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Family Fun: Librarians help parents and teachers pick picture books

Spokesman-Review - 1/25/2021

Jan. 24—For anyone looking for help choosing new picture books to read with children, librarians and other staff at the Spokane County Library District are ready to help.

And much of that help is available even if, thanks to your address, you don't have a county library card.

"There's so many books out there, you can get overwhelmed," said librarian Mary Ellen Braks, the district's public services manager in charge of early learning.

On Saturday, Braks and youth collection development librarian Sheri Boggs will be leading a class on the best picture books of 2020. The class is part of a series of free classes the library district offers for teachers, child care providers and parents.

It's open to anyone, and registration is required by Thursday. Preschool teachers and child care providers can earn continuing education credits in the class.

"Reading to kids is the way to inspire a love of reading, and picking the right books is a part of that," Braks said.

In the class, Braks will highlight some of the library staff's favorites from the past year, plus talk about some things adults should consider when choosing books.

The first thing is the storyline and the illustrations, of course.

The next thing, Braks said, is to consider the age of the child and the length of the story. For toddlers, there shouldn't be too many words on the page, while for preschoolers, a general guideline would be two or three sentences. Each child is different, Braks said.

"Err on the side of it being too short," Braks said. "It's always good to leave them wanting more."

And if a book turns out to be too long or just not of interest, it's OK to put it down, she said.

Consider the flow of the language, she said. Books are a way of introducing children to more words, "and the more words they hear, the more ready they are for kindergarten," she said.

Also consider diversity and whether the topic of the books is dealt with accurately and empathetically, with language that's appropriate for the age group and text and illustrations that work together, Braks said.

And, perhaps most importantly: "Read through the book first and make sure you like the book," she said. "If you like the book, chances are your child is going to like the book."

For more help picking books, Braks and Boggs are starting "Picture Book Chat," a series of videos that will be available starting this week on the library district's YouTube page.

Each video will cover four books with the two librarians talking about what they like about the books and how they'd use them with children.

And, Braks encourages library card holders to take advantage of the district's Book Butler service. With that, patrons can tell librarians a topic or a particular book they like, and librarians will choose a selection of books for curbside pickup. Place your request at

For parents ready for someone else to take a turn reading to their kids, the library district has weekly online storytimes at 6:30 p.m. Thursdays. Register at, no library card needed. Other libraries, bookstores and community centers are also hosting storytimes — check out the calendar at

Books are a great way to introduce a variety of topics, Braks said. One picture book might include math concepts, animal recognition and social-emotional learning. Reading to young children helps prepare them for the future, she said.

Parents are "their child's first and most important teacher," Braks said. "You're laying the groundwork for them before they get up to school."


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