READ EARLY, READ OFTEN
Before life presented you with an actual baby, you had a mental vision: a small, cuddly bundle in a blanket, sucking a finger and nodding off to sleep as she listens to you read. As you turn the last page, your voice softens, and you look down—she’s out like a light. With a kiss on her soft cheek, you tuck her into her crib whispering, “Good night, Baby.”
In reality, that is probably not quite how things played out—it certainly wasn’t for us. Reading with a baby, toddler, or two-year-old is not always what you imagine. The barrage of media, the demands of the child as she grows, the requests from family and friends, and the effort of just plain getting through a day mean things don’t always go as planned. But reading together should be fun. It’s simple, and it can make a real difference to your baby as she grows. We know—sometimes it’s hard to see the pleasure or the point. Our goal with this book is to reassure you that it’s worth it.
TIP: On average, children spend only forty-nine minutes with books per day compared with three to four hours in front of a TV or computer screen. Want above-average kids? Encourage them to read.
We all want our kids to be readers. We want them to be able to spend private time during which they can slide into another world with a book. As they grow up, we want them to develop big vocabularies, big imaginations, and empathy for other characters. We want them to enjoy reading in every format, from hardcover to paperback to wherever digital books go next. But raising a child who reads doesn’t start with teaching a child to read—in fact, it doesn’t start with a child at all. It starts with a baby.
Ten Reasons to Read to Your Baby or Toddler
1. It’s fun.
2. Reading builds vocabulary.
3. Books stimulate the imagination.
4. Reading increases the chance of later academic success.
5. Books and their characters teach empathy and understanding.
6. Reading entertains, it stimulates, and it lights up the senses.
7. Books are portable and infinitely useful.
8. Reading is an introduction to our culture and our world.
9. It’s an inexpensive, richly rewarding way to spend time together.
10. It’s fun.
Do you remember being read to as a baby? Most memories of the reading experience, whether as a parent or a child, begin during preschool. But the building blocks for that experience come from reading with babies, toddlers, and twos. From burpers and droolers, crawlers and cruisers, to walkers and talkers, these little people love reading, too. But, like so many other parts of their development, they can’t do it without your help.
A child who is read to from infancy is a child who knows that books are a source of pleasure and knowledge. She’s a baby with a broad vocabulary and a broader experience—a city child who knows cows and a country kid who can hail a taxi. She’s an art critic and a connoisseur of rhyme schemes. In short, she’s a kid who’s going places, because she’s a baby who’s been places, all in the comfort of your lap.
What’s in This Book and How to Use It
Nearly every chapter of this book offers:
1. A thorough consideration of a reading topic.
2. Book lists—a lot of them!
3. Anecdotes and tips from parents.
4. Ages and Stages charts that suggest activities, techniques, and other information on reading with newborns, sitters, crawlers, cruisers, and walkers.
Susan’s been choosing books for the READ TO ME Program (designed to encourage teen parents to read with their babies) for twenty years and has learned what grabs a baby’s attention. She offers some insight into why babies like what they like. KJ’s four children have provided her with oceans of experience of shared reading. Between their demands, her work as a children’s book reviewer, and her role as the New York Times’s lead parenting blogger, she knows firsthand which books work best and why—and how to experience them with your child.
Together, Susan and KJ wrote the first edition of this book. This new edition brings Rachel Payne into the mix. Rachel, the best imaginable guide to books for this age group, is the early childhood specialist and a librarian at Brooklyn Public Library. She’s also the mother of Colin, now two years old and an excellent book-testing laboratory. She knows why some books are carried around, colored on, taken to meals, and slept with, while others are pushed away after a single page.
Rachel has sifted and winnowed through our original book choices, updating lists to reflect the ever-changing children’s section in bookstores and libraries. Too many excellent books disappear, often due to poor sales even though the reviews are stellar. Her revised lists are up to the minute, including books available in every format.
The book lists are varied and specific: New Classics, Activity Books, Pop-Ups, Bedtime Books, and Naming Books (which teach babies and toddlers the names for specific objects). We asked some parents to give us a list of their babies’ favorite books at that moment. Book clubs do this for older kids (“If you liked Little House, you might also like Caddie Woodlawn”), and websites do it for adults (“Customers who bought these selections also purchased…”). We’re giving babies equal time. You might be guided to some new favorites.
Finally, all of the tricks, tips, hints, and true confessions you’ll find here aim toward one thing: making reading with your baby or toddler fun for you both. We believe it’s the best possible gift you can give your baby.
For Teachers, Caregivers, and Librarians
This book directly addresses the concerns and day-to-day lives of parents and other primary caregivers. There’s great information here for teachers, professors, librarians, and child-care providers as well. We hope you’ll discover some new books for the shelves of your centers, libraries, and classrooms and gain some insight into why certain books can be important or helpful to children at certain times. We also hope you’ll use the book as a resource for helping the parents you work with.
A parent who picks up this book is already planning to read to his or her child, but many parents aren’t reading at home, or are limiting their reading to bedtime. You are in a perfect position to introduce those parents to the joys of reading with their child by letting them know how much their children enjoy certain books you’ve read in class, and by including book suggestions or reading tips in your newsletter or on your classroom news board. Other ideas include organizing a book drive for the classroom, suggesting parents buy two copies—one for class, one for home. Teachers in classrooms where not all parents have the resources to purchase books can look to organizations like First Book for help. You could also distribute information on local libraries with children’s areas and story times to parents and encourage them to meet at the library for a playdate.
If you are a librarian new to the field or new to working with young children, you might feel baffled about how to advise little ones and their grown-ups on what to read next. We hope the tips, anecdotes, and book lists we’ve provided can give you insight into the reading lives of babies and toddlers. You are in a unique position to connect children and their parents and caregivers with wonderful books they might never discover on their own in a bin full of board books. It can be hard to figure out which title a toddler is asking for when she says “want turtle book.” When you finally decipher the request, there is no more satisfied customer.
Parents turn to a trusted care provider and other professionals in their community for perspective and advice on their child’s development as well as for care. We hope we can help you to introduce more parents to the joys of reading with their child.
—Susan, KJ, and Rachel
The Three-Favorites-Each Challenge
KJ challenged Susan and Rachel to come up with one favorite book each—but none of us (including KJ) could do it! Instead, we each chose three: one favorite for each year between zero and three. These are nine books we personally recommend and call “must-haves.”
0–1 year: Clap Hands, Helen Oxenbury. Short book, short rhymes, catchy rhythm, with enchantingly fat multicultural babies playing on its pages.
1–2 years: Everywhere Babies, Susan Meyers, Marla Frazee (illus.). Families of all kinds keep baby’s eyes busy while a soothing rhyme draws you through the pages.
2–3 years: Little Pea, Amy Krauss Rosenthal, Jen Corace (illus.). A first comedy: to grow up big and strong, Little Pea has to eat all his candy (yuck!).
0–1 year: This Little Piggy: A Hand-Puppet Board Book, Little Scholastic, Michelle Berg (illus.). Cloth interactive finger puppet characters wiggle to distract, entertain, and remind us of these classic rhymes. Also try Old MacDonald.
1–2 years: My Aunt Came Back, Pat Cummings. In energetic and exuberant verse and art, a generous aunt shares souvenirs from her travels with her lucky niece. Unfortunately, this title is out of print, but check online sellers and your library for availability.
2–3 years: George and Martha, James Marshall. This launches the exuberant, witty, snarky, friendly, hilarious world of these two best friend hippos.
0–1 year: I Kissed the Baby, Mary Murphy. This delightful, high-contrast book about animals greeting a duckling works for newborns to toddlers.
1–2 years: Clip Clop, Nicola Smee. Cat and Dog and Pig and Duck get a ride on Mr. Horse. Great for active toddlers since the story encourages lots of bouncing and clippety-clopping.
2–3 years: The Wheels on the Bus, Paul O....