July 27, 2006


Baby Read-Aloud Basics. By Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez. AMACOM. $15.

     Go to any bookstore, head for the children’s-book section, and prepare to be overwhelmed – especially if you are a first-time parent.  Doctors, educators and parents themselves believe that reading to children, including the youngest babies, can be important developmentally and a gateway to lifelong interest in words and, more generally, in communicating.  Partly for this reason, there has in recent years been such a proliferation of books aimed at young children that reviewers cannot keep up with them all, and time-pressed parents can be forgiven for having not the slightest idea of how to choose one book over another.

     Now, though, there is help: Baby Read-Aloud Basics.  The authors, both certified Reading Recovery teachers, include everything from developmental information, to suggestions on the best settings for reading, to a series of mini-reviews of recommended books for various ages.  For example, they label the eight-to-12-month baby “the babbler,” note that he or she knows about 50 words and can make most speech sounds, and recommend books that invite the child to repeat words or phrases; have flaps and noise buttons; and illustrate action words, such as running or jumping.  As for how to read, Caroline J. Blakemore and Barbara Weston Ramirez emphasize a quiet environment, a comforting and rhythmic voice, holding and cuddling while reading, and being prepared to read the same book again and again and again.

     Some of their suggestions are simply common sense – but parents, especially first-time ones, have only so much common sense left for reading when there are so many other baby-oriented activities to do every day.  And even experienced parents may benefit from a refresher course in the basics of making book time enjoyable as well as educational and developmentally significant for babies.  Not all readers will need to be told the benefits of reading for babies: increasing vocabulary, helping accelerate the understanding of words, stimulating the imagination, creating a bonding experience, helping instill a love of books and learning.  Nor will parents necessarily be interested in yet another condemnation of television by comparing it with books (TV is antisocial, while books create a reader-listener bond; TV enforces a fast pace, while reading’s pace is controlled by reader and listener; etc.).  And some of the authors’ statements are overly argumentative and overly broad, as when they say that TV can encourage attention-deficit disorder, while reading can help prevent it.

     The value of this book is not in its global statements but in its specific ones.  Blakemore and Ramirez have excellent ideas for choosing children’s books: select from a variety of genres; be sure you enjoy the book; limit the number of gimmicky books in favor of ones that rely on your voice; look carefully at illustrations to be sure they have enough variety to keep your baby’s attention; and so on.  They even offer “demonstrations” showing how reading can work between parents and babies of various ages – though these should be seen only as very general guidelines, not road maps for your personal interactions with your child.  As for the authors’ specific book recommendations: all are solid, and all involve books that should be easy to find at your local library, so you can see where the authors’ views are in accord with your own and where they differ.  The big idea here – and the thing that Blakemore and Ramirez get exactly right – is that it is never too soon to start reading to and with your baby, and that the sooner you start baby’s interaction with books, the sooner you start an appreciation that will literally last a lifetime.

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