1. Advantages of an Early Start
How soon should a child be introduced to the book experience? As soon as the child will sit still for and take obvious pleasure from the experience. Of course, this varies from child to child, but a surprising proportion of pre-tots as young as six months is willing and able to enjoy being read to. At this earliest stage, reading may mean no more than commenting on the illustrations in a simple picture book. The early introduction of the book experience is not only advantageous to your child but to you as well. What’s in it for your youngster – in addition to the warm, enclosing creature comfort of Mommy’s or Daddy’s lap – is a beginning knowledge of the cognitive connection between symbolic information (pictures and words) and objective information from nature (trees, flowers, and pussycats). The earlier books become a pleasurable part of a child’s life, the more likely he or she is to develop that uniquely beneficial life practice: the book habit.
The advantage to parents of the early introduction of the book experience: getting the load off your feet for as long as your youngster will sit still for being read to.
2. Book Selection
The short answer to the question “What kinds of books are likely to encourage children to become readers?” is “All kinds.” A longer answer could include a proviso that commonsense “age and stage” considerations should always apply: a Three Little Pigs which a child accepts with equanimity at two may give that child the screaming meemies at three.
While the broad range of children’s books — board books, storybooks, nursery rhymes, and tales — are all helpful in preparing a child for reading, it is the easy-to-read category which has specific application to that learning-to-read process. This general category falls into two subgroups:
1) Simple not-quite-storybooks, often in rhyme and usually humorous, with bold pictures closely related to relatively few large-type words. This type of book is most helpful at the earliest stage of learning to read, when the young aspirant to literacy needs all the help he or she can get from the clues provided by rhyme and close connection between words and pictures.
2) Simplified storybooks (or works of nonfiction) in which pictures predominate and large-type text relates closely but not necessarily directly to the pictures. This type of book is most useful for the child who has acquired some beginning reading skills: some phonics knowledge and some word recognition experience.
3. Follow the Child’s Lead
Every child has his or her own temperament, which gives rise to a complex of tendencies, predilections, and interests. Within reason these should be respected, not ridden roughshod over. Children very early adopt favorites – favorite activities, favorite toys, favorite books, and favorite types of books. While it’s certainly appropriate to offer a child a balanced diet of books, it’s neither fair nor appropriate to shut down on his or her special enthusiasms. If you hear yourself saying, “But, darling, you already have seven dinosaur books. How about this nice butterfly book?” just remember that five-foot shelf of Agatha Christies you’ve accumulated over the years – and bite your tongue. How about digging down a little deeper and buying your budding reader the dinosaur book and the butterfly book?