Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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parent tips

Children's Literature (0-60 Months)click to print Print

Written by: Joyce Bainbridge and Julie Gellner, University of Alberta

The following three sections offer information on and tips about:

  1. Making book selections
  2. Reading aloud to children
  3. Knowing children's books

Book Selection: Making Wise Choices

A key to a successful read-aloud is in selecting books that will bring pleasure to both the child and the adult. In order to reap the benefits of reading with a child, it is important that parents and caregivers know what books are available, and what topics interest the child. Parents' observations of their child while sharing a book can bring helpful information to future book selections.

  1. Take the lead from the interests and experiences of your child. Parents and caregivers gradually develop an understanding of what topics and books interest their children. Build a range of genres and topics into your book collection and read a variety of books together. Don't be disappointed if your child does not show an immediate interest in a new book. Read something familiar and try the new book again later. Focus on what sparks your child's interest and passion and increases his or her understanding of the world of literature (books, stories, pictures, letters, and words).
  2. Children enjoy a range of book formats. 'Toy' books (sometimes called 'novelty books') appeal to the very young – those are books with flaps to pull and movable objects inside. There are vinyl books for the bathtub and cloth books designed for infants. Board books are excellent for toddlers because they can usually handle the page turns themsel ves. Many classic picture books are available in board format.
  3. Select books from a range of topics and genres. Introduce new topics to your child on a regular basis. You don't have to read a story book: there are many information books for toddlers and preschoolers – books about trucks and big machines, books about animals, pets, dinosaurs, colours, shapes, counting, and the alphabet (but not all alphabet and counting books are intended for preschoolers). The range of concept books for toddlers and young children is enormous, and the illustrations in them are usually of a very high quality. Make sure you have some poetry books and books with rhymes and jingles in addition to the many story and information books available.
  4. Have fun with the books. Take advantage of the games embedded in books. Stories such as We're Going on a Bear Hunt (Rosen 1993) can be acted out inside or outside your home. Many rhymes found in books are memorized by young children and can be chanted in the car, in the bath, or wherever the child decides. There are numerous books available to help parents engage in language and literacy games, e.g., Language Games to Play with Your Child (McCabe 1992).
  5. When choosing a book to read aloud, choose one with a relatively small amount of print. Young children need to actively interact with a book and cannot listen to long stretches of reading at a time. Many high quality picture books have very few words on each page, thus providing an opportunity for child and adult to talk about the illustrations and the content of the story as they progress through it (e.g. Rosie's Walk, Hutchins 1968 and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Carle 1970). However, young children do appreciate literary language and will later recite it from memory, as for example, with the lilting introduction to Peg and the Whale (Oppell, 2000), "Peg was born upon the bright blue sea".
  6. Select books illustrated with colorful drawings, paintings and other art forms – make sure they are not too 'busy'. Many high quality picture books are written and illustrated by the same individual, for example, Anthony Browne (Willy the Champ, 1985), Jez Alborough (Where's My Teddy? 1992), Peggy Rathmann (Officer Buckle and Gloria, 1995) and Dick Bruna (b is for bear, 1967). Many children's book illustrators are well known artists and many create art for general exhibition and sale as well as for picture books. Some children's book awards are presented specifically for illustration, and many illustrators are internationally known for the quality of their work.
  7. Books have the potential to acquaint children with a world that is rich in diversity and possibility. Your choice of literature can affect your child's ease with 'difference'. Introduce children to stories, and images of other cultures, creeds, abilities, and races. Every book a child 'reads' offers a unique experience. Every new experience contributes to your child's overall understanding of the world.
  8. You do not have to choose books based on the gender of your child. Encourage boys to read books about dolls and princesses. Encourage girls to read about trucks and trains. Discouraging titles on the basis of your child's gender limits opportunities to fully explore the world.
  9. Visit the local library often and check out the books in the collection. Speak with a librarian if you would like advice on book selection. The American Library Association has an excellent website and a pamphlet: How to Raise a Reader, available for download at: <http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/initiatives/borntoread/btr_1205.pdf>. 
  10. Regular reading and visiting sessions for toddlers and pre-school children are often organized at public libraries. Ask your librarian if they offer any parent sessions on selecting children's books..
  11. When looking for new books, try these book award websites:
Governor General's Awards: Children's Literature – illustration, Canada. Established in 1975 as the Canada Council Children's Literature Prizes, the award for illustration was added in 1977/78. The award is presented for the best illustrations in a book by a Canadian citizen, whether published in Canada or elsewhere. <http://www.canadacouncil.ca/prizes/ggla>
Caldecott Medal, USA: Each year this medal is given to the artist who has created the most distinguished picture book of the year. The award is named in honor of the nineteenth-century English illustrator Randolph J. Caldecott. <http://www.ala.org/ala/mgrps/divs/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/caldecottmedal/caldecotthonors/caldecottmedal.cfm>
Gryphon Award, USA:  Presented annually in recognition of an English language work of fiction or non-fiction for which the primary audience is children in Kindergarten through Grade 4. The title chosen best exemplifies those qualities that successfully bridge the gap in difficulty between books for reading aloud to children and books for practiced readers. <http://ccb.lis.uiuc.edu/gryphon.html>
Children's Book of the Year Award, Australia: These annual awards are for books with an implied readership under the age of eighteen. They are presented in five categories including 'Book of the Year: Younger Readers', 'Book of the Year: Early Childhood', and 'Picture Book of the Year'. <http://cbca.org.au/winners.htm>
Kate Greenaway Medal, UK: The medal is awarded annually for an outstanding book illustrated for children and young people. http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/greenaway/

Reading Aloud To Children

Reading aloud to children should be a shared, mutually pleasurable event. A child's daily exposure to books from birth has a cumulative language development effect in the preschool years and enhances language and literacy development in school.

  1. Daily book sharing offers a golden opportunity for forming strong attachments with your baby. As you share the brightly coloured covers of a book or point to an object on the page, use this time to hold your baby securely, gaze into her/his eyes to make contact, and read softly and tenderly. When book reading is connected with feelings of comfort, safety, and love, children come to associate the language and social interaction of the event as being as much a part of the reading experience as the book itself.
  2. Bring spirit and individuality to your reading. The tone and rhythm of your voice can energize a read-aloud by adding drama and stimulation for your baby. A reader's exaggerated facial expressions capture babies' attention and help them "put a face" to words like "happy", "sad", "silly" etc.
  3. Engage your child in reading by playing language and action games like those from Eentsy, Weentsy Spider (Cole & Calmenson 1991), Brown Bear, Brown Bear (Martin, 1967) or Chicka Chicka Boom Boom (Martin 1989).
  4. Monitor your child's interests and look for books that will add to explorations of the world. You can help children integrate new ideas into their knowledge base using a rich multi-dimensional environment. By making varied resources available to children, you are helping them put the pieces of an idea together – a crisp juicy apple to hold and crunch, a story about an apple, a picture book with illustrations of an apple tree, and sponge letters (APPLE) little hands can hold and arrange. Your introduction of a variety of resources offers an integrated and multi-dimensional way for your child's cognition and early language and literacy to flourish.
  5. The more words young children hear, the better their association with words and objects. 'Labeling' or identifying people, places, and things on the pages, and repeating the name of each several times helps to expand a young child's vocabulary. As your child matures, invite her/him to do the same. Guide children in relating the information presented in books to things and people in the real world.
  6. Increasingly your child will want and need to handle the book as well as to look and listen while others perform. Encourage your child to select the book and turn the pages. It is important that infants, toddlers and preschoolers participate actively in a read-aloud event.
  7. Once baby is on the move, it is a good idea to keep a pile of books in easy reach on low shelves or tables. The accessibility of reading material will coax your child to sort through the books, carry them around, and take one to 'read'. It is a good idea to make sure that book contact is daily part of your child's life.
  8. Consider the reading as a 'dialogue' between you, the book, and the child. Ask the child to name the characters, point out colours, and to tell what happens next and express opinions about the story. Open-ended questions are helpful – they require more than a simple yes or no answer. Examples are, "I wonder what will happen next?" "What is that little bear doing now?", "How did she do that?", "Why is Max crying?", "There's Eeyore", What's happening to him?" This type of question is more meaningful than yes/no questions because they encourage children to think about the ideas. Reinforce your child's attempts to answer the questions and provide some possible answers yourself.
  9. Pause often in your reading to provide time for children's thinking. Before leaving an interesting illustration or moving on to the next page, allow children time to process the visual and oral information, connecting it to what they already know and have experienced. Children also need time to form a response – including time to figure out and articulate how they are feeling. Invite children to explore reasons, motives, and opinions. Don't expect them to sit quietly to the end of the book. For toddlers and preschoolers, the interaction with the book is just as important as the flow of the story.
  10. Provide feedback and encouragement when your child comments on something in a book. For example, you might say, "Yes, that little dog does look like Sparky!" As children get older you might ask them to take their turn in reading, especially if this is a familiar, often read, book. Encourage their retellings by listening attentively and making positive comments.
Please see the section of the Handbook on 'Reading' for additional tips on selecting books and on reading aloud to young children.

A Selection of Picture Books

Ahlberg, J. & Ahlberg, A. (1978). Each peach pear plum. London: Kestrel Books.

Ahlberg, J. & Ahlberg, A. (1986). The jolly postman. London, UK: Heinemann.

Alborough, J. (1992). Where's my teddy? Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Badoe, A. (2002) Nana's cold days. Toronto: Groundwood Books

Base, G. (2001). The waterhole. New York: Penguin Putnam.

Brett, J. (1989). The mitten. New York: Scholastic.

Brett, J. (1999). Gingerbread baby. New York: Putnam's Sons Publishers.

Brown, M.W. (1982). Goodnight moon. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.

Brown, R. (1985). The big sneeze. New York: Mulberry Books.

Browne, A. (1985). Willie the champ. New York: Knopf.

Bruna, D. (1967). B is for bear: An ABC. London: Methuen & Co.

Carle, E. (1974). The very hungry caterpillar. Harmondsworth, UK: Puffin Books.

Cole, J.& Calmenson, S. (1991). The eentsy, weentsy spider: Fingerplays and action rhymes. New York: Morrow Junior Books.

Fox, M. (1990). Possum magic. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Gay, M. L. (1999). Stella, star of the sea. Toronto, ON: Groundwood Books.

Graham, B. (2000). Max. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Ho, M. (1997). Hush! A Thai lullaby. New York: Orchard.

Hutchins, P. (1969). Rosie's walk. London: Bodley Head Press.

Kent, J. (1971). The fat cat. Harmondsworth, UK: Puffin Books.

Kowalski, M. (1989). The wheels on the bus. New York: Trumpet.

Kunhardt, D. M. (1940). Pat the bunny. New York: Golden Books Publishing.

Martin, B. (1967). Brown bear, brown bear, what do you see? New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Martin, B. (1989). Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

McFarlane, S. (1991). Waiting for the whales. Victoria: Orca Book Publishers.

Munsch, R. (1983). Mortimer. Toronto: Annick Press.

Oppel, K. (2000). Peg and the whale. Toronto: HarperCollins.

Oxenbury, H. (1971). Helen Oxenbury's ABC of Things. London: Heinemann.

Rathmann, P. (1995). Officer Buckle and Gloria. New York: Putnam.
Rosen, M. (1993). We're going on a bear hunt. London: Walker Books.

Steffan, C. (2003). A new home for Malik. Calgary, AB: Calgary Immigrant Woman's Association.

Vaage, C. (1995). Bibi and the bull. Edmonton: Dragon Hill Press.

Waddell, M. (1988). Can't you sleep, Little Bear? Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Waddell, M. (1991). Farmer Duck. London: Walker Books.

Waddell, M. (1992). Owl babies. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

Wild, M. (2001). Tom goes to kindergarten. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books.

Wynne-Jones, T. (1985). Zoom away. Toronto: Groundwood Books

Yolen, J. (1987). Owl moon. New York: Philomel Books.

A Selection of Wordless Books

Aliki. (1995). Tabby: A story told in pictures. New York: HarperCollins.
Baker, J. (2004). Home. New York: Greenwillow Books
Briggs, R. (1978). The snowman. New York: Random House/Scholastic.
Day, A. (1985). Good dog, Carl. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Dematons, C. (2003). The yellow balloon. Asheville, NC: Front Street/Lemniscaat.
Goodall, J. (1988). Little Red Riding Hood. New York: M. K. McElderry Books.
Karlin, B. (1991). Meow. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Keats, E. J. (1974). Kitten for a day. New York: Four Winds Press.
Lehman, B. (2004). The red book. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
McCully, E. (1988). New baby. New York: Harper & Row.
Ormerod, J.(1981). Sunshine. Harmondsworth, UK: Puffin/Penguin.
Ormerod, J.(1982). Moonlight. Harmondsworth, UK: Puffin/Penguin.
Rathmann, P. (1994). Goodnight, gorilla. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons.
Romann, E. (1994). Time flies. New York: Random House.
Schories, P. (2004). Breakfast for Jack. Asheville, NC: Front Street.
Sis, P. (2000). Dinosaur. New York: Greenwillow Books.


Bainbridge, J. & Gellner, J. (2009). Tips For Parents And Caregivers: Children's Literature and Reading Aloud 0 – 60 Months. In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0 – 60 Months. [online], pp. 1 - 7. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: Handbook of language and literacy development