Books to promote conversation with your child

What are some of the best ways to encourage your child to use English in everyday situations?

You can ask them questions about their day, their friends, their favourite activities. You could play a board game with them in English, or watch a TV show together and talk about what happened. Conversation with your child should take place in authentic settings: don't invent complex scenarios to see if they know specific language. Go to the supermarket together and use English to do your shopping. Talk to them as you might in your own language (if it isn't English), so that it becomes a normal part of their family environment.

Books are always an ideal solution for conversation starters with your child. Reading and talking together at bedtime is a loving, relaxed way to end the day, or reading a chapter from a children's novel to engage, excite and get them looking forward to more! Books are a perfect kick-off point for conversation. Ask your child questions that encourage them to think about the story or the characters.

I recommend below a loose structure to reading with your child that will boost literacy and a love of reading, as well as promote rich conversation with your child.

Start with some pre-reading chat. Take a look at the cover together, and discuss what the book might be about. Who do you think the book is about? What might happen to them? Is it a happy story, a funny story, a serious story?

If your child is starting to learn to read, this is a great chance to point out the physical structures in a book: the title page, the cover, the author's name, even where you start reading on a page and which way up a book goes!

While reading the book, don't ask too many questions -- keep the focus on the story -- but if you see an opportunity, ask them what they think might happen next, or whether the story is going the way they expected. Has something like that ever happened to them? What did they do about it?

At the end, ask them what they think of the ending. Was it fair? Did it make sense? Would they have wanted it to end differently? What was their favourite part/page/illustration/character, and why?

Conversation with your child should be a two-way dialogue, where you both get to share your thoughts and opinions. By modelling your ideas, you are giving your child a template as well as letting them know their opinion matters. It's great to disagree and have to justify your thinking!

The books below are ones that I use frequently in workshops. Some are classics that have become part of our culture and therefore have the extra benefit of giving kids a chance to share experiences. Books that become regular choices at home are also great because children become more confident readers by seeing and "reading" a book from memory. They begin to engage actively with the characters, using expression and having fun with it. Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus is a special favourite with my current workshop group because they love to shout, as loudly as they can, "LET ME DRIVE THE BUUUUUUUUS!"

If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff is a fun sequential story about how if you give a mouse a cookie, then the mouse will ask for a glass of milk, and if you give him a glass of milk, he'll ask for a...

Kids love to read this story and create their own versions. Try this one together with, "If you give a dog a tennis ball..." or whatever you like!

Where the Wild Things Are, the classic by Maurice Sendak. As a frequent read in our house, the kids became Max and the Wild Things, roaring and rumpusing and making mischief of one kind, and another. A beloved favourite.

Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson. If you've ever heard of The Gruffalo, then you may also have heard of this one! A fun story to act out, with great rhymes and illustrations, and with loads of opportunities to ask, "What comes next?!"

My Cat Likes to Hide in Boxes by Eve Sutton. I can never not recommend New Zealand children's authors, and this book has the added bonus of being illustrated by Lynley Dodd, writer of the gorgeous Hairy Maclary book series. It's a very simple rhyming story about cats from around the world who achieve very clever things, while my cat? Well, he doesn't get up to much. Especially nice to discuss with your child if they have pets and can draw from their own experiences with animals.

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr is yet another classic, one I remember reading as a child. I loved it then, and still do now, because it gives children the freedom to imagine weird and amazing things. But was the tiger really real?

What would you do if a tiger came to your house for tea?

The Magic Paintbrush by Julia Donaldson, of the aforementioned Room on the Broom). It's a little problematic from the perspective of cultural appropriation, so select this one at your own risk. It has beautiful non-traditional illustrations and a rhyming story that is better suited to older children, about a girl called Shen who can paint objects into being.

It's a great starting point for a conversation about "What if?" What would you do with a magic paintbrush?

Mr Tiger Goes Wild by Peter Brown is a gorgeous and hilarious story about, you guessed it, a tiger who gets tired of the same old boring, polite society, and decides to throw off his stuffy clothes and go wild!

The illustrations are deceptively simple and use colour to tell a story. "Everyone should find time to go a little wild," says the author on the flysheet.

Rumble in the Jungle by Giles Andreae is a bright and colourful rhyming story that is perfect for animal lovers (and almost all children have a favourite animal!). As a favourite of younger kids, you can encourage them to act out the animals in the story, pick out small details, and predict some of the rhyming words as they go.

Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems has become the runaway hit in our workshop group! There are a few spinoff books and activities, but the original, with its varied layout of text, simple but effective illustrations, and very simple story, is a brilliantly fun read. You'll need to do a bit of acting yourself as you go because the pigeon expresses more emotions than the average pigeon, so be prepared for your Emmy.

These are just a few of the children's books I use and wholeheartedly recommend! Coming soon: chapter books for serial reading. Send me your recommendations! What does your family love to read together?


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