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How to Choose Just Right Books for Children and Teens

So many children's books, which ones are just right?

There are many factors and criteria to take into consideration when selecting and evaluating books for children. Whether you are a parent or an educator, a librarian or a bookshop, finding the right books and knowing how to utilize them once they are in your possession is critical.

In this article we'll explore some of the types of questions you should be asking in your quest for the perfect books, as well as some resources to help you on your way.  But first, lets take a look at some of the reasons why reading is so fundamentally important:

The Benefits of Reading

The simple act of reading the right books at the right time will show significant improvement and success in school across the board.  This is true for many reasons.  Here are just a small handful of those reasons:

  1. Books offer vocabulary and language in a way that most children aren't exposed to.  Expanding  vocabulary means that they have more ways with which to express themselves, and makes it easier for them to understand others on a deeper level - to be able to read between the lines, so to speak.
  2. Books allow for imagination to soar.  With imagination, children are able to "imagine" more ways of solving problems, allows them to form their own opinions based on a wider set of facts and possibilities, and to make connections that would otherwise not be made.
  3. Books give children a look into people, places, and things that they would otherwise not be exposed to.  
  4. Reading gives a child a greater hold on spelling and significantly improves their writing and communication skills.
  5. The mind of a child who reads and is read to finds it easier to think and respond quicker to life and academic situations and to give more thought to everything they do.
  6. Reading improves memory.
  7. Those familiar words, mixed with words that need context clues to understand, aid in a child's ability to analyze and gives a child better confidence in being able to figure things out on their own.



A predetermined set of factors ought to be kept in mind to make your search for those perfect books easier.

First and foremost, it is important to take into consideration the children's physical, cognitive, language, and moral developments, as well as what the interests and preferences are of the age group or groups you are recognizing.

Age group, per say, will not necessarily render completely in your choices, as many levels and types of levels in both reading and developmental, will probably be presented in each group of children. Whether the books you are choosing will be read or read to your child or group of children, will also be a factor. Other questions to ask on your search for the right books are,

  • Are the books you are choosing going to provide enjoyment, an overall positive experience, and teach them something along the way?
  • Will it get them asking appropriate questions?
  • Will you be able to draw from it or transition into other activities, if that is a goal?

These are the types  of questions to ask yourself while searching and evaluating books.


Is there a variety in the books you are choosing?

It is important to include as much poetry, historical fiction, biographies, non-fiction, realistic fiction, and fantasy as possible. All are undeniably essential for rounding a child's literary experience.

While some books may offer a single type of purpose, others are multi-layered, and can be "multi-tasked" and should be used as much as possible, especially when they are for use with a multi-level group.

Multicultural and international books give a great understanding and appreciation for other cultures, so make your selections from a variety of cultures, and make sure that the characters depicted are positively portrayed.

As with all books, it is especially important that the details are accurate. If you accidentally find out that they are not (oops, but it happens), this is the perfect opportunity to talk about misinformation or mistakes, solutions, etc.


In order to fully evaluate a book, you must, of course read it cover to cover, paying close attention to details. However finding the books to select and evaluate can, but doesn't have to be, tricky.

Get your hands on as many reliable references and lists as possible. If a book has been recognized as distinguished or outstanding, that fact can often aid in your own evaluation.

Newbery Award and Honors are given annually to distinguished U.S. authors and are for books geared for middle and upper elementary.

Caldecott Award and Honors are also received annually, and are given to U.S. illustrators. Links to these can be found in the related links section below; these links are part of the ALA or American Library Awards site. Here you can also find links to other awards such as the Mildred Batchelder Award.

There are also the Canadian Library Awards, and the Kate Greenaway Award to mention a few others. Links to these can also be found in the related links section below.

From A to Zoo is a great reference book to look at. Magazines on the subject are also plentiful; though possibly harder to get a hold of if you are a parent than if you are a teacher or librarian, as the latter two are prone to more solicitation. Some to take note of are The Horn Book Magazine, School Library Journal, The Reading Teacher, and Book Links.

Don't pass up sites with excellent lists, like PBS kids which has a special section for parents and one for teachers.

Word of mouth can be a reliable source as well.


 Seek and ye shall find on YouTube.  Yes, YouTube has quite a few places to search for books to get your hands on.  Libraries, kids, parents, schools, and bookstores, all offer favorites you may not otherwise run across.  Videos such as those offered here, put "a face and a personality" to books in different kind of way.  Here is a small example of what you can find...


  • Penguin Group (Canada) - Awards - July 2009
    The official online book store of Penguin Group (Canada), publishers of literary, fiction, reference, autobiography, academic and classic books. Links to MANY book awards with discriptions and lists found on this page.
  • The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children\'s Book Awards
    CILIP children's book and illustrator awards, links, pages. Easy to navigate. Fun to check out. Great info.
    Information about the current ALSC Newbery Medal winners and links to past winners and award criteria. Administered by the Association for Library Service to Children.
    Information about the Randolph Caldecott Medal, awarded annually to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children. Includes links to past winners and submission instructions. Administered by the Association for Library Service.
  • PBS Kids.org


As parents and educators, we want our young readers to have a positive reading experience and instill in them the same love and appreciation for books that we have.

For this reason, it is essential that we keep in mind each child's individuality. Our choices should be based on each child's need and the worlds of opportunities that can be given to them; this can mean keeping our own biases and preferences aside. In the end, the choice is theirs.