reading to babies

Today’s “I Love To Read Month” post is from Laura’s good friend, Emily McLean. She calls Emily her kiddos’ Fairy Book Mother. Over the years Emily has recommended most of Laura’s favorite children’s books. Emily lives in Seattle where she works in early childcare and teaches pre-k Sunday school. She also holds a Masters in Children’s Writing and has 8 years experience as a children’s bookseller. When not writing Emily enjoys biking, whole foods cooking, reading, and drinking organic tea.

There are so many articles and books on why literacy is important and that it is never too late to start reading with your child. Nevertheless, a lot of parents or family members of a child don’t have any idea of where to start. Furthermore, just because a child isn’t reading a book page by page does not automatically equal disinterest.

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After working 8 years as a children’s bookseller, I am now in early childhood education. I work with infants who are at the fun stage of going from crawling to walking. Even though they can’t verbalize but a few objects. It doesn’t take an expert to see that kids rapidly learn vocabulary. Yet, there is so much more beyond literacy with having books as part of your nursery or daily routines.

book seller

In my bookselling days, I’ve overheard parents say that their kids aren’t interested in books because they refuse to sit still or want to flip the pages around too quickly. To that, I have two responses. One, kids were never made to sit still for long periods of time — toddlers especially – try to do what you can. And two, babies don’t know the concept of beginning, middle, end, so of course they are going to explore or attempt to eat a book — it’s just like a ball or block that goes in the mouth and then gets whacked around. In actuality, when an infant turns the pages that means that they are very interested, they just don’t quite understand the concept of a book yet. A child will learn, in time, that a book is more enjoyable if you look at the pictures and read it sequentially. (If they still don’t want to sit still by the age of 3 keep trying and maybe give a go at acting out a story together.)

Every week I watch three to four 7-12 month olds by myself for a few hours a day. And, even when they are going six different directions, whenever I pull a book out and start reading there are almost always two or three who crawl over to me to be closer and listen to part of the story. Do they understand plot and character yet? Probably not. However, if they all crawl away, I don’t stop reading (a common mistake I think most caretakers make). More often then not, as I continue to read, they will either watch me or crawl back over to look at the pictures. They are piecing together that what I am saying is coming from the book. Some even get really excited with certain books over others, which tells me they know that the contents of each book differs.

Often I will read a story all the way through if I can, and then let the child flip the pages around and whatever page they flip to, I explain the picture and what is happening. Talking about the pictures and pointing out objects encourages art skills for older children and for younger children helps them connect words, emotions, and objects together. Reading takes time. Some children as young as newborns love the sound of stories, for others it takes a few years. Just as every child is unique in their interests and development, a love for language and stories needs nurturing. Your child may be more interested in trucks over books. That’s okay, to each his own; but I would never say give up on books completely.

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Questions to ask when shopping for board books:

  • Was there a favorite book you or your kids had? A more meaningful gift is giving something that has personal value that you desire to pass on.
  • Is there something particular that the child gravitates towards? Is everything a moon or ball? Do they love animals? Do they like motion or just watching? (This may help you choose between an action story or a quiet story.)
  • What type of book are you looking for? There is a variety of excellent board books. Do you want a touch and feel, lift the flap, object book, or a story?
  • Consider books about favorite family activities. For example, if the family loves going to the farmer’s market, what about some books on fruits or vegetables? If you are a diver, how about some books on the ocean? If a parent works in construction, how about some books on diggers and buildings? Or, if the family loves to travel, how about some cultural-building books like Global Babies? If the family is Christian, what about some basic Bible stories?

My 10 Favorite Board Books:

  • We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen – This common folk song is fun to say/sing out loud and there a lot places to make sounds.
  • The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear by Don and Audrey Wood – Mouse will do anything to save his strawberry from the Big Hungry Bear. The precise, simple text gives a very approachable story for quick little-page-turning-hands. (I think this was one of the books I learned to read on.)
  • Gossie by Olivier Dunrea – Even though this book is about two goslings sharing, it never mentions the word “sharing.”
  • Hug Time by Patrick McDonnell – Whether you are a fan of the Mutts comics or not, this is a really sweet story about giving to others.
  • Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox – All the babies in this book are of varying ethnicities and cultures, which gives a gateway to talk about differences and similarities between people.
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – This is the most read book in my classroom and is great for food vocabulary and a fun adventure about a caterpillar.
  • That’s Not my Kitten by Usborne Publishing– A great touch and feel book (and there are many others in this series) about different kittens and textures.
  • The Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood – There are many kinds of quiet; after all, an “in trouble quiet” is different from a “right before you yell surprise quiet.”
  • The Going to Bed Book by Sandra Boynton – I love Boynton’s books because the pages usually don’t need to be read in order. The Bed book is fun to see how the animals get ready for bed.
  • Orange Pear Apple Bear by Emily Gravett – If you are a grammar geek, this humorous story is meant for you! The comma placement makes all the difference with five words.

When you don’t know where to start, I encourage you to seek out an independent bookstore near you (Indiebound.org). Most independent stores strive to staff at least one superb children’s book expert who can recommend books more precisely than an online algorithm. It is also likely that an independent bookstore nearby your home helps to support and give back to the community. There is a perfect book for every kid and remember when babies crawl away keep reading.

I Love to Read Month

Wife, work at home mom, and bassoonist, Laura Ankrum lives in Iowa City, Iowa. Prior to the arrival of her two children Laura taught elementary music and band in the Boston area. Now her home is her classroom and music studio. Laura is passionate about education, encouraging other moms, and eco-friendly living. She is the social media coordinator at Thirsties Inc and regularly contributes to First Time Mom.