Let Kids Read Whatever They Want to Read

By Jason Boog 

When I started reading with my newborn daughter, I discovered the joy of trading kid’s book recommendations. But I always include a disclaimer: It doesn’t matter what I think kids should read. Kids should read whatever they want to read.

Slate senior editor Gabriel Roth stoked hundreds of comments this week, attacking the current state of books for kids. He wrote:

“This is the sad truth of children’s literature, the lesson every parent who loves books learns: What children want to read is often very different from what adults like to think they want. Fortunately for children, capitalism is there to give them what they actually want, which is why children’s book publishing today is dominated by subliterary commodities, book-like objects featuring familiar properties licensed to publishers by massive entertainment conglomerates.”

Readers have been arguing about the quality of children’s literature for decades and it’s a juicy topic to debate in the middle of the summer. But quality is not the thing parents and caregivers should worry about…

When I asked psychology researcher John Protzko for the best books to share with kids, his answer changed the way I thought about kids books forever: “The best question is not whether I have any books I would recommend but what books the children doing the reading would recommend.”

For decades, child developmental research has proven that children learn best when they pursue their own interests. The child’s interest is far more important than the choice of reading material. Parents, caregivers, librarians and teachers need to follow a child’s lead when choosing books—no matter what they want to read.

Instead of complaining that kids read tie-in books to a popular Disney movie like Frozen, we should give them more Frozen-related media—more books, more apps, more music, and more crafts. Help children discover fairy tales, classical music, and storytelling apps that extend the Frozen experience.

Stop wasting time arguing about the quality of children’s books. Use your energy to help kids chase the stories they love in libraries, app stores, and playgrounds.

Jason Boog is a journalist and the author of “Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age.”