The link below is to an article that claims children who own more books read better – which is fairly obvious I suppose.
It started with Frederick, by Leo Lionni — a beautifully illustrated story about the importance of the arts.
Or it began with The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski — an exquisite storybook about a sullen carver who is transformed by the love of a little boy.
These are some of our own first favourite books. That was before we understood the benefits behind storybook reading. But we gave the books to our nieces and nephews based on our pure appreciation of the stories themselves. And thus began family traditions of carefully selecting, signing and gifting cherished books to one another.
Social and emotional benefits
For educators, the importance of storybook reading in the home is well documented. Reading to children is associated with a heap of benefits, including more expansive expressive and receptive vocabularies, better language comprehension and better early math abilities. More recently, the study of reading has turned to examine the social and emotional benefits provided by storybook reading.
Different themes explored by storybooks can develop aspects of socio-emotional understanding, because a well-written story can transport the reader into fictional worlds and let them experience emotions by proxy.
Parents who are more familiar with storybooks (presumably through reading them with their children), have children who are better at identifying and separating their own emotions and desires from the emotions and desires of others. Such social and cognitive skills are part of developing towards what psychologists call a “theory of mind” — gaining the ability to understand that other people’s thoughts and beliefs may be different from your own, and to consider why.
Books may help children develop such skills and insights because the plots often focus on social relationships between characters and contain rich language related to feelings and identity formation. Books can also encourage children to think of ways to enrich the lives of those around them, thereby enriching their own.
Of course, it’s not enough to simply own many books; it’s the frequency of shared storybook reading with the quality of time that matters. But whether books are borrowed from the local library, or part of your own collection, having access to them in your home is a good place to start.
Here are some of our favourites.
Books that explore themes of love and community: Porcupine’s Bad Day by Emilie Corbiere is an English- and Ojibway-langugage account of how porcupine’s friends help him move beyond his grumpy mood as he tries to sleep in the daytime — and to understand they all share the forest. Nancy Tillman’s I’d Know You Anywhere, My Love explores how intimacy and love are tied to recognition and acceptance, told through the delight of animal disguises and a woman narrator. Max and the Tag-Along Moon by Floyd Cooper narrates the love of a boy and his grandpa against the backdrop of the moon’s ever-present mystery.
Books that celebrate the occasional misstep in creativity: The Book of Mistakes by Corinna Luyken, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires, and Ish or The Dot, by Peter Reynolds. The Dot is about a schoolgirl, Vashti, who goes from believing she can’t draw to a celebration of self-expression and creativity — beginning with a dot. These books would make wonderful gifts for the creative but cautious children in your lives.
Books for young budding professionals: Andrea Beaty’s books, including Ada Twist, Scientist and Iggy Peck, Architect would make wonderful presents that showcase new worlds opening up through science and design, and that show children the road to success is often littered with road blocks that can be overcome.
Books that embrace challenge: What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada is an encouraging book suitable for all ages. After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again) by Dan Santat contains themes of perseverance and overcoming fears.
Books that celebrate themselves: The Good Little Book by Kyo MacLear, and It’s a Book by Lane Smith are stories about the love for reading, and the value of a good book. These support the message that reading is a beautiful thing. A Child of Books by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston is a lyrical celebration of a childhood filled with books.
Books that don’t take themselves too seriously: Chester by Mélanie Watt,
The Book With No Pictures by B.J. Novak, Oddsockosaurus by Zanib Mian and I Want My Hat Back by Jon Klassen all provide a shared giggle between adult and child. Books like these reinforce the value that reading is a fun and intrinsically enjoyable activity.
Above we’ve included some of our favorite titles, but there is no one perfect book. We encourage you to spend some time talking to your local bookshop staff or librarians to find titles that will resonate in your family.
The psychosocial and educational benefits from shared storybook reading do not depend on whether the books are bought or borrowed or whether they’re new or used. All you need are books with convincing characters, good conversations and a place to snuggle up and read.
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Christmas is just around the corner. If you’re wondering what to get your child, your friends’ children, your nieces, nephews or basically any very young person in your life – I highly recommend picture books.
Many people can remember a favourite book when they were a kid. Some of my favourites were the Berenstain Bears with Papa Bear trying, unsuccessfully, to teach his children how to ride a bike or gather honey.
Sadly, a 2011 report from the UK showed the number of young people who say they own a book is decreasing. The report also showed a clear relationship between receiving books as presents and reading ability.
Children who said they had never been given a book as a present were more likely to be reading below the expected level for their age.
There are lots of benefits of reading aloud to young children, including developing children’s language and print awareness. These include knowing that the squiggles on the page represent words, and that the words tell a story.
Such knowledge gives children a head start when they go on to reading at school.
1. Reading to kids increases their vocabulary
Adults should discuss ideas in books with children, as they occur, as opposed to just reading a book from start to finish. Talking about the pictures, or what has happened, can lead to rich conversations and enhance language development.
The more words you know, the simpler it is to recognise them and comprehend the meaning of the text. Children who read more become better readers and more successful students.
2. Books can increase children’s maths and science skills
Some books (like How Many Legs and How Big is a Million) explicitly explore concepts such as numbers. Other stories, like the Three Little Pigs, have concepts embedded in them. Children can learn about the properties of materials when adults talk about the strength of hay, sticks and bricks.
A study in the Netherlands found kindergarten children who were read picture books, and were engaged in discussions of the maths concepts in the books, increased their maths performance, compared to a control group of children who weren’t read these books.
Early Learning STEM Australia has created a booklist which gives parents and teachers ideas for books that contain STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) ideas. These include:
They All Saw a Cat, which shows the perspectives of different animals
Lucy in the City, where a cat loses her way home and an owl helps her
Dreaming Up, which contrasts children’s constructions with notable works of architecture.
3. Books are mirrors and windows
Nearly 30 years ago, children’s literature professor, Rudine Sims Bishop, wrote how books can be windows, through which we see other worlds. These windows can become sliding doors when we use our imaginations and become part of them.
Books can also be mirrors, when we see our own lives and experiences in them. In this way, they reaffirm our place in the world.
Children need both types of books to understand people come from different cultures and have different ways of thinking and doing things. Books can show that children of all cultures are valued in society.
Children who never see themselves represented in books may feel marginalised. Unfortunately, the majority of books feature white children or animals, so many children only experience books as windows.
4. Books can counter stereotypes
Children learn gender stereotypes from a very young age. Research shows by the age of six, girls are already less likely than boys to think girls are “really, really smart” and they begin to avoid activities thought to be for “really, really smart” children.
Picture books can challenge these and other stereotypes. Reading books that portray atypical behaviours such as girls playing with trucks or with girls in traditional male roles such as being doctors, scientists or engineers, can change children’s beliefs and activities.
The City of Monash in Melbourne has created a list of children’s picture books that promote gender equality and challenge gender stereotypes. This includes one of my favourite books, The Paperbag Princess, who saves herself from a dragon and decides not to marry the prince after he complains she is a mess.
5. Just having more books makes you more educated
A study that looked at data from 27 countries, including Australia, found children growing up in homes with many books got three years more education than children from bookless homes. This was independent of their parents’ education, occupation and class.
Adults need to model good reading habits and their enjoyment of reading. Giving children a love of reading can be the best present we ever give.
At the heart of every adult writer lies a novel they adored as a child. No wonder then so many try to write for kids themselves. So why do they often fail?
Perhaps it’s because, on the whole, adults are taught to write for adults, utilising the full power of the five regular senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell – to evoke meaning in even the most trivial of everyday events.
This approach is less successful with younger readers, for one very simple reason: there are five other senses that speak more potently to them.
Consciously or unconsciously, successful writers use these other senses to hook young readers (and open their parents’ wallets) in ways that seem almost magical.
It’s not magical at all, though.
Here are the five story senses guaranteed to stir a child’s literary heart.
Everyone with kids in their lives knows the horror of a joke compendium: the same old gags we learned in childhood, repeated over and over, quickly lose appeal.
The only thing worse would be forcing kids to stop telling them.
It is easy to forget jokes are hilarious the first time around, and funny doesn’t mean trivial. Humourist Terry Pratchett understood a reader can learn just as much from a book that provokes a laugh as from one that doesn’t – and he was the bestselling UK author until J K Rowling came along.
Make a kid laugh and they’ll be a fan forever.
People develop a sense of fairness at a very early age, some studies suggesting it kicks in as early as 12 months. Who doesn’t love seeing justice done? For this reason, crime fiction is one of the biggest genres in the world – and kids are no different to adult readers.
Few people would seriously suggest a sense of justice should be drummed out of children, but it can definitely be quashed when parental authority is under assault. Kids therefore are constantly on the pointy end of injustice, or feel they are.
This is why Rowling takes Harry back to the despicable Dursleys at the end of every book. Exploiting the sense of justice ensures her readers never lose interest.
The one genre bigger than crime is romance.
While not all kids will be into romantic love (The Princess Bride notwithstanding), they will have a keen sense of belonging. They have friends, family and pets in their lives, and stories engaging this sense helps them navigate these relationships, particularly when loss or denial is involved.
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer remains a classic because, beneath everything else, it is a story about a young boy finding his place in the world, and in people’s hearts.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer also contains scenes of terrible peril, as does Doctor Who. Children love to be scared by fictional stories because in life, alas, many find themselves in very real peril. Fiction gives kids a safe way to activate their sense of danger, and maybe learn a life-saving strategy or two, as well.
The sense of danger is so fundamental to our psyche that it might actually be hardwired into us: the Moro, or “startle”, reflex is innate in healthy newborns.
There are limits, of course, but no one ever ever lost a young audience by trying to push them. (Parents are a different matter.)
Everyone will have some of these senses, but some people won’t have all of them. This sense, my personal favourite, is very hard to explain to someone who doesn’t possess it. It is the engine that drives fantasy and science fiction. When something makes a reader go “wow”, their sense of wonder has been engaged.
Kids understand this sense very well, because everything to them is big and new: just note how many synonyms they have for “awesome”. While it too may be drummed out of young people as they age, it can be revived under particular circumstances. Reading JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings has been one for many avid readers.
It is easy to forget The Hobbit predated this work, and, although no less awe-some, it was originally created for children.
These senses are just the start
Hefty doses of humour, justice, belonging, danger, and wonder will go some way towards compensating for deficiencies in other aspects of the writing craft. Children, and many adults, will often choose a good story badly written over a well-made dud.
Any author wanting to pen a bestseller could do worse than start here. As always, though, there is no substitute for hard work – and luck.
Cuddling up in a big chair with a good book, either with a familiar adult reading to you or starting the first chapter of a book on your own is a fundamental part of childhood – emotionally as well as intellectually. Reading about people who are like yourself affects both your self-image and the likelihood you will enjoy reading. Becoming a habitual reader, in turn, affects your life options. Reading about people different from yourself also encourages empathy and cultural understanding.
But if the world of children’s books doesn’t include people who look like you, it is difficult to feel welcomed into reading, as the writer Darren Chetty, among others, has pointed out. And recent research suggests that child readers, especially, but not exclusively, readers of colour, are being seriously shortchanged.
Pigeonholed or sidelined
There simply aren’t enough authors and illustrators from diverse backgrounds being published, as academic Melanie Ramdarshan Bold pointed out in the 2019 Book Trust report on representation of people of colour among children’s book authors and illustrators. In fact, between 2007 and 2017, fewer than 2% of children’s book creators were British people of colour.
Authors of colour often feel isolated within the publishing industry. They are frequently encouraged to focus on racism and similar problem narratives, a recent report from Arts Council England (ACE) found. They do not have the freedom (as many white British authors do) to write across the broad spectrum of children’s literature genres if they want to be published.
While about a third of school-age children come from a minority ethnic background, the Centre for Literacy in Primary Education found that only 7% of children’s books published in Britain in 2018 had a Black, Asian or minority ethnic character. With so few diverse children’s books being published, these books are deeply important.
When characters of colour appear in children’s books, they are rarely the protagonist with the agency to effect change. Recent books sometimes still depict characters of colour as “sidekicks” who support and affirm the white main character. Other times, the “diversity” in a book appears in the background only.
Characters are defined by their colour, which makes them irreconcilably “other”. Descriptive words of character features compare them to food or animals. Sometimes characters appear early on in a narrative, only to quickly disappear in favour of a refocus on the white character. These techniques can dehumanise people of colour.
Children’s nonfiction, including history and science, either ignores contributions of people of colour to British society or pigeonholes particular ethnic groups into certain spaces only – such as the history of British slavery (and very specifically not the history of Afro-Caribbean uprisings against British slavery).
In a single children’s book, this “sidelining” of people of colour may not matter. However, when it is the enduring norm, as Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie stressed in her 2009 Ted talk on the danger of a single story, it situates readers of colour on the sidelines, too. This affects the reader’s perception of who matters in books.
Working together for representation
While it would be easy to suggest that the problem lies with the British publishing industry alone, this is too simplistic. All people involved with children’s books need to participate in changing the narrative so that the books being published better represent the population and encourage all children to become readers, according to the ACE report.
This can be done in a variety of ways, and involves committed effort. Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books, began dedicating some of its collecting efforts to culturally diverse children’s literature in 2015. This has resulted in the acquisition of materials relating to children’s books by the Guyanese-born British poets John Agard and Grace Nichols in 2019. The acquisition of diverse materials by a national museum is one way of indicating the importance of this material to Britain and to British children’s literature.
Another way of highlighting the critical importance of including all children in children’s books is through awards. The longest-running children’s book prizes, the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal, have never been awarded to a British author of colour. Following the commissioning of a diversity review of the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway Medal, the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP) revised the judging criteria for the annual prizes. These new guidelines ask judges to consider representation within books as they are making selections. Other children’s book prizes, including the Little Rebels prize, focus on children’s literature that challenges the status quo in areas such as diversity.
These efforts, large and small, bring attention to children’s books with characters of colour that might otherwise slip under the book-buying public’s radar. And getting librarians, educators and parents, no matter what their ethnic, racial or cultural background, to buy books is critical.
Publishing is a market-driven industry. If books aren’t selling, publishers can make the case that there is no audience and therefore they do not need to publish more books with characters of colour. All children need to feel welcome in the book world, and all children need to understand the diversity of British society now and throughout history.
The links below are to articles reporting on nominations for the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, the world’s richest prize for children’s literature.
For more visit:
The link below is to an article reporting on the winner of the 2019 Klaus Flugge Prize for the most promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration, Jessica Love, for ‘Julian is a Mermaid.’
In the UK, Jessica Love has won the £5000 (A$8990) Klaus Flugge Prize for most promising newcomer to children’s picture book illustration for Julian is a Mermaid
The link below is to an article reporting on the winners of the Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year for 2019.
The link below is to an article that reports on the winners of the 2019 Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards.
The link below is to an article that looks at how children’s books have changed.