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'Best Books For Children'

At last, good news for parents! You don't need to teach your child to read if you want a good reader. Raise a child who loves books and the reading will follow.

Valerie Lewis, co-author of "Valerie & Walter's Best Books for Children," visited The Early Show to share ideas on how to find books the whole family will love.

The comprehensive list of books she recommends in this children's literature reference book are cross-referenced in a number of ways: thematic, grade levels, out-of-print books, and more.

"Your job is to teach your child to love books," Lewis says. "The reading will come naturally. It will come when your child goes to school. If there's a problem with learning to read, you'll figure it out. Love of books is really more than teaching your child to read. Love of books is teaching them that there is something that they can grab and it can take them anywhere they want to go,"

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She believes that parents feel a lot of pressure to teach their kids to read at an early age and that creates unnecessary stress and expectations. And, most importantly, it takes the joy away from reading. Joy and pleasure are what's important.

"Don't use reading as a punishment," cautions Valerie. "Don't say, 'If you don't do ……you can't read tonight.'" You don't want kids to equate books with good and bad behavior.

Read an excerpt.

How To Select A Book

Lewis says, "I like to let the child pick his own book. We all choose books that appeal to us for sometimes unknown reasons."

She's a big fan of regular trips to the library. You can pick out a wide variety of books and if you've picked out books that don't work, you haven't made a huge financial investment. Libraries offer opportunities for complete freedom in book selection.

Says Lewis, "Let the kids choose for themselves and use those books as teachers. You can learn about your kid by looking at what they are choosing."

  • Cover. Lewis does adhere to the "don't judge a book by its cover" philosophy. You have to open the book and read a few pages to see what the book is really about.
  • Inside Flap. You can't really use this to decide about a book, because it isn't written by the author.
  • Illustrations. Lewis says, "Illustrations are appealing and they may be what make you pick up a book, but they won't necessarily give the book lasting appeal.
  • Text. Lewis says, "A good book will work for everyone." The text is the most important factor in choosing a book. It's what is going to give the book staying power. Read different pages and see if it appeals to you. Avoid thinking that if you don't like the book, the kids will. If a book works for you, it will work for your kids."
Age-Appropriate Books:

Many books are categorized and have age recommendations on them. "There is no such thing as a 9-year-old book," says Lewis. She is adamant that we not pigeon-hole kids by age.

She says, "There are too many things that factor into what a child wants in a book, and all kids are different. You really need to know your child. There are 4-year-olds who can't sit for very long, and then there are 4-year-olds who can sit for a long time listening to a story. What does your child respond to? Is it the rhythm and sound of the words? Is it the illustrations? Is it the story? Spend time reading together and you'll learn to select the right books for your child."

Inappropriate Books For The Kids:

Lewis is very big on learning to trust the kids. If they pick books they hate, it's easy enough to take them back to the library and explain there are better books for them.

But if your child picks a book that you feel they're not ready for, go ahead and take the book away. After all, you are the parent. Tell the child that it's a book for when they are a little older.

As for scary books, Lewis notes, "How many of us survived 'Hansel and Gretel?' First of all - the mother is dead and the stepmother doesn't like the kids. The father takes the kids and leaves them alone in the forest. The kids find their way back home and instead of being rewarded for being clever and finding the way home, the father waits until dark and takes them further into forest and leaves them again. The kids spend the night by themselves and the next morning find an amazing gingerbread house owned by a cannibalistic witch, who puts the brother in a cage to fatten him up. This forces the little girl to murder the witch by incineration and rescue the brother - all this so they can return home to an abusive father."

Lewis continues, "We survived it and we need to let our kids survive these things. Stories are all about resilience. You have to look at the stories from the perspective of the child. Kids see all these things happening to Hansel and Gretel and they see Hansel and Gretel surviving."

Lewis is concerned that "Hansel and Gretel" might not be published today because we are too protective of our kids. "Books are watered down so they don't cause any angst. We need to let kids discover that they will survive in difficult situations. One thing books are really good at is allowing kids to work out problems. It lets kids figure things out," she says.

If your child selects a book and you don't agree with the subject matter, Lewis says, "If there is a book you're not comfortable with and you are reading it WITH your child you can say, 'I don't agree with that.' In that moment, you are teaching the child what you believe and you are teaching them that you don't have to believe everything they read. Confronting books with subject matter you don't agree with works ten times better than banning a book."

Reading Aloud And Other Considerations:

Lewis is also concerned about our information age. She says, "We need to allow children time to ponder. Much of their lives (and ours) are spent in front of screens - the TV and computer.

Screens give information, but there is no time for pondering. Kids are growing up with images and information, but no time to conjure up their own images or reflect on the incoming information. Nothing helps combat those problems better than a book."

It's no surprise she is a big believer in reading to your child and with your child. Part of the value of reading is the time you spend together with your child. Her suggestions:

  • Read to your child
  • Let your child see you read
  • Listen to books on tape together
  • Have your child read to you
  • Let your child read to himself
  • Give your child a flashlight in bed
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