If you want to get your kids books for the new school year but aren’t sure how to choose, University of Florida education professor Katie Caprino has tips for picking a winner.
Caprino teaches children’s literature to future educators, sharing her favorites with parents and teachers on her blog, Katie Reviews Books. She offered these suggestions for pleasing all types of readers:
- Look for Interactivity
In books like “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!” and “We Are in a Book!,” Caldecott Award-winner Mo Willems brings the reader into the action. Caprino loves Willems’ latest, “Nanette’s Baguette,” as a read-aloud for adults and kids to share.
“There’s a relationship between the text and the reader, so it can be read aloud in a way that’s inviting and exciting,” she said.
- Try the Caprino Test
“My litmus test is if the illustrations are so beautiful that I want to rip the book apart and frame the pages on my wall, that’s a great book,” Caprino said. “Of course, I don’t actually rip books apart.”
If the illustrations in a picture book move you, go with your gut. Can’t make it to a brick-and-mortar bookstore to flip through the pages? Gilbert Ford’s luminous blue and purple illustrations in Kathryn Gibbs Davis’ “Mr. Ferris and His Wheel” get Caprino’s seal of approval for early readers, as do Kenard Pak’s watercolors for Rita Gray’s “Flowers Are Calling.”
- Lure Reluctant Readers with Graphic Novels
If you think graphic novels are all superhero boom-pow, take another look. Not only can they be pithy and provocative, but they can also build reading confidence. For middle grades, Caprino recommends Raina Telgemeier’s “Ghosts,” which tackles illness, moving to a new place and, yes, ghosts.
- Change It Up with Verse
Books in verse aren’t just for little kids — they’re great for middle grades and young adults, too.
“A big book can be less intimidating when it’s broken up into chunks of verse,” she said.
She counts the freeform poetry of “Inside Out and Back Again,” Thanhha Lai’s semi-autobiographical tale of a 10-year-old girl settling in Alabama after fleeing Vietnam, as one of her favorites.
For older kids, Kwame Alexander’s “Booked” ventures into divorce, first love and bullies.
- Don’t Overlook Nonfiction Books
True stories can be as fun as fiction. For younger readers, try the Golden Gate origin story “This Bridge Will Not Be Gray” by Dave Eggers or author/illustrator Melissa Sweet’s “Balloons over Broadway” about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Sweet even manages to make the backstory of a reference book riveting, Caprino said, with the lavish illustrations paired with author Jen Bryant’s story in “The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.”