What you should be reading to your children

There are so many children’s books out in the world, and every book that has been written has been rewritten and rewritten so many times, it’s sometimes hard to find out which version is the original.
I generally put stories into two places…reading stories, and telling stories.

  • Reading stories are ones with beautiful illustrations, captivating plots, and are a bit more detail or interpersonal oriented. You read these stories to your kids.
  • Telling stories are action tales, plain and simple. You memorize and then tell these stories to your children, sans the actual book. These are really handy for car rides, late nights, and turning into all out plays. It’s important to both expose your children to diverse vocabulary, the way words look, beautiful artwork, as well as developing their listening skills, and to help them convey words into meanings and emotions. 

Switching from reading stories to telling stories helps develop all of these skills, which are helpful not only to those future English Majors, but in whatever your children may want to do. Having romantic sensibilities about words and the ability to really listen to not only what people are saying, but mean, is invaluable when dealing with other people in everyday situations.

Some good examples of reading books are those by Marice Sendak (even those just illustrated by him like Little Bear), the Madeline series, Jan Brett, Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel. They are artistic as well as brilliantly written.
Examples of telling stories are any tall tales (you know, Paul Bunyan, Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone), classic Greek tales (great for getting your children to be familiar with the story while editing out some of the more gruesome details), fairy tales, and even Shakespeare. When telling a story to your child don’t worry about being true to the story, in fact it’s fun to deviate differently every time, and don’t worry about using the proper dialogue, or tone, or language. In fact, the point is to enrapture their ears, not their thinking minds, and the more dramatic you can get, the better.

If you still think that you can not tell stories to your children, try reading chapter books out loud, even at a very young age. Being able to sit and listen and comprehend is such a great skill to have, I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to help your children learn this by reading a captivating story out loud. Since my daughter turned 4 we’ve been reading the Little House on the Prairie series out loud, as well as Doctor Dolittle, Le Petit Prince, and Treasure Island.

Or play the three things story game. Allow your children to give you three things and you have to come up with a story about them. This is even more fun when played the opposite way, making your children come up with a story from three things. Trust me, you will be biting your lip trying to keep in the laughter.

I have seen some absolutely terrible children’s books. Shark vs. Train comes to mind. Some people say that any book is an ok book for your child to read because at least they’re reading. But all reading is not created equal. I don’t think anyone would ever say reading a stop sign and Milton are equatable just because it’s reading, and I also don’t think watching PBS and The Fairly Oddparents is quite the same thing either. You can find good reading, or good TV programs, and you can find terrible ones. Reading terrible children’s books is not going to help anyone, and I’d rather let my children watch PBS all day than read terrible literature. That being said, finding good literature is not hard. There are very few places anymore that don’t have access to a library, and librarians are masters of good children’s literature. They will be more than happy to give recommendations. Teachers will be able to as well. Or you could check out this list or this one. That is not to say that you need to be a stickler about books. My children like to read those Disney recap books about their favorite movies, and even though it’s not great writing, I acquiesce. It’s all about finding balance, like so many other things in life, and you do want reading to be enjoyable, not a schooling experience. Which is why practicing proper reading is important (I’ve been determined to read well after reading about Anne Shirley’s brilliant recitation abilities haha.)

A great book club for children’s books is Dolly Parton’s Imagination library. Dolly Parton? Surprising non? But all of the books are great classics

Here are some tips to really get your child interested:

  • First of all, when reading poetry, do not pause at line endings, but follow punctuation marks like reading prose.
  • Enunciate.
  • Any descriptive words, follow them. “Slowly” should become “slooooowly,” “excited” should sound excited, a character saying “busy busy busy” should be said in a busy busy way
  • Read with your diaphragm, not your lungs. Also, push the air out of your mouth. I have trouble with this, and when I was little I would talk while holding my nose to prevent the nasaly sound.
  • Do different accents. It doesn’t matter how terrible your British accent sounds, attempt it to give the character’s voice some distinction. When reading a first person narrative always keep it in your own voice, but don’t forget that the narration still needs to be acted as a character.
  • You are essentially acting with your voice. Vary your tones, volume, and speed at which you read to match the action of the story
  • Listen to the great radio actors tell stories
  • Get your body into it. Wave your arms, open your eyes wide, use your fingers, kick your legs, whatever the story requires

Trust me, reading this way is so much more entertaining for both you and your children.

Some other great books that may not be on the bestsellers lists:
Miss Rumphius

Pea Pod Babies

Amy Bate’s books. She is a fabulous illustrator.

The Old Woman Who Named Things

The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig

The Little Engine that Could (Be careful about buying this book! There are so many different version of it, but you want the original. The words are changed from things like ” Some of the cars were filled with all sorts of good things for boys and girls to eat– big golden oranges, red-cheeked apples, bottles of creamy milk for their breakfasts, fresh spinach for their dinners, peppermint drops, and lollypops for after-meal treats” to “Some cars were filled with good things for boys and girls to eat– and lollypops for after-meal treats.”

But No Elephants

Amelia Bedelia

The poems of Edward Lear and Robert Louis Stevenson

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