- is the book at the right reading level;
- will my child (or children if you're a teacher) enjoy it;
- is the content appropriate developmentally?
In an age where children are often introduced to ideas at younger and younger ages - something I see as problematic - just how do you make wise choices? For example, is the book too violent? Does the child need to be introduced to that life issue (e.g death, war) at this age? And how do I match my professional judgment as a teacher against the rights of parents? Is it a book that the children can handle emotionally?
Parents at Green Acres School in Rockville (USA) complained when the teacher read the book "From Slave Ships to the Freedom Road" by Julius Lester to third-graders. The book tells the story of African Americans and is a popular book acclaimed for its historical accuracy.
It begins like this: "They took the sick and the dead and they dropped them into the sea like empty wine barrels. But wine barrels did not have beating hearts, crying eyes, and screaming mouths. . . . No one knows how many millions died. Except the sharks."
The National Council of English Teachers (USA) has issued guidelines to help teachers make wise choices. But this is not an easy task for teachers. Some of the helpful comments within the guidelines include:
- There should be balance in the books chosen.
- They need to be age appropriate (language and concepts that children can understand) - this will include consideration of the complexity of the plot, abstractness of the language, familiarity of vocabulary, and clarity of syntax.
- The children should be able to relate to the content - there needs to be some connection between their life and that portrayed (this might be as basic as the age of the main characters).