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Choosing books for children

Verushka Louw, a children’s bookseller who works at an independent bookshop in Cape Town (The Book Lounge), tells us how important it is to choose the right book at the right time for children:

I was a library child. We moved around a lot when I was younger and I did not have many of my own books, so in each new town I soon got my new set of library cards. The libraries were mostly small buildings away from the main road that smelled like dust and furniture polish, but for me they were safe havens, castles against the storm. It turns out they were also the start of my career. I am half way through my second decade of selling books to children and there is still magic in every day.

I believe there is such a thing as reading the right book at the right moment; finding stories to shape your story. We are so spoilt at the moment with picture books: illustrators are giving us their best. The talent is unreal. I often say that picture books are your child’s first introduction to art. So pick wisely when you are buying or taking books out in the library, look for books with more challenging illustrations, more detailed imagery, so that your child can also spend time reading the book through the pictures.

We live in very visual times and books have to compete with so much other media for our children’s attention, but I believe they can easily do this with enough encouragement. Of course, the tricky part of books and little ones is that they cannot read the story yet, so you as the parent or the gogo have to make time to read it to them. Reading together is precious time invested. I can still hear my school librarian in Grade 6 reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory out loud to us every week; the suspense!

As a bookseller, I sometimes need only a few minutes of conversation with a child to pick up on who they are and what they need in their next book; a bit like a doctor I suppose. I look for clues and symptoms and then I see which books I can recommend to remedy the need. There are so many answers to our messy lives in the pages of books. You cannot start early enough to help children by introducing them to this paper-shaped tool that is so full of power and magic and has the promise of so many great things, if only we open the pages and read.

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