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December 28, 2018

Matching a Book with a Child --- Guest Post by Lauren L. Wohl, Author of EXTRAVAGANZA AT THE PLAZA

Posted by Rebecca M

Before writers become authors, they start as readers and booklovers --- just like you! --- and they're excellent sources for reading recommendations. As you grow and learn more and more each day, it can sometimes be hard to find the perfect book to read. In this post, Lauren L. Wohl, author of EXTRAVAGANZA AT THE PLAZA, the second Raccoon River Kids book, suggests some wonderfully age-appropriate reads for kids of all ages.

Over the years, I’ve found a bunch of books I return to often, recommending them to children who ask me for ideas about what they might like, or making suggesting to anyone who asks: family, friends, neighbors, the woman who cuts my hair, our electrician, the guy who sells the best tomatoes at our farmers market and the one who runs the package room in our apartment building.  And, yes, I confess, sometimes I make recommendations to people who don’t ask. “How old is that sweet son or daughter of yours?” I’ll ask someone who makes the mistake of sitting next to me on the bus.

“Eight?  What a terrific age for books,” when they tell me they have an eight-year-old in their life. (I say the same thing about six, or eleven...because it’s true!)

I continue: “Have you read CHARLOTTE’S WEB?  Did you ever try CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY? How about HENRY HUGGINS?”

I never know if any of these strangers follow up, but I figure at some point, someone else will recommend one of those books and the child will remember hearing about it “somewhere.”

When grown-ups come to me and confide: “My son is a good reader, but he doesn’t like to read.  It’s all those computer games.”Or “my daughter used to read, but ever since fifth grade, it’s like pulling teeth. She’d rather do just about anything else.”

Or there’s the mother of the child who is struggling with reading. He or she is far behind classmates, and all the teacher offers are picture books because, “they are on his/her level.” It’s embarrassing to be reading picture books in the fourth grade. 

There are a few sure things I know about giving a book to a child.  The book should be chosen just for him or her.  It has to fit in all sort of ways. Start with a generic list of selected, age-appropriate books and continue your search from there. You will also get good advice from a number of parent-guides to children’s books. The local children’s librarian can be a spectacular and genuinely-caring resource. So can a reading teacher, the classroom teacher, and your 14-year-old baby sitter.

Here I will offer the titles of some of my go-tos. 

For babies: Nursery rhyme collections are wonderful. Babies don’t care the rhymes don’t make much sense. The language is lyrical, the words are fun to hear, they are short, and the rhythms and familiarity make the adult-readers’ voice softer, gentler, slower and altogether loving.

For kids who are two:  ANYTHING (and I really do mean anything) by Eric Carle. My favorite is THE VERY HUNGRY CATERPILLAR, but I’ve seen little ones totally enchanted but all of Eric’s titles.

For kids who are three:  Byron Barton’s nonfiction picture books with the briefest of text and the boldest of primary colors coversubjects three-year-olds are curious about: TRUCKS, AIRPORT, HOW TO BE AN ASTRONAUT and others.

For kids who are four: The picture books by Virginia Lee Burton have rich and satisfying emotional messages. Two long-time favorites with warm and simple story lines and a gentle lessons about progress: MIKE MULLIGAN AND THE STEAM SHOVELand THE LITTLE HOUSE.

For kids who are five: At five, my own son’s favorite author was Ezra Jack Keats. THE SNOWY DAY is the most well-known, but all the Keats titles are worth checking out.

For kids who are six: Stick with the Beginning Reader books for as long as you can. Kids are pressured to move on to novels in first and second grade. Too soon, I say!  Give them FROG AND TOAD, THE CAT IN THE HAT, LITTLE BEAR, AMELIA BEDELIA, DANNY AND THE DINOSAUR and GEORGE AND MARTHA any day.

For kids who are seven: BUNNICULA is a terrific read for second graders --- kind of grown-up and altogether child friendly.

For kids who are eight: Such an assortment: Introduce them to Beverly Cleary’s novels. They are old-fashioned in the best way. Kids love the Ramona Quimby series, and they’re gonna thank you!

For kids who are nine: A little poetry (of the humorous variety): WHERE THE SIDEWALK ENDS by Shel Silverstein. And don’t miss NEW KID ON THE BLOCK by Jack Prelutsky.

For kids who are ten: Many of the best in children’s literature fall into the 10/11 age group. Start with Katherine Paterson’s THE GREAT FILLY HOPKINS. The children will find their way to her other novels. 

For kids who are eleven: Sixth-graders have so many books to choose from. It’s hard to name one. But Kwame Alexander’s THE CROSSOVER has got it all. A terrific place to begin.

For kids who are twelve: There are so few limits to which books fit 12-year-old readers. They can read YA titles or chose to read books for younger children. Try something a little different but well proven: AMERICAN BORN CHINESE a graphic novel by Gene Luen Yang.

The point is: get started feeding your children good books. One will always lead to the next.