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How to find better books for your kids


We all want our kids to read, but often we have no idea what they should be reading — so we revert to classic books we once loved. Sometimes we even assume these books are better.

Here’s the thing: many beloved classics have serious problems you never noticed when you were young (sort of like you might not have thought twice about riding your bike without a helmet):

  • Little House on the Prairie is racist and considered harmful by many Native Americans.
  • Roald Dahl was not only an anti-Semite, he was such a jerk that his publisher fired him.
  • Some early Dr. Seuss books have racist images (which Theodor Geisel tried to make amends for with his later work).

Just as you can still adore your weirdly sexist grandpa, you can still love these books for turning you into a reader. But you owe your kids better books: juicy, well-written stories that truthfully represent our complex world. Fortunately, these sorts of books are easy to find when you know where to look.

The Seattle area is fortunate to have several independent bookstores with large, well-curated sections of kids' books:  Secret Garden Books, Alphabet Soup (limited hours), Queen Anne Book Company, Third Place Books, Island Books and University Book Store. Look for the sticky-note “shelf-talkers.” These tell you what booksellers love to read. And ask for help. Independent booksellers are passionate about books and can deliver just what your child needs. Likewise, the Seattle Public Library has an excellent collection.

Look for the award winners. The Caldecott is for the best-illustrated picture book. The Newbery is for readers under 14, and the Printz is for young adults (readers 12 and up). Find these and more award winners on the American Library Association website (ALA.org).

For kids who love graphic novels: The ALA keeps a list of graphic novels for kids at ALA.org. While parents are often skeptical, these books absolutely count as reading and help boost kids’ visual literacy — an increasingly important thing in our image-rich world.

Want stories for and about kids with brown skin? Check out reviews at The Brown Bookshelf: thebrownbookshelf.com. Likewise, the Our Story app features exceptional books with diverse characters and themes, including some of today’s most popular reads: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas; The Jumbies, by Tracey Baptiste; and Last Stop on Market Street, by Matt de la Peña. ourstory.diversebooks.org/kids/.

Martha Brockenbrough is the award-winning author of several books for young readers. Her latest titles are Alexander Hamilton: Revolutionary and Love, Santa.

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