One of the keys to cultivating a strong and engaged reader is obvious but often overlooked: finding books your child will love. And the key to finding those books? Letting your child choose.
I was six years old when I read my first chapter book. It was called Striped Ice Cream by Joan M. Lexau. I vividly remember choosing it from the library shelf. The color was the same shade as the strawberry flavor in Neapolitan ice cream. (Apropos, indeed.) That was what drew my eyes to the book. Then the cover of the book had a picture of a mother and daughter sitting in a chair together, reading. It wasn’t just that it was a mother and daughter, but that they were African American. That sealed the deal.
Growing up in rural West Virginia, I actually didn’t know any African American families. But when I saw the cover of Striped Ice Cream, it reminded me of the only African American family I knew—the Evans family. At that time in my life, my favorite TV show was “Good Times.” I loved that family, and for reasons not entirely obvious, I felt like they were very similar to my own.
I remember loving that book. I was so proud to carry it around and have adults comment on the fact that I was reading a chapter book in first grade. As it turned out, the story resonated with me in ways that I’m not sure my parents would have guessed. I chose it because I identified with the cover and sitting with my own mother and reading, but what was inside was very personal to me.
I’m a big believer in the library. Take your kids to the library and let them choose their own books. Let them spend as much time as possible just sifting through the books. If you have suggestions, by all means, make them. But don’t feel as if you have to steer your child one way or the other. Let your child choose. It’s okay for children to judge a book by its cover—that just might be all it takes to get them started on their first chapter book.
Do you remember your first chapter book? Tell us about it!