There's an art and a bit of a science to choosing a good Read-Aloud book. The Reading Connection (TRC) has spent more than 20 years reading with kids, and we've identified some essential elements of a quality book for reading aloud.
The next time you are choosing books to read with kids, look for these elements:
Fun or interesting topic
Will the topic appeal to kids? What you think is fun might be different from what your listeners think is fun.
Is the topic appropriate? Be sure to read, or at a minimum, carefully look through any book you choose before you read it to kids. Look for content or story twists that would be inappropriate or that you would feel uncomfortable discussing with a child. For example, a book about pirates might include a section on drug smuggling or human trafficking. Really.
High-quality writing and a good story
Less is more. The amount of the text of the page should be appropriate for
the age of the listener. Generally speaking, the younger the child, the less text the page should have.
Rhyme and repetition can be fun and keep the listeners engaged.
If the book is fiction, is the story interesting? Can kids relate to it?
If the book is nonfiction, is it accurate? Is it concise or wordy?
If you are reading to a large group, are theillustrations easily visible from a distance?
Do the text and pictures work together to tell the story? Do they enhance each other or detract from one another?
Simple isn’t always bad. Elaborate isn’t always good. If you've ever read one of Mo Willem's Pigeon books with a kid, you've seen how this simple fellow packs a lot of moxie.
Design and writing that encourages interaction
- Page breaks or writing that support prediction or create suspense
- Rhythmic writing or energetic pacing that move the story along
- Physical design that demands active reading (questions, flaps, instructions)
- Writing or illustrations that encourage movement or verbal interaction
Lack of Preachiness
Kids are smart. You don’t have to beat them over the head with a moral. If the story is well written, it conveys a message on its own.
The world is full of all kinds of people -- people with different shapes, sizes, colors, beliefs, abilities and lifestyles. Look for books that have diverse characters and settings. Books should be both windows to the whole, wide, diverse world and mirrors where kids can see themselves and their families reflected. (This is such an important topic that we'll devote an entire blog post to it.)
The “special sauce” -- that something special that makes you smile or nod
Beyond interesting topics and high-quality writing, illustration and design, really great books have something extra -- something that catches your attention or your heart. It makes you want to read the book again and share it with someone else. You'll know it when you see it, but here are a few examples:
- Characters you relate to
- Twists or unexpected elements
- Universal truths or experiences
When you are looking for the right book, libraries and bookstores can feel overwhelming. Don't hesitate to ask booksellers and librarians for help in finding books kids love. Jim Trelease's Read Aloud Handbook and Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children by Valerie V. Lewis and Walter M. Mayes are excellent references.
Once you have separated the wheat from the chaff, book-wise, then you can start assessing which books would be good for various audiences, age groups and situations. Stay tuned for another blog post describing that process. In the meantime, happy hunting!
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