Are you trying to teach your child to read from an early age? An inevitable part of this project is the search for teaching materials — and when it comes to reading, that means books. You cannot very well throw just any book at your 2-year-old and invite him to read it, though. Even the brightest toddler in the world will still choke on Crime and Punishment.
Fortunately, there is no dearth of books made especially for preschoolers these days. In fact, most publishers invest a lot of resources in keeping their rosters for this category of books growing all the time. Preschool books are big business, which is actually a good thing for parents. It means more options!
The only bad thing about it is having to choose, of course. There are just so many that it can be difficult to know where to start or what to look for. That is precisely what we are going to talk about here, though: how to find the best books for preschoolers and what makes them the best of the lot.
What Should You Be Seeking?
When looking for children’s books, it helps to have a way of narrowing down the field of search from the beginning, even before criteria concerned with content enter the picture.
One way to do it is to go to a bookstore that specifically deals in only children’s books. These will not only have more manageable inventories for you to search but also tend to offer children’s books that the bigger (standard) bookstores often do not carry.
Another route open to you is to actually go to one of the bigger bookstores, then ask them for their catalogue of children’s books. The bigger the store, the likelier this is to have a digital version that has tagging and filtering features. With such digital catalogues, you will only have to select the tag or filter for preschool books and you should immediately find the entire list of selections available for purchase.
Now once you do get to your list of options, you can go on to pick books based on criteria for content. Whether you are teaching your child to read using primarily whole-language or phonics instruction, the following criteria should still be valid.
#1 Look for simple and repetitive text.
The younger the learner, the simpler and more repetitive the text should be. Of course, a learner’s age does not always indicate his reading level, but it usually does. Ideally, you want the book to contain easy words that he already hears or uses daily.
A good way of checking if a book is appropriate for your child is to count the number of words he does not understand. Anything in the 2-3 words range is fine. Anything above that is too difficult. Anything below it, on the other hand, may be too easy — but again, if your child has only begun to start reading, this can be allowed.
For the very youngest or earliest readers, you actually want books with very short sentences first. Take a look at the Cleo books by Caroline Mockford and Stella Blackstone, for instance. Most of the sentences in them fall within the 2-to-4-word range: Cleo yawns. Cleo blinks. This is enough for true beginners.
If you are having trouble gauging your child’s reading level, try checking if your teaching program has recommendations in that respect. Even if it does not, you can try checking the material it supplies for your child’s current lesson or level. The Children Learning Reading teaching program, for example, includes reading material for the different reading levels and you can simply compare those to your bookstore selections.
#2 Get books where sound and rhyme are considered.
Rhyme and other auditory patterns are important for people just beginning to read, especially those learning chiefly through phonics instruction. You can go ahead and look for actual poetry if it is simple enough, but you can also go for certain classics here. Look at compendiums of well-known nursery rhymes, for example.
You can even go for classics such as the Dr. Seuss books. Those were originally written to help address the problem of poor literacy anyway, so it would be a great fit for your purposes. Even if your child may be too young to read them, he will eventually appreciate them later.
If you do go for Dr. Seuss books, we recommend trying what most people consider the best ones first. That is, get The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham to start with. The former is a bit longer than the latter, which has only a measly 50 words, but both are superb early-reader books. They contain a lot of simple words and interesting sounds a new reader will want to try out for himself. The second one even has a useful lesson in its tale, which is to encourage young ones to try new things (the green eggs and ham).
#3 Look for books with big, attractive visuals.
This is a given when dealing with most children: they want to look at something interesting! Colorful, bold graphics are thus typical of books for this market.
There are always some whose illustrations tend to stand out among the rest, though. Take a look at Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar, for example. This gorgeously illustrated book shows a caterpillar actually growing and metamorphosing from the first page to the last. This is something most children will enjoy.
Keep in mind that visuals are not only standard pictures on a page. You can also look for books where the visual element comes in the form of pop-ups. You can even seek ones where another sense is brought into the picture, like the books with textured patches children can feel.
#4 Look for other books from authors of ones your child likes.
If your kid likes an author’s book, there is a good chance he will like the others from that author. If he liked the one we mentioned from Eric Carle, for instance, try getting him From Head to Toe by Carle as well. If he likes Leonardo, the Terrible Monster, try getting him another Mo Willems book, like The Duckling Gets a Cookie.