How do you choose good books for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers? Here is the first rule – choose books that you love! You will read these same books over and over and over, and enjoying them is the first gift you want to give to the little one you are reading with. The first books you choose will be with you until your infant becomes a toddler, becomes a preschooler, and goes off to kindergarten. While there are special guides for differing ages of very young children, you will find that the same book you chose for a 6 week old will still be requested when they are four or five.
So, let’s talk about books . . . .
Books come in all styles and types. There are beautiful books with gorgeous illustrations or photographs, board books, plastic books. Some books have sounds that go with them (animal sounds, horns, bells) or elements that are fun to touch (rough, fuzzy, slick). In your library for a little one, you will want to include both the books that have paper pages and should be treated respectfully, and those that can be hands-on for your little one to handle, chew on, or take into the bathtub for some water fun!
Babies in the first year benefit most from books that actually represent what they will see in real life. The time for the cute little bunny with the apron and bonnet come later. Books are the first things that introduce a child to the concept that something represents something else – a picture of a dog represents that real doggy that licked her face last week, a picture of an apple represents that actual apple that was cut up for snack yesterday. Words, after all, are symbols of real or imagined objects or experiences, as are the pictures that go with them. The first step in learning to read is understanding that those words stand for something! So the books should include pictures or drawings that represent real things in their lives. Those active board books, plastic books, and books with things to hear and touch are wonderful in the last half of their first year. Books that include rhymes, poems, and songs are wonderful additions for babies in their first year.
As babies enter the toddler years, it is time to build on those concepts first introduced. Books with predictable repetitions that the toddler can learn to “fill in the blank” as they “help” to read the story are perfect. Also those books that begin with one concept, then repeat it and add to it (Think “the 12 Days of Christmas”). And now is the time to add some of those cute little fantasy stories with the kitty who talks, not just meows. Books to read at bed time should be repetitious and calming. But after nap, the books can include animated noises and sounds from the reader, with playful artwork and captions.
By the time your little one has entered preschool, it is time to bring in more complex ideas. I love to challenge a little one with a twist on a familiar story – like “The True Story of the Big Bad Wolf”, “The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig”, or “The Fourth Little Pig”, to build on that theme. Books that have humor and surprises are wonderful for helping a preschooler start to think about “what is going to happen next”. Some of those books should have very simple words and sentences as your preschooler starts to adventure into the actual concept of beginning to read. Others should be more complex so that your preschooler can continue to enjoy being read to, and not have it always have to be the “work” of figuring it out themselves.
Choose some of the “masterpieces” like “Good Night Moon” or “The Nightmare in my Closet”. Some may have won children’s awards, like “Where the Wild Things Are” You can easily research the Caldecott Award winners.
And there are lovely and amazing books accessible through your public libraries, so check them out and see which ones you and your little one enjoy the most before you make a purchase. One other important consideration is making sure that the books you choose reflect your own family’s life and experience. In our family, a favorite is “When I Go Camping with Grandma”, reflecting our family’s love of the outdoors. If you are the hotel kind of family, that one probably won’t resonate with you! There are books that reflect a variety of languages, cultures and ethnicities, and books to help children deal with challenges in life. Books about the Viet Nam Wall, a homeless family living in an airport, being adopted, books about the life cycle to help children understand loss. Reach out for someone who can help you find a book when you want the support about a specific life issue.
Well, we started out talking about the first rule – choose books that you will love, and we will finish with that also. Those books that you love, your little one will love as well. Happy Reading!!
Bobbie Edwards, M.A., Human Development
Infant Toddler Specialist