The International Literacy Association in partnership with the Children’s Book Council recently released the annual Children’s and Teen Choice Book Awards and its lists of books preferred by kids.* Each year for decades 12,500 youngsters from around the U.S. have participated in creating the lists by reading books and voting on their favorites—their choices. The lists offer consistently reliable selections for the most enjoyable children’s books published each year. Parents, caregivers, librarians, teachers, and other lovers of children’s books are encouraged to explore the lists to find current recommendations and perhaps discover the next children’s classic, like Charlotte’s Web or the Harry Potter series.
Making personal choices drives achievement
If you have read this blog before, you probably understand that my unwavering advice for supporting any child in learning to read and (eventually and more importantly in their choosing to becoming a lifelong learners through reading) is encouraging and guiding independence in making satisfying personal choices about what they read. Though well-chosen books by adults offer new readers opportunities for success in reading, growth comes not from providing them with phonics lessons, practice reading sessions, worksheets to complete. Personal growth in lifelong literacy comes from making sure that children are taught to confidently make personally rewarding book choices based on their own interests and curiosities. That must be followed by giving them reliably sufficient time for immersive reading and celebrating their selections. Finally, kids need full affirmation for their decisions through engagement in regular, casual conversation about what they discover in their reading choices.
“What do you like about your book?” is a perfect question to initiate such a conversation. Forget about “Who’s the main character?” or “What is the central idea?” Try, “Which character is most interesting to you?” or “What have you learned that you didn’t know before?” Note that each of these favored conversation starters has the word YOU in it, meaning that the ensuing conversation will be about the child’s rewarding experiences, not about them meeting academic standards.
Invited assistance versus unrequested help
Children requesting help pronouncing or understanding a word or a difficult sentence, or with “reading” a character’s unstated but implied motives, offers a powerful indication that they have chosen to give literacy a chance to be a part of their lives. That chance can be defeated if well-meaning adults interfere in their book choices with statements that particular books are too easy or too hard. Rather, teaching children that, any book can be a terrific choice, and if they don’t enjoy a book (for ANY reason), they can easily put it back and select another…then in future, pick the first choice up again and give it another go.
Allowing kids to choose what they read puts them at the center of their literacy learning lives, which is right where we hope they will forever choose to be.