This article originally appeared in the July 9, 2009 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Books make great gifts for kids, but it's not always easy to find reading material that fits a child's interests, maturity, or reading level. Before you set off to the bookstore or library, here are some guidelines.
Until kids are about 2 years old, think tactile and short. Thick board books with bright colors; bold, 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, and vinyl or cloth books are also appropriate for babies and toddlers. Books that can be propped up or wiped clean are excellent choices.
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.
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.
For kids entering school and starting to read, look for easy-to-read books with words 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 that you can read to him or her.
And don't forget the books and stories you loved as a child. Chances are, you had good reasons to love them — and your child will, too.
Dr. Bob Wilmott is Chief of Pediatrics at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center and is a Professor of Pediatric Medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. If you have a question about your child’s health, go to the “Ask Dr. Bob” section of the Cardinal Glennon Web site at www.cardinalglennon.com.