We have been reading to both our babies since they were in utero, and reading is a way of life at home. But we’ve had multiple questions from folks who visit us or follow us on social media. I realise that the concept of reading to babies is still quite novel (see what I did there?) in many places. Hence, this comprehensive post on baby books.
Before reading words, babies read pictures. “Reading” books helps in their visual and auditory stimulation. Reading to children also improves their language aquisition and speech development. It prepares a child for literacy. How can a child who has not heard or seen a word, read or wrote it, no? When a baby hears more words, her neural network improves. But most importantly, reading to a baby, helps increase bonding between the caregiver and child. You can read more in detail about the pros of reading here.
When can one start reading?
If I had a book for every time I am asked this, I’d have had a library. My answer is always the same. Now. It is never too early or too late to start reading. A long list of books to read to babies in utero will be coming up next week. But one can start right from day 1. We started as soon as we were back home from the hospital.
A brief categorization of must-have books for the first year and how to choose books can also be found here.
In this blog, I have listed the progression of books for babies with specific recommendations. Please note, this is a broad list and you’ll have to follow your child to know which would appeal to her, when.
Books for birth-3months
At this stage, the child does not yet reach out to touch or hold the book. She is only looking at the book. Black and white board books that have high contrast images are wonderful at this stage. You can choose to skip this if you’re using black and white cards. Bonus points if the book is a crinkle or cloth book as it can be used for the next level as well.
Our favourite titles are those by Tana Hoban, specifically What is that, and Black on White. If you’ve already read out a particular title during pregnancy, you’ll notice that the baby responds to that book during reading at this stage. It also helps her settle into the environment easily.
Books for 3-6months
At some point in this period, the child starts batting or grasping books. A cloth book is soft to touch and manipulate and a crinkle book offers auditory stimulation as well. Children at this stage usually love faces, so we try to incorporate that into our selection.
Our favourite titles are Our Farm and The Crinkle Pets series.
Books for 6-9 months
By now the child can sit comfortably and is keenly taking in as many pictures as possible. She also shows needs sensory stimulus and is interested in touching various textures. Board books with bright pages, one image per page, minimal words or touch and feel books are the best at this stage.
At this stage, the child understands that pictures are a representation of real objects. It makes sense to use books with pictures that are as close to real life, but make sure they appeal to your aesthetic sensibilities.
Our favourite titles are from Ladybird Baby touch and The Tree book.
Books for 9-12months
By now, the child can sit through a small story easily. We loved Eric Carle, Karen Katz and Mem Fox books at this stage.
Some children love absorbing vocabulary. For such a baby, a first 100 words kind of book would be lovely.
Some children love peekaboo games and interactive nature of books. Lift the flap books are a great option for these babies. Rod Campbell books were loved a lot at this stage by my little.
Side note: Do remember to never set up the baby for failure. When a baby is exploring books, it is imperative to give her something that won’t tear and she can handle easily. Rag books, fabric books, board books and if you have a particularly spirited baby, indestructibles are good options.
How to read
Okay, all this sounds great. But how do I actually read to my child? You will have to find your sweet spot but try to work it into your routine. Bedtime reading is one of our most loved times during the day. One can prop the book in front of the baby during tummy time or lie down next to her and hold it above your head or simple have her in your lap.
Once you’ve settled into your position,just read. It need not be verbatim and can be in your mother tongue (in fact, I highly recommend it be more of storytelling/ conversational than verbatim). Ask questions and use your voice to modulate, and your fingers to point out objects.
Always look at your child to see which aspects she enjoys. I find reading to a baby is extremely therapeutic as it needs you to be totally present in the moment and observe the baby for cues.
This is a beautiful trial and error to find out what works best for the two of you.
Some commonly asked questions
My baby does not seem interested in the book whatever I do. What should I do?
Let her be. As a parent, my job is to expose the child to a wide variety of rich stimuli to learn her preferences. There will be phases when the baby is more interested in movement or exploring surroundings. Model reading yourself. Let her see you reading. Keep books accessible and show her that reading is joy, not a chore.
How often/ long should I read?
As often as you or baby want. there is no minimum or maximum number. And one will find that these numbers change everyday with the same baby and parent.
Should a baby sit through a whole book, everytime?
No. Every reading is different and special. 🙂 If you find the baby moving away or looking elsewhere, close the book or modify your reading.
How often to rotate books?
Babies love repetition and familiarity. I’ve found that keeping a basket with about 2-5 books per week works well for us in the first year.
Does reading have to be expensive?
No! In the early months, it is more about language and emotional bonding. A family album, newspaper, pictures, DIY projects and preloved stores are some ways to make reading sustainable.
What if the baby mouths/chews/ plays with the books?
A baby must do all of this before discovering how to flip pages. I recommend washable and sturdy books that give confidence to the exploring child.
You can access all my book recommendations for 0-1 here. I also buy baby books from Pupilio , Eat Play Read and The Bookmark. Remember, reading is a beautiful and personal journey. Don’t get too caught up in the the numbers or theories. Let the focus shine on having beautiful experiences with your baby.