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Which children’s books are valuable?

Since I became a mother, I’ve constantly asked myself which children’s books are valuable. I’ve read to my little girl since she was the size of a pea in my tummy and it wasn’t long before I’ve learned to distinguish a “good” book from one that brings no value.

I am going to share with you everything that I discovered over time,  basically everything that you should keep in mind when buying books for your children. So that the next time you pop in to a book shop, either offline or on the www., you know exactly which children’s books are valuable.

Which children's books are valuable

Never underestimate the power of a well written children’s book

1. Children’s books are meant to educate

The educational aspect of a book is extremely important when you buy one for your child. Think about this feature especially when you want to make the most of it, like, let’s say, when your child is learning her first words or learning to read. I will always remember my little girl’s first word that wasn’t “mama”. She learned it from a brilliant picture book from Usborne, she pointed to an image of a ladybird (in Romanian: “buburuza”) and she repeated after me, with her sweet, little voice, “bubu”. I was thrilled! Btw, we have a large collection of books from Usborne, I highly recommend them, especially if your child is still a baby, the quality of printing is exceptional and the illustrations are big, bright and simple – exactly what they need at this age.

When it comes to learning language, books are a fantastic vehicle. They expose children to a wide variety of words and grammatical constructions and they facilitate building the connection between letters and spoken words – thus, children make the first steps towards learning to read.

On a side note, another aspect of books that is really important is how they help children relate to their surroundings. Children gather information from books and apply them to contexts from the real world. It’s a fantastic way for their constantly-growing brains to make sense of the world. A study published on “Frontiers in Psychology” explains more in depth the educational feature of books.

 “One goal of educational book-sharing interactions is for children to build generalizable knowledge they can learn and transfer outside of storybooks to everyday situations.”

2. Illustrations are extremely important

When choosing a children’s book, think about words and pictures as a whole. Think about it as a magical spell that wouldn’t work without these two properly merging. You risk your child being turned into a frog instead of a charming reader. Nobody would want that.

I’ve noticed that “commercial” illustrations seem to be every parent’s cup of tea. Beautiful, yet not meaningful. I believe that pictures are as important as the text. That the bond between words and images is so strong, that it has the power to make a volcano erupt or a house fly up to the clouds. And, interestingly enough, children, particularly on their early ages, don’t think about characters as being invented. They just are. The Gruffalo is as real as the neighbour’s cat. And, as the saying goes, “an image is worth a thousand words,” some illustrations just speak for themselves. That’s why you can see your child skipping pages just so they can get to THAT image they love the most, where the story reaches its climax. They might not know how to read, but they sure can “read” an extraordinary picture. So make sure you choose carefully illustrated books, maybe have a look at this list of one of my favourites illustrations to help you out a bit.

3. Bringing value by soothing and helping

Which children’s books are valuable? I’ve learned that one of the most precious traits a book might have is the therapeutic one. Yes, stories can heal (I’ve actually run a crowdfunding campaign with this title, have a look here if you want to be a supporter, yaay). Words have an amazing power of soothing, they are a universal remedy against boredom, sadness, anger, hatred, bullying and any other mental issues that might cross your mind. Not only that children’s books have the power to educate, but they have the power to HELP. To help children face adversities and overcome trauma and challenges that are otherwise so hard to cope with.

Psychologists use stories when treating depression and other mental disorders of both children and adults. Symbols used in stories are extremely compelling and they work on a deep subconscious level. We can plant a seed of kindness, for instance, by reading a well-written therapeutic story. We can explain to children why there is so much injustice in the world or we can make sure they understand difficult concepts such as “jealousy” or “generosity.” Either way, stories make such challenges or concepts easier to understand by their little minds.

4. Interactivity is equally important

I hesitated whether to put this on the list, because it’s not a mandatory feature. Extraordinary stories have been created that are simply… stories, nothing fancy. However, I’ve noticed that books that are made of beautiful, harmonious combinations of words and music, for instance, are absolutely fabulous. Not to mention that they keep a child truly engaged. Ilinca, my three-year-old, has recently discovered “The Bear the Piano,” by David Litchfield, whose pages have buttons she can use to play real sounds made by a piano. It’s fantastic! She keeps on asking me to read it on bedtime, although I frequently find her randomly pressing the buttons now and then. It has been a perfect introduction to the world of music and she’s so proud whenever she identifies the sound of a piano.

So I’d say that interactive books are a brilliant combination of stories, images and something more – like that extra pinch of salt that makes the soup extra delicious. Pop up books and lift-the-flap books are another good example. We used dozens of these when she was a baby. Absolutely magical!

Alright, these are my answers to the question “which children’s books are valuable?”, they helped me gather a beautiful and meaningful collection of books for my little girl. I find inspiration in these stories as well, so it’s a win-win. Who says grown-ups can’t read stories for children?

What are your guidelines when buying children’s books?

Cristina Guraliuc storyteller

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