Building a Child’s Bookshelf

I have started building a library of books for my new son. Even though he is brand new, we read to him all the time, and people have very generously given us books to start his collection. It made me think about how we want to go about building his bookshelf. What kinds of books do we want to include? What do we want to leave off?

Here are some of my thoughts about how I’m going to go about it.


Visit the Library: I can’t wait to visit my local library and see what’s in the “New Titles” section. This is a great way to browse and see what’s out there. If there is a very special book, or something that really leaps out at me, I will have no problem going down to my local book store and ordering / picking up a copy.

Get Recommendations: I’m going to ask around! I have a ton of friends who are parents, and I’m sure their kids all had favorites. Hey, if they have grown out of those books, they might even pass some along.

Find a Good List: The internet is full of lists. Best Middle Grade Science Fiction, Best Interactive Board Books for Babies, New Diverse Picture Books, the possibilities are endless.


I’m thinking that it will be important that my sons bookshelf is age appropriate.

Right now I’m thinking books that will have high engagement and be interactive. Maybe books that are tactile, even meant to be chewed on! It’s never too early to devour a good book.

We have quite the collection of Pop-Up books so far.

The Five Finger Test: When he starts to grow into chapter books and middle grade I will use a method that worked for me when I was teaching library. It’s called the five finger test. Basically, it works like this:

Open any book. Hold up a finger for every word you don’t know. Use this little chart as a guide.


Adoption: My son is adopted, so I would like to include a few books where adoption is a theme. To my dismay, many adoption books are only so-so and focus on adoption day instead of what daily life might be like. I’m going to have to dig deep to find ones that really speak to my heart here and don’t create more questions than answers.

The best book I’ve received so far in terms of adoption content has been “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst. Even though it’s not specifically an adoption book, it is about how we are all connected, no matter where we are or what we’re doing. Made me cry.

LGBTQ+: My son also has two mommies, so I know I would like to include LGBTQ+ titles on his shelf as well. Already “And Tango Makes Three” by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell is a favorite because it kills two birds with one stone being both about adoption and LGBTQ+. (No birds were harmed in the making of this expression).

To be fair though, I also want stories about space, dinosaurs, superheroes and trucks as well! Socially themed books are great, but not all the time.

Classics: “Goodnight Moon” is essential reading as far as I’m concerned, and I have really enjoyed “Jungle Night” by Sandra Boynton, especially accompanied by Yo-Yo-Ma. As he gets older, I know “Freckle Juice” and “Bridge to Terabithia” will have to make an appearance as well.

Books to Grow Into: I want to make sure I always have a few books on the shelf that he will be excited to read, something to work towards. Kids love to “read up”.

Books for Fun: I think I might be a book snob – and I know I’m not the only one out there! You know the books I’m talking about; floppy things with loose plots and lots of fart jokes. I know I’m going to have to remind myself that books that are purely for fun are okay too. I might cringe when he asks for one, but I’ll grin and bear it, and then maybe follow it up with something more substantial.


Books My Friends Wrote: I want to include all of the wonderful books that my friends have written! Being a part of a critique group has connected me with amazing people who write beautiful, silly, empowering, heartfelt (the list goes on and on) books! I want to include them all.

A few writer friends visited after my son was born with signed copies of their books, and it was just about the best present of all. I was so thrilled to add them to the shelf knowing that his name was written inside. I can’t wait for the day when we’re reading the books and I can say, “my friend wrote this book!”.

Titles by Sarah Lynne Reul, Kim Chaffee and Kirsti Call


So, to be fair I’m still (always) working on this one. I have quite a few stories that I hope one day will be up his alley. Knowing what adoption books are available makes me want to write my own; one where we see the family just living day to day regular ordinary lives.

I can’t wait to read him The Smith Family Secret one day!


Does it Bring You Joy? We are big Marie Kondo fans. She is a Japanese organizing consultant. She believes that we should keep the things that spark joy in our lives, and thank then let go the things that don’t. I think this can be applied to keeping a bookshelf for children. Although we might want to keep every book that comes into our lives, it’s okay to know when to let some go.

I have a mementos box that I keep special things in, like the outfit we brought my son home in. Perhaps I will make a box for special books as well.

Ultimately, a child’s bookshelf needs to change and grow with the child. There’s no right or wrong way to do it, just whatever works for you and your family.

Happy reading!


  1. Building a bookshelf is always fun and getting one off to such an early start is fantastic. Congrats to you, your little one, and all the many fine authors you’re including in your/his collection. Wishing you both many cozy hours of reading together.


  2. Alison, I have a feeling there’s a really great book about adoption just waiting to be written by none other than yourself! 💜


  3. What a lucky little boy! I’m sure he will love his library and be a lifelong reader. Lots of good tips and thoughts in this post. I’m glad to learn about the five finger test; sounds like an easy way for kids to choose books all by themselves.


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