Reading to your baby

There are many activities I did with my boys when they were babies that I don’t think had very much impact on them. However, the one thing I will never ever regret is reading to them from a very early age. Now, when I say that I don’t mean I started when they were old enough to sit still, listen and understand, I mean pretty much from birth onwards. I remember reading when I was pregnant that at first it doesn’t matter what you read but just the process of reading out loud that your baby benefits from: they love to hear the rise and fall of your voice. I found that poetry was a great way to start; part of my boys’ bedtime routine was the poem ‘The Owl and the Pussycat’ just before lights out (this was for sentimental reasons as it was the poem my husband recited as part of his wedding speech <3) Rhyme and rhythm has a very calming effect on babies. I learnt this poem off by heart and could still rattle it off for you now!

colourful books

Here are some of the books that I read to my boys from very early on:

My Many Colored days – Dr Seuss

This is one of Dr Seuss’ lesser known books. It’s a little different in that it isn’t illustrated by him but by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. The result is a gloriously colourful book exploring feelings and emotions through colour. I learned how to read aloud to my son with this book – you can’t read it straight, with no emotion, it pushes you to give it a bit of drama. The one thing I discovered through reading to Joseph and Adam is that the more you act things out the more your baby will react – don’t be shy or embarrassed to change your voice and give characters silly accents, it all adds to the richness and fun of the whole experience!

Mister Magnolia – Quentin Blake

I adore this counting book, the story of Mr Magnolia who’s life is full – he has an old trumpet that goes rooty-toot and two lovely sisters who play on the flute! – apart from the fact that he has only one boot. There are some wonderful opportunities for noise making and so many more rhymes for the word boot than you would ever believe! As always, Quentin Blake’s illustrations are so fresh and vibrant, tying together the story and subtly building up the numbers on each page. You’ll be glad to hear that everything turns out alright in the end for Mister Magnolia, finishing with a joyous party for everyone – including the very fat owls, who are learning to hoot

One Was Johnny – Maurice Sendak

This is one of Sendak’s Nutshell Library alongside – Pierre (who didn’t care), Alligators all around and Chicken soup with rice – all beautifully illustrated by Maurice Sendak.
Some rhyming books just beg to be learnt off by heart and spoken aloud at any given moment. I particularly remember reciting this poem to two fractious boys in a boring traffic jam with calming results. Out walking recently with my boys, now 10 and 12, we were able to recall it pretty much word for word, despite not having read the book for maybe 4 or 5 years.

Hairy Maclary Scattercat – Lynley Dodd

“Hairy Maclary felt bumptious and bustly, bossy and bouncy and frisky and hustly. He wanted to run. He wanted to race. But the MAIN thing he wanted was something to chase…”

What’s not to love about such irresistible rhymes?! This book just trips off the tongue. We loved the gorgeous cats, bouncy dog and the scary Scarface Claw, who puts poor Hairy Maclary hilariously in his place. Lynley Dodd’s illustrations are so bright and fun, I’d love to have them framed on my walls.

The Gruffalo – Julia Donaldson

I couldn’t make this list without including one book by the ubiquitous Julia Donaldson. Something about her books and Axel Scheffler’s illustrations draws children in and engages them, even from a very young age. I could easily have chosen the Snail and the Whale or Room on the Broom for this slot, as they were both favourites for reading to my boys, such fluid rhymes and a great sense of humour makes them fun for grown ups just as much as for babies.

I could go on happily recommending books all day but I think I will leave it at 5 this time. I will write another blog soon about books for older babies. Don’t forget that you don’t have to spend lots of money going out and buying these books new, check out second hand bookshops, swap with other families or support your local library.
I am no literacy expert but I do know that after years of reading together, Joseph and Adam are still avid readers – for them a trip to the library is a real treat and results in a quiet afternoon for me as they curl up with their book choices in the front room. We still read together at night, choosing books that they wouldn’t necessarily get through on their own and gives us all a chance for time together and to share our love of books.

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