Choosing the Right Books in the Classroom
As educators, you already understand that books can serve multiple purposes, such as educating children, serving as an entertainment tool, and helping children build self-confidence. Books can foster healthy brain development, build closeness with caregivers, and prevent early aggressive behaviors, which are all known protective factors for risky behaviors, such as substance abuse later on in life.
Books can also help children deal with many emotional and social problems they may be struggling with. Books can introduce difficult topics to help children understand they are not alone in their fears or concerns. Books also provide an opportunity to discover what is bothering a young child in a nonthreatening way, relieve stress, and promote good mental health. Research conducted by Sesame Workshop revealed the following:
“… it is rarely acknowledged how young kids really experience stressful situations, or even what a stressful situation might be. For young kids, it can be anything from losing a favorite object to moving to changing a childcare provider.” (See Resources: “You Can Ask Helps Children Cope With Difficult Times.”)
Using books to help children cope with specific issues, such as bullying, peer pressure, or new school transitions, can allow you to better understand and relate to your students’ feelings. You can use books to give your students a chance to meet characters who may be facing and dealing with similar issues. Starting a discussion about the characters in the book is a great way to let students to share their feelings more openly and explore consequences of behaviors in a safe environment, which will help you and your students relate better to one another.
Suggested Guidelines for Making Book Choices
How do you make careful book selections for your classroom? There is more than one criterion to use when making a book selection. Choose books:
- That discuss subjects your students enjoy.
- That enhance, amplify, or help explain an experience (such as a planned trip to the zoo).
- That build self-confidence, thereby helping to create prereading and reading confidence.
- That your students choose for themselves.
- That are age appropriate. Books should not be too difficult or too easy and must be of an appropriate length. Books that have words that are too difficult or too long, or that have sentences that are too complicated, can make the child lose interest.
Putting It Into Practice
The activity below is designed to help you engage your students in an exercise that will allow them to share feelings about their favorite books.
Purpose: To help children discover the wide variety of experiences and information available in books and develop a lifelong love of reading.
For All Students
- Chart paper and markers
- Construction paper, markers, and craft materials
Ask each child to bring in a favorite book or think of a favorite story to share with the class. Or gather well-read books from your classroom or school library. Include a folktale, a rhyming book, a book of shapes or colors, fables or books about a specific issue, a funny story, and a book with no words.
- Gather students in a circle. First, ask them when they like to read books or have books read to them. (Answers will vary, but may include before nap time, at bedtime, or all the time.) Then have them tell you what they like about their favorite books or stories. (Answers will vary, but may include the pictures, rhymes, it’s funny, I know all the words, etc.) Encourage each child to do a “show and tell” to share a favorite part of the story and/or a favorite picture.
- As students share, list these favorite books on chart paper. How many of the children are familiar with all of these titles? Are any of these books in the school library?
- Next, ask the students to name other books they know. As they do so, write these in categories on the chart paper, for example, funny, nonsense, rhyming, animal stories, and folktales. Lead a discussion about what the children may have learned from books. (Answers will vary.) What more would they like to learn about?
- Distribute construction paper and craft items, and have each student create a book cover that describes a favorite book, including the characters, the main idea of the story, and/or the setting of the story. Display these on a bulletin board in your classroom library or in the school library.
For Older Students
- Paper, markers, crayons, and glue/paste
- Old magazines
- Scissors and brads
- Guide students to use their book covers as the covers for “book reports” on their favorite books. Have them use two or three more sheets of construction paper, as well as pictures from old magazines, etc., to draw and/or write about their favorite book—the characters, the sequence of events, the setting, etc.
- Help students sequence the construction paper pages and use the brads to put their books together. Display these books within the classroom library or in the school library.
“Curious George Campaign,” from the Library of Congress, encourages parents to help their children get excited about reading by offering suggestions about reading aloud and motivating children to read.
“You Can Ask Helps Children Cope With Difficult Times,” from Sesame Workshop relates research conducted in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, that revealed the need to create strategies to deal with early childhood stress.
“Help My Child Read,” from the U.S. Department of Education provides resources for parents to read with their child.
My Child’s Academic Success from U.S. Deparment of Education, provides sampling of books, computer programs, and websites for parents.
“Selecting Books for Your Child: Finding ‘Just Right’ Books,” from Reading Rockets, provides a few tips on choosing the appropriate book.
“Composite Book List for Years 1999–2009,” by Read Aloud America, lists book titles, their authors, and the year each book was added to the list:
“100 Picture Books Everyone Should Know” is the New York Public Library’s recommended reading list of some of the best, most engaging books for young kids.
Scholastic Books and Reading (Preschool)
- “Stories about Growing Strong and Preventing Diabetes,”in the Eagle Books series (four books), were developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in response to the prevalence of diabetes in Native American communities. (accessed March 8, 2011).
- “Discussing Sensitive Subjects with Children,” issued from a workshop at Westminster College, MO, suggests books by the specific issue addressed. (accessed March 8, 2011).
- “Reading Aloud to Your Child” from Reading is Fundamental gives suggestions on why, where, when, what, and how to read aloud to your young child. (accessed March 8, 2011).