Books make great gifts for kids, but it's important to find reading material that fits a child's interests, maturity, and reading level. Before you set off to the bookstore or library, here are some guidelines.
Babies and Toddlers
Until kids are about 2 years old, think tactile and short. Thick board books with bright colors, bold yet simple pictures, and few words are ideal. These books may include interactive elements, such as parts that move, items that invite touching, and mirrors.
Books with different textures, fold-out books, or vinyl or cloth books also are appropriate for babies and toddlers. Books that can be propped up or wiped clean are excellent choices. Look for books about bedtime, baths, or mealtime or about saying hello or goodbye, especially if they're illustrated with photos of children. And if peek-a-boo is your little one's favorite game, books with flaps are a perfect choice.
Many older toddlers (2- and 3-year-olds) start to understand how reading works and will love repetitive or rhyming books that let them finish sentences or "read" to themselves. From colors to numbers to how to get dressed, older toddlers love books that reinforce what they are learning every day. And if you have a budding ballerina or animal enthusiast on your hands, look for books about these (or other) passions.
Around the time kids are 3 or 4, they start to enjoy books that tell stories. Their increasing attention spans and ability to understand more words make picture books with more complicated plots a good choice. Stories with an element of fantasy, from talking animals to fairies, will spark their imagination, as will books about distant times and places.
Try nonfiction books about a single topic of interest that the child likes. Since many kids this age are learning the alphabet and numbers, books with letters and counting are ideal. Those dealing with emotions, manners, or going to school can help kids navigate some of the tricky transitions that happen during this time.
Electronic books (e-books) are becoming more common these days. There isn't enough research yet to know their full impact on reading development and comprehension. But whether your child is reading a traditional book or an e-book, it's important to stay close. There is no substitute for your presence and for quality parent-child conversation.
For kids entering school and starting to read, look for easy-to-read books with vocabularies they know so that they can read them independently. Many book publishers indicate the reading level of books on the cover and may include a key to help you understand those different levels. You can also choose books that are above a child's reading level to read aloud.
Look for books that relate to kids' interests but also encourage exploration of new interests through reading about unfamiliar subjects. For example, if a child is interested in cowboys, look for books that talk about the days of the Wild West, what cowboys are like today, or historical fiction set in the 19th century.
Kids this age might like reading with an e-reader, and choosing e-books is really no different from picking a traditional book. Consider the child's interests and reading level. When young kids use e-readers, parents should still be nearby to talk about the book and help extend the child's thinking about what was read.
Kids of All Ages
All kids love to giggle, so books of silly poems, jokes, or songs are sure to be a hit. Collections of fairy tales, children's stories, poetry, or nursery rhymes offer a wide variety within a single book. Wordless books with imaginative illustrations can be fun even for kids who know how to read. Looking at pictures and creating a story develops imagination and broad thinking.
And don't forget the books and stories you loved as a child. Chances are, you had good reasons to love them — and your kids will, too.