Parents, authors, illustrators, and other experts offer their tips for encouraging a love of books and share their suggestions for titles kids just can't resist.
Success Story: Start a Family Book Talk
What gets kids jazzed about books? For Cole and Owen Steinmetz, ages 9 and 6, of Yuma, Arizona, it's the weekly family discussion that takes reading out of the classroom and puts it on the family couch. "The boys get excited about sharing their books," says mom Eliana, who joins in the discussion with husband Todd. Recently, Cole has talked about The Underland Chronicles series, by Suzanne Collins, while Owen has discussed the Magic Tree House books, by Mary Pope Osborne. Hearing what his brother, mom, and dad are reading "makes me smarter," says Cole. And there are laughs, adds Owen: "I like telling about the funny parts in my books."
Is it just our kids, or do yours also read in the darndest positions: hanging off the couch, sprawled on the floor, draped across chairs? Snap a pic next time they're reading like a contortionist and post it on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter with #CatchThemReading.
Expert Tips: How to Read Wordless Books
Aaron Becker, the Caldecott Honor-winning author-illustrator of the picture books Journey and Quest, offers these tips for sharing books without words.
- Before you begin, remind yourself that the goal is not to tell your kids a story, it's to discover one -- together.
- As you and your kids look at the first page, start with this basic question: What do you see? Get the obvious out of the way. Then ask, What else do you see? Get the kids hunting for clues.
- Encourage them to become active participants. Ask questions, such as How do you think (a character) is feeling? At moments of tension, ask, What would you do?
- Take your time. Without a script to follow, it's easy to rush, but don't! You'll miss out on the most rewarding part of sharing a wordless book: allowing your child to discover a story of her very own.
What Are Your Kids Crazy About?
Whether it's exotic fish or space travel, lacrosse or origami, your local library is a great resource for nurturing kids' curiosity about their latest passions.
Success Story: Set a Reading Incentive
As part of her son Rowan's pre-K program, Heather Olesheski of Johnsburg, New York, tracked his reading in a notebook. Rowan, now age 6, loved seeing the list of books grow longer, and as he and his brother, Ryder, 4, became avid readers, they asked Heather and her husband, Peter, to set a reading goal for them for 2014. "We challenged them to read 1,000 books," says Heather. The Olesheskis also threw in an incentive: they would contribute one penny for every book that the boys read, to be donated to a cause that encourages reading. The boys picked their local library. After hearing about the challenge on Facebook or from the boys, nine other sponsors -- family and friends -- joined in, with a few donating a nickel per book. Each night, the Olesheskis read five or six books together and recorded the title and author in the notebook. The motivation to hit 1,000 books, says Heather, inspired the boys to seek out new authors and genres, including lots of nonfiction. "Every book was different!" says Rowan. At the end of August, Rowan and Ryder reached their goal and presented a check for $230 to the library. Their reading record won't last for long: Heather reports that for 2015, they're shooting for 2,000 books!
Favorite Digital Books
The New Kid on the Block: Former children's poet laureate Jack Prelutsky adds all kinds of irresistibly wacky details -- including an animated likeness of himself -- to this 17-poem digital adaptation of his anthology. In addition to meeting such funny characters as 40 dancing bananas and chili-eating Tillie, kids can see visual representations of words and their meaning (tapping "steaming" causes vapor to rise from Tillie's ears, for example). Ages 6 to 10 $4.99, iOS
Piccadilly's Circus: Step right up and behold the outstanding animation in this storybook app about a tent full of circus animals vying to fill in for their sick ringmaster. Kids can have a hand in the hilarity by tapping on the screen to trigger animations (monkeys making mischief in the concession stand) and sound effects (the ringmaster's exuberant sneezing). Ages 3 to 7 $2.99, iOS
Nosy Crow Fairy Tales: Four classics -- Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, Jack and the Beanstalk, and Cinderella -- get a modern makeover. Crisp animation and sumptuous backgrounds distinguish the art, while dialogue balloons and games enliven the text. Ages 6 to 10 $4.99 each, iOS
9 Picks From 3 Experts
Spectacular Picture Books
By Alexandra Kennedy, executive director of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and mom of two boys
The Wall: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain, written and illustrated by Peter Sis
Part picture book, part graphic novel, The Wall presents Sis's riveting account of growing up in Cold War-era Czechoslovakia, telling the tale through his distinctive, detailed drawings, as well as journals, a map, and photography. Ages 8 and up $18.99, mackids.com
The Garden of Abdul Gasazi, written and illustrated by Chris Van Allsburg
The groundbreaking first title from the creator of Jumanji and The Polar Express tells the story of a boy, a dog, and a magician, rendered in pencil drawings so detailed, you can't help but be pulled into their world. Ages 4 to 9 $18.95, hmhco.com
The Lion & the Mouse, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney
Master artist Jerry Pinkney reimagines this iconic fable in pencil and watercolor, creating a book as stunning as the Serengeti plains where it's set. Ages 3 to 8 $18, hachettebookgroup.com
Great Graphic Novels
By Jarrett Krosoczka, author and illustrator of the Lunch Lady graphic novel series and dad of two daughters
Bake Sale, written and illustrated by Sara Varon
In this world, the characters are food: a cupcake who runs a bakery, and his best friend, Eggplant. Cute and funny, the book offers recipes in the back that can lead later to kitchen fun. Ages 8 and up $16.99, amazon.com
Sidekicks, written and illustrated by Dan Santat
This may be a superhero tale (an aging Captain Amazing decides to hold auditions for a sidekick), but it's also about sibling rivalry and the meaning of family. The strong characters, action, and humor are evocative of a Pixar movie. Ages 8 and up $12.99, amazon.com
Babymouse series, written by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
The plucky heroine always seems to come up short in life, so kids relate to her. The books are quick reads (under 100 pages), but with 18 in the series, the adventures keep coming. Ages 7 and up $6.99, randomhouse.com
Knockout Nonfiction Books
By Ellen Harter Wall, FamilyFun senior associate editor, former children's librarian, and mom of three boys
Information Graphics series, including Human Body, written by Simon Rogers
The modern, bold graphics of these books will grab kids right from the cover; the fascinating facts inside will keep them hooked (for instance: your face is made up of 14 bones, including the jawbone, the hardest in your body). Ages 6 to 10 $17.99 each, amazon.com
Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World: The Extraordinary True Story of Shackleton and the Endurance, written by Jennifer Armstrong
This epic retelling of Shackleton's Antarctic voyage has all the page-turning, nail-biting, edge-of-the-seat intrigue of a good novel. But it's a true story, and for some kids, that's all they want to read. Ages 8 and up $12.99, amazon.com
Animalium, written by Jenny Broom, illustrated by Katie Scott
Reminiscent of classic Audubon volumes, this oversize book pairs gorgeous pen-and-ink illustrations with intriguing facts about exotic birds, primates, insects, and more. Ages 6 and up $35, amazon.com
Originally published in the February 2015 issue of FamilyFun magazine.