One of the greatest pleasures of childhood, both as a child and adult, is choosing books as a family. Trips to the library or the bookstore are adventures, the car ride as exciting as a Tin-Tin-esque trip across the ocean, a raggedy-eared Snowy (in our case a cat, creatively called Pussy Cat) in tow.
At the library or bookstore, though, things become more complex, especially when some the would-be readers are young and cannot choose books for themselves. How does one choose a book for a baby? Can a baby actually benefit from reading a book?
The answers? With care - and of course! (Children of any age will always benefit from reading a book. Adults, too.)
In the zero to one bracket, choosing a book is really a mixture of age, vision, and parent interest (in older children, as we'll discuss in other posts, interests, personality, and reading level are key considerations, too). Which means that, realistically, there are two major kinds of book we can choose from: the long form read aloud, and the board book.
The Board Book
Board books are an obvious choice for the younger set. They're durable, often make good (if unintended) teething toys, and are full of bright colours. Many are marketed with "will make your baby smarter" branding, too, to make parents feel as if they are making the right choice.
For babies under a few months, bright colours - or colours at all - are less important. Up until then, babies are drawn to high contrast patterns (think black and white zigzags, pinwheels, and more). Later, colours enter the picture; some babies will show preferences for strong colours, too. (If this is the case for your child, look for strong, Petr Horacek style illustrations.)
Since babies explore with so many senses (fingers, mouths, drool...), textured books are also handy to have around - look for books with corrugated cardboard, or fabric, or knobbly ties and other pieces. (From a safety point of view, only choose titles labelled safe for zero to three, which means the book has been pulled to pieces and carefully tested for young children.)
And finally, choose books that you find fun, funny, or sweet - because you'll probably be reading them over and over again. If you choose a book you love, you'll pass that love on to your child. (Besides, reading should never be a groan-inducing do we have to? experience.)
The Long Form Book
It may seem counter-intuitive, but babies can tolerate longer reading experiences than their toddler counterparts. Because they spend such a large amount of time snuggling (particularly before they start rolling over), it's easy to cuddle baby with one hand and read with the other.
The lovely thing about reading a long form book to a small child is that it's an opportunity to share your favourite titles - classics, such as Winne-the-Pooh, or fairy tales (we read the Arabian Nights when Mir was small), or even more contemporary books from around the house, like Violet Mackerel or Maddy West and the Tongue Taker. (This is especially useful if you have more than one child!) The sound of your voice, coupled with the snuggling, will forge memorable moments for both of you for years to come. (Moreover, if reading with your children becomes a habit from day one, it's more likely to continue as they grow, because they will consider special time with you.)
Why do babies need books, anyway?
The benefits of playing with a book, for a child under one, may seem minimal - children this age can't read, and are only becoming lingual toward the end of their first year. But children, at all ages, are veritable sponges; the words you read, the stories you tell - these are all saved up as models of language, social context, and interaction. More importantly, reading with young children does two incredible things: it provides one-on-one time with a parent, which in turn helps foster a lifelong love of reading. (And, as studies have shown, reading and reading levels are correlated with school performance; one study out of the University of Nevada in 2010 showed that the number of books in the home is correlated to the level of education children attain.)