How to find quality books to read to your children

Ramona recently asked a question in the comments about how we find quality books, whether we're at the library or in a thrift store.  My approach depends on where I'm at, so I'll break it down:

 In the library:
When I'm in the library, I sit cross-legged on the floor and pull books off the shelves until I find a book that appeals to me.  (Notice I said me, not my children).  The reason for this is two-fold:

1.  I will have to read that book over and over and over and over again in the course of that two-week period we will have it at home, so I'd best like it and not be annoyed with it.  :)
2.  Part of my role as a parent is to shape what my children like, so I am intentional when they're young about presenting them with beautiful illustrations and meaningful stories.  I want them to grow an appreciation for the beauty of both quality artistry and a good story.  (This doesn't mean that I never choose books just for the sake of silliness.  I do.  Just not as often as I choose other books.)  And as the kids get older, we do check out books based on their interests.

from Emily and Daisy, Elsa Beskow

Another library note:  When my young children bring me random books off the shelf I always read them first, and many times I will say "No, we're not bringing this one home." It's very helpful now that my older kids will bring me books they've found, because they'll often act as a filter for me. 

My system for finding good books has morphed a little over the years.  I used to rely primarily on book lists.  I own some books that are essentially bound book lists.  I've mentioned my favorites here in an older post.  (And you are welcome to borrow them, Ramona!)  Here is another online book list that I've visited over the years: 1000 Good Books List.  Or you could check the titles from the Caldecott Medal list.  My friend Elise used to do a series on her blog called Children's Book Mondays, where she reviewed picture books, so there are some great picture book recommendations if you follow that link.

Some of our favorite books for little ones:

Sandra Boynton books
Dr. Seuss books
Richard Scarry books
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Gossie & Gertie books, by Olivier Dunrea
Beatrix Potter books
Robert McCloskey books (Make Way for Ducklings, One Morning in Maine, Blueberries for Sal)
Sarah Stewart/David Small books (The Gardener is our favorite; I love Small's illustrations)
Winnie the Pooh
Robert Louis Stevenson (poems)
Obadiah stories by Brinton Turkle
Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall

(And, oh!  There are SO MANY more.  There are so many wonderful books and this is just a small sampling of the ones that are most familiar to me only because we own them.)  
classic Garth Williams

Some favorite illustrators: Garth Williams (probably my all-time favorite illustrator), Tasha Tudor, Gyo Fujikawa, Barbara McClintock, Barbara Clooney, Elsa Beskow, Lois Lenski (she has many books for older children, but the Small series is for the younger crowd), David Small, Lisbeth Zwerger, Freya Blackwood, Tricia Tusa, Diane Goode.  (I'm sure there are some I'm forgetting, but those are just off the top of my head.)

And that brings me to how I FIND books.  If we discover a book that we like, I hunt down what else they've written. Same for illustrators: I find out what other books they've illustrated.  This takes some time, but the internet makes it easy to do a quick search, and then I can put them on hold at the library and pick them up to peruse them.

After a few years of doing that, you'll build up a pretty good list in your own head of the authors and illustrators you like (they may not be the same as mine), and then when you go to the thrift store or library book sales, you look for those names.  :)

In a thrift store:
This is pretty simple, really.  I look for older, hardcover books almost exclusively.  I skip right on over the newer paperbacks and just look for the gems mixed in with all the other stuff.  Or, I'll scan the spines for authors or illustrators that I recognize.


I think it's great to start with what you remember enjoying as a child.  That's why we have Dr. Seuss in the house.  I don't remember enjoying those books at all as a child (the illustrations don't exactly appeal to me), but Mark liked them, so they became a fixture in our library.  Your kids will usually like what YOU like, so that's a good start. 

I hope this helps.  This is sort of a scattered post of thoughts and ideas so I hope it's not too all-over-the-place.

I know there are so many more books I'm missing (feel free to comment with your favorites!)


  1. Really enjoyed both your bookish posts. We filter library books very similarly and use similar lists :) One of my fun things to do In the evening is sit with a cup of tea and order all our very fav pictures books online. Then go pick them up a few days later. I do still enjoy browsing the shelves but like browsing online too....feels like Christmas a little. I think you introduced us to The Seven Silly Eaters. right now we are reading the Library Lion and The Full Belly Bowl over and over. Two of our Favorites!

    1. Sandi,
      YEP! I love that about the library. Every time I go I have a little stack waiting for me.... so fun! :) Oh, we love the Seven Silly Eaters! Yes, I think I did mention that one here. We have often checked out the Library Lion, too. We just checked out the Full Belly Bowl (per your recommendation, here), and that's a good one, too. [Except for the page of spiders, which I have to read really fast through! ;)]
      Love to you, friend!

  2. Thank you, so helpful. I am really grateful you gave my question so much thought.

    1. Of course, Ramona!- I was thankful you gave me an idea for a post!
      Blessings to you!

  3. Thank you for this post and for having comments open :)
    I was just asking my daughter's teacher for suggestions. She is a believer so I asked for age appropriate, good books. Sometimes I use lists I find and read reviews at amazon. And at second hand shops I always check the much cheaper! I love the first picture you have in your post. We have that book and the girl is called Annikka in Finnish. It's a cute story and I love Elsa Beskow's illustrations. I got a story book written by her when I was young and I still have it.

    1. Henna-Maria,

      YES! -- about secondhand being so much cheaper. I just purchased several (maybe 8?) books at a library books sale, all marked half-off, and only paid $3. They were great books, too.

      I adore Elsa Beskow's illustrations. :)


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