Why it’s never too early to kick-start the reading habit

by Maegan Dobson Sippy

The importance of reading for pleasure is a phrase we often hear… but how does it begin, and what’s the best way to achieve this Holy Grail? The secret may well be in the timing – the earlier a child becomes familiar with books, the more likely she is to love them. And while many would wholeheartedly endorse this, there’s a lot of doubt about what early really means. Before school? As a toddler? From birth?

While reading to your newborn may not be common, there’s much to recommend it. The rhythm of speech (especially from a familiar voice) has the potential to soothe – whatever the words may be. As a baby starts to engage more actively with the world around her, books can provide visual stimulus in terms of colour, as well as textures and sounds. By the time a little one is supporting their own head, the physical act of turning pages provides endless entertainment – a positive association likely to stay with a child for life.

There’s nothing like reading with a young child to dispel preconceived adult notions about what a book is, or how it should be read. Can it be enjoyed upside down? Yes. Do we need to read the words on each page? No. Is it tasty? Maybe! Recent release Books Always Everywhere by Jane Blatt captures this perfectly. With just a few words per page (coupled with glorious illustrations), it shows us books through a baby’s eyes – a book can be tall or small, be a hat, a chair, a mat or a building block – and can be read anywhere… but above all it’s a book, and that in itself is a special thing.

If you’re wondering where to start, then bath books are a good option. Publishers like Ladybird, Usborne and DK have a good selection of these simple, waterproof volumes. Cloth books, too, make for great first reads – and you can even find versions of much-loved stories like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle in this format. Sturdy board books are also able to withstand multiple readings, and work particularly well if they have large fonts, bright pictures, few words and interactive elements. Author Leslie Patricelli (the master of simple humour) and paper engineer Jo Lodge have got these elements spot on in books like Yummy Yucky and Splat! Little Cow respectively.

Babies also love to look at images of babies (well, who doesn’t?), and luckily publishers have cottoned onto this in a variety of board books. Tickle, Tickle and Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes (both illustrated by Helen Oxenbury in her quintessentially nostalgic style) as well asThe Baby’s Catalogue by Janet and Allan Ahlberg are all classics for a reason – besides charming adults, babies will pore over them again and again.

While there’s a distinct lack of Indian publishers making board, bath or cloth books for children below the age of one, there are some good local options for this age group – it just might be that you have to buy multiple copies when the pages invariably tear! Tulika Publishers’ OkaasamaOtousama by Sandhya Rao is a book with sparing text (just the words ‘mother’ and ‘father’ on each page, in a variety of languages) and absorbing illustrations. Flutterfly by Niveditha Subramaniam is entirely wordless, and invites multiple re-readings and retellings based on beautifully sketched illustrations which take you into a child’s imagination.

As you edge closer to first birthdays and beyond, rhymes will hold a tot’s attention… so much so that they demand to hear them again and again! Think books like Oluguti Toluguti, which brings together Indian rhymes in a variety of languages, or even simple stories with strong rhythm likeTiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar, in which typography plays a role in creating visually stunning pages. Above all, of course, the more you enjoy the reading experience, the more that joy will be passed on. Because everything else aside, the act of sharing a book is a bonding experience between adult and child.

Some toddler books I enjoyed reading

Books Always Everywhere by Jane Blatt (Nosy Crow)

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Cloth Book by Eric Carle (Puffin)

Yummy Yucky by Leslie Patricelli (Candlewick)

Splat! Little Cow by Jo Lodge (Campbell Books)

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox (Houghton Mifflin)

The Baby’s Catalogue by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (Puffin)

Okaasama Otousama by Sandhya Rao (Tulika Publishers)

Flutterfly by Niveditha Subramaniam (Tulika Publishers)

Oluguti Toluguti (Tulika Publishers)

Tiger on a Tree by Anushka Ravishankar (Tara Books)


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