So - you've decided to start reading aloud to your children and you're at the library (or bookstore, or an online source, such as Amazon). Here are some guidelines that William Kilpatrick gives for selecting good stories, from BOOKS THAT BUILD CHARACTER, A Guide to Teaching Your Child Moral Values Through Stories:
1. Think back to stories that had a positive impact on you when you were growing up. There's a pretty good chance that the same stories will have a similar effect on your child.
2. Choose a book in keeping with your values, not simply on the basis of its reputation.
3. Try to distinguish between issues and virtues. Many contemporary children's books focus on trendy issues rather than character development. You want your child to acquire strength of character before he acquires a lot of secondhand opinions. It's one thing to have an opinion on an issue such as immigration, and quite another to develop a habit of helping those you have an opportunity to help. Having enlightened opinions is no substitute for having character. Good books should reinforce qualities like courage, responsibility, and perserverance rather than offering prepackaged opinions on divorce, euthanasia, and the like.
4. Look for books where the author has an interesting story to tell, not a message to convey. Many good books deal with contemporary issues, but the issues are integrated with the characters, setting, and plot; and they are people centered, not problem centered. The characters are real. We are gladdened by their victories and saddened by their sufferings. They are not there just to teach a lesson.
5. Context is crucial. Character-building books are not simply about good people doing good things. Moral books may deal with immoral behavior. The question is not whether unethical behavior is present but how it is presented. The hero or heroine may give way to temptation, but a good book will show the real costs of such a choice.
6. Allow some room for growth. Although you want to be careful about choosing books that are way over your child's level, it's okay to challenge them by reading somewhat above their level. You definitely want your children to learn to extend themselves through reading. How do you determine which books will help your youngsters grow? A simple rule of thumb is to look for books in which the main character grows. As your child becomes involved with the protagnonist, he vicarioiusly shares in that character's development.
7. Choose books that are fun to read aloud: The above guidelines are not to suggest that books with a moral theme are the only type of book you and your child should read! There are all types of books and all kinds of reasons to read them: for suspense, for humor, for the beauty of the language, for the pleasure of wordplay and nonsense rhymes. There is no discernible moral in GOODNIGHT MOON; TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET; THE JUMBLIES; or THE CREMATION OF SAM MCGEE, but it would be a shame to deprive your child of the pleasure they bring.
"To the extent that the well-made-thing provokes a responsive, corrective, self-examination, it works to educe from us an ongoing, active and answering creation--an answer that performs our longing to wholeness and reconciliation. One might say that, in attending to such art and in answering it with substantive response, we make our hope matter." -Scott Cairns, Poet and Professor of Engish (from "Art and the Meaning of Creation", published in The Huffington Post, June 1, 2010).