In our house, reading reigns supreme. A book is my solution to everything, from something to do when you're bored to the perfect design aesthetic (I keep my library color-coordinated). But most importantly, I remember what books were to me when I was young, what they have continued to be for me, even into adulthood, and I want that for my daughters. Reading is something that we can have in common--something I love, something my kids love, and something that benefits us all.
I think it's really important to use books as a challenge; but there is also something to be said for focusing on what's age-appropriate. That way, books are working with your child's development, not against it.
These are some of the books that we read to our girls at various ages and why I loved them for that phase.
0-6 months: Hello, Animals by Smriti Prasadam
Board books, contrasting in black and white, are perfect for freshly born eyes. It is a way to engage baby in focus, early vocabulary, and the precious quiet time spent in your lap, listening to your voice.
6 months-1 year: Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
Maybe it's a generic selection, but there's a reason this book is so classic for babies. I love the rhythm. It's peaceful. I remember rocking my babies to sleep, reciting the poem from memory even, and how it's something they grew up knowing. Even now, I sometimes still say these words as I tuck them in, and it's amazing to watch them lulled into that sleepy state. Plus, the illustrations are the best combination of contrasting primary colors, great for baby's eyes.
1 year: Five Little Monkeys by Eileen Christelow
By one year, your baby is probably into books. And by into them, I mean, he or she will want personal access to books, mainly to bring them to you to read over and over (and over and over). For us, age one was the year of chants and nursery rhymes. The repetition is good for baby's vocabulary, and the bounce is good for hand motions or a little dance.
(Other great authors for age one: Sandra Boyton, Bill Martin, Jr.)
2 years: Animal Masquerade by Marianne Dubuc
At two, your little probably knows his or her animals, and so this book is funny--the animals are dressed up as other animals. We stumbled upon this book at the library, after storytime one day; but it became my two-year-old's favorite (once she “got" it). What I love about the humor component is that it's confusing--it opened up new avenues for reading books but also talking about what they mean.
(Other great authors for age two: Eric Carle, Laura Numeroff)
3 years: Bad Frogs by Thacher Hurd
I know everyone talks about “terrible twos," but I always found three to be the difficult age. Your toddler has all the tools for striking out on his or her own, making her opinions known; but there's still a hint of baby there. Bad Frogs was written by Thacher Hurd, son of Clement Hurd (who illustrated Goodnight, Moon), and it's just a silly book. There are some funny phrases, and it's a little bit naughty. Whenever we had a hard day, we would tease our girls that they were like the Bad Frogs, and, for us, that always diffused a tough situation and brought us back to some common ground.
(Other great authors for age three: Mo Willems, James Dean)
4 years: Curious George by H.A. Rey
By four, my daughters were both very invested in characters they loved. Like a lot of moms, I tried to shy away from their affinity to mainstream characters and introduce classics instead. My girls always loved Curious George, and I think these stories are a good transition into more advanced storytelling. We meet George, find him in a certain environment, watch the environment morph into a tricky situation, then see the solution and resolution. By this age, your kiddos can process a plot line and also talk about the lessons gleaned from it.
(Other great authors for age four: Maurice Sendak, Dr. Seuss)
By age four, probably because they were used to being read to, my girls could sit for longer stories, and we began experimenting with chapter books, reading a little each night. It takes a little practice, and you certainly have to find the right books; but for me, tackling this challenge demonstrated exactly why books are great--we came together around a love for characters every night, and it gave us a means to discuss some bigger, harder issues.
The first chapter books we read were Charlotte's Web by E.B. White (great for talking about selflessness, where our food comes from, and death); Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl (great for conversations about poverty, dreams, and imagination); and Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum (perfect for creative thinking and watching good prevail over evil). Sometimes I would have to edit content mid-read for what I knew my girls could handle. And a lot of these concepts go over their heads, but I hope both daughters will revisit these stories again as they are older, finding the books on their shelves and knowing it's something we shared in their early years.
Photography by Jonica Moore for Well Rounded.