As I have referred to before, I have three daughters at very different stages on their literacy journey. I have a fluently-reading almost 7 year old, a pre-reading 5-year-old with very sophisticated taste in story, and a 16-month-old who's just beginning to love books. Reading to, with and for toddlers is a really different experience to reading with older children, and it's both enjoyable and at times a trifle disconcerting to switch between the two modes several times daily. As I often write about the things I'm reading with and for the elder kids, I thought it was time to swivel the spotlight onto the toddler's reading habits for once and see what she's up to.
My youngest daughter is 16 months old now and, like her sisters before her, has entered a phase of great interest in books, especially certain kinds of books. Typically for the age, she loves to be read her favourite texts over and over; custom does not stale their infinite variety for her.
She also loves engaging with the books on her own, sitting with a small heap of brightly coloured texts on her lap and perusing the pages, making noises or pronouncements when she recognises a picture or remembers the accompanying words ("Upple!" as she sees an apple, "Bow wow wow!" at the appropriate juncture in Sandra Boynton's Doggies, and so forth). I see this introduction to texts as the building blocks of future literacy; certainly it's about familiarising children with the shapes and sounds of words, conventions of the book and the cadence of story, but it's also about communicating the magic of the written word and a sense of delight in it. I have seen this fascination with books grow in each of my girls from toddlerdom onwards and it is a positive joy to witness.
Each of my girls has had different favourite titles in the 12 month - 2 year age bracket, but there are commonalities that seem to me to be quite striking. All my young toddlers have loved:
- Books that engage more than one sense
Lift-the-flap books, sliding-door books, touchy-feely books, sniffy books, books with sound effects ... all are highly popular.
The 16 month old's favourites are the Who is Hiding books - little hand-sized lift-the-flap books where a variety of animals are sought in a variety of scenarios; That's Not my Princess and That's Not my Puppy from the Usborne books collection; and the Eric Carle classic, The Very Quiet Cricket (the edition we have chirps on the final page).
- Books that feature rhyme and repetition.
The 16-month-old is very heavily into nursery rhymes at the moment. Our beloved and very worn copy of Mother Goose is trotted out daily, with the toddler moving us directly along to her favourites ("Hummy Dumpy!" followed by a clicking noise with her tongue as she speeds along to the page featuring Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross and Horsey Horsey Don't You Stop). We have the Iona Opie edition and it's a treasure.
Sandra Boynton's books are popular in this category, getting a guernsey under the animal heading too.
- Books that feature animals
Most toddlers love books featuring animals, and mine have been no exception. Each had their foibles - my eldest was obsessive about ducks, cats and cows, while the middle liked exotics (especially, and overwhelmingly elephants, - my copy of The Saggy Baggy Elephant actually fell apart when she was 3), and the youngest is all about the dogs, horses, and, for some strange reason, owls. My girls have all liked to identify animals wherever they can, usually by an approximation of sound (although all three not not deign to attempt to cheep, saying "burr" for "bird" from about 15 months onwards).
The 16-month-old has a lot of favourite animal books, but I'd say the stand-out is Sandra Boynton's Doggies. (It is a charming book, as indeed are most of Boynton's). She also enjoys Lynley Dodd's Hairy Maclary books, but rarely sits still for the entire narrative (it's a little long for her), preferring instead to interject with energetic and lifelike dog noises and move the text along to her favourite pictures.
- Books that show lots of common objects / items with their names.
This is definitely an area where the pre-reading foundation that toddlers are laying down is displayed. All the toddler wants to do sometimes is to get one of her (many) books that feature pages of pictures with labels and go through them, pointing out things to me and having me (or her elder sister, often) read unfamiliar labels to her.
She particularly likes the Hinkler Books First series in this area, largely because they're a good size for her to handle, I think. "Upple!" she proclaims proudly as she grabs First Nature, firmly poking at the pictured fruit on the cover. "Burr!" as she points to the parrot. Then, "Mummy ... peese?" as she climbs up with the book for me to read her. It is rare for me to say no!
So, those with toddlers past or present, what do you think? What have your toddlers enjoyed?
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