Sunday, March 29, 2009


I just got a copy of Pam Allyn's new book on choosing books for kids called WHAT TO READ WHEN: THE BOOKS AND STORIES TO READ WITH YOUR CHILD AND ALL THE BEST TIMES TO READ THEM. I came home from my perfect beach vacation and was thrilled to see this book in my pile of mail. I spent hours with the book last night--instead of doing the laundry I should have been doing from the trip! This book couldn't come at a better time for the Kidlitosphere with the Share a Story Campaign-Shape a Future having just happened! Jen Robinson and others have been busy working to encourage read aloud.

In Pam Allyn's introduction to WHAT TO READ WHEN, she says, "The same way we choose foods to suit our moods--hot soup on a cold winter's night, spicy ribs for a family picnic--we long to choose the 'just right' books that will match the moments we find ourselves in with our children."

Pam talks about the important role books played in her childhood and the important place reading and sharing books has in her relationship with her daughters.

When I think back to my own childhood and the books that have been saved, I know my mother had the same thinking--I have a book about moving day, one about bad days, one about becoming a big sister. My mother-a teacher-also knows the power of story and conversation --the right book at the right time. As a mother, I find myself looking for books that will help my daughters make sense of the things they are working through. Books have been critical to me in the way I see the world and I want that for kids. That is one of the reasons I am thrilled to see this book.

So often, the only way that "just right" books are defined is by reading level. For so long, we have almost forgotten other reasons that a book can be "just right" and in this book, Pam Allyn reminds us that books are about more than reading development.

The book covers a lot for parents. Part I of the book is dedicated to "The Power of Read Aloud"--why we need to read aloud to our kids and how to do it well. Part II focuses on great read alouds for every age. Pam shares her understanding of child development and the kinds of books kids love at different ages and stages.

Finally, Part III is titled, "The Emotional 'When': Fifty Essential Themes". In it are booklists that match so many moments in life--both big and small. Included themes are Birthdays, Being Yourself, Falling Asleep, Death, Loneliness, Adoption, Bath Time, and more. For each of these themes, Pam gives us a great list of books--including old favorites as well as great new titles. She gives us summaries of the books as well as talking points and questions to start discussions with our kids. I can't begin to tell you what a resource this is.

One of my favorite pieces of the book is Pam's answers to Parents' Frequently Asked Questions. She answers the important questions we hear over and over, including:
"Should I still be reading aloud to my child after he or she is reading independently?"
"Should I give rewards to my child for reading?"
"I know my child can read Harry Potter because he can sound out alll the words on the page. So why does he seem unable to finish the book?"

This book will be a must-have resource for parents, teachers and librarians. I am very excited to have it--after owning it for less than 24 hours, it already looks a bit worn--tabs, notes and post-its everywhere! I will be going back to this one often!


  1. My kids never read Harry Potter. They read Anime, Graphic Novels, Vampire stories, just not HP. Sometimes reading is like a favorite pair of jeans, you just have to find the right fit.

    Just my .02

  2. Sounds great! Thanks for sharing...

  3. I am so happy to see someone questioning reading level as the only strategy for matching kids with books. Kids read pictures (visual literacy), captions, chapter titles etc... Tougher books make wonderful read alouds, and then the day comes when kids pick up their favorite read alouds and begin reading them independently. Favorite books are like friends.

  4. Thanks for the recommendation of "What to Read When". I love the idea of reading specific books to my children with specific moods or ideas in mind. When my daughter was going through potty training, we read books about potty training. She also loves animals, and so our shelves are filled with animal books. Also, lately my son has been sleepwalking, you sparked an idea for me. My next search will be books on children sleepwalking. Thanks so much.

  5. This looks like a new book that I want to check out. My little boys are just three and almost two so sounds like a good one to get now.


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