The books we read as children have the power to change us. They transport us to faraway places, and return us safely home. The characters can seem as real to us as our own family and friends, and we laugh and cry along with them. Here are some ways to ensure young readers on your shopping list get their hands on the perfect book.
1. If you don't have much time to search, look for books with award stickers on them. Dedicated committees of librarians spend a lot of time selecting the cream of the crop so you don't have to.
2. Pass along the books that you loved growing up. These are very often still in print, and often with updated covers. This is also a great way to bring you and your young reader closer.
3. For young children, bring them with you to the library or bookstore, and let them sample a few different types of picture books to see what art styles appeal to them the most.
4. Don't pass over classics like "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," "Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry" or "To Kill A Mockingbird." Just because you've seen them your whole life, doesn't mean a child has.
5. Look for books that deal with the particular stage of life of your reader—everything from learning to share to dealing with bullies to relationship issues.
6. Describe your young reader's interests, hobbies, and reading level to a children's librarian or bookseller, and ask for appropriate recommendations. If browsing online, put the child's interests into the search option of BN.com or Amazon.com and read reviews from kids on what comes up.
7. Take your older children to the bookstore with you and give them the freedom to pick for themselves, without judgment on their selections.
8. If you have a reluctant reader and are going on a trip this holiday season, try an audiobook. Perfect for long car rides, they can also be downloaded onto computers and mp3 players.
When you give children a book, you are handing them a whole new world. What better gift is there than that?
Wendy Mass is the author of six books for young readers, including the award-winning "A Mango-Shaped Space" and "Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life."
For book ideas visit www.rif.org/educators/books/african_american_experience.mspx.