Selecting books for Babies and Toddlers

The Horn Book Magazine ran an article last spring titled, “What Makes a Good Board Book?” In it, author Viki Ash prefaces her list of characteristics of good books for infants and toddlers by highlighting the value of reading to the youngest children. She says, “Sharing books with young children can:

  • “Nurture a love of books and reading
  • “Provide sensory stimulation in support of brain development
  • “Develop language
  • “Impart knowledge of the world and how it works
  • “Create a joyful and loving connection between babies/toddlers and their grownups”

Being the grandmother of three-year-old and three-and-a-half-month-old granddaughters, this message caught my eye. So, what makes a good board book for infants and preschoolers?

Well, when you think book, you naturally think words, text. A good board book may contain a very short, simple story, that generally takes place in baby’s own world. Other text options characteristic of good board books are ones that provide “’point and say’ opportunities’” for little ones to develop an understanding of and ability to identify any of a variety of concepts ranging from names of objects, numbers and colors, to relative locations and abstract concepts.

Naturally, illustrations are also important. Board books can be illustrated with drawings, paintings, collages, etc. or by photos. Photographs, in particular, provide an easy first step in helping small children make the connection between real objects and the depictions of objects. However, don’t let this discourage you from sharing many of the delightful illustrated books as well.

A collection of good board books will address the many moods of babies and preschoolers. Look for books that “Through skillful use of text, illustrations, typography, color and layout…establish a mood” which you can play up as you read to your little one.

Also, in building a strong board book collection, don’t ignore small childrens’ delight in sensory exploration. Board books can be manufactured from a variety of materials and can contain textures to be savored, flaps to lift, and tabs to pull.

And don’t forget content. Infants and toddlers are engaged in the process of figuring out themselves and their world. Encountering familiar objects, routines, and events in their story time can be not only educational, but “both reassuring and delightful.”

And last, though not mentioned in Ash’s article, a little rhyming cannot hurt. I know my kids loved the bouncy rhythms of rhyming text and the payoff of that end rhyme. With these books, even the nonsense of Mother Goose was a delight. I savor to this day the dancing rhythms of “diddle, diddle, dumpling” and “Hey, diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle…” and the memory of my youngest son’s chortles of delight.

I started reading to my kids when they were about nine months old. My daughter started from day one, and the first thing my three-year-old granddaughter does when she comes to my house is grab a book and her little rocking chair, and ask me to read her a story. That is one request to which this grandma will never say, “no.”