Good books are out there, and other stories (Part II of II)

In the first part of this two-part series, I looked at common, oft-repeated stories based on scary, freaky and downright depressing rhymes and tales from way back when. This follow-up intends to give you some alternatives, both local and international.

To begin with, remember that there are no fixed rules to choosing good books for your child. Any book your child likes could be the right one. (I used to love to ‘yead’ birthday cake cookbooks as a toddler!) But books do fall into three basic levels: those the child can read alone, those the child can read with an adult, and those an adult must read to the child.

Here are some basic things to look for as you help kids to choose good books:

Infants & Toddlers (birth to 2)

  • Books with big, colourful pictures of familiar day-to-day objects
  • Durable books made of cardboard, plastic or washable cloth
  • Books that appeal to the senses, with fabric, textures or scents
  • Stories told in short, simple sentences with pictures that explain
  • Poems and rhymes that are enjoyable for parents to read aloud

Note: This last one is a biggie for me. That’s why I love Doctor Seuss (the shorter ones, not the 80-page epics). Having said that, even a non-rhyming story can be fun to read, like Julia Donaldson’s The Gruffalo, Monkey Puzzle or Tyrannosaurus Drip.

Pre-Schoolers (aged 3 to 5)

  • Main characters who are your child’s age or even slightly older
  • Illustrations and photos that are clear, colourful and engaging
  • Simple, fun plots that move quickly so the book can be read in one sitting
  • Lively rhymes and repetition that children can repeat/remember
  • Stories, about everyday life and events, that encourage questions
  • Stories that review basic concepts: letters, numbers, shapes, colours
  • Playful animals, real and imaginary, that hold a child’s attention

Note: Aged 3, my daughter is now returning to favourite books from when she was a ‘baby’, because she’s seeing things in them she never noticed before: details, jokes, aspects of her own life. They also seem to feel to her like old, familiar friends.

Young Readers (aged 6 to 11)

  • Clear text that is easy to read
  • Colourful, attractive illustrations and photos that bring the text to life
  • Pictures that give clues to the meaning of unfamiliar words
  • How-to, craft and recipe books with simple instructions and illustrations
  • Books by authors/illustrators who are already your child’s favourites
  • Books featuring your child’s favorite characters – from movies or TV
  • Chapter books that can be read over a few days, not in only one sitting

Note: Yes, you should opt for books that appeal to your child’s interests. But an interesting tip I picked up is to choose books that aren’t obvious choices for your child. My little girl loves ballet, animals and birthday parties, but she likes reading about diggers, cranes and dinosaurs. She also enjoys ‘reading’ non-fiction, like the Guinness Book of World Records. And the Mr Price Home winter catalogue.

And, just in case you’d like specifics, below are some recommended book lists:

Award-winning SA books:

  1. Ashraf of Africa – Ingrid Mennen & Niki Daly / Nicolaas Maritz
  2. Fly, Eagle, Fly! – Christopher Gregorowski / Niki Daly
  3. Fynbos Faeries – Antjie Krog (& Gus Ferguson) / Fiona Moodie
  4. Just Sisi – Wendy Hartmann / Joan Rankin
  5. Makwelane and the Crocodile – Maria Hendriks / Piet Grobler
  6. Nina and Little Duck – Wendy Hartmann / Marjorie van Heerden
  7. Not So Fast, Songololo – Niki Daly
  8. Siyolo’s Jersey – Mari Grobler / Elizabeth Pulles
  9. The Best Meal Ever – Sindiwe Magona / Paddy Bouma
  10. The Day Gogo Went To Vote – Elinor Batezat Sisulu / Sharon Wilson


Proudly local children’s books:


NY Times top sellers, April ‘14:


53 of the great children’s books:

Source: (Some of these good books are my old favourites!)

* This post originally appeared on the JoziKids blog,