I’ve been working on book reviews all year, though. Each month I gather up a few books I love and share them with my readers. I call it Kidlit Karma. This month I’m sharing some of my favorite books for babies and toddlers. I’m also going to dive into child development to explain why these books work.
Babies can’t see that well. Newborns’ vision is hazy – they like high contrast because it’s easy to see. You’ll often find the youngest babies staring at, say, a black object against a white background. Or a dark ceiling fan moving against a white ceiling.
By a few months old, babies vision has improved a lot but they often have a hard time understanding 2-D representations of objects.
So, books for babies and toddler often have high-contrast, easy-to-interpret pictures. For the youngest, single images on white backgrounds can be a good choice.
Even for toddlers, simple graphics are easier for them to understand.
Faces Are a Fave
Babies love faces for pretty much the same reasons we adults do: they give us a lot of important information. We look at a person’s face to identify them and to tell what that person is feeling. Watching someone’s face while they talk also helps us figure out what they are saying. For babies who are still learning speech, it’s doubly helpful. That’s probably why babies are hardwired to stare at faces.
So books with lots of faces are a winner, especially with the younger babies and toddlers.
Babytalk and Rhyming Books
Babies love “baby talk” and it’s good for them. Forget what Great Aunt Bertha told you about only talking to your baby like a grown-up. Baby talk exaggerates the sounds of speech which makes it easier for babies to figure out the sounds they’re hearing and put those together into words. So go ahead and talk to babies in whatever way feels natural to you.
The sing-songy cadence of many rhyming books, help capitalize on this tendency. (Writers: be aware that babies are not less discerning than adults. If you write in rhyme, it needs to have PERFECT rhyme and meter.)
Babies love repetition. They drop the same toy over and over to see if dad will still pick it up, they never tire of peekaboo, and they will gladly have you read the same book over and over and over. While at times it’s infuriating (like the 5th time the bowl of oatmeal gets dropped to the floor), it has an important purpose: babies and toddlers learn best through repetition. Like little scientists, they’re testing if the oatmeal really drops every time. They’re also learning social information: “Will dad pick it up every time?” “Why is his mood changing as I keep dropping this?”
So many books use some kind of repetition: like the repeated phrase “Ciao!”
Or a repeated action like “besos.” (Kisses.)
Toddlers Need to Move
Speaking of actions, getting a toddler to sit still is a lost cause. They’re busy little beings. It’s easy to read with an immobile baby – harder to keep a toddler still and focused. So many books for toddlers include some kind invitation to action to help keep them engaged with the book.
That could be an action built right into the page, such as lifting a flap or holes designed for little fingers to poke into.
Or it could be an invitation to action: mentioning movement is a natural invitation to move.
Sturdy Pages and Rounded Corners
Babies will put pretty much everything into their mouth. It’s a way for them to explore the world by adding the sense of taste and touch (lips and tongues are very sensitive).
Babies and toddlers are also still working on fine motor skills – such as the ability to grasp and flip a book page without tearing. They need to explore the world and practice these fine motor skills – but it can be murder on a book.
So most baby and toddler books are board books – those chunky cardboard-style book pages that can withstand chewing, banging, other forms of baby love. They even have rounded corners to prevent an eye or mouth from being poked.
Adults Have to Like Them Too
Since your baby will be asking to reread the same book 10,000 times (and they will), books also have to please the adult doing the reading. A newer trend is to write book series’ that focus on topics of interest to a parent (like science, great literature, etc.), but at a level simplistic enough for a baby. No, your toddler won’t be doing astrophysics calculations in their crib. They’re in it for the baby faces and birdies, but the parent can appreciate the science.
Putting It All Together
Goodnight Jesus has:
- beautiful, but simple art
- faces on nearly every page (yay, icons!)
- sing-songy rhymes
- a repeated action (kissing) that little readers can do
- sturdy pages
I Pray Today has:
- beautiful, simple art
- faces on every page
- sing-songy rhymes
- a repeated phrase (Lord have mercy.)
- which can be an invitation to a repeated action (saying the prayer and making a cross)
- sturdy pages
And like a baby book on astrophysics, both of mine have bigger ideas at their core. That gives them a long lifespan for little readers and makes it interesting for the adult readers.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s book tour! I’ve had fun writing on a lot of different topics on a lot of different blogs. If you missed them, you can still find them here:
- Day 1: Raising Saints
- Day 2: Orthodox Motherhood
- Day 3: Time Eternal
- Day 4: Charlotte’s blog
- Day 5: Right here on my blog