I cannot remember an evening during my childhood when I went to bed without reading a story with my mom or dad. My mom has since told me that they started this practice when I was old enough to sit in their laps, and I came to cherish those moments together before turning out the lights. I learned to read on my own at the age of three, and, decades later, I haven’t stopped.
Wanting to instill that same love of books in my own children, I began reading to them nightly almost as soon as they came home from the hospital. This hasn’t always been easy. Most evenings, after working all day and then rounding up my own children for dinner and “the bedtime ritual marathon,” I’m ready to crawl under the covers myself. But something magical happens as, again, I choose to open the pages of a book with my daughter. We dive into another world together, and never once have I regretted sacrificing time to give the gift of reading to my child.
But why bother? Who cares how much my kid reads or if she reads at all?
Research shows that early literacy skills are directly linked to later academic success. I have a friends who spent six years as a public school teacher, and she can attest to the truth of this, as kids who entered Pre-K class without previously being exposed to books struggled to keep up with their peers.
Not only does reading increase vocabulary, but it also helps children to grow their imaginations and to think more creatively. Reading is one of the cheapest forms of entertainment (you’re welcome), and it builds confidence. Furthermore, books provide a wealth of information that children could not access otherwise. For example, I’m an expert in cooking, but I can’t tell my daughter the first thing about sea lions. I can tell her, though, to go find out more about them in her animal encyclopedia.
As they turn the pages of a piece of literature, children make sense of the world around them and, in many cases, develop unique bonds with the family members who also take an interest in books.
Though the reasons for reading are substantial, many parents are unsure of how to begin building a family library. Finding age-appropriate books that are engaging can seem like a daunting task. Here are several suggestions to help you get started.
- Keep books everywhere! I mean, literally, everywhere. Sometimes the simple act of having to get up and walk into another room to obtain reading material will cause children to choose an activity that is accessible where they already are. At our house, we use Ikea spice racks as bookshelves on the wall in the playroom, and we keep several books in the seatback pockets of our cars. I also like to use book storage bins at home. Each of my children gets three bins to fill with her favorite books. We then place these bins throughout the house, including by the kitchen table and in the bathrooms. Speaking of the bathroom, bath time is a great time to read! Babies and toddlers love waterproof books, and many varieties of them are available.
- Choose books that will stand the test of time, regarding both content and durability. This may seem obvious, but don’t give a baby a paperback book. They’re cheap, yes, but your sweet six-month-old will rip the pages right out. Or eat them. Or both. (I learned this the hard way.) Board books like this one are great, and our family loves everything by its author, Caroline Jay Church. Even older children and teenagers can be destructive with literature. Hardback books, such as the ones in this boxed set, are perfect because they will last forever and they’re also aesthetically pleasing. I totally judge books by their covers, and I think that’s okay.
As far as content, there is a reason why classic books are considered “classics”. They have been cherished for decades or even centuries and tend to be solid choices for many different types of readers. Personal favorites at our house are Beatrix Potter for young elementary children, Charlotte’s Web for upper elementary and middle school students, and Oliver Twist for high school teens. Be sure to check out the list of classic favorites broken out by grade level at the end of this post!
- The public library is great, but give kids something of their own, too. All kids want to possess items that they feel are specifically theirs. For birthdays and special holidays, ask your child to make a short list of favorite books, and then pick one to give to him or her. Imagine how many books you’ll have in your family library if you do this for each child for eighteen years! These books can then be passed down through generations for others to enjoy. I love opening a children’s book to read with my daughter and finding her grandmother’s name written in the front of it.
To get your child excited about owning their own books, we have created these Free Printable Bookplates for those of you in our Subscriber Community. To get the large, high-resolution file, just head on over to the Printables section of our online store, enter the monthly code that you receive in the newsletter, and voila! – you have free access to all Printables and Tutorials. You can print the bookplates on to printable sticker paper, cut them out and have them ready to go when your child gets a new book that they want to make their own.
The best advice that I can give in regard to reading with your children and cultivating the art of a family library is to never stop starting. There are many days when we get busy with school and sports activities, or I drop the ball and forget to order a favorite book before Christmas. I could get discouraged about this and give up on reading with my kids altogether, or I could remember that tomorrow is a new day with millions of new pages awaiting. It’s always a good day to start again.
Classics by Grade Level
Kindergarten – 3rd Grade
Are You My Mother? (P.D. Eastman)
Any of the Frog and Toad Stories
You are Special (Max Lucado)
The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter)
HarperCollins Treasury of Picture Book Classics – this is, by far, is our family’s most-loved book (as evidenced by the massive wear and taped-on cover pictured below!). It is a compilation of 12 books – some of which are also listed above – and has been “enthusiastically” read by all of our children from the time they were read to as toddlers up through about first grade when they were fluent readers and graduated to chapter books. I have great memories of us acting out “Caps for Sale” and rolling my son into a little pizza dough blanket at nap time a la “Pete’s a Pizza”.
4th Grade – 8th Grade
Anne of Green Gables (Lucy Maud Montgomery)
Heidi (Johanna Spyri)
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
A Little Princess (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain)
Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Where the Red Fern Grows (Wilson Rawls)
White Fang (Jack London)
Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)
9th Grade – 12th Grade
The Scarlet Letter (Nathaniel Hawthorne)
Great Expectations (Charles Dickens)
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens)
A Farewell to Arms (Ernest Hemingway)
The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)
To Kill a Mockingbird (John Steinbeck)
Fahrenheit 451 (Ray Bradbury)
Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)
Animal Farm (George Orwell)
Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)