Sharing books is a brilliant way to bond with your child, as well as to engage, to entertain, to enlighten. And it’s our job to open those very first pages to reveal what delights await therein…
From the moment she was born, my daughter was the lucky recipient of an enviable library of wonderful books and was born, I couldn’t wait to start sharing them with her. I was spurred on by some research I’d read about the Bookstart initiative that had informed me in no uncertain terms that babies need books!
I surrounded my daughter Grace with a happy collection of chunky board books, cloth books, squidgy bath books, then stood back and waited. And waited. Nothing. Okay, so she was probably only five or six months at the time, but I sort of felt disappointed. Babies love books, don’t they? Of course, it was only a matter of time before I realized that the onus was on me to open up the world of books for Grace, to sit her on my knee and to look through the books together, to talk about the pictures, to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in appreciation of the smiling cat, zooming rocket or chubby babies who starred in her early reading matter.
Sharing books with your baby is all about learning that pages are for turning, that the mysterious squiggles on the page have meaning, and that books are for holding this-a-way up (though there’s something very delightful about a toddler ‘reading’ her book upside down).
At first, your baby may just want to put the book in their mouth, but before long, she will be entranced by the pictures on the page, exploring the scrunchy textures of her bright activity books (Usborne’s That Not My… is a winning series), turning the chunky pages with chubby fingers, or, as babies are wont to do, cutting her teeth on the spine.
In her ground-breaking book Babies Need Books, children’s book expert Dorothy Butler – a mother, grandmother, teacher and writer – is adamant about the vital role parents play. She hastens to add that the benefits of this “dedicated involvement” can also have a powerful and positive impact on the parent-child bond. But more importantly, it’s a fun and rewarding experience. “Fortunately, this need not mean encumbering parents with yet another onorous duty,” says Butler. “Children’s books are things of beauty and delight. Adults who become convinced that they should share them with their children have presented themselves with passports to fun, quite apart from the opportunity to stay in touch with their children through the years when their minds are daily expanding.”
For parents, there’s the nostalgic joy of getting reacquainted with the wild and wacky world of Dr Seuess or the very hungry caterpillar. How amazing is it that children are still joyfully poking chubby fingers into Carle’s iconic cut-outs 45 years after it was first published. My daughter Grace was lucky to meet the man himself (as you’ll see in the photograph, inset left) and proudly told her nursery teacher that he was her friend. “Of course he is,” the teacher replied, oblivious to the fact that Grace had actually met him. “He is everyone’s friend.”
A good tip is to make books easily accessible: we have a collection of wicker baskets that sit under the coffee table and can easily be pulled out and rummaged through, and the children’s books nestle on the lower shelves so little hands can easily reach them. I’ll admit that there are times when I’ll try and steer my child towards books that I like – they might not have chosen Steven Guarnaccia’s brilliantly artistic beatnik version of Goldilocks with Eames’ furniture, but hey, the story is a classic. And why not throw in a touch of classic design too? Grace rather predictably went through her fairy period and equally predictably Joe loves anything about trains, car, and vehicles, and is a frequenter of the busy world of Richard Scarry. And surely it’s a sign of a good parent who endures endless retellings of Thomas et al with good grace.
There are also many fond family favourites from Nick Sharratt’s My Mum And Dad Make Me Laugh, to anything by Allan Ahlberg. It’s interesting to see how Joe and Grace noticed different elements in the same book: Grace liked the fashion and animals, while Joe notices the cars.
That’s the beauty of sharing a picture book with your child: what they notice and point out will help you see the world through their eyes. Everyone will gain something different from it, depending on their individual
interests and passions.
This is especially important for boys who, sad to say, are often more reluctant than girls to read. That’s when high adventure, toilet humour – dare we suggest The Pop Up Book of Poo? – and characters like Horrid Henry and The Wimpy Kid come into play. If your son enjoys comics, that’s fine too: there’s no room for snobbery. As any reading expert will tell you, any reading matter is good practice.
From those first chunky board books and vivid picture books, there’s a long and hopefully exciting road ahead for your child’s reading journey. Whether it’s the fantasy adventures of Narnia, Alice in Wonderland or Harry Potter, I guarantee it will be a great adventure. World Book Day is a brilliant initiative that really gets kids excited about the wonderfully imaginative world of fictional characters that inhabit the pages of children’s literature, with kids often dressing up as their favourite characters (and mummies sewing late at night to put the finishing touches to Fantastic Mr Fox tails (see photograph of Joe, inset left).