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From Reading with Babies to Reading with My Own Baby by a Brooklyn Librarian

I have been a children's librarian for more than 15 years. I loved sharing books with rooms full of toddlers and with my nephew, young cousins, and the kids of friends, but it was not until I had my own son that I saw how challenging it can be to share books with a newborn.

I made an effort to share books from the moment he was born (in the delivery room, I recited him one of my favorite stories), but between feeding, diaper changing, sleeping, and my own sheer exhaustion, I saw that

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all my tips about what "should" happen to promote a love of reading from birth had to loosen up. If no one reads to him one day, that is OK; he won't fail kindergarten.

[caption id="attachment_5271" align="alignright" width="300"]Courtesy Brooklyn Public Library Courtesy Brooklyn Public Library[/caption]

So reading became an organic activity, with books tucked into small pockets of time, rather than the "storytime" sessions I led for other people's children.

I have also learned to loosen up about what we read together. Now that he is 3, I believe that my son’s ability to choose the books we share drives his love of reading. So much of his day is controlled by me and other well-meaning adults, so his ability to dictate what we read is powerful.

Whether he requests Chick Chicka Boom Boom (which I also love) or the mass-market “Thomas the Tank Engine” book (sigh) for the 30th time, I do not judge. I don't read classics all the time either, why should I expect it of him? If his personal library is diverse his reading tastes will be too.

Parents and caregivers often ask why some books are requested over and over and others are barely opened. The answer is simple: Some books just tap right into the concerns, interests, and needs of young children. My son loved Goodnight Moon for a spell; a classic for many reasons.

Learning to separate at bedtime and say "goodnight" is a universal experience all children have. He also loved Trainstop, a lesser-known, wordless picture book about a young girl taking a magical trip on a train. This book spoke to his daily commute on the NYC subway. Here are some classics (new and old) and my take on why these books have the staying power they do:

  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin, Jr., illustrated by Eric Carle.
    Simple, clear illustrations of animals, perfect for kids learning to label the world.
  • Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus by Mo Willems.
    As they stop a pushy pigeon from driving the bus, little ones get the chance to say "No!"
  • I Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont, illustrated by David Catrow.
    A mischievous kid paints every inch of his body. Youngsters get to enjoy the naughty messiness vicariously and learn the names of their body parts to boot.
  • The Napping House by Audrey and Don Wood.
    A granny, a child, and a motley crew of animals pile on the same bed for a nap. kids love this story which, like much of life, it is both predictable and surprising.
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak.
    Who doesn’t want to join in a “wild rumpus” every so often? But it is important to know you can always come home again and your supper will still be hot.

Rachel Payne is the coordinator of Early Childhood Services at Brooklyn Public Library. She has reviewed children’s books for School Library Journal and Kirkus, served on the Caldecott Award Committee, and presented at national and international conferences. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and young son.

She is an author with Susan Straub, founder and director of the Read to Me program, and New York Times lead blogger and editor for the Motherlode blog KJ Dell'Antonia of "Reading with Babies, Toddlers & Twos: A Guide to Laughing, Learning & Growing Together Through Books."


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