By Rachel G. Payne
Reader’s advisory for kids under five? Yes! Even though they may not be able to communicate what they want verbally, they know what they like! And while they droll on, chew, grab, throw, and scribble on library materials, we need to have books for the very young in our libraries. These books and the language they generate from a parent or caregiver actually builds a baby’s brain. And studies show the literacy foundations of early childhood set the stage for future learning.
So what do you do when sleep-deprived parents ask for books their little ones or a toddler says to you “Want dog book”? How do we match the right book for the right baby at the right time? Here a reader’s advisory guide and a mini child development course rolled into one. Remember, all kids develop at their own pace, so the ages listed below are average approximations.
Snugglers (Newborns, 0-6 months)
What they are doing…. The youngest babies are often snuggled up in a parent’s arm, hunkered down in carrier, or sleeping in the stroller. They are mastering sucking and grasping which their very survival (nursing) depends on. At this age, they can see all colors, but their vision is blurry and they can’t distinguish between colors and focus on smaller objects until 3 or 4 months of age. If they are interested in something, they will stare and stare and stare. At about 3 months, babies begin to smile to the joy (and relief) of their bone-tired parents. Many pediatricians encourage babies to enjoy stints on their bellies (a.k.a. “tummy time”) to develop their core muscles. Babies are also listening to everything and learning the rhythms of speech in their native tongue.
Books for the age… Books with high-contrast colors (black, white, and red), bright colors, and bold designs and patterns which are easiest for them to discern. Accordion-fold books, which stand up on their edges, are great for tummy time sessions. Encourage parents to talk while they read books to their newborn. If the books only have a few words, talk about each picture in detail. Parents can even read-aloud a book or magazine that interests them! Board books are great, but don’t forget about cloth books and even a Tyvek-like material. If babies grab and want to chew on favorite book, let parents know this is normal. Try swapping the book for a teething toy and keep on reading. Encourage baby’s sensory exploration with books with tactile elements.
- I Kissed the Baby by Mary Murphy
- Black & White by Tana Hoban (accordion fold)
- The Baby Goes Beep by Rebecca O’Connell, illustrated by Ken Wilson-Max
Cruisers (6-12 months)
What they are doing… These bouncing babies have already learned to roll over and sit up. They are more mobile through such moves as commando crawls, butt scoots, or the traditional crawl. As they learn to stand and move towards walking they will “cruise” from chair to chair. They are more aware of the world around them and often babble, squeal, laugh, and cry to show their interest and feelings. They transfer objects between hands and point at things of interest. They are beginning to understand more and more of what they hear and they can often respond to simple questions with gestures and sounds.
Books for the age… Babies of this age become fascinated with their own reflection and images of other babies, so books with photos of creatures like them are a huge hit. Books should also have objects and things that babies are familiar with, so save those sophisticated fairy tales for another time. With their new found dexterity, these babies may interact more with the books and their pages while parents and caregivers are reading with them. It also means they may not read pages consecutively, turn several pages at the same time, and may want to close the book altogether. Many parents worry that this means their baby hates books, but, on the contrary, this means they are curious about books and want to understand how they work. Go with the flow and don’t worry about the plot right now. Books with interesting tactile elements, flaps, or die-cut holes to explore make these book exploration experiences more fun.
- Global Babies/Bebés del mundo by Global Fund for Children
- Peekaboo Morning by Rachel Isadora
- Where is Maisy? by Lucy Cousins
Walkers (1-2 year olds)… As kids start to walk (usually around their first birthday), the world opens up to them again. These youngsters are always on the go and enjoy pushing and pulling toys and other objects. They can often be seen walking around with a toy in each hand. They often make their needs know with single words and gestures. Toddlers are learning language at an exponential rate (nine new words a day), but little ones can often understand more than they can say. This can lead to frustration. They often enjoy imitating adult behaviors.
Books for the age… With their new-found mobility, toddlers often find it difficult to sit for a story, which parents worry means their children don’t like books. Keep on reading! If they get off your lap and start to play, follow them and keep reading! Find books that have interesting gimmicks such as things to feel, flaps to open, and dials to spin. Look for books that can be sung or have fun word-play (don’t forget about Mother Goose rhymes!). To help with language learning, look for books with the 3 R’s: rhythm, rhyme, and repetition. And to help them understand their emotional world, find simple stories that will help label their feelings.
- Clip-Clop by Nicola Smee
- Book! by Kristine O’Connell George, illustrated By Maggie Smith
- Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley
Talkers (2-3 year olds)… While talking emerges gradually for most children, twos begin to string words into sentences. Again, they can often understand more than they say and they demonstrate this by pointing to familiar objects when named. Much to their parent’s chagrin, they are both runners and walkers. Their awareness of their own feelings is growing and they feel things intensely. Many adults describe this age as the “Terrible Twos” for precisely this reason. Also, their favorite word is often “No!!!!” with multiple exclamation marks and the volume turned up to eleven. Most parents start and often complete toilet training during this year, but usually not without with lots sweat, tears, and other bodily fluids.
Books for the age… Twos often are obsessed with a certain topic, often a vehicle or animal. Encourage parents to check out nonfiction on topics of interest with large photos and simply talk about the pictures, dipping in and out of the text as they wish. Look for stories that help with a child’s coalescing fears and feelings. Suggest for stories with interactive refrains or animal sounds the toddlers can chime in on. Often parents will come to the library at this age ask for books to tackle specific challenges, potty training, sharing, etc, so have of these suggestions ready in your back pocket.
- Simms Taback’s Safari Animals by Simms Taback
- Time to Pee! by Mo Willems
- Owl Babies by Martin Waddell; illustrated by Patrick Benson
Preschoolers (3 and 4 years olds)… While this may be a wide age range, many of the important tasks of the first years have been reached. Children at this age are walking, talking, self-feeding, and using the toilet. Their vocabularies are growing at amazing rate; by age 5 many children understand 13,000 words and can use 1500-2000 words particularly if they have been spoken with and read to during their younger days. A conceptual understanding of time (past, present, and future), their moral understanding, and an expanded sense of empathy are all developing. Their physical development is also blossoming but their attention spans are growing making it easier for them to participate in group activities.
Books for the ages… All of the above means that it is easier for children to read and enjoy books with plots. Start with simple stories and move on to more and more sophisticated narratives. “Nursery” stories such as “The Three Little Pigs” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” are perfect with their repetitive plots, teaching youngsters the structure of stories. With their burgeoning sense of humor, preschoolers love silly word play, nonsense, and contrary behavior in their books. Often parents will rush into chapters books with their sophisticated four year olds and think they are getting their child “ahead.” Just because a child can understand all the words read aloud in the Harry Potter series does not mean they are developmentally ready for the tension and suspense in those books. Many picture books can be quite sophisticated in their own way (check out William Steig’s books), so encourage parents to savor and enjoy picture books together as long they can.
- One Hot Summer Day by Nina Crews
- The Piggy in the Puddle by Charlotte Pomerantz, illustrated by James Marshall
- The Gingerbread Boy by Richard Egielski
About the Author
Rachel Payne is coordinator of early childhood services at Brooklyn Public Library and a co-author of Reading with Babies, Toddlers, and Twos. She has reviewed for Kirkus and written for School Library Journal.