Libraries, our early-literacy champions! (Part 1)

Kudos to the American Library Association for their ambitious initiative, Born to Read: It’s Never Too Early to Start! This project is “aimed at providing early literacy resources to library staff as they help expectant and new parents to become aware that reading to a baby from birth is critical to every baby’s growth and well-being.” As you’ve probably gathered, as far as reading goes, we at The Reading Womb enthusiastically agree that “It’s never too early to start!”

It’s thrilling to see how many public libraries across the country are on board with the Born to Read initiative. Some host baby showers for expectant parents to give books and information to those who want to begin reading right away, and others distribute books to new parents in local hospitals so that they can start reading as soon as their babies are born.

Kate Pierce, C.N.M., gives Read to Your Bunny to expectant parents Kate and Rob White

An impressive assembly of libraries, schools, businesses and community members in Ithaca, New York,  has been collaborating for over 15 years to promote reading through the Family Reading Partnership. This exceptional coalition of reading advocates “have joined forces to create a culture of literacy by promoting family reading practices throughout our community.” Among their many educational endeavors, the Family Reading Partnership encourages expectant parents to read to their babies in the womb, and educates them about how early experiences with books build a strong foundation for lifelong learning. Here are some of the FRP’s hopes and dreams for families:

  • Reach Families Early: The earlier a family integrates books and reading into everyday life at home, the greater the impact books will have on their children.
  • Reach Families at Home: We want all children to grow in literacy-rich environments, where books are accessible and enjoyed. When adults and children discover the joy of books together in the home, a love of reading becomes a shared value.
  • Encourage Daily Routines and Family Traditions Around Books: In a culture of literacy books are so interwoven into the fabric of family life that they become an expected and treasured part of everyday life.

The whirlwind of energy and imagination behind the partnership is Executive Director Brigid Hubberman. We were honored to exchange a few emails with Ms. Hubberman, in which we enthused about the merits of in utero reading and Brigid shared some of the exciting programs the FRP facilitates to encourage families to embrace literacy-centered routines. The Family Reading Partnership has sponsored an incredible mission to get the literacy ball rolling as soon as possible by giving expectant parents inspiring reading materials at their initial prenatal doctor’s visit. Couples receive a copy of the beautiful rhyming and rhythmic book by Rosemary Wells, Read to Your Bunny, along with the adult book Reading Magic by literacy expert Mem Fox, which explains the importance of providing a literacy-rich environment for children. Now, how awesome is that?

The FRP also distributes a playful bookmark, featuring this wonderful illustration from Reading Magic, that humorously depicts that it really, truly is never too early to read to your baby, as well five excellent reasons (see below) to start even before he or she is born.

Brigid shared a lovely story with us about a father who experienced firsthand the advantages of prenatal reading:

We do have a wonderful and concrete “evidence of impact” story from a father who read The Very Hungry Caterpillar to baby over and over in the months before birth. After a long and difficult labor, when baby was finally born by C-section, the new dad found himself exhausted, alone and panicked in the recovery room with a shrieking new baby. Looking down he felt the words well up, and found himself say to the baby, “In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf.” Immediately, the baby quieted down and looked into her father’s eyes as he told the story of the caterpillar that turned into a butterfly. There is no doubt that this baby was soothed by the familiarity and comfort of her father’s voice reading (by heart) a story that was already her own!

We get goosebumps every time we receive another confirmation of the magical effects of reading to babies in utero! And we are so grateful for the enormous contribution the Family Reading Partnership is making to the cause of family literacy (find out more about it here). In Part 2 we’ll talk a little more about the ALA’s Born to Read program, as well as the national educational initiative Race to the Top. For now, we’ll leave you with the FRP’s perfect expression of why It’s Never Too Early to Read to Your Baby!

The gift of reading in utero

’Tis the season for giving, and what better gift is there for expectant families than a book that’s perfect for reading to a baby in the womb? We’ve received requests for suggestions of titles from our followers, so we thought we’d take this opportunity to share some of the best books for reading to babies in utero.

If you’ve been following our blog and podcast, you know that the research says that the best stories for reading to your baby before birth are those that are rhythmic, rhyming, and repetitive. Preborn babies respond best to this type of auditory stimulation, and studies definitively prove that these kinds of stories are the best remembered and have the most soothing effect on newborns! The following list includes fun rhyming stories that you and your baby will enjoy before and after she’s born.

Ashley, an expectant mother from California, shared with us that she is reading Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle to her little “bundle of joy.” Ashley has chosen an excellent example of the type of story that is perfect for reading to your baby before and after birth. The poetic meter and repetitious verse will create those neural pathways in your baby’s brain that will lay the foundation for future language learning.

Author Bill Martin Jr. and illustrator Eric Carle have collaborated to create many other appropriate titles, including Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? and Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? These books all have colorful illustrations that will engage babies and adults alike.

Another favorite Bill Martin Jr. title is a whimsical rhyming alphabet book called Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. In a catchy beat it describes the antics of the personified letters of the alphabet—great fun to read aloud.

Mem Fox is a prolific writer of children’s books, and many of them are perfect for reading to your expected child. The adorable illustrations and simple verse in her Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes is just perfect for introducing your child to the joys of reading. Other appropriate titles by Mem Fox include The Magic Hat and Time for Bed.

A traditional favorite is the series of books written by Ludwig Bemelmans about Madeline, the little French girl. These stories told in simple verse may be a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the adult reader.

Dr. Seuss has dozens of rhyming books, and some of our favorites are One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish, Horton Hears a Who, and Green Eggs and Ham.

Sandra Boynton is the author and illustrator of many fun and melodic board books, including Barnyard Dance and Pajama Time. These books, with their lively illustrations and all-around silliness, are bound to become cherished additions to your child’s story repertoire.

You’ve already heard us gush about the wonderful poems of Shel Silverstein (Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, and Everything On It) and Jack Prelutsky (Be Glad Your Nose Is on Your Face, A Pizza the Size of the Sun, and Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young), but there are many other wonderful options when it comes to prenatal reading:

Is Your Mama a Llama? by Deborah Guarino

Charlie Parker Played Be Bop by Chris Raschka

Sheep in a Jeep and Sheep in a Shop by Nancy Shaw

Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library, and Bats at the Ballgame by Brian Lies

Remember that it’s important that you enjoy reading the books as much as your baby enjoys hearing them. Keep in mind that these are the stories that your baby will become familiar with and will request again and again once she’s born. Right now, your baby is a captive audience, snuggled up all safe and warm in your “reading womb.” She waits to hear the beautiful sound of your voice and the beloved story, a magical combination that she’ll respond to and that research shows will help her cognitive and language development.

And one day soon, when your child is all cozied up in your lap, sharing this sacred and special reading time, she will say those words that will be music to your ears, “Can you read that again, Mommy?” or “Just one more time, Daddy!” Now, what could be better than that?