This week, the oldest daughter of my dear friend is turning 8 years old! I’ve known this family since the very beginning of my time at OMSI – I still remember how confidently three year old M marched right up to me and asked if I (a stranger) would play with her in the forest area of Science Playground. She loves to remind me that SHE is the reason that I became friends with her family.
Three words to describe M? Outgoing, brave and magical. She loves anything to do with magic: dragons, fairy tales, potions, unicorns, just to name a few. She’s an incredibly resilient and strong kid, who loves climbing trees and riding her mountain bike. She’s not a tomboy exactly, nor a girly girl – she’s one of the most well rounded kids I know.
So imagine my surprise when I asked her what she wanted as a gift for her birthday and she told me, ‘Makeup’. Excuse me? You are not even 8 years old – what on earth do you need makeup for? Luckily, her cool older cousin has a friend that makes her own natural makeup, using pigments from plants in her garden, and so it sounds like she’s got M covered there. I can’t bring myself to buy an 8 year old makeup!
Being the good adopted auntie that I am, I became determined to find some age appropriate books on topics I thought she would like. Normally, I’d go camp out in the kids section of Powell’s for my book search, but that’s not an option at the moment, due to the pandemic.
When buying books for children, I always try to consider:
1. Does it contain age-appropriate content and reading level? I find reading Amazon reviews really helpful for determining if the book has scary storylines or too mature themes. Many of my favorite books when I was a kid had main characters that were orphans, had been abandoned by their families, or had family conflict as a central theme. While I enjoyed reading books with these themes, it did cause me a fair amount of anxiety, as I was just too young to process complex topics like divorce, death, or abandonment. So I’m filtering those out for M as well.
2. Does the book promote negative messages about friendship, family, cooperation and other important life values? I really want to avoid storylines about cliques, treating friends poorly, and in-fighting. It’s a disturbing trend that I’ve noticed in chapter books especially those geared towards third through seventh grade girls. I suppose it’s supposed to help them understand how to get on socially, but I don’t think that young kids need more ideas put in their heads about ways to treat each other poorly.
3. Does the book encourage critical thinking skills? Nobody likes predictable plots or uninspiring storylines – and there’s no better way to convince kids that they don’t like reading than giving them books with either of these unfortunate qualities. As a kid, I really enjoyed detective stories like Encyclopedia Brown and the Hardy Boys – both series have engaging (but not disturbing) mystery plots.
So, with these considerations in mind, here’s what I ended up purchasing for Marins birthday gift:
How to Train Your Dragon #1 by Cressida Cowell. This is one that she specifically asked for, as she read and enjoyed the second book in this series, and generally loves any book about dragons. Since she’s already read one of these, I’m pretty confident that this will tick all the boxes on the list, but I’ll report back once she’s opened her present.
The Kingdom of Wrenly Collection by Jordan Quinn. I picked this set of four for Marin because it seems to take place in a castle, the main characters are best friends in spite of class differences, and Amazon review told me that they were less scary than the Magic Tree House series. Upon receiving them though, I’m worried that they might be a bit too young for her reader level (and maybe even interest level). Luckily, if they don’t work for her, her two younger sisters will most likely enjoy them – at 5 and 4, they still really love princesses and are both learning to read.
A to Z Mysteries: Detective Camp #1 by Ron Roy . I selected this book based on my own fond memories of reading short, one-off detective stories for kids. I’m interested to see what M thinks of this one, as it’s a bit more of a gamble than the others.
Of course, no present is complete without a glamorous wrapping job:
Here’s hoping she likes the books. I’ll report back with results next week!