A guest blog from Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, a U.S. pediatrician
who participates in the national early literacy program Reach Out and Read and
understands the importance of reading aloud to children of all
After recognizing that reading to your child is one of the first
brain-building activities to start routinely doing with your child,
the next question is: which book? Not all children's books
are created the same: some are not very good at all, and others are
mere vehicles for marketing to you and your children. Yet the
array of choices available at any public library or bookstore can
be dizzying and bewildering. How to choose?
When it comes to finding good books, your best bet is to make
use of your expert local resources: your public librarian is
usually well-versed in high-quality children's books for a variety
of ages, cultures and interests. They are more than happy to
field your enquiries; not only can they recommend books in their
collection, they can obtain books for you via interlibrary loan or
even purchase them based on your requests!
If you're looking to select books yourself, the most important
question to ask is: "Does the book interest you?" If the
adult reading the book finds it interesting and engaging, there's a
high likelihood the baby or child will as well. Also, if the
reader truly enjoys the book, he or she is more likely to read it
with the kind of enthusiasm and expression that will in turn engage
the baby or child listener.
Next, look at the images in the book; are they interesting and
engaging? This may range from beautiful artwork to complex
images inviting the reader to linger over them to things inherently
interesting to young children (e.g. baby faces, animals,
etc). As a child becomes older (after about age 2 years),
does the text connect to images in a way that encourages
language? For example, does reading the story reference items
in the images like colors or other features that build vocabulary
and help a child develop skills in naming?
For some families, it can be important to find at least a few
books in which the children look somewhat like themselves,
celebrate similar holidays, speak the same languages, or eat
similar foods. I remember the joy with which my son pointed
to a photograph of a little girl in a book of nursery rhymes and
said it looked like his sister. This is not a requirement,
but children do deserve and delight to see other children with some
aspects of their lives similar to their own.
Developmentally speaking, is the book's format
appropriate? Board books are designed for young children who
do not yet have a "pincer" grasp developed - that pincer grasp is
necessary to turn paper pages.
Finally, while these are good general principles to keep in
mind, one never knows what books will take hold of a child's
interest. Sometimes the most unlikely-seeming choices will
enrapture-and that's absolutely fine!
"We are not wise enough, we adults, to know what books will be
right for any child at any particular moment, but the richer the
book, the more imaginative, the more emotionally true, the more
beautiful the language, the better the chance it will minister to a
child's deep inarticulate fears."
- Katherine Paterson, writing in The Horn Book, Jan/Feb
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