The University of Iowa

Which Books are Best?


Posted on: December 4, 2015

When you are reading to your child, how do you know which types of books are best? This is a question I ask myself regularly. How do I know I am reading the right types of books to my children? Previously, I wrote about the resource from our Collection that helps children choose books that are “just right” for them. After doing some digging I found another resource in the IRRC Family Resources Collection that helps parents choose the right books.

“Which Books are Best?” is an article that uses research to guide parents towards choosing the best books to read to their children. I really like how the article is organized by questions a parent might ask himself/herself. It then provides evidence to support an answer to each of the questions that pertain to how to find the right books to read to children.  Below are two questions that were especially helpful for our family reading.

Do Types of Books Influence the Way I Read?

The question, “Does the type of book influence how parents read the book with their child?” is of particular interest to me. This immediately reminded me of how using wordless books are quite beneficial for increasing vocabulary development, when parents choose to create conversations around the illustrations. Were there other books that might encourage conversations that I hadn’t thought of before? The article discusses a study conducted that observed parents’ reading behaviors when they read story books as compared with alphabet books. The authors noted that parents tended to guide their discussion of alphabet books around letters and sounds, while story books prompted them to discuss the story events and characters. They also discovered that many parents weren’t engaging in conversation about the book with their child. The biggest take away is that parents should be using books to encourage conversations with their children. The article states, “As a conversational approach to book-reading with children has been linked to increased language and reading development, the importance of parents’ inviting the child to offer opinions, asking and answering questions while sharing books cannot be underemphasized.” So, with this point made, I need to make sure I am talking about what I read with all of my children. Even if I am reading a very simple book to Sully, I can still point out the pictures and make a comment about them.

I am a person who likes a plan, so I created a list of some ways (with examples) I might encourage a conversation with one (or all) of my children when reading with them:

  • Characters (How does he/she feel?)
  • Connections (link) (Does this remind you of anything in your life?)
  • Illustrations (The pictures are so pretty. Do you think the author painted them?)
  • Predictions (link) (What do you think will happen next?)
  • Basic comprehension (What color was the ball? How many pickles did he eat?)
  • Favorites (What was your favorite/least favorite part of the book? Why?)

These are just some of the ways I might start a discussion with my children about the books we read together. It is not a list I will have to have in front of me every time I read, but was helpful for me to brainstorm ideas in case I need them sometime.

Bells and Whistles

Sully is at the age where he can barely sit still to get his diaper changed, much less listening to a book. There are times where I read to him while he holds a toy and a book at the same time, because he constantly stays busy. Sometimes I read while facing him as he plays on the floor, which seems to keep his attention for a while. Because I understand how important reading is to his language development, I will try almost anything to get him to listen to a story.

Another tactic I have been wondering about is books with bells and whistles.  The article addresses this topic with the question, "Are moving parts in books helpful?"  These bells and whistles include flaps or moving parts that require some physical interaction. We have a few books like these at our house.   They either have flaps you have to lift or slide or pop up pages. While we have to be careful when reading them so Sully doesn’t rip the pages (he has already torn a few parts off of books), they seem to hold his attention a little longer than other books with no physical interaction. This made me wonder if books with movable parts were helpful. I was happy to see that “Which Books are Best” actually addresses this question.

The article presents two studies conducted on the effectiveness of books with bells and whistles, or “manipulatives.” The results for each study are conflicting. One study finds that children learned more from books without the bells and whistles, while the other discovered that the manipulatives motivated the children to use longer sentences and ask more questions. “Which Books are Best” says that the “jury’s still out” on this topic, but likely books with movable parts are helpful to certain children. This all shows me that I can use these books for Sully if it is encouraging him to listen to books. Do all of the books I read have to have flaps or pop up parts? Definitely not. But, having them can be helpful depending on the child and situation.

“Which Books are Best?” is a great resource that is part of the IRRC Family Resources Collection. It provides answers to common questions in regards to what types of books parents select to read to their children. I recommend you search “Which Books are Best?” to see additional questions and to learn more about how to best select books for when you read with your children.