New parents often ask when to begin reading to their children. The answer: As soon as they are born! Read aloud guru Jim Trelease says in his Read Aloud Handbookthat, when you talk with your baby, "...you’re speaking multisyllable words and complex sentences in a foreign language to a child who doesn’t understand one word you are saying. And you never think twice about doing it. But most people can’t imagine reading to that same child. And that’s sad. If a child is old enough to talk to, she’s old enough to be read to. It’s the same language.”
If you expose your children to pleasant language experiences early in life, they will grow up with a positive attitude toward stories and intimate interaction with those who love them most. The two will be explicitly tied together; you’ll be closer to your children, and they’ll view reading as an enjoyable activity they choose. So why not get started today! Whether your baby is six weeks, six months or even six years old, here’s a list of books sure to engage younger children.
These stiff books are perfect for kids whose fingers still need practice working together. The best ones have only a few pages, rounded edges to protect little eyes, and a simple story line. Look for those with colorful pictures of familiar items or people and only a few words.
Colors Published by FunFax/DK, 1999. This simple book is published by the same group who created the “Eyewitness series” so popular with older children. It offers the same approach of lots of illustrations but with only a few words in a pint-sized package.
Maisy's Favorite Things by Lucy Cousins, Walker Books Ltd., 2001 Here’s one of a series of little board books about the delightful Maisy Mouse, and each is filled with colorful pictures of familiar things, just the right size for little hands too! This is one of my favorites because it meets all my criteria.
Cloth or Soft Plastic Books
Try introducing your baby to a book during bath time when she is relaxed and often interactive. Put a few floating books into the tub and let the splashing begin. Babies can chew on these books with no ill effects to the book or the baby. Also keep these baby-friendly books out at playtime:
Tub Time Book, Published by Lamaze Infant Development System. Here’s one with an attached fishie who swims through the book. There is a whole series of these books, which even come in their own plastic, snap shut case for a trip to the beach or the park.
Where is Slippery Soap? A Blues Clues Adventure by Buster Yablonsky, Published by Nick Jr. 1999. Take this book to the tub with your baby; new pictures and colors appear as the moisture touches the pages. This book is sure to fascinate a child just noticing the world around her.
My Cloth Book Published by Candlewick Press, 1999 This book reminded me of the handsewn first books grandmas used to make for children. The greatest part about them is that they can be washed.
Once a baby is a year old and has become more interactive verbally, introduce books with flaps and moving parts. Make sure the parts aren’t easily removed and don't represent a choking hazard to the child.
Whose Back Is Bumpy? Textured Soft Shapes Published by Innovative Kids, 2001. This book is actually made of a rubber-like substance, impervious to slobber, peanut butter and kisses. Shapes pop out of each page and can be reinserted.
DK also publishes as series of “Touch and Feel Books,” each on a different subject: puppies, shapes, home, animals, and colors. These let your baby “feel” the story as well as listen to it.
Beginning Picture Books
More beautiful picture books are available today than ever before. If you want to interact with your child about everyday activities, another culture, or a favorite puppy, there’s a book for you. Here’s where involving the child in selecting his books to read becomes more important. Allow your child to begin developing his own tastes and preferences. It’s OK for him to reject a book as one he “doesn’t like” and find one that appeals to him. Wordless picture books are fun since you and your child can follow the illustrator’s pictures to create your own story. Your child will feel like such a big boy, “reading” by himself.
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, published by Harper-Collins, 1982, is a classic goodnight story which has stood the test of time.
Mother Goose Rhymes and Lullabies - There are too many to mention specifics here. The rhymes and rhythms or language are music to children’s ears and help prepare them for those beginning reading experiences when distinguishing different sounds and the letters those sounds represent is so important.
Hunter and the Animals by Tomie de Paola is a wordless book. If you haven’t looked at one of these treasures with your baby, give this one a try. You can make up a story as you go along or just point out various objects in the illustrations. The illustrations are beautiful and artful, so the child will enjoy the book long after the other “baby” books have been put away.
Good Dog, Carl by Alexandra Day is also one of a series of wordless books about a gentle black dog who appears on every page in some delightful situation or predicament with a child.
A Final Word About Books
By recommending that you read with your baby, I don’t advocate a structured approach; babies aren’t ready for that. Instead, scatter books throughout your child’s daily activities and always have them at hand, helping a child calm down when it’s naptime and feel loved during “cuddle” times or after a diaper change. Don’t expect infants and toddlers to act like three- or four-year olds in their interaction with books. Let them enjoy books in their own way, and when they are ready to read, they’ll excel. For young children, the joy of a book is not merely the story but also the feel, the taste, and the smell of it. By letting children meet books this way, you’re laying a path they will follow the rest of their lives and one that will take them to amazing places.