

Reading and Children's Mental Health.

Reading helps in different areas of a child’s mental health. Because the child spends time looking at good writing and proper spelling and grammar, reading improves writing skills. Young kids who read much may also become more articulate because they are learning the language not simply by hearing it, but by reading it.

Reading encourages a child’s imagination and develops creativity, as the stories they read leave room for a child to add to them at will. It is especially good for children who are visual learners and have a good memory for what they see and read for themselves. If the child is an auditory learner, reading to him or her will work the same way.

Kids and Literary Classics.

The literary classics that are read in school, in university or college especially, are considered so because of their popularity; their influence in the society of their time; their timelessness; and because they are, for the most part, well written pieces of literature, many times by fairly ordinary people. This is why students study Shakespeare, Dickens, Austen, the Brontës, etcetera.

Reading what are considered classics is just as good for children as it is for adults. There are classics for children, and they are not simply abridged versions of adult classics, but were written with children in mind. This list may help in finding good classics for children.

A Child's Library

Besides what are considered classics, there is a plethora of books for children that are educational, pleasing, fun and completely timeless.

From Dr. Seuss to Robert Munsch to Beverly Cleary and many wonderful children’s authors whose books will never grow old, there is something for everyone.

Even as kids go through their teen years, the books they read as they go from children’s books to more adult books will continue to help them develop in the same way that children’s books do.

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