early childhood Preschool Article:
How To Choose A Picture Book

An award winning author, Ellen Jackson, offers advice that early childhood teachers can give to parents about choosing good picture books for preschool children. 




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How To Choose A Picture Book by Ellen Jackson

Ellen Jackson worked for many years as a preschool and kindergarten teacher. She is currently the award winning author of more than fifty books for children.  Visit Ellen's web page at: www.ellenjackson.net

People need stories and books to help them make sense of the world - and children are no exception.  Books can be a wonderful way for parents and children to share feelings, concerns, and emotions.  For a child, nothing can be as safe and cozy as reading a special book with Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa and learning something about the world at the same time.

Children who love books at an early age are likely to love them when they are older too.  But choosing the right book for a preschool child can sometimes seem like a difficult task.

The first thing you should know is that there are no rules to follow in choosing a book.  Any book your child likes is the right one for him or her. But if you want to expand your child's horizons, you may need some help.  The following is meant as a general guideline to help you find appropriate, quality books that will interest your particular child.



A good story for preschool children should have a fast moving plot and an up-beat ending (even if the story deals with a difficult subject). Ask yourself these questions:

Will you enjoy reading this book to your child?  If you like the book, chances are good that you will communicate your enthusiasm to your child.

Is the book preachy or teachy?  While a story may have a theme that makes a child think, a good book is never written to convey a message.

A good book should avoid all bias - age bias, gender bias racial bias.

Does the book feature a cartoon character or have a movie or television tie-in?  Books such as these are often written for commercial reasons and may not be the best choice for your child.

Is the language rhythmical and imaginative?  Try reading a few paragraphs aloud.  The words should flow smoothly and the sentences should be easy to read.

Is the story one that your child might like to hear over and over again?

Is the plot surprising or predictable?  Is the story funny?  Do the characters solve a problem in an unusual way?  In other words, is the book interesting and fun?

Picture books are usually a child's first introduction to art.  Will the style of the illustrations appeal to your child?  (If you aren't sure, bring home library books with different styles and see which ones your child likes.)


Nonfiction books for young children cover a wide range of topics.  Some help children deal with a common problem-a new baby in the house, the first day of school, the death of a pet, etc.  Others provide basic information about science, sports and other topics.  A good nonfiction book takes a child on an exciting journey of discovery.

Questions to consider:

Is the writing clear and straightforward?  Is the topic one that will interest your child?

Do the pictures expand and augment the text?

Who is the author?  Does he or she have special knowledge about the subject of the book?

Is the language interesting and vivid?  Nonfiction books should never be boring and dull.

Are just a few facts given on each page?  Nonfiction books sometimes overwhelm a young child with more information than he or she can handle.


Ask the librarian or bookstore owner to recommend a book for your preschool child. Be prepared to name some special interests of your child.  Ask the librarian or bookstore owner why she recommended a particular book.  She should be able to give you a reason: "It has a wonderful ending."  "The illustrations are great and the story makes kids laugh."

Read the book yourself before buy it or taking it home.  Trust your judgment.  If the book doesn't seem right for you and your child, leave it on the shelf and choose another one.

Librarians and bookstore owners can give you information about award winning books.  But take this information with a grain of salt.  Some awards are given mostly for the illustrations, and the story may not be as appealing as the artwork.  No matter how many award a book has won, it may not be right for you.


GREAT BOOKS FOR PRESCHOOL CHILDREN - (some personal favorites)

The Stray Dog by Marc Simont
A touching book about a family that finds a scruffy, stray dog in the park.  A wonderful example of the way an illustrator can enhance a story through pictures.

If You Give a Mouse A Cookie by Laura Numeroff
A funny book of zany cause and effect.  This is a surefire winner with children, who will want to hear it read over and over.

The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
A simple tale of a boy who wakes up to find that his world is draped in snow.  A book that has stood the test of time and still evokes a winter wonderland.

Leo The Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus
A story about a boy who's behind in nearly everything.  Read this book to children who can't do the things their friends or siblings can do.

Officer Buckle and Gloria by Peggy Rathmann
A hilarious book with wonderful character.  This book tells the story of Officer Buckle who gives deadly dull presentations to schoolchildren about safety - until Gloria, the police dog, comes along.

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin
A story about cows who want to improve their working conditions.  The author has included a few big words for children to learn, but children seem to love the story anyway.

Olivia by Ian Falconer
Olivia is a high - energy pig who combs her ears and hates to take a nap. Another laugh-out-loud book with wonderful illustrations.

Julius the Baby of the World by Kevin Henkes
A great book for children with a new baby in the house.  Henkes captures all the emotions of a big sister whose parents pay too much attention to the new arrival.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
A very hungry caterpillar eats his way through various food items and the pages of the book itself.  Twelve million copies of this book have been sold and children still seem to love it.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad, No Good Day by Judity Viorst
This book is the remedy for children of all ages who have horrible, no good, rotten days.

Gayle's Note:
A annotated list of 100 Great Picture Books is in the Rainbow Resource Room

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