Raise a Reader

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Educational initiatives to assure children that learn to read by the third grade abound at the national, state and local levels. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to realize that reading is the most important educational skill a child can possess. Here are some tips to help raise a reader.

Learning to read doesn’t start in kindergarten — it can start before your baby is born. When friends and family ask what you need, ask them for books, including a reliable guide to children’s literature that you can use to gain insight throughout your baby’s childhood. Some to consider are librarian Kathleen Odean’s volumes, Great Books For Boys, Great Books For Girls and Great Books About Things Kids Love, all published by Ballantine. Another classic guide for families nurturing readers is The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease (Penguin/Putnam), which not only lists titles for every age group and every occasion, but gives good advice on how to emphasize reading within the family.

Reading with babies can be a challenge. They may be more interested in putting books in their mouths or hitting or tearing them — which is why board books were invented. Their sturdy cardboard pages can withstand a lot of wear and tear. Look for titles that emphasize simple concepts like colors, shapes or animals. Little ones especially enjoy seeing photographs of other babies. Baby Faces (Dorling Kindersley) shows babies of all sorts looking happy or sad, crying or laughing. Get Ready Baby by Margaret Miller (LittleSimon) shows babies ready for any kind of day that comes their way.

Board books usually have little or no text, freeing you to improvise. As you read, you can talk with your baby about what’s happening in the pictures, naming colors and shapes and mimicking expressions on the babies’ faces. Show your baby how to turn the pages and do it together. Use words like gentle, soft and slow to describe turning pages. It doesn’t matter if your board book reading sessions last only a minute or so. Integrating reading with singing and finger plays can help reading preparation by exposing your baby to words and sounds.

Finally, sign your child up for a library card and use it regularly. All libraries have rich collections of books for children of all ages, including babies. Ask library staff for suggestions and advice. Make story hours a part of your regular routine. Many libraries host special lapsit story times for very young children where things are kept short, sweet and busy — perfect for babies and toddlers.

Collection Development Librarian, Nashville Public Library

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