Christmas and books have always gone together at our house. I did not realize, however, the long-range importance of book-giving for very young children until talking with Janell Conn, a retired teacher who now serves as an elementary program consultant for Henderson County schools, and Glenda Langley, the children's librarian for the Henderson County Public Library.
"When kids see you reading they realize the value of the idea of reading," Janell says. "I can usually tell after a very little time in the classroom which children have been read to before they started school and which children have not been read to. There's no question that those who have been read to have a positive attitude- they're like little sponges, they want to learn new things. More and more we are learning that development of language skills-speaking, listening -are vitally important before school starts.
One authority has said that the best opportunity for children to develop verbal skills is between 8 months and 4 years of age."
"New brain research emphasizes bonding and exposure to verbal skills," Glenda adds. "Reading to a small child, skin to skin, the sound of a parent's or grandparent's or sibling's voice reading words, can be an important bonding tool."
This year Glenda has extended the library's story hours to include sessions for 15-month-old children. "I have been surprised at their ability to sit still and listen," she says. "You can see an increase weekly in their verbal skills and motor skills (many books include finger play and hand rhymes)."
My five preschool grandchildren make shopping for books an important part of my life, but I often find library and book store excursions bewildering: so many books, where to start? What to look for? Here are Glenda and Janell's suggestions:
· Look for bright, colorful pictures and simple, clear text.
· Start with something the child has an interest in (alligators, teddy bears, bugs, fire trucks, whatever).
· Choose books the reader will enjoy reading aloud.
· Check for words that sound interesting or books that have sounds built in.
· Search for sturdy books that children can handle themselves.
· Choose from counting, color, alphabet, and shape books as well as fairy tales and nursery rhyme books.
· Include books with ethnic diversity.
· Expose children to simple dictionaries or reference books (Glenda recommends MacMillan Publishing's The Magic World of Words).
Good books for toddlers
Glenda Langley's favorites:
Hi, Pizza Man!, Virginia Walter
Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,
Guess How Much I Love You, Sam McBratney
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, Laura Numeroff
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
Janell Conn's favorites:
Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown
On the Day You Were Born, Debra Frasier
The Doggonest Christmas, Richard L. Stack
The Giving Tree, Shell Silverstein
The Polar Express, Chris Van Allsburg