Liam loves to be read to. It calms him down, provides lots of entertainment, and makes him smile. However, if I had not had the right books, I would have thought that he didn’t care to read. I am convinced that a baby’s enjoyment of reading is all about the right books along with frequent reading.
We keep most of Liam’s books (the ones he is interested in and a few more) on the bookshelf we bought for his room. Library books live in the walker wagon he received for Christmas. But most often, his books are lying on the armrests of our sofa and on our coffee table. The boy loves to read (well, to be read to).
I thought I would give a few of Liam’s favorites in case you want to buy books for the infant in your life. First I’ll share seven things that seem to make a difference in whether Liam likes a book or not. These suggestions would probably apply more to infants than to older children.
1. Rhythm and repetition. There needs to be some sort of pattern to the words. However, he is not into Dr. Suess-style rhyme. It is important that the book have real words and good flow. He also doesn’t seem to love the Suess-style illustrations, but I’ll get to that. (By the way, I love Dr. Suess books, and I am looking forward to the day when I can share them with Liam).
2. Predictability. This goes along with the repetition. He has started recognizing the last few pages of a book and fussing because he doesn’t want it to end. He seems to like knowing what to expect.
3. Real images. From what I can tell, it really matters that the pictures are of real-life objects and people. They can be drawn in a silly way, but they need to be recognizable. Faces are especially important. I’ve heard that babies will always recognize two eyes and a mouth. The faces with no actual face (in some of the beautiful children’s books I love) tend to be a no-go.
4. Bright colors. Muted colors don’t seem to appeal to Liam as much. He likes a wide variety of colors, but he doesn’t mind the occasional black and white page (for example in Goodnight Moon).
5. Clear contrast. This ties in with the previous one. I picked up a book from the library with great rhythm and simple words, but from page one, he wasn’t interested in the watercolor-esque images.
6. Word choice. Again, the words need to be real words. They can be words we don’t use everyday and have some amount of complexity, but for the most part, they should be simple, ordinary words.
7. Length. As you can see from the list below, we have worked our way up to some longer books. If your child seems to lose interest by the end, don’t give up. Just stop that book and pick it up again (from the beginning) later. I’ve found that his attention span for one book will increase over time as long as he likes the majority of the book.
Without further ado, here are Liam’s favorites in order of when he started enjoying them. Several were given to him by his aunt (who is an elementary school teacher who knows THE BEST books), some were my old childhood books, and a couple we got from the library or from friends.
1. Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown. A fellow teacher gave me this and advised that if I received multiple copies to put them away (rather than returning them) because they would be needed when the first copy wore out. This was the first book Liam enjoyed at less than three weeks old.
2. All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon. This is probably Liam’s favorite book of all time. The images are gorgeous. My sister and I want to pull them out and frame them. The rhythm is beautiful, and the word choice is perfect.
3. We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen. This one is a classic. The pages alternate between colors and black and white, which seems to really hold his attention. The rhythm is so much fun.
4. Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. I got the paperback version of this book when I was in first grade from Scholastic (did anyone else do Scholastic?). It’s a rhythmic story of the ABCs climbing up a coconut tree. Spoiler alert: On the last page, it is night, and “a” decides to climb up the tree alone. Because of the contrast, Liam always used to try to pull “a” off the page.
5. The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle. Ever since we had a demonstration when I was in kindergarten on Eric Carle’s artwork, I have loved him as an author and illustrator. This one is great because of how the pages have holes in them as the caterpillar eats his way through various foods. It does not have a clear rhythm, but there is plenty of repetition, and the butterfly illustration at the end (sorry, another spoiler!) is beautiful.
6. Chugga-Chugga Choo-Choo by Kevin Lewis. I found this one through Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Paper Gains (which I highly recommend). We bought it for Liam for Christmas. The colors are bright as they tell the story of a toy train carrying freight through a little boy’s room. Liam loves the repeated, “whooooooo whooooooo!”
7. Cozy Classics Emma by Jack Wang and Holman Wang. This one was also a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation. I was skeptical about whether book with only twelve words would hold Liam’s attention, but the twelve simple words (which tell the story of Jane Austen’s Emma) are well-chosen and coupled with incredible needle-felted illustrations. We plan to get more from this series; I have my eye on Huck Finn.
8. Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld. So once again, this one was a Christmas gift based on the recommendations from Paper Gains. At first, it seemed to be too long and wordy, but within the second or third reading, Liam started to enjoy it more. The images are wonderfully drawn, and the word choice and rhyme are great.
9. Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle. I remembered my niece loving this one, so I got it from the library. Liam instantly loved it. Amazon aptly describes the rhythm as singsong. The images have great contrast against a (usually) white background. I realized recently that Bill Martin Jr. also authored Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (above), and Eric Carle wrote and illustrated The Very Hungry Caterpillar (also above). So it’s a perfect match. I’ve already placed a library hold on Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear?
I feel that this list would be more complete if I could offer you ten books, but right now, these are the only ones Liam can have read to him over and over. Here are a few others he enjoys.
- Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too? by Eric Carle.
- Silly Sally by Audrey Wood. This one took a reading or two for Liam to appreciate.
- Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman (and to some extent, On the Night You Were Born). Both of these are books parents will love because of the sweet messages and lovely illustrations. My sister tells me her fourth graders love them, too. For really young children, books that focus more on the abstract are not necessarily ideal, but I really love both of these, and Liam enjoys them to some extent.
- Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. Again, this one is a little more abstract with less colorful pictures and a bit less rhythm.
- In the Small, Small Pond by Denise Fleming. I love the words. The pictures are a bit less clear, but the rhythm seems to appeal to Liam. It’s quickly becoming a favorite.
If you’re trying to develop your own tiny reader, I’ll leave you with two pieces of advice. First, start early. Even our pediatrician has a note on their newborn reminders sheet about the importance of early reading. Second, persist in finding books your child will love. With the wrong books, it would have been easy to assume Liam didn’t like to read. I do think rhythm, repetition, and clear, colorful images are key for most babies. Go to the library and get some of the ones above, as well as any others that catch your eye and try them out. Liam loves when I sing “The Wheels on the Bus” to him. On a recent trip to the library, I discovered The Babies on the Bus, which has very clear illustrations and plays off of that song. Instant win! So play off of your baby’s interests and preferences. And feel free to comment with any other books your baby has loved. I’m always looking to add to our list of books Liam loves!