Thank you SO much for your kind response to my first post about making it less stressful to visit the library with small children.
I’m so delighted that it was useful!
That first post mainly dealt with questions about the logistics of library visits, like children’s behavior, germs, and those dreaded iPads and computers that are like magnets for your children.
The questions this time are about how to find good books at the library, whether your library has a pretty sad selection, your child just pulls random books off the shelf or they only want those TV character books that seem to be written by someone who has never actually read a book.
I’m super grateful again for the invaluable advice from these fine ladies:
Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs Darcy and the What Should I Read Next? podcast
Carole Gates of Kids Books Worth Reading (she’s also my mom)
Michelle of The Book Report
Ralphie Jacobs of Simply on Purpose
Claire Nelson of A Little Book Habit Amy Johnson of Sunlit Pages
Carter Higgins of Design of the Picture Book (she’s also a school librarian and children’s author)
Jane Tanner of Bookroo
Eileen of Picture This Book
Charnaie Gordon of Here Wee Read
Sarah Mackenzie of The Read-Aloud Revival podcast
Heather of Tiny Readers
Michelle Sterling of Avery and Augustine
My library has the most pathetic selection ever. Or my library charges for a card.
- We have lived by libraries with horrible selection and it was super discouraging. However, I have found that sometimes those libraries will allow you to check out from other libraries in their network. Check with your librarian and see if they can pull books from other libraries in the area – Michelle of The Book Report
- What Michelle said above! Also: some county/city libraries allow you to join for free or for a small annual fee. This can be nice for physical books and a real boon for digital and audio products. Sometimes a membership to an adjacent library opens a world of free or low-cost digital and audio possibilities not available from your regular library – Anne of Modern Mrs. Darcy
- I used to refer to our local libraries as Whited Sepulchres — beautiful on the outside, but pretty empty on the inside. It made me realize that although new libraries are often fabulous structures, they have limited book selections since they just haven’t had time to build up their collections. I’ve come to love older branches because of this. Like others have mentioned before, being able to go online and order titles from neighboring libraries is a real blessing. I’ve also realized that librarians have strong preferences and while one library will have a strong YA section, another library will have a great audio selection. Pay attention to the strengths of the various branches you can visit or order from, and use them accordingly. When I was young our family moved outside the city limits and suddenly our library cards were no longer free. My parents began purchasing each of us a card as one of our Christmas presents each year. I still remember the pleasure of receiving a new library card every year in my stocking. You can also do a quick tally of the cost of the books you’ve checked out during a year and realize what a bargain a library card probably is compared to purchasing all those books — or missing out on them – Carole of KidsBooksWorthReading
My kids don’t know how to pick out their own books – they just grab randomly off the shelf and they’re usually not that great.
- I let my kids read whatever they want in the library but I decide what we actually bring home for quality control, ha! – Eileen of Picture This Book
- For better or worse, this is a skill that kids need practice to develop. If they keep reading—and visiting the library—they’ll get there. 🙂 While they’re developing it, I like to go to the library armed with a long list of book ideas for each child – Anne of Modern Mrs Darcy
- I let my kids pick 1-2 books that they want to bring home. And I come with a list that I know we will all enjoy once we get home. I usually reserve these before we get to the library, so I am not struggling to find them once we are there and juggling my kids. Less chaos. And easier to be present and help them look for books – Michelle of The Book Report
- I agree with all of the statements echoed above. With practiced and continued reading kids will eventually be able to differentiate between good literature and mediocre literature on their own – Charnaie of Here Wee Read
- See if you can take just a few minutes before going to the library to find out what your kids are hoping to find. Then you can direct them to a particular section. I’ve noticed that my very young kids will grab whatever’s easiest to reach and first hits their eyes, so strategically walking them to a particular section is really helpful! – Sarah Mackenzie of The Read-Aloud Revival
- Ha yes this is true, but this is probably their one chance to choose from such a wide selection and the excitement is bound to go to their heads. So they choose a few rubbishy books. That’s ok! It’s all part of the fun of finding out what sort of books they do like and as it’s a free resource it doesn’t matter if they don’t like or enjoy everything they bring home from the library. In fact, this might even be one of the greatest things about a library visit- that you can come home with a fistful of books and some will be winners, some will be not so great and some you won’t make it to the end of. None of the pressure of spending money in a bookshop and it needing to be something amazing that you will want to read many times or having to read something for school whether you like it or not. I would also like to add that my idea of a great book and my five year old’s are not always the same and that’s how it’s meant to be. Plus it can make a great talking point to discuss what they like about books and encourages them to have opinions about what they are reading – Claire of A Little Book Habit
- Choose some books that you’d love to see your child read or that they would be interested in, and sit down at a table with them to have them preview the books. Have them narrow the selection down and pick which ones they want to check out. That way all of their choices will be ones that you approve of. If they really want to pull books from the shelves on their own, have them pull out two on their own, while the majority of the books will come from your pre-selected bunch. Ownership really matters to some children (and not so much to others), so giving children the power to choose books (within your given parameters) is a good compromise for them. — Michelle of Avery and Augustine
- One thing I’ve recently learned about kids is that they make fabulous little book critics with some guidance and practice, and it’s something they quite enjoy! By talking about the books with your kids like Claire suggests (be they great or rather mediocre books in your opinion) and asking them to identify what they like and what they didn’t like as much, and compare them with family favorites, you can help kids develop and refine their taste. You can also reinforce favorites and help your children create a bond with them by bringing them up during everyday activities, but at the end of the day books are better than no books so don’t stress it! – Jane of Bookroo
- Find a few good kids’ book accounts on Instagram whose selections you really connect with, and reference them to generate a list of books that you’d like to check out before you head to the library. Try searching for accounts using the hashtag #kidsbookstagram or #raisingreaders — Michelle of Avery and Augustine
- As your children get older, introduce them to blogs that recommend quality books for their age. Help them keep a running list of books they’re interested in. How many adults also can’t find a good book among the stacks without a plan?? Also encourage them to pay attention to authors (even when they’re very young) so they’ll recognize their names and can see what other titles might be available by that same person – Carole of Kids Books Worth Reading
All my kids choose are those low-quality TV character books. BLAH!
- My kids are currently ages 4 and 5 so I still choose most of their books for them. However, when we go to the library they are allowed to choose at least two of their own books. Sometimes it’s a low-quality TV character book, sometimes it’s not. Remember, children are easily influenced so if they constantly see TV or cartoon characters they will naturally gravitate towards those types of books which is not a bad thing in my opinion. At least they are reading something they find interesting, right? So before you freak out, my advice would be to continue to let your children choose (some) of the books they want to read even if they are lower quality reading material. Eventually, they will outgrow those types of books and think they are for “babies” anyway. At least we all hope so! – Charnaie from Here Wee Read
- This one use to bother me too. But then I noticed something. When I walk past my child with her face in a book, I can’t tell whether it’s Ariel’s Christmas Party or Where The Wild Things Are. She is reading. And I call that a win. – Ralphie of Simply on Purpose
- Often, I’ll read the low quality books they want to check out to them right there at the library, and then direct their take-home choices to something else. I think choosing good books is a skill that gets stronger over time, and if we disparage the books our kids like, they’ll stop trusting us to help then find books they’ll enjoy. Instead, I try to keep my reading aloud sessions with low quality books to a very, very minimum, and then let them feast on the good stuff, trusting that good taste is acquired over time. If *you* choose books that you know are good and bring lots of those home, then the other stuff won’t have as much power over your child’s reading life (or taste) – Sarah Mackenzie of The Read Aloud Revival
- I usually go to the library with specific items already placed on hold, and I let the kids pick a couple of their own while we are there. I have never said no to anything! Giving them authority over choosing which books they want to read is an empowering thing. It allows them to get excited about reading, which is great – whatever unfortunate TV character it may include. Reading a Shimmer & Shine book to my 2 year old daughter that she LOVES is still sweet, even if Carson Ellis didn’t illustrate it. When my 4 year old picked out a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles chapter book that I thought was way too long for him, he sat through several readings that had no pictures, and I realized he was ready for so much more! We are halfway through Chronicles of Narnia and I never would have thought he was ready for that if I hadn’t let him choose that TMNT book – Heather of Tiny Readers
- If my child is choosing a book over the many other things she could be doing, even if it is a low quality cartoony style book, then they are becoming readers and that can only be a good thing. I wish she would read only high quality, beautiful books but I can only trust that the more she reads the more refined her tastes will become and as long as she’s reading then I’m happy – Claire of A Little Book Habit
- I can’t tell you how many Sweet Valley Kids books my daughters read when they were young! But I read quality novels aloud to them and eventually they saw the difference and began choosing better titles for themselves – Carole of KidsBooksWorthReading
Aren’t these such amazing ideas? I loved all of them (and tucked lots of good ideas away for our own library visits). I hope they’re helpful and if you have additional ideas for things that have worked for your family, I’d love to hear them in the comments!
I guess I’m the only parent out there who actually enjoys reading the Disney books to my kids ha. Really though I’m just happy to see them excited about reading and I don’t really mind what book it is. Some are better written than others though.
I love this series! I generally let my son pick 4-5 books (usually Star Wars or other books based on movies) but then I always have a stack for him too. I’d much rather him pick out books, any books!, than mess on the computers!!
My kids loved picking out their own books. I made my own selections, and at reading times at home we’d take turns choosing what to read next. So I didn’t mind plowing through a few Pokemon adventures if I’m also reading my lovely poem pictures.
Our library lets kids get a library card as soon as they can write their name. So first cards have this adorable scrawl on them. My policy was that everyone could check out as many items as their age. Also, there is an excellent service called libraryelf (ask your librarian or sign up yourself) that will collate all the items on a whole family worth of cards and keep track of due dates etc and send you reminders. I would get a list the day before library day to make sure everything was in the bag, and also special warnings if something was almost overdue (or actually overdue!). Since for a while we had four kids and three separate library systems it was a lifesaver!
Janssen Bradshaw says
I LOVE Library Elf!
I let my kids pick out character books if that’s what they want, but I usually warn them that I will read it out loud to them once and then after that, they’re on their own. They can look through it as much as they want, but I just can’t stand reading them. The Dora ones are like reading through a terribly written TV script and the Disney ones are so wordy.
Janssen Bradshaw says
You’re nicer than I am! I won’t even read them once!
I may have missed it but regarding the TV character books I think it’s important to talk with your kids about why you don’t like those character books, etc. BUT don’t tell them you don’t like the books, just encourage them to see the difference on their own by talking about it. Tell them what makes a book you like to read (a brand new story let’s you use your imagination, proper writing let’s you learn new vocabulary and helps you speak properly, etc) and let them talk about what they like to read and why. encourage them to use the new words and concepts they’re really easing about! My qualm with those charachter books, Pete the cat etc. Is that absolutely awful sentence structure, grammar and sometimes spelling! My son also asks very detailed questions constantly in books so if a book glosses over the details (the character ones) that’s not going to work for him and we talk about that. Like someone said above let them come to their own conclusions but talk a lot about the important things above to help them!
I lived in a small town in NM until 6 months ago. My small town had a small library that was connected to the small town about 10 miles from us. The largest town near us had a pretty great library and I had a card there also. When we moved to Utah I was expecting a similar set up. I was sad to see the largest town close to us (Logan) charges a fee to use their library for non-residents. It’s almost $100 a year. I had never seen this before (now I know this is a thing, thanks to your post!) It bummed me out. Our library is great but I would love the larger selection a larger library has to offer. I guess this is more of a rant of my frustration!
Elaine Doolittle says
Many of the Disney stories come from classic fairy tales. Ariel, for example comes from Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid, so why not look for a beautifully illustrated version of the classic to read along with the Disney version. Do a compare and contrast.
My son is still young, and not quite a reader at age 6, but I addressed the book selection (and what I think of as his terrible choices) by instituting a policy that everyone has a limit that is the same as their age. He can check out any 6 books he wants, and I can use as many of my 32 books to get children’s books we actually want to read. This also helps with him not wanting to return things. I return the kid’s books I picked out on my schedule, but he can’t check out new materials until he releases his death-grip on what he brought home last week. This really helped me relax about the character books—or the 6 Lego Star Wars encyclopedias he has checked out right now. He also thought it was a big deal to turn from 5 to 6 and get an extra book, it was a built-in birthday present.
I’m not sure how this will all work out when he does his own reading at home instead of me having so much input on what actually gets read, but for now it’s working great for us.
My son is in 7th grade and a voracious reader, do you have any great resources for vetting teen novels so I can make sure he’s not reading anything really inappropriate? I’ve used commonsense media but I’m wondering what else is out there that I could look up quickly while we’re in the library.
Janssen Bradshaw says
Hmm, I don’t have any recommendations, but I’ll start looking into it! Thanks for the great question.
Someone recently told me about Good book mom. You won’t necessarily be able to find every book on there, but it is helpful
Jessica Wagner says
These ideas are very helpful! I’ve been taking my kiddos to the library since they were infants and now my oldest (6 years old) is quite adept at finding the character books. She has her own card so those get checked out on that while mine is reserved for the better quality books. I really dislike limiting her options because they are motivating her to begin sounding things out for herself and I can understand why she’s drawn to the books in the first place. ( I would have been too as a child if I’m being honest 😉 ) I do make sure to read better quality books during our read alouds! I think balance is important and fully believe that she will find better books when she’s a little more mature.
Another great idea: Ask your librarian for recommendations! As a librarian, I LOVE helping parents and kids find books that interest them. It is one of the best and most magical parts of our job, so please ask! We are itching to put great books into the hands of readers.
I’d also recommend browsing the curated displays. A lot of time and thought are put into displays so it is guaranteed you’ll find something great there.
Kim Lambert says
These first few tips make no sense to me at all. I guess I am lucky to have always lived near great libraries. (Yay, Massachusetts!) Our consortium is 36 great libraries strong. I did not know that any library charged for a card. I always wondered why people would ask how much a card cost. I just tell them, “It’s all free! Just a Ben Franklin intended.”
When families return books, I always ask them for recommendations. They can fill out a card with their first name and grade level and put the card in the book the book on our recommendations display. I have another display for parents and “Mystery Readers” too.