How to Spot a Good Book (Even When You're Not a Life Coach)

grandma reading to young boy

Wanna spice up your next family gathering? Without even bringing up politics??

Okay, so it might not spark any heated debates (we hope!), but asking folks what messages they value in children’s books will elicit very personal answers.

For me, it’s books that feature compassion and thankfulness. For our founder Ellen, books that emphasize humor and a global awareness are important.

(Likewise, you can be sure that books promoting selfishness, disrespect, whining, etc. will generally go unread at our houses and then eventually land in the donation pile.)

What is it for your family? What are the common themes running through your most treasured stories? Creativity? Cooperation? Diversity? Sometimes the value is simply supporting each other's interests and sharing those through books, whether that's dinosaurs or ballerinas or monster trucks or outer space.

Whatever the case, each family has their own unique combination of both conscious and unconscious priorities. With each book we read together, we have the opportunity to communicate messages, perspectives, and ideas.

The difference between a great book and a mediocre one is whether the message is strong enough to reinforce those priorities or, at times, conflict with them.

I once read my kids a book about a domesticated wild animal that ran amok and ... well ... watch our video for more about that debacle. My kids and I were never the same after that one!

Books that clash with our priorities do have value however. They provide opportunities for parents and caregivers to have conversations that develop critical thinking (what went wrong?) and self-awareness (what’s making you uncomfortable?) and a chance to discuss what may have been a more appropriate way to handle a situation.

Great books have messages that make us think, lead to discussion, elicit emotion and reaction. (Another way to say it: Beware the books that don't leave you feeling anything!)

Great books aren't easy to find, but they're the secret to making reading fun and frequent. And while stories and illustrations often get the most attention, we definitely think the message is worth considering too.

And that's something everyone at the family gathering can agree on.

All this talk about values has gotten us curious. What are your family’s top two priorities when choosing children’s books? Don’t be shy! Tell us in the comments.

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