This post is part of a paid partnership with Rabbit books; all tips and ideas are the author’s. Jo Ham’s Rabbit books are available now wherever you buy your books
The other day, I was reviewing my library account, and I saw my Reading History accounted for 2,187 books since we moved to our village seven years ago. My family is swimming in books – favorites filling the cubbies in my big boys’ shared bedroom; bedtime storybooks in a basket in the preschooler’s room; read-aloud stacks on our nightstands; a big bookshelf in the living room; chapter books from school on the shoe bench where the backpacks live; and, in the basement, falling apart paperback picture books that are in their final days before leaving our house for good. Books tucked into purses and sports bags and minivan seat-back pockets. That’s just the kids’ books, and we keep acquiring more.
All this book collecting necessitates the occasional book culling. During my most recent thinning out, I realized there’s a formula to the kids’ books we keep and read. It’s not just what I like or only my kids’ favorites. It’s a combination of these things and more. Here are the reasons why I read books to my kids, as well as how I decide what stays and goes.
At the most basic level, I want my kids to love reading. I want them to experience how books can take you on a journey. I want them to know the unique pleasure of consuming a book you don’t want to put down. I want them to stay up late for the sake a good story and fall in love with characters who both remind them of themselves and who are like no one they’ve ever met. That means encouraging most reading to just be fun.
For my littlest readers, I love to keep board and picture books that are a joy to read aloud, with creative rhyming and clever word play. Books with onomatopoeia that makes us giggle. Books with few (or no) words, but completely captivating illustrations. It even means keeping books others would define as “twaddle” – sillier books, such as those with cartoon characters or potty humor. Is our collection of superhero bedtime stories full of advanced vocabulary and complex concepts? No. But does it put a smile on a preschooler’s face and let them enjoy the comic character universe in an age-appropriate way? Yes, and that has value, too.
I adore marking the passage of time and special occasions with books. Like many moms, I keep seasonal books with my holiday decorations, and it’s exciting to bring them out and add to our collection each year. We also lean heavily on our local library here, checking out books we haven’t read before. I notice these shelves empty quickly, so I try to only check out one or two at a time, and return them weekly, instead of monopolizing them for the entire three weeks we could technically keep them.
We also use books to honor birthdays in our family. When I was expecting our first baby, we received many beloved children’s books as gifts with inscriptions from the gift givers. These books are still precious to me and an automatic save. My husband and I have kept that tradition going by giving each of our children a special book on their birthdays every year. We try to choose a book that celebrates one of their interests or we hope will impart a value for the year ahead and we each write a birthday message inside.
A few weeks ago, I was at Barnes & Noble with my kids so they could redeem a stack of gift cards we collected. While browsing the children’s section, I stumbled upon a Madeline display, and I instantly remembered how much I love Madeline. These books sparked my lifelong love of French culture, as well as my childhood longing to have my appendix removed. We have 42 jillion books at home. Why don’t we have any Madeline books?! I wondered, a bit in shock. I instantly tossed it in our shopping basket. Since then, I’ve been prioritizing collecting even more of the books I loved as a girl. My boys are 8, 6, and 3, and I probably only have a few more years of picture book reading ahead of me. As Brandi Carlile sings in her song The Mother, “All the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time, from inside of the ages through your eyes.” I don’t want to miss the chance to experience the wonder of my favorite books again through my children.
I also read certain books to remember my own children at a particular age or stage. With my three-year-old on my lap and the right book in my hands, I can relive how it felt to snuggle my now 3rd grader who would crush my lap today. Sometimes after Charlie picks a bedtime book, I’ll choose one of my own. Not his favorite or even mine, but one of his brothers’ favorites. Rereading something I have memorized from countless readings is a priceless feeling, and I never wonder why my sister-in-law (who has teen and college-age kids) or my kids’ grandparents will happily volunteer to read book after book to my kids. Books transport me, not just to places I’ve never been, but also to my favorite place I’ve ever been.
As a mom, one of my primary responsibilities is to teach my children, and I’ve always considered books a valuable tool. We own kid-friendly history, science, religious, and nonfiction books in every format from board books to encyclopedias. I also prioritize books that illustrate and normalize different families, bodies, races, and cultures. The world is big, and I want to expand my children’s knowledge as much as possible. One of my favorite “The Mom Hour” episodes from the vault is Raising Lifelong Learners. In it, Meagan and Sarah talk about having a home collection of resource books for kids to thumb through on their own or have at the ready for school projects or random questions. I’ll admit, 9 times out of 10 my kids ask Alexa their random questions, like how many hippos are in the world, but as they’re getting older, I’m going to try to encourage them to look up the information in a book sometimes.
When kids are little, books are a great way to practice concepts like colors, shapes, and opposites. And at every age, when our kids are struggling with a change or behavior, I have turned to books to work through the issue together. Sometimes I wonder if reading my kid a book about bathtime is actually helping them not scream about water in their eyes, but it helps me feel like I’m doing something at times when I feel pretty helpless. And at a macro level, I hope I’m modeling that knowledge is always available to them in times of struggle.
I try to ditch the guilt when it comes to letting go of books that just aren’t serving our family anymore. If my kids are never interested in them, I actively dislike reading them, they have a message I disagree with, are falling apart, or are too similar to other books we have, I feel okay letting them go. Even if they were a gift or are on every “best books” list. I encourage you to think about why you read to your kids and what books are important to your family. After all, we don’t all have room to permanently store all the 2,187 books that make their way into our homes.
About Our Sponsor: Rabbit Books
Check out a new series of picture books by Jo Ham, celebrating the joys of everyday life and starring the iconic Rabbit character! The playful books feature black and white artwork – with pops of color! – that will look striking on your bookshelf. Thanks to the simple storytelling and personality-filled Rabbit character, kids will be begging to read these books again and again.
The artist Jo Ham is a graduate of the University of Oxford’s Ruskin School of Art, in England. She set up her eponymous studio HAM in 2011 and has since collaborated with many major brands to feature the Rabbit character.
Jo Ham’s Rabbit books are available now wherever you buy your books.