Good kids books are out there, and other stories (Pt 2)

 In the first part of this two-part series, I looked at common, oft-repeated stories based on scary, freaky and downright depressing rhymes and tales from way back when. This follow-up intends to give you some alternatives, both local and international.

To begin with, remember that there are no fixed rules to choosing a good book for your child. Any book your child likes could be the right one. (I used to love to ‘yead’ birthday cake cookbooks as a toddler!)

But books do fall into three basic levels:

  1. those the child can read alone,
  2. those the child can read with an adult, and
  3. those an adult must read to the child.

Here are some basic things to look for as you help kids to choose ‘good books’:

Good kids books for Infants & Toddlers (birth to 2)

  • Books with big, colourful pictures of familiar day-to-day objects
  • Durable books made of cardboard, plastic or washable cloth
  • Books that appeal to the senses, with fabric, textures or scents
  • Stories told in short, simple sentences with pictures that explain
  • Poems and rhymes that are enjoyable for parents to read aloud

Note: This last one is a biggie for me. That’s why I love Doctor Seuss (the shorter ones, not the 80-page epics). Having said that, even a non-rhyming story can be fun to read, like Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, Monkey Puzzle or Tyrannosaurus Drip.

Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

Good Kids Books for Pre-Schoolers (aged 3 to 5)

  • Main characters who are your child’s age or even slightly older
  • Illustrations and photos that are clear, colourful and engaging
  • Simple, fun plots that move quickly so the book can be read in one sitting
  • Lively rhymes and repetition that children can repeat/remember
  • Stories, about everyday life and events, that encourage questions
  • Stories that review basic concepts: letters, numbers, shapes, colours
  • Playful animals, real and imaginary, that hold a child’s attention

Note: Aged 3, my daughter is now returning to favourite books from when she was a ‘baby’, because she’s seeing things in them she never noticed before: details, jokes, aspects of her own life. They also seem to feel to her like old, familiar friends.

Good kids books for Young Readers (aged 6 to 11)

  • Clear text that is easy to read
  • Colourful, attractive illustrations and photos that bring the text to life
  • Pictures that give clues to the meaning of unfamiliar words
  • How-to, craft and recipe books with simple instructions and illustrations
  • Books by authors/illustrators who are already your child’s favourites
  • Books featuring your child’s favorite characters – from movies or TV
  • Chapter books that can be read over a few days, not in only one sitting

Good kids books

Note: Yes, you should opt for books that appeal to your child’s interests. But an interesting tip I picked up is to choose books that aren’t obvious choices for your child. My little girl loves ballet, animals and birthday parties, but she likes reading about diggers, cranes and dinosaurs. She also enjoys ‘reading’ non-fiction, like the Guinness Book of World Records. And the Mr Price Home winter catalogue.

And, just in case you’d like specifics, below are some recommended book lists:

Award-winning SA good kids books:

  1. Ashraf of Africa – Ingrid Mennen & Niki Daly / Nicolaas Maritz
  2. Fly, Eagle, Fly! – Christopher Gregorowski / Niki Daly
  3. Fynbos Faeries – Antjie Krog (& Gus Ferguson) / Fiona Moodie
  4. Just Sisi – Wendy Hartmann / Joan Rankin
  5. Makwelane and the Crocodile – Maria Hendriks / Piet Grobler
  6. Nina and Little Duck – Wendy Hartmann / Marjorie van Heerden
  7. Not So Fast, Songololo – Niki Daly
  8. Siyolo’s Jersey – Mari Grobler / Elizabeth Pulles
  9. The Best Meal Ever – Sindiwe Magona / Paddy Bouma
  10. The Day Gogo Went To Vote – Elinor Batezat Sisulu / Sharon Wilson

Source: Gorry Bowes Taylor’s List of Award Winning Children’s Books

NY Times top sellers

Source: New York Times‘ List of Best Selling Picture Books for Kids

What have I left out? What’s your child’s favourite book? Do you have a book you loved as a child that you’ve read to your child? I’d love to hear from you.

This article was originally written for Jozikids by Tiffany Markman in 2014.

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Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman

Tiffany Markman is a copywriter, speaker, trainer and mom. She was South Africa’s Freelance Copywriter of the Year in 2020 and one of the world’s ‘Top 50 Female Content Marketers’ in 2021, but she's still working on securing an award for her Mommying. She likes her coffee strong and black, her paragraphing short and tight, and her apostrophes in all the right places. Visit her website.

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2 Responses

  1. Here's the second in my two-part series on good books for kids. Have a read and let me know what you think. What was your fave title as a kid? What book/s does your kid/s love?

  2. Here's a list of the books my children could not put down:
    From 10yrs:
    – The Lion boy trilogy by Zizou Corder ( incredible, for parents too)
    – Eva Ibbotson’s books, especially The Dragonfly Pool.
    – Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan

    -The Diary of Wimpy Kids series
    – Roald Dahl kids stories
    – Sally Gardner’s Magical kids series ( fabulous!)

    – So Much! by Trish Cooke and Helen Oxenbury ( one of my all time favourites – written like a rap song)
    – Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
    – The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. ( all his books are great)
    – Ezra Jack Keats : A letter to Amy or Whistle for Willie

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