I spoke to a wonderful group of new moms at Greenwich Hospital today, whose babies were between 6 weeks and 3 months. When I asked them if they were reading to their babies, all but one mom (slightly guilt-ridden, but determined to start reading tonight to her baby!) said they were reading books to their babies. Several mentioned Goodnight Moon as being one book that their child maintained interest in. The amazing thing about Goodnight Moon is that is includes all combinations of sounds in the English language so your baby is exposed to a variety of sounds in words.

One mom said her baby likes Fancy Nancy! Not your typical “baby book”, Fancy Nancy is a picture book designed for children from about 3-6 years of age. Fancy Nancy loves everything glittery and feathery and is trying to convince her family, who has quite plain taste, to come over to the fancy side. The fact that this mom’s little two-month-old girl likes listening to an older picture book shows that exposing your baby to good literature can be fruitful. I like my moms to think outside the box. Certainly read bright, board books designed for babies to your child, but try an engaging longer story with exciting illustrations, and see if your baby will sit for part or the entire story. 

Here are some questions that came up today:

·      Is it okay that I am reading Dr. Seuss to my baby when some of the words make no sense and are made up words?

Sure, Dr. Seuss books were originally designed to be used for first readers, using a controlled number of words so a child could master them. The beat, rhythm, rhyme and whimsy in these books attract a child’s attention and surely entertain the adult reading them (which is a factor not to be ignored!).

Reading a few Dr. Seuss books as part of your book repertoire is fine. Children are attracted to silly sounding words like “sneetches” and “Zax”and it shows them that listening and language are fun.

·      How can I read to my baby and hold him at the same time?

·      One mother shared that she reads to her baby every time she nurses him, using her free hand to hold the book. He is hearing the story but not seeing the pictures. Another mom shared that she sits down leaning back on the bed or a support and sits her baby in her lap facing out and looking at the book. I walked in on my son while he was reading to his son, lying on the floor, with the baby belly up on his stomach holding the book in front of his face. Little Will had the advantage of hearing the story from his dad’s mouth as well as through his body! I also offered the suggestion of laying your baby in her seat, sitting in front of her, holding the book, so she can see your face as well as the book as you read. Today some of the babies went back and forth between looking at the pictures on the page and my face as I read Peek-a-Moo by Marie Torres Cimarusti.

·      Sometimes there are only a few words on the page so I just make up a story and don’t read the words. Is that okay?

Absolutely. As long as you are having an enjoyable experience with the book and feeding language to your baby it is beneficial. Certainly over time, babies love the repetition of a few books, giving them security, knowing what comes next. But, your child might like the illustrations on a certain page so you can linger and add more language to that page. Remember, this is to be a loving, positive experience so keep going as long as your child is interested and stop when his interest wanes.

·      My aunt gave my baby some old storybooks that I enjoyed as a child. Is it okay to read her these older stories like “Little Red Riding Hood”?

There is a generational benefit to reading stories that you enjoyed as a child and probably gives great pleasure to aunts and grandparents as they share stories linked to sweet memories of with their own children, now proud parents! This same effect can be seen with reading nursery rhymes. Although I am not a huge fan of some collections which include “cutting off their tail with a carving knife”, Parenting Magazine just did a review of a new collection minus these “creepy” old rhymes that is collected by Iona Ople and illustrated by one of my favorite children’s authors, Rosemary Wells, called Mother Goose’s Little Treasures.