By Jenna Shaver
Not all children’s books are created equally.
Most likely we’ve all heard from all corners of our world how important it is to read to children. We’ve browsed our local bookstore or received books as gifts that we’ve later seen our children thumbing through at quiet times. Special moments, indeed.
As a Montessori teacher, children’s books hold a special place in my heart. Few things bring me as much satisfaction as finding a new favorite book to read to my students. When I do, I feel as though I’ve struck gold. In my opinion, there are key traits that distinguish quality children’s books from, well, let’s call them “other.” Over the years of reading to children and watching them grow and learn before my eyes, I think there are four main traits that make up good children’s books.
I think the first trait that distinguishes quality from other is authentic storytelling. Children’s books do not always have to teach a lesson or have a point. Rather, they should be real, authentic and relatable. Stories that reflect our own human lives and span generations and cultures, to me, are the most beloved by children and adults.
In addition to real, authentic stories being told, these stories should be told by those who know them best. When reading a book from a specific cultural or ethnic perspective, I find it imperative that stories be written by those most familiar with that experience. Allowing those who belong to a particular culture to tell the stories of their lives and culture can help teach children that, not only do their voices matter in telling their own stories, but there is value in hearing others and making space for them to speak for and about themselves.
I also believe that the use of diverse language elevates a book exponentially. Children are competent and capable beings, able to learn and understand complex and diverse language. Telling a story using elevated language is not only more interesting for children to hear and for us to read, it also sets the foundation for greater social-emotional regulation. The more words a child knows, the more completely they can describe, using specific language, how they’re feeling.
The last trait I’ll touch on is accessibility. I find stories that provide windows into the lives of others or mirror our own lives are the most captivating. Children have a human tendency, an innate, universal drive, to create order in their world. In order to bring order to their world, they must know their world: the people, animals, modes of transportation, flora, types of food, the list goes on and on. The more a child experiences about their world, the more they can make sense of it. Books are a captivating and accessible medium to bring the world home.
My hope for this column is two-fold: I hope this column brings to you some book suggestions. Books I find valuable or interesting may differ from your own interests, but I hope the more suggestions I make, the more honed your definition of quality children’s books can become. I hope it inspires you to read more with your child. To take a few minutes, choose something special to read, and experience that joyous, quiet moment alongside them.
I look forward to sharing with you my favorites, and hopefully you and your family will discover favorites along the way.
Jenna Shaver is an accredited teacher, developing and educating young minds as a Certified Lead Guide. She is a graduate of Montessori Northwest, an Association Internationale training center and one of a small cadre of AMI-certified teachers in Idaho. She holds dual Bachelor’s degrees from Boise State University; one in Early Childhood Intervention/ Early Childhood Education and the second in Elementary Education.