Mon | Feb 6, 2023

Reading to babies and others

Published:Monday | March 15, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Emma Dalton-Brown, Gleaner Writer

LAST WEEK, I wrote about the struggle I am having with reading to my son. The ability to recount a story is not the hard part. However, finding the appropriate books for a 10-month-old, who likes to rip up every piece of paper he can get his hands on, has been no small feat. He's only a baby, you might say, but that is exactly the stage when you should start reading to your children. The truth is, this dilemma has given me many sleepless nights (or has it been a teething baby? I forget which now)!

Anyway, who better to get advice from than Dr Rebecca Tortello, who has a doctorate in sociology and education, and is a senior adviser to the Minister of Education. I recently met with her to discuss the importance of literature, why you should read to children, and how books for children and adults differ.

Dr Tortello stresses that reading is an important bonding experience for you and your baby. The baby will hear your voice, and feel love. It's a calming experience, unlike television, so it's wise to switch off the box before bedtime and put aside a half hour or so for flipping through the books. Interactive books, like ones with flaps or music, are good choices for the wee ones, as are plastic and board books. This solves my problems! There I was thinking that I ought to be reading lengthy Beatrix Potter stories, but it's okay if my baby boy is only learning the concept of what a book is.

Reading to children will help with emergent literacy. "The basic components of emergent literacy are print motivation: being interested in and enjoying books; vocabulary: knowing the names of things; print awareness: noticing print, knowing how to handle a book, and knowing how to follow the words on a page; narrative skills: being able to describe things and events and to tell stories; letter knowledge: knowing letters are different from each other, knowing their names and sounds, and recognising letters everywhere; phonological awareness: being able to hear and play with the smaller sounds in words." (

According to Dr Tortello, there are distinct differences between adult and children's books. The latter are geared towards the different ages and stages of children; meanwhile, no one is telling a 21-year-old girl that she won't be able to understand the novel her grandmother is reading!

Adult print is small and there are no pictures. However, children need the letters to be big, because they process less information at a time, and illustrations help a child to use memory and imagination to tell the story.

Holding the attention

Children's books do tend to teach something, and have a tale that they can relate to, like family, friendship, school, pets, and so on. While the first books, such as Aesop's Fables, were didactic, moral messages are now hidden in stories which are more imaginative.

Authors and illustrators also often tap in to a child's humour, which makes him or her want to read more.

The key is for the books to grasp, and keep, the attention of a child. Typically, the length should be no more than 32 pages. When choosing appropriate literature for your children, consider their interests. Do they like trucks, boats or dolls? Ensure that the pictures are aesthetically pleasing, and relate to the words on the page. Rhyme and repetition are important, as they help children to remember a story. If your child is seven or eight years old, and has been reading for a few years, he or she might need something a bit more challenging. If a child is having difficulties, and the parents are unable to read themselves, suggest that they use picture books, and invent a story. The truth is that no one should miss out on literature, and while it is important to read to babies, it is never too late for others to start.

Next week, you'll hear all about the exciting book drive 'Rotary Race to Literacy', which Deika Morrison has been working on for some months, and how you can help to break the world record for the most amount of books donated in one week.