Toddler Choices: When Kids Pick Books

Josie Leavitt -- April 17th, 2009

There has been an explosion of cute kids at the store this past week. The arrival of Spring has brought these little ones out from under the layers of winter, and they are ready to explore. Little kids and books are a lovely combination. One thing about kids in the store that is particularly amusing is how they marvel at us having some, if not all, of the books they have at home.

"I have that. I have that one. Look, Mommy, Curious George." The familiar is comforting and surprising when it’s out of context. Little kids are still learning about things like stores and don’t understand that we sell books. They seem to know all about taking books, though. From the shelf, from the library. We had one little guy, maybe three and three quarters, who very casually dropped Jon Scieszka’s Trucktown in his mom’s already full and paid-for bag and just kind of walked away. The mom and I laughed and she said, "Honey, we don’t steal. Daddy’s a state trooper and we just don’t do that."

Watching kids under five pick out books is a lesson in cover design and placement. I feel sorry for authors in the higher-up A-F section of the alphabet, because their books never get picked by tots. Little kids just can’t reach those shelves. Color seems to be a huge factor for kids. And as much as I hate divide along gender lines, girls to tend to for the pink and purple tones, while boys head for blue. We had a little girl about three years old who hauled a chair over to this one section so she could take a copy of Purplicious by Victoria Kahn off the top shelf of a display. The Tushy Book by Fran Manushkin had practically been mauled by kids under three. There’s something about a bottom that kids just seem to love. Another book that has kids —  and it’s the boys again — begging to hear it read aloud, is Harriet Zieffert’s Mighty Max

Two books are easily spanning gender difference. Mouse Was Mad by Linda Urban has been an enormously popular toddler pick. I think the cover really draws kids in. There’s nothing like a non-threatening mouse who’s angry to get kids’ attention. This is a great book about emotions that I’ve heard read aloud just about every day. Duck! Rabbit!  by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld is drawing kids in.
The slight optical illusion about it has kids, and more than a few adults (myself included), staring at the cover trying to see the duck and the rabbit. It’s interesting with this book — sometimes I see the duck and sometimes I just can’t.

Reallly, regardless of what they’re picking out, kids getting excited about books thrill me. There’s nothing as heartwarming as a toddler hugging a book. I know that a book-hugging child often turns into a voracious reader who keeps me on my toes with thoughtful recommendations for years to come.

9 thoughts on “Toddler Choices: When Kids Pick Books

  1. rosemary

    I am an illustrator with a very small publishing house and a few years ago I designed the cover for a children’s book. Then I gave the covers to various elementary schools and asked the children to choose the cover. There was a distinctive difference between the girls and boys choice, but it was a fascinating exercise!

  2. JANET LAWLER

    Josie’s observations capture the joy, unpredictability, and unique world views of the littlest readers. I hope they keep visiting bookstores in droves! Great market research for authors – and book designers! Thanks for the info and the chuckles.

  3. Robyn McCarthy/The Armarium Press.

    Too funny about toddlers’ vocal surprise at seeing copies of their own books in bookstores. I often feel our own little one’s enthusiasm at spotting literary characters and alphabetical letters he recognizes on the kid’s shelves at the local chain bookstore is an irritant to the staff. We’ve been meaning for more than a year to take a Vermont day trip that includes a stop at The Flying Pig — and I’m even more eager to do so now that I’ve read about your joy in interacting with your youngest customers!

  4. Jazz

    I never noticed the duck until you mentioned it. Pretty cool. When I worked at a book store, I noticed this trend in kids too. The young ones also seem to get fixated on a certain theme. I met one girl who only wanted to read books that had to do with the moon. When I gave her grandma a copy of Papa please get the moon for me by Eric Carle, the little girl was so excited, but would cry and shout when the book was closed. This entry has reminded me of good points to bring up during my writing mentor internship interview next week. =)

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