This was first posted on elizabethannewrites on May 31, 2011

There is no perfect time to read a story to a little one … Any time is the perfect time to read a story to a little one. As I said in my first post about reading to the littlest ones, reading aloud can begin before the baby is even born — and as we will see as the weeks unfold, reading aloud can continue throughout that little one’s life.

But what can one read to these littlest ones?

Board books, which can be easily grasped by little hands, are one place to start. With simple illustrations and just a few words per page, they are excellent ways to involve a baby or toddler in the reading process — if there is a baby in the illustration, they can point to the baby’s nose, and then to their own nose, they can make the noise the doggie makes, the possibilities are endless in these small books — or in any book — but for tiny ones, simple illustrations and few words lend themselves best to this approach.

Babies and toddlers enjoy books about babies — both human babies and animal babies. They enjoy the rhythm and rhyme of simple poetry — nursery rhymes and classics such as poems from A.A. Milne’s When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six are a very good place to start. In her book Raising Bookworms: Getting Kids Reading for Pleasure and Empowerment, Emma Walton Hamilton gives a fairly extensive list of suggestions of books ranging from the gentle, lulling classic Goodnight, Moon to rollicking fun with Sandra Boynton in Blue Hat, Green Hat.

Mothers are Like That, by Carol Carrick, illustrated by her son Paul Carrick, is gentle and soothing, almost like a lullaby, with illustrations that show various farm animals with their babies doing things such as feeding their babies, keeping them clean, finding them in a crowd… because “mothers are like that”. Little ones will be drawn to the softly styled illustrations, and the comforting repetition of the words “mothers are like that”. Unfortunately, the illustrator doesn’t render human likenesses as well as he does animal likenesses, and I found the picture of the human baby in the final picture didn’t quite seem right to me, but that is perhaps a minor point.

From a mother and son team to a mother and daughter team, with another book about mothers and children — a book which, while likely not originally geared towards babies and toddlers, still will hold appeal for them. (Actually, I bought my copy for my mother one time she was in hospital, so it has a wide appeal.) Thanks to You: Wisdom from Mother & Child, by Julie Andrews Edwards and Emma Walton Hamilton is another gentle, soothing text about mothers and children (making it a good gift for mothers!) illustrated by photos from the authors’ extended family. It is the photos that I think will particularly appeal to small children. The rhythm of the words will appeal to little ones, but I think that the words and the photos provide an excellent springboard for dialog with the child one is reading to, as one points out the children doing such familiar things as sitting on a lawn, studiously examining a tiny flower; a little sister reaching up, wanting to climb the tree like her big brother has; a small girl eagerly pouring chocolate chips into cookie batter, straight from the package, no measuring cup necessary — the person reading to the child can weave their own story through the pictures, as well as reading and interpreting the text.

As children get a little older, their ability to follow a storyline increases, of course, as does their ability to “get” a joke — and humor abounds in books for preschoolers.

Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! with words and pictures by Mo Willems is great fun for kids. As with the other books in the Pigeon series, the reader is asked to watch and make sure that the pigeon behaves — and the pigeon tries every trick in the book (which preschoolers will recognize — these are arguments most children use at one time or another) to get to drive the bus. The simple illustrations, usually just the pigeon on a blank backdrop, with a cartoon sound-bubble for the pigeon’s words, will appeal to kids, who will likely want to create their own pigeon pictures after reading the book. The humor will appeal, as will the ending (which gives the reader a “here we go again” feeling).

Interrupting Chicken, by David Ezra Stein, also capitalizes on children’s love of seeing themselves and their feelings and actions reflected in a book (whether the book be about children, pigeons, or chickens!). In the book, the father is trying to read a story to Little Chicken, and Little Chicken is certainly trying his father’s patience. Despite repeated promises that she won’t interrupt, Little Chicken breaks in and finishes every story to her own satisfaction (for example, telling Hansel and Gretel not to go into the appealing house… “So Hansel and Gretel didn’t. The End.” Of course, her father gets more and more exasperated, as he reads — or starts to read — one story after another only to be interrupted by Little Chicken’s abrupt ending to each story. Finally they run out of stories, but Little Chicken can’t get to sleep without a story! What will they do? Papa suggests that Little Chicken tell him a story instead. Little Chicken starts telling a story, but Papa interrupts! With loud snores. I suspect that children will giggle throughout the book, but especially at the ending. The illustrations are colorful, with stylized chickens that contrast well when Little Chicken steps inside the more traditionally-drawn illustrations of the books Papa is reading to her. Check out the amazon video trailer for this book here.

Once again, in Raising Bookworms, Emma gives an extensive list of book recommendations for preschoolers. (By now you’ve likely figured out that I highly recommend this book!)

Books about babies, books about familiar situations, perhaps with a funny twist, books that lend themselves to interaction between reader and child — all these will add up to being asked to read again, and again, and again, at breakfast time, bed time, and all times between!

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