Are you struggling to find good books for your children to read aside from the classics? If so, you're in luck! Children's book reviewer, Heather Feldstein of WordsByMom.com joined me to not only discuss her website where she reviews 'great quality children's books that aren't highly marketed', but to discuss the importance of reading to children and having them read to us, and 'why we're giving our children the greatest gift'!
Candace Rose: Can you tell us about your website WordsByMom.com?
Heather Feldstein: "Sure. WordsByMom.com was created a few years ago and it's meant to be a resource for parents, teachers, and librarians, and anyone who has a child in life that's important to them. And it's really meant to be a resource to them to find really great quality children's books that aren't highly marketed. They're the books that are newer and modern; they deal with today's issues, even just topics that speak to children of today. But they're not the ones that are necessarily going to jump off the shelf at you. They may not be the ones with the really big display sections in the book store, but they're ones that are certainly on the shelf of any bookstore and they're great finds."
Candace Rose: What would you say inspired you to start your website?
Heather Feldstein: "There were a few things. First of all I've got children of my own and it's always hard as a parent when you've got young children and the excitement of going to a bookstore, and they're all running around- you're trying to keep one eye on them and one eye on the books that you're buying. A lot of these hardcover beautiful picture books are not cheap, and so you go and you invest in these books, but you can't really take the time to do a focus search when you're with your children; and so you come home and read the books and you realize 'oh this isn't what I thought it was'. I found myself kind of making up the story to be kind of what I thought it was as opposed to what it really was. So I thought that there should be a website or a resource for parents where they don't have to go through that and you can have a more focused or targeted search when you go to the bookstore. My website is really intended to be that and it's meant to be a few things.
When you go to the bookstore look ahead of time to see some of my favorite picks or if you're looking for something in particular, certainly there are categories on my website that you can search through all the reviews. I've got about 100 reviews on my site to date, and I add to that on a weekly or biweekly basis. If for example your child is going through a period where they're very shy at school and you want to talk to them about coming out of their shell, you can do it through books and there are books that address that on my website. That's really what I want people to get out of the website.
And certainly I also welcome suggestions from my readers. I get emails all the time from not only authors, and illustrators, and publishers, and publicists saying 'Can you review this book'? But I also like to hear from my readers saying 'Hey, you haven't reviewed this book, this is a great book that is loved in my house'. My policy really is that I will read everything, but I only review what I love. So people who go to WordsByMom.com are not going to see any books that I don't love."
Candace Rose: Do you ever get parents who want their kid(s) to read about a certain topic and not necessarily a particular title?
Heather Feldstein: "I do. I had a mother come up to me about a year ago, and she said that she has two boys- one has autism, and one doesn't. She was struggling to talk to her child who didn't have autism about why his brother is different, and she asked me if I knew of any books that could help her in this quest. I didn't at the time, but I certainly told her that I would find, and get back to her. So I did, and I got back to her and I posted it on my site; so now there's books about that.
A question that I also get asked a lot by parents and grandparents is 'what age range are these books for'? I don't put on my website a recommended age range for a book. There's a specific reason for that- I think a good picture book doesn't just speak to a limited group. The way I do things in my home, I have to assume is the way a lot of people do it in their home. When I read at bedtime, I read to more than one child at a time, so I have my two children there that are different ages, so what my older one gets out of a book, and can extract from a book is a very different message than what my younger one can extrapolate from the book.
And yet again, to take it further, I take the message out of the book that's different from what either of them do, and there's a section after each review on my site for post reading discussion questions. What I do is I try to give people a guideline or groundwork to talk to your child about the book and how to generate conversation. And the answers you'll get from a 2,3,4 or 5 year old is different than a 6, 7, 8 or 9 year old."
Candace Rose: You frequently feature books (as you mentioned) that offer lessons for kids, including handling fears, standing up to bullies and the importance of gratitude. How would you say children's books have evolved over the years?
Heather Feldstein: "I don't know that children's books have evolved per se, but I would say children's books have evolved with society and with our times. There are certainly classic books- Shel Silverstein is one of my personal favorites and 'The Giving Tree' is my favorite book of all time. These aren't necessarily modern books, but they're not books that I wouldn't recommend that everyone have on their bookshelf either. There's a lot to be said for some of those classic pieces of literature. Having said that, I think stories of today speak more to today's modern child. You wouldn't have found books years and years ago on autism or learning disabilities, like a book I've recently featured on my site 'Thank You, Mr. Falker' which is actually an autobiographical tale based on the true story of the author/illustrator of the book, her name is Patricia Polacco. It's about how she had dyslexia and wasn't diagnosed until 5th grade. So where my children get a certain message out of that book, I extrapolate something very different, and I don't think that these were topics that were discussed years and years ago. There's always a lot to be said about the classic books, and reading those to your children as well. Dr. Seuss- that's a classic. It doesn't necessarily speak to the modern child, but some of his books do- 'Green Eggs and Ham' is a perfect example. I don't feature books like that on my site because everybody knows about 'Green Eggs and Ham'. Certain books are relevant throughout the ages, but I find books today tend to speak a little bit more to today's children and I don't think we often give children enough credit for how perceptive and how smart they are. I really think a good book of today has to have an authentic voice, that's what we call it in the children's book industry; it has to speak with an authentic voice."
Candace Rose: As you mentioned earlier, not only do you offer book reviews, but you also offer ideas for post reading discussions as well. How important is it not just for kids, but for their parents to discuss the books together after reading?
Heather Feldstein: "I think it's critical. I think in today's world we're all so busy- we're working, we're running to soccer practice, we're running to basketball, and swimming, and doctors appointments, and we don't really have all the quality time we want so it's not necessarily about the quantity, but about the quality. I think that when we're reading we have to really zone out. Put your iPhone's down, put your Blackberry's down- put it all away and take out a book (unless you're doing it on an e-Reader). Pull out a book whatever form it's in- digital or traditional tactile book, and pull it out and read it, and then talk about it. I find (with my children) when I read to them and start talking about the book with them, that's when they start talking about things- things about their day. It could be things that are about the book, about a message in the book, about a picture in the book. Even if it doesn't appear to you that it is about the book, your children are talking to you. I think creating dialogue, and creating dialogue through literature is really important. I think this is how we develop the foundation, not only for literacy but also formulating a good relationship with our children whereby they can speak to us and we can speak to them."
Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you'd like to share?
Heather Feldstein: "It's so important that we read to our children, especially when they're young. Make it a positive experience and don't push your children to start reading (for the really younger children). They will read. Reading is a cognitive skill that comes when they're ready. As a parent it's our job to provide our children with a positive literacy experience whereby we're reading to them and giving them a love for the book, and for the pictures and for the literature. Reading will come as long as we create positive feelings around the books, I think we're giving our children the greatest gift."