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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Read With Your Kids to Open Their Minds...and Yours

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

Daddying's 2nd Annual Books To Read With Your Kids

Holiday Gift Guide & Book Giveaway!

By Scott Beller

Daddying Editor

Introducing my daughters to new ideas, activities, and life experiences has always been one of my most important jobs as a dad.

Basically, as a parent, I see it as my responsibility to help my kids understand the world around them – beautiful, exciting, messy, and dangerous as it may be. As they get older and become more independent, I want them to be able to make good decisions and navigate their lives safely and with open minds. And just as important, I want them to empathize with how other people experience that same world and, if needed and appropriate, to offer a helping hand.

Like everything else about being a parent, that last part – the putting yourself in other peoples' shoes part – isn't always easy.

Luckily, we parents have some excellent tools at our disposal for exposing our kids to different cultures and ideas and making it a little bit easier for our kids to be open to and ponder new points of view: travel and books. And when for whatever reason we aren’t able to provide the former, books and reading are the next best things to being there.

Since my girls were in preschool, we’ve been lucky to have the means to take them on trips around the U.S. and, more recently, outside of it. But before they were old enough to broaden their perspectives this way, to understand much of what the world and its diverse inhabitants might throw at them, the books we read to them daily were easily-accessible passports to anywhere else they could (and couldn't) imagine.

Sure, books exist to entertain and even distract our little ones. But they also serve to inform, inspire, socialize, challenge what kids think they already know, stoke curiosity, and ignite their imaginations.

And, great news: reading aloud with our kids has as much positive impact on us as parents as it does on them. Not to mention that having our little ones read to us provides us with almost as much joy as the confidence it provides our young readers.

Another benefit to reading together is that, regardless of their age, it offers parent and child precious opportunities in a non-threatening environment to weigh and discuss events, behaviors, and themes in those books. It lets kids share feelings and ask questions. It gives us a chance to validate those feelings and give answers...or admit we don’t have them. And maybe that spurs us to seek out credible sources, to read more, and figure out the answers together.

One of my favorite pieces of parenting advice is that kids should be taught how to think rather than what to think.

Sure, books exist to entertain and even distract our little ones. But they also serve to inform, inspire, socialize, challenge what kids think they already know, stoke curiosity, and ignite their imaginations.

The more kids read, the more they find out. The more they find out, the more they want to read. I believe parents and grandparents (and, yes, teachers and librarians) are and should be a vital part of that cycle. We should be helping facilitate it rather than commandeering it or completely shutting it down, which only damages our kids' freedom and ability to think, grow, and express themselves. From our kids' earliest years, we as parents instill the reading habit by reading with them and providing easy access to a variety of books. As they get older and their tastes and awareness expand, I believe we should be giving our kids even more freedom to choose the material they want to read, not less. And then we should be ready sounding boards for them when they get excited, challenged, or maybe confused by those new books and ideas they’ve discovered.

During these times of reading, sharing, and discovery, kids and parents alike are nourished.

There was no better feeling than having my toddlers on my lap, my arms around them holding a book they asked me to read, seeing and listening to them react to my voice helping bring the pictures and words to life for them. And helping work out the things they didn't yet understand. Now they’re in middle and high school and reading on their own. These days, we mostly discuss what's happening in the episode of Squid Game we're watching or the latest viral TikTok video. While that's fine and we're still able to talk and laugh and explore new ideas, I miss the unique warmth and closeness of those story times gone by.

I’ve read that there’s still great benefit to reading aloud with your older kids. And while I’d love to do it and have suggested it to my girls a few times, they aren't so enthusiastic. Not yet! Maybe one day I'll finally talk them into picking out a book together, each reading our own copy, and then discussing it like a family book club. I'm sure we'd all learn something valuable.

Of course, I could just have them read to me. Anyway, it’s worth a shot.

Maybe we'll get a jump on our New Year's reading resolution by picking out one or more of the middle-school or YA books on this year’s Daddying Books Holiday Gift Guide below. Because they’re such sentimental favorites of ours, you’ll find some of the same titles on this year’s list as appeared on our 2020 Holiday Gift Guide. But fear not, because we made sure to stuff this year’s list with plenty more dad-approved book recommendations for kids, pre-K through high school, and beyond. Some of these are so compelling and thought-provoking, you might want to rush out and buy your copies before some rogue school board tries to ban them.

Happy holiday shopping, everyone – keep reading and daddy on!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Many of the award-winning books on our list below have been or are currently being targeted by anti-civil rights and other groups in an attempt to have them banned from school libraries and classrooms in communities across the United States. The reasons for these thoughtful and thought-provoking books being targeted only give us more incentive to heartily recommend them and similar books. The targeted books are denoted with an asterisk.


Daddying Books to Read With YOUR Kids

2021 Holiday Gift Guide

Books for Younger Kids (Pre-K and Under 8):

  1. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Daffodil Grey and the Colorful Parade and The Extraordinary Day of Daffodil Grey by Anna Gilchrist

  2. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Samuel's Story by DADvisor Hakim Bellamy and Melvin Mayes (with DJ Flo Fader)

  3. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Go Wild! Sea Turtles (National Geographic) by Jill Esbaum

  4. GIVEAWAY BOOK: Little Kids First Big Book of Rocks, Minerals & Shells (National Geographic First Big Books) by Moira Donohue

  5. More Bears! by Kenn Nesbitt and Troy Cummings

  6. Line and Scribble by Debora Vogrig and Pia Valentinis

  7. Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale series, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus series, Elephant & Piggie series, and My Friend is Sad by Mo Willems

  8. Eyes That Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho and Dung Ho

  9. The Gift of Nothing by Patrick McDonnell

  10. And Tango Makes Three* by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell

  11. Mr. Brown Can Moo, Can You? and The Lorax by Dr. Seuss

  12. Poem In My Pocket by Chris Tougas and Josée Bisaillon

  13. If You Give A Moose A Muffin (among others in the series) by Laura Numeroff and Felica Bond

  14. Guess Who Zoo and Guess Who Farm by Howard Eisenberg

  15. Wishes by Muon Thi Van and Victo Ngai

  16. Grumpy Monkey by Suzanne Lang and Max Lang

  17. The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld

  18. We Are Still Here!: Native American Truths Everyone Should Know by Traci Sorelland Frane Lessac

  19. Leo the Late Bloomer (and others) by Robert Kraus and Jose Aruego

  20. A World of Pausabilities by Frank Sileo and Jennifer Zivoin

  21. I Am A Bird by Hope Lim and Hyewon Yum

  22. Dragons Love Tacos, Dragons Love Tacos 2: The Sequel, and Those Darn Squirrels by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri

  23. Aaron Slater, Illustrator (The Questioneers series) by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

  24. Shy Spaghetti & Excited Eggs by Marc Nemiroff and Jane Annunziata

  25. Jonathan James & the Whatif Monster by Michelle Nelson-Schmidt

  26. Frederick (and others) by Leo Lionni

  27. Caps for Sale and More Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina and Ann Marie Mulhearn Sayer

  28. The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

  29. Change Sings: A Children's Anthem by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long

  30. Mary Wears What She Wants by Keith Negley

  31. The North Star by Peter H. Reynolds

  32. We All Play by Julie Flett

  33. It Feels Good to Be Yourself by Theresa Thorn and Noah Grigni

  34. I Am Frida Kahlo, I Am Neil Armstrong, I Am Anne Frank, I Am Jim Henson, and many more from the “Ordinary People Change the World” series by Brad Meltzer and Chris Eliopoulos

  35. What Happened To You? by James Catchpole and Karen George

  36. I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark, Debbie Levy and Elizabeth Baddeley

  37. Outside, Inside by LeUyen Pham

  38. Once I Was Very, Very Scared and Holdin Pott by Chandra Ghosh Ippen and Erich Peter Ippen Jr.

  39. Zonia's Rain Forest by Juana Martinez-Neal

  40. Night Catch by Brenda Ehrmantraut and Vicki Wehrman

  41. The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson

  42. Nicky & Vera by Peter Sís

  43. Something Happened in Our Town: A Child's Story About Racial Injustice by Marianne Celano and Marietta Collins

  44. Home Again by Dorinda Silver Williams and Brenda Grilliam