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A Note on Age…

The reviews here are all categorised by a rough age-group that you can search via the links on the right.  In addition, particular reviews may highlight stages at which a book might strike a chord or be at an appropriate level.  Roughly speaking, ‘baby’ means anything up to 12 months, ‘toddler’ is from one year to approximately two and a half, and ‘preschooler’ is from two and a half to five years.  Many ‘preschooler’ books would also be appropriate for those in primary school.

The trouble is, as always, all children are different.  It means very little in terms of their development, it’s just a question of how interested in words they are by temperament, how long they are willing to tolerate sitting down, which topics are to their liking, how much detail they like in their pictures – there are so many variables in the way children mature and grow that it’s very hard to say at what age they will be ready for specific books.

As far as possible, books on here are organised into the broadest of categories.  If it’s possible that a child of that age-group would like it, you can find it under that category.  So The Gruffalo, for example, is listed for toddlers even though lots of 15 month olds may find it too long, as some 18 month olds may be ready for it, and by two a number of them would cope with the length of it.  it just depends on the child.

Hopefully the categories help to narrow down the options a bit if you are searching for a particular age-group – but don’t get too hung up on them.  And if you disagree, then say so!  There’s always room for debate in the comments on each review, particularly if you found something was too challenging or too basic at a particular age – others will then benefit from your experience.

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Why books?

I’m assuming if you are reading this you are already someone who reads with your child.  So in a way, this post may be redundant.  But it does no harm to remind ourselves why reading is so important.  When the days are busy, particularly when you have more than one child at home, reading can be sidelined.  If you’re not asked, sometimes it’s difficult to be the one who takes the book off the shelf and makes that suggestion.

So, why should we read with our children?  Here are lots of good reasons:

1. Bonding

Note the use of ‘with’, not ‘to’.  Reading is a bonding activity which two (or more!) people do together.  When you read with someone, you are sharing an experience.  If nothing else, reading is an excuse (as if one were needed!) to cuddle up on a chair and do something productive.  Some children are not naturally cuddly, in which case a book can be a great excuse for getting close together.  Snuggling up also helps to associate positive feelings with books and reading – you could even have a special ‘story chair’ or cushion!

2. Learning ‘book’ rules

Children don’t arrive in this world with an innate knowledge of how books work.  Reading helps teach them which bit is the cover, where to find a title, how to read from left to right, how to turn pages… This may be the era of Kindles and iPads and the internet but books are still going to have a place in the world, the classroom and the workplace for a while to come.

3. Have experiences of the wider world in your own home

Unless you are rich and blessed with infinite amounts of free time, you cannot regularly take children to the city, the countryside, the farm, the zoo, the beach, and on holiday.  But by reading about them you can give children at least a taste of what’s out there, giving them the vocabulary and a sense of what to expect.

4. Vocabulary

The more words children are exposed to at a young age, the larger their vocabulary as they grow – fairly obvious, really!  But it’s not always easy to vary your own language on a day-to-day basis.  Reading exposes children (and you) to more words than you might otherwise use.  (Read Click Clack Moo and your toddler may even drop ‘ultimatum’ into casual conversation!)

5. Exposing them to written language

To write well, children have to learn the difference between spoken and written language rules.  Literacy teaching these days tries to explain this (which is frankly pretty difficult, even at secondary level, and should really be left well alone) but the easiest way is to make sure that children get just as much exposure to the written word as they do to the spoken.

6. Narrative structure

Even books without words can teach children about narrative structure and understanding the basics of organising a text.  Readers learn about beginnings, middles and endings, about what makes something full of suspense, and when something seems unfinished.

7. Cultural heritage

Language and culture are closely interlinked.  Through reading children can learn about their own culture and about cultures different from their own.  They can also form a new culture based on the books you’ve shared as a family.  This will become something you refer back to in years to come, so be prepared for “Mum, do you remember that book? What was it called?” Many fond memories are based in books.

8. Logical thinking skills

Even picture books for very young children require interpretation and consideration.  Reading helps to develop  these logical thinking skills and through asking the right questions you can take this even further.  Instead of asking closed (yes or no, or ‘point-to-the-object’ questions), ask open questions: “how do you think this character feels?” or “what do you think will happen next?”

9. You can comment and interact

Children’s television often shows stories, and you can buy plenty of audio books, but nothing beats reading ‘live’.  The reason is that televisions can’t listen.  They can’t vary their pace to suit your child.  They won’t stop and explain the difficult words, or repeat things that sound interesting.   Even if you think your reading voice is awful, it is better than anything else because it is yours.

10. Show them that books are important

Giving books a place in your life shows your child that you respect books and that they are valued.  When you give books a special home like a shelf, or a box, when you treat them carefully and look after them, and of course when you read them, you are demonstrating that these strange cardboad things are important.

11. Learning lifeskills

Books are a great way to teach specific skills or to prepare for particular experiences.  There are lots of books about potty-training, eating, going to bed, going to the zoo, going to the dentist, seeing the doctor, losing a pet, etc.  They can be really effective at helping children deal with new situations or difficulties.

12. Concentration

Learning to sit quietly and listen is great preparation for school.  Enjoying and concentrating on pictures whilst listening to the words is a good antidote to the frenetic busy life that most toddlers lead – and to the lively television that they watch!  That said, don’t push it.  Don’t force a child to sit still and listen or you will just put them off. Always make reading pleasurable, and if they won’t sit still, try another day.

13. Bedtime routine

Reading a story at bedtime is a great way to wind-down before bed.  Most children sleep better with a consistent bedtime routine; a book is a lovely way to end the day and to calm them down.  Choose your books wisely, however.  For the sensitive, books about monsters or scary happenings are best avoided, and for the excitable, read something sedate. For some suggestions, have a look at the books listed under the ‘bedtime’ category.

14. Speech, language and communication skills

Books both model good communication skills and develop them by allowing you to interact as you read together.  And it’s no surprise that children who are read to tend to develop better speech skills that those that aren’t.  The exposure to language makes a real difference to how children express themselves.

15. Word recognition

Reading begins as a passive activity – with being read to.  Listening to you read a book, children start to recognise the visual image of the words.  Although most teaching of reading is now based on phonics, most children read at least some words by recognising the outline of the word on the page.

16. Phonological awareness

Reading together helps children understand the sounds that make up language.  And the more clearly you read the better.  It doesn’t matter what your accent is, but slowing down and making each sound as clear as possible will help children when they come to learning how to spell.

17. Appreciating good writing

The best way of learning the difference between good and bad writing, and, as importantly, what kinds of writing they do and don’t like, is for children to experience as much of it as possible.  It doesn’t matter how many reports, information texts and leaflets about tourism in the Maldives they are told to produce at school, what will shape their knowledge – and hopefully love – of literature is the books they have read.  From Julia Donaldson to Jane Austen or Jack Kerouac.  From Eric Carle to Charles Dickens – via Roald Dahl.

DON’T STOP DOING IT.

When your child learns to read, it is not a sign that you should stop reading to them.  Hearing you read will improve their own confidence and skills and allow them to appreciate more difficult texts.  It will encourage them to get better at reading and will continue the enjoyment of that shared experience with you.  Even teenagers in school enjoy having books read to them, so don’t stop until you have to – perhaps when they leave for college!

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Keep it simple: books are not toys

There is a move in teaching and learning these days to make lessons as exciting as possible for children.  It is hard to disagree with this; children can’t learn if they are not engaged, and an hour with a pen, a book and a whiteboard is not going to get them very far.

However, at its most extreme there are inherent dangers in the classroom where the teacher becomes an entertainer, a performer, and the actual educational value of the lesson is hidden by the bells and whistles of the delivery.  A lesson is not a good lesson just because it involves an interactive whiteboard, a CD player, some large sheets of sugar-paper and a video camera.  In fact, if you are not careful, children come to the classroom and expect to be entertained.  They learn to switch off if they expected to find the interest for themselves.  And if this continues for too long, they do not possess the coping strategies to deal with the boring, repetitive, or demanding tasks that will inevitably arise as they grow older.

This is not to say that children should be intentionally bored in class, or that interactive, exciting lessons are wrong – clearly a good teacher and a creative lesson is much more likely to stick in the mind.  But we should not be afraid to let children learn in simpler, calmer, ways.  The skill of loving learning for learning’s own sake rather than because of the exciting delivery is a really crucial one if they are to maintain success throughout their school life.

So what does this have to do with books? Well, many books available today are what we might call ‘techno-books’.  They make noises, they talk, they have magic pens which ‘read’ the words, they light up, they are full of textures, they have buttons.  These probably have their place, and children often enjoy them, but do they just teach children to expect books to act like their toys? Do they teach them to demand more from a book than a book should be expected to offer?

These days you can also read books on your ipad and other tablet devices.  But should you? A huge part of the learning process of a book is its physicality.  The act of turning the page to find out what happens engages the child in the process of narrative – which is why flaps that are integrated into the story make for excellent books for babies and young toddlers.  An electronic device cannot replicate that.

A book is a wonderful thing when it consists of nothing more than the sum of its parts: pages, pictures and a good reader.  Techno-books do children a disservice when they suggest otherwise.

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When to start reading?

When to start reading very much depends on the nature and personality of your baby, but generally speaking, the earlier, the better.

Some quiet but alert babies will be happy to be read to from birth, but three months is often suggested as a good time to begin.  By then babies are starting to be more curious about the world and they can focus clearly on a page held in front of them.  Choose simple, short books with high levels of colour contrast.   At this age most babies will be easily bored and whilst you may want to start reciting the Gruffalo at your earliest opportunity there is no benefit if they cannot concentrate that long.  For most babies, a short rhyming book or a simple series of pictures (Tana Hoban’s Black on White and White on Black, for example) will be ideal.

 

For babies, most of the pleasure comes from cuddling up and listening to your voice, so there is no need to be overly creative – plenty of time for that later when your toddler demands you “do the voices like Daddy does!”  It can be worth considering how you read though.  Your baby will learn an enormous amount about language from the way that you talk to him or her, so slow down, enunciate clearly, and speak calmly and softly.  Consider too what you are using the book for; for young babies, a book is an ideal wind-down activity before a nap, so use your voice like a lullaby-machine.  As they grow older, you can include more exciting books and vary the pitch and dynamics of how you read.

Even with very young babies, remember to read with them, and not just to them.  Even though they can’t answer back, always talk about and around the book, not just the words on the page.  Leave gaps as if for their part of the conversation and one day they may surprise you by answering!

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Welcome to The Eager Little Bookworm

Here at the Eager Little Bookworm we are reading like mad to get the first of our book reviews up online.  We have a whole library to get through, but hopefully you will soon be able to read about the books we love best!  Along the way there will be tips and advice on reading with your own eager little bookworm and sharing the beginnings of a life-long journey through the world of books.

 

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Dr Seuss, I Can Read with My Eyes Shut