Even though babies are small, they can greatly benefit from being read to on a regular basis. As they hear the rhythms of language while you read and focus on pictures and illustrations, their brains are processing this wealth of information for later use. Studies also show that when children are regularly read to from a young age, they develop a love and appreciation for books long after their baby years. However, not all baby books are created equal, so when you’re shopping for books for babies, look for the features listed below. These will ensure that the books you choose stand up to regular handling, chewing, pulling, and the like, and that baby will love reading the books again and again.
Board books have grown in popularity over the years, since their chunky pages stand up to regular baby and toddler use. Consequently, many of your favorite children’s book titles can now be found condensed into a board book format. Board books consist of thick, cardboard pages, which are easy for little hands to grasp, cannot be ripped like paper pages, and can take a fair amount of abuse, from throwing to chewing. Most board books are also smaller in size, so they’re easy to tuck into a car seat, stroller, or diaper bag to keep baby entertained on the go. Our car always has a small stack of board books inside to keep our kids entertained on longer trips. The edges may be frayed and the pages stained with juice, but after three boys, they’ve held up relatively well, making them a great investment.
The very first book my oldest son ever had was a cloth book about a ladybug. It had only four pages, bright colors, a soft texture, and antennae and legs that hung from the main body that he could grab and play with. Because there were no sharp edges or hard surfaces, we regularly tucked it into his infant seat for him to look at and play with starting when he was only a few months old. The text had a simple rhyming pattern, which he enjoyed listening to, and he learned to associate this book with fun; it became a favorite “toy” of his earliest months. Since cloth books are soft, yet virtually indestructible, they’re the perfect choice for your baby’s first books. Babies can squeeze them, chew on them, and even snuggle with them; they’re safe to explore and can make books a very positive early experience for both of you.
One of the best ways babies and young children learn language is through repetition. When shopping for books for babies, choose stories with text that repeats itself again and again with some variation. Children will learn the repetitive phrases, and when they’re able to talk, they’ll start “reading” them aloud with you, which is a wonderful building block to independent reading. Babies will also benefit from the repetition of hearing basic language over and over again, helping them develop their verbal skills as they grow.
Rhyme and Sing-Song Text
Much like repetitive text, stories that rhyme or correspond with a tune are very pleasing to babies’ ears. Not only is rhyming a basic characteristic of language, it’s a great way for babies to learn basic sounds and linguistic conventions, which can prepare them for talking. And just about all babies love to be sung to, whether you have a good voice or not, so books that can be sung like “The Itsy-Bitsy Spider” or “The Wheels on the Bus” are a great choice. Many children learn better through music, so this type of baby book is an excellent way to teach your baby a love for language. Singing to your baby is also a wonderful way to bond as you rock and snuggle together.
Babies love to use their eyes to figure out the world around them, so choosing books with baby-friendly pictures and illustrations is a wonderful way to engage your baby and encourage learning. Young babies can only see in black and white and high contrast, so books that are black, white, and red, or have stark contrast in their pictures are perfect for the very earliest reading experiences. As they grow, babies enjoy bright colors and photos of real people and animals. Even browsing through a photo book with pictures of your own family is something that your baby will enjoy. Don’t choose pictures that are too complicated; for babies, simple pictures and illustrations are best.
Babies learn about the world around them through all five senses, so don’t forget to engage them with tactile experiences. There are many cloth and board books that incorporate textures on their pages which baby can feel. A classic example of this is “Pat the Bunny,” but there are now hundreds to choose from. Textures can range from soft and fuzzy to rough, bumpy, and squishy. Exploring these different textures with your baby is a lot of fun, and your baby will learn a lot from feeling the different pages over and over again.
Keep these characteristics in mind when shopping for baby books. Whether the books you choose incorporate one or several of these features, your baby will be sure to enjoy reading from the start when you choose books tailored just for her.