Ah, that new-book smell!

When Susan’s youngest son was around three years old, he made a pronouncement that is beautiful music to any teacher or mother’s ears. He had been sitting among a pile of his favorite titles, Polar Bear, Polar Bear by Eric Carle, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by Laura Joffe Numeroff, Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel, and the classic Pat the Bunny. Engulfed by books, with his favorite, an oversized Richard Scarry book called Busy, Busy Town open on his little lap, he announced “I love books!” Then, holding the book close up to his face, he added rapturously, “They smell so gooood.”

Although this same little fellow had been known to chew and lick books during his toddler years, we should not dismiss the message in his innocent wisdom. For children, reading is without a doubt a multisensory experience.

In this age of digital books and e-readers one can’t help but wonder, will the children of the future ever know that wonderful smell of a new book, the sturdy feel of a hardcover novel, or the soft sound of turning pages? Will the clichés “that was a real page turner” or “he always has his nose in a book” become obsolete? And what will become of the scratchy Daddy’s beard and soft bunny fur of Pat the Bunny? It’s just not the same, is it? The image of Susan’s young son smelling a Kindle comes to mind. Hmmm.

Think of the books you loved when you were a child. Do you remember reading One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish over and over, always finding something new in each whimsical Dr. Seuss illustration? And what about Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings, with its full-spread illustrations, artistically placed text, and adorable ducklings marching across each page?

Every children’s picture book has its own unique design and reflects the thoughtfulness and inspiration of its author and illustrator. We are left wondering what the result will be when these well-loved titles are transferred to a digital format. Will the tangible, tactile, and multisensory qualities get lost in translation?

Chris Van Allsburg, author and illustrator of many favorite children’s books, including The Polar Express, said “on a digital platform they all get ground into the same thing.” He is referring to the uniformity of text and illustration on an e-reader, which imposes a standard font and page size. The thought of each picture book illustration being the same shape and size, shrunk or stretched to fit a standard screen, is a little unsettling for any children’s book enthusiast, or for anyone who treasures the idiosyncrasies each author and illustrator bring to a story.


Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that all reading is good reading, and that there may be times when an e-reader is appropriate for children. When traveling, for example, it might not be practical for a family to bring a child’s collection of favorite books. An e-reader would make it convenient to continue an established reading routine even on vacation. The future of digital reading in classrooms is also an exciting possibility; volumes of books could be made available to children who might not otherwise have the opportunity to read them. And if you’re reading to your baby in the womb, she won’t know the difference! From inside the womb, an e-book sounds just like the traditional one. Uploading a fun selection of rhyming and rhythmic stories to share with your expected child would be quick and easy, and if this is what you need to get started, then go right ahead.

But once the baby is born, and she’s snuggled on your lap to hear that familiar story, your Kindle or Nook is just going to look like a rectangular hunk of plastic. Of course, the familiar story read by your unique voice will calm and sooth your baby, and that’s always a good thing. However, by sharing a real book with your newborn, a book with turning pages and bright illustrations, you will get both her auditory and her visual attention. You’ll also be setting her up with those prereading skills that we mentioned in earlier blogs, such as holding a book right-side-up and reading from left to right, to name a few.

Again, all reading is good reading. But if you want the very best reading experience for your baby in the womb or your newborn, there’s no substitute for a real, touchable, hearable, smellable book. It’s the total sensory experience that just might lead your child to joyfully exclaim someday, “I love books!”

 

Official AAP recommendation: Start reading early!

AAPThe nation’s largest pediatricians’ group, the American Academy of Pediatrics, has publicly urged parents to read aloud to their children daily and to begin as soon as possible. This practice, they say, stimulates early brain development and helps build important language, literacy and social skills. Dr. Pamela High, a renowned pediatrician and spokesperson for the Academy, says:

What we’re addressing is that many parents in the United States don’t seem to have the knowledge that there’s a wonderful opportunity available to them, starting very early, an opportunity for them to begin building their child’s language development and to forge their own relationship with their child through reading to them on a regular basis.

We couldn’reading pregnantt agree more, Dr. High! And we’re grateful for the tireless work you’ve done over many years to spread the word about the importance of sharing language with children right from the very start.

With all the recent research showing that a baby in the last trimester learns language, we are certain that an announcement from the AAP about reading even before birth is not far behind.

“It feels kind of awkward”

You may be an expectant parent who has been hearing about all the incredible benefits of reading to children as soon as possible, and you want to get started, but how? You already take good care of your baby by taking prenatal vitamins, cutting back on caffeine, and getting enough rest, but reading out loud? Now that’s a horse of a different color! We realize that most adults ReadtoBabyhave not read aloud since they were children, if ever, and that beginning this practice can be a little daunting. You might even be thinking to yourself, “What if I do it wrong?”

We at the Reading Womb are here to assure you that there is absolutely no wrong way to read to your baby. Your little one has already fallen deeply in love with you and with your unique voice — months before he is born. Research shows that every time you speak, your baby tunes in and listens closely.

“So what should I read to my baby in the womb?”

To tell the truth, your baby will get all gaga hearing you read the ingredients from the side of a cereal box! But if your aim is to promote literacy and language development, then we can give you the tools to begin. The very first thing that you need to begin your reading routine is . . . a book! Research shows that babies in the womb, as well as newborns, latch onto language that is rhythmic, rhyming, and repetitive.

Beloved children’s author and early literacy advocate Mem Fox beautifully explains:

When children are born, they’ve been used to the mother’s heartbeat in the womb. When they’re born, they’re rocked and cradled. There is a rhythm to life itself. There’s rhythm in the nursery rhymes and songs that are sung to children.

ChickenSo choose a book that has a simple rhythm that’s easy for you to read and will be soothing music to your baby’s ears. In many of the research studies that we’ve reported here, babies in the womb were regularly read nursery rhymes. The short, simple, repetitive lines heard before birth were learned and remembered later by the newborns. As an extra bonus, these babies were soothed and calmed by the familiar language they heard before birth!

Choosing a book with visual appeal to a newborn is also important. Bright and colorful board books will capture a baby’s attention, and the chunky design and easy-to-grasp pages are baby friendly. When he’s still inside the womb, your voice and the fun and lively text will be the main attraction, but once he’s born your baby will have the incredible experience of blending the familiar text with beautiful and supporting illustrations. Voila! You have a tiny pre-reader on your hands!

“What’s the best way to read aloud?”Jim Trelease

Jim Trelease, creator of the long bestselling Read Aloud Handbook, writes about all the research showing conclusively that babies in the last trimester do listen to, learn from, and remember language. In Chapter 2 he goes on to encourage expectant parents to form the habit of reading to baby before birth, saying that it will be your baby’s “first class in learning.” The following is an excerpt from his “Do’s and Don’ts for Read Alouds,” with some additional suggestions from us.

Use plenty of expression when reading.
You can use your voice to reflect the meaning of the text. Use a soft voice for gentle characters and moving moments. Use a loud voice to show strong emotion or to emphasize adventure or excitement. Monotone reading will put you and your baby to sleep, so try to keep your voice lively and rich with feeling. Dr. Pam High from the AAP says, “I think [babies] understand the emotion in the words that are being read to them very, very early.”

Adjust your pace to fit the story.
Read slowly to bring attention to beautiful language and imagery. Read more quickly to show movement and action.

Preview the book by reading it to yourself ahead of time.
This way, you’ll be more comfortable when you start to read it aloud. Reading it to yourself a few times will help you plan how the story might sound when it is spoken.

May we also suggest that you choose a book that you enjoy reading as well? If you read a how-to-use-belly-booksparticular book to your baby in utero, we can assure you that that book is going to become your child’s very favorite. Your child is going to say “Please Mommy, just one more time,” or “Read it again, Daddy.” You can look forward to reading this book over and over and over again, so be sure to make it one that you love, too.

Establishing a regular reading routine before birth is one of the very best things you can do for your baby, and as with anything, developing a comfort level with reading aloud takes practice. What better time to practice than when your baby is closer to you than he will ever be again? Ten to 15 minutes a day is all that’s needed to grow a lifelong reader, and as the American Academy of Pediatrics tells us, the benefits are immeasurable.