We have all heard this: It is less important what a child reads than that the child reads. However, we also want children to read books that carry a message. When a child has trouble choosing a book–especially one for an independent reading assignment for school–we want to offer some guidance toward a book that will be acceptable and worthwhile, as well as enjoyable.
Whether you are a teacher, a parent, or an individual interested in guiding young people’s reading choices, one thing you cannot ignore is the reasoning kids employ in choosing a particular book to read, especially for independent reading assignments for school. Many kids read books that are recommended by friends, especially when they share an interest in a topic such as sports or hobbies. However, kids often find that they have some interests that differ from those of their friends, especially as they grow older. For example, one friend may have an interest in historical novels while another is interested in futuristic themes such as those found in science fiction. Some friends enjoy mysteries or books classified as horror. Still other friends might enjoy biographies, especially of people in a particular area (science, invention, social causes, etc.). In these cases, friends can be helpful in recommending books they enjoy, but the student may not be interested in the same topics or types of books. Thus, when a student needs to choose a book for a book report, he or she may find that friends’ suggestions are less helpful.
Renaissance Learning has released a report on the reasons kids give for selecting independent reading materials, including recommendations by family members and librarians. Often, these are individuals who either know the young person’s leanings or are able to ask the questions that can narrow the range of topics or types of stories that may engage the particular youth. The Renaissance Learning website can be helpful to anyone who needs ideas for how to recommend independent reading materials by providing information on how many young people choose their books.
The website also addresses some Common Core State Standards related to reading. Especially helpful might be the links to lists of Caldecott and Newbery Award titles. I often use these award lists (as well as others) to help select books for teaching social skills of behaviorally challenged students, as well as for use as exemplars in discussing writing development and how to read a book for analysis (such as a book report). When I am at a loss for an independent reading recommendation, especially if a school or youth librarian is not available, the awards lists pretty much guarantee that the book is wholesome, well-written, and interesting. What I have found about books that are recognized by Caldecott and Newbery, as well as Coretta Scott King, Geisel, and other awards, is that most winners and honorary mentions can hold the interest of an adult reader as well as that of a child.
A good list of children’s book awards can be found at http://www.readingrockets.org/books/awardwinners/.