When our first child was born a friend gave us a selection of children’s books, mostly the board type, as a baby gift. We admired the idea, and he confessed someone who knew more about children than he, since he was still single, had suggested it.
We put the books right up onto the book shelf and as soon as it seemed appropriate, we started reading them to our son. We added to the collection, and by the time our son could stand in his crib, we were reading him Winnie the Pooh. The sound of the words must have been enjoyable, because he would stand there for long periods while we read. He’d hold his chunky board books, which were everything from Margaret Wise Brown, to Richard Scarry, (that Lowly Worm book he had fit very well into his little hand), to Pat the Bunny. (Here I feel I must make a confession. For years, I thought the name of the bunny was Pat, until I saw a Pat the Cat book and wondered why they’d name two animals the same thing. That was when I realized that Pat was a verb. Embarrassing.)
We thrilled to see Harold and the Purple Crayon’s drawings, and marveled that in Where the Wild Things Are, the dinner was still hot after all the adventure. We knew every word of My Day and Milly’s Surprise. (Spoiler alert: Milly was having puppies.)
It wasn’t long before our little boy moved on to reading Richard Scarry’s The Best Word Book Ever, which we credit with giving him an enormous vocabulary. And he could read anything by the time he was five. His uncle used to test him with medical terms, such as pneumonia, and somehow he knew the words.
Since that time we have always given books as baby gifts. We mix in newer publications that I have found over the years along with the “classics.” We want to encourage reading in all the children and parents we love.
Reading is essential for children, who, by the way, need to be read to long after they can read by themselves. It is a huge indicator of success in school. Modeling reading for non-readers, in other words, being seen reading for pleasure by children, can go a long way toward stressing its importance. Snuggling with a new reader and demonstrating enjoyment (as my husband did while he rolled around laughing when reading the Just So Stories and My Father’s Dragon) will help foster a love of reading in children. If that new reader is reluctant, cuddling can help replace fear with a warm, fuzzy feeling. What better way to think of reading and books?
The truth is, I love children’s books. Unlike the Sesame Street movie that my husband and I went to without a child, which made us feel terribly self-conscious, once our son was born I actually had an excuse to be reading those books. The Story of Ferdinand, who sat in the shade under a cork tree that had tiny corks hanging from the branches, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, which I edited for violence, Sesame Street's Cookie Monster, whom I edited for grammar, and The Little Engine that Could’s motto, "I think I can, I think I can," which we still mention, especially when going up a steep hill. We remember Peter’s Chair, Caps for Sale, Curious George and Lyle Crocodile and the frustration we felt when no one would listen to Tikki Tikki Tembo's brother after he fell into the well.