Beginning at the Beginning

My biggest tip for parents of young readers is:

Have books around that everyone likes to read.

Everyone is the operative phrase here. If you can't stand the book, you're not going to like reading it to anyone. If your child doesn't like the book, she or he is not going to want to sit and read it. When you're building your family's library, be very selective. It's not you--90% of kids' books are terrible.

Some other questions I frequently hear are:

What books should we start out with?

Newborns listen when people read to them, but they don't comprehend much--so it doesn't matter what you read aloud as long as you're snuggling them and they can hear your voice. Read what you want to read--or what you have to read anyway. My brother-in-law read The Economist to his newborn. Another friend, studying for her master's degree, read her textbooks aloud to her baby. Jennifer Pinarski wrote about reading grocery flyers to her son for Today's Parent.

Once a baby becomes more alert and understands more about what's happening around them, I like cloth books. Why?

  • They're washable
  • Less worry if the book gets chewed
  • Less worry that any hard edges will accidentally hurt your child.

Family members recommended Roger Priddy's Fuzzy Bee and Friends, which is pretty much perfect. It's short enough (14 pages) to read to a squirmy baby in one sitting, but the text isn't totally inane. The pages feature bright colors and interesting textures for baby to manipulate (or you to manipulate to keep baby's attention). Fuzzy Bee has sequels, Squishy Turtle and Fluffy Chick.


My baby squirms off my lap when I try reading to her. What do I do?

No worries--this is normal. For babies, everything is new and interesting, which makes it hard to concentrate. Imagine trying to listen to a Jane Austen book while a circus is setting up around you--this is what having a book read to them is like for most babies. You, the reader, have to keep the baby's attention by showing them the interesting parts about the book.

  • Bounce them on your lap in rhythm with the rhyme of the book
  • Point to what's on the page and name it: "There's Fuzzy Bee!"
  • Bring the book closer and put their hands on the textures. "Feel the butterfly wing. Oooh, crinkly!"
  • Your child will still squirm around and off. This is completely normal. One day (possibly on the hundredth attempt--this is why it's important to pick books that can stand up to repeat reading), you will make it through the book.

This video from Scholastic has some great tips for reading to a baby. Note that Clark and his mom are reading the book at Clark's speed. Clark doesn't just sit still on her lap and listen as she reads word for word--it's a shared interactive experience for both of them.


I don't read/speak English very well

It doesn't matter. If you want to read to your children in English, even though you are not a native speaker, you will observe that many children's books don't have any words--or just a few. Use the Hercules method--if you start with small and uncomplicated books and read them over and over, as your child advances in comprehension, in a few years, you will be reading Harry Potter.

Some of you, logical types, question, "Why should I read to someone who can't understand what I'm saying?" Even if Junior can't understand you, there are proven benefits. Parents magazine has a list of great reasons to read to newborns online. Among them:

  • It's bonding time
  • It preps him for reading on his own
  • It boosts brain power

What an adorable baby! This video, from CNN, details a movement among pediatricians to encourage parents to turn off the screens and read to their newborns - beginning in infancy. 

Once your baby is between 4 and 6 months old, you'll both be ready for more interesting reading. Enter board books--which I will cover in another post.