Some of my favorite memories of childhood are of reading. My mother read us chapters from classics from The Little House in the Big Woods to The Hobbit each night before we went to bed. So, when I had my own daughter, now 3-months-old, I knew that I wanted to read to her, a lot.
The American Association of Pediatrics now recommends that parents read to their babies starting from birth. James Perrin, president of the AAP told CNN that fewer than half of children younger than five are read to daily. Reading, singing, and talking to babies increases kids exposure to language and decreases the word gap that can occur when babies aren’t exposed to as much language. (For more on reading to young children, check out Too Small to Fail.)
Of course, reading to babies improves babies’ language skills, but I think it also establishes expectations and habits. I want my daughter to expect to read daily and to be able to sit, listen, and engage with books (turning pages, eventually talking about pictures) for long periods of time (right now, her maximum is about 15 minutes).
Reading stacks of board books every day has also given me a new appreciation for the genre. So, I’ve compiled a list of what makes a good board book:
- Creative Language: It goes without saying that in a board book, every word matters because they are, obviously, meant to be read aloud. Still, some are more fun than others. Consider this from Sandra Boynton’s Hippos Go Berserk: All through the hippo night, hippos play with great delight. But at the hippo break of day, the hippos all must go away. Text like that is word candy.
- Interesting Art: Babies’ eyes take a few seconds to focus, and if she’s really into a picture, I let her stare at it, which means I’m staring too. The new series of BabyLit board books (think: Baby Pride and Prejudice, Baby Alice in Wonderland, and Baby Romeo and Juliet) are great for this. Each page is a visual feast, I’m constantly finding something new in the images.
- Something to Appreciate: Reading board books is all about the kids, but it’s nice to think, while you’re reading, that you’re conveying a message of diversity or environmentalism or acceptance. Recently, for us, Mary Brigid Barrett’s books Pat-A-Cake and All Fall Down have reinforced a message of diversity with illustrations that feature diverse children and families..
- Subtext for Parents: The more you read a book, the more you can read into it. Case in point: a friend was reading Sandra Boynton’s But Not the Hippopotamus She closed it, looked up, and shook her head. “Deep,” she said, “everyone can’t always be included.” That’s good stuff (but not the armadillo).
Add these books to your board book library:
- Sandra Boynton wrote Hippos Go Berserk, But Not the Hippopotamus, and tons of other awesome books.
- Gibbs Smith wrote the Baby Lit series, which features my favorite book Alice in Wonderland: A Color Primer.
- Mary Brigid Barrett wrote Pat-a-Cake, All Fall Down, and other books that I can’t wait to read