My university friends have a (recent) tradition that when someone has a baby shower, we each buy the new baby a book. We choose a book we loved when we were little, or, if we have children, a book we love reading to our own. I really love this tradition, and love that all of our babies have ready made mini libraries before they’re even born. Tiny baby clothes are fine and everything (so cute), but I think books made the perfect new baby gifts. I am a big book geek, and am very sentimental about books. When I was pregnant, my parents went up into their loft and retrieved all of the boxes containing childhood. Amongst this dusty pile of 1980s sentimentality, were three boxes of books. I stole most of them, and took them home to fill the bookshelf in the as yet uninhabited nursery.
That nursery got left behind when we moved (and never actually served it’s purpose as a room for sleep anyway, thanks to co-sleeping. The most action it ever saw was nappy changes, of which it saw a lot), but the books came with us. Instead of a single bookshelf, we now have, erm, a lot of bookshelves filled with brightly coloured children’s books (you can take a little tour of Ebony’s room here). I’m not exaggerating when I say we have hundreds of them. It may even be over 1000. Our local charity shop sells books very cheaply, and I seem unable to resist buying books of any description.
I can remember when Ebony was a baby, I was aware the sound of my voice was important for her brain function and the development of language skills. And yet, chattering away to somebody who doesn’t talk back is how I spend pretty much every evening when Laurie gets back from work (kidding. Sort of), and I didn’t really want to do that all day as well. Also, it was hard to think of things to say. Pointing out ducks is really very uninteresting, and the same goes for cows, trains and tractors. Just kidding, tractors are awesome, but you know what I mean.
And so, I turned to books. I spent a long time each day reading books to her, snuggled up with her on the sofa. She would pull at the pages, listen intently and look at the pictures. Sometimes she would fall asleep, which was actually quite rude. She didn’t really have a bedtime routine, and always fed to sleep so bedtime stories weren’t really a thing in our house. Instead, we would read every afternoon. As soon as she was mobile, she would bring books to me for reading. And I would often find her flicking through the pages of a book by herself. This is something she still loves to do now, I can always hear the sound of pages being turned in the morning.
Reading to infants and young children helps to get them ready for language. It also improves brain function by using different areas of the brain. Regular reading increases a child’s use of the parts of the brain responsible for visual imagery and narrative understanding, both of which are very important. Hearing voices on television doesn’t have the same effect. Regular reading also allows for that quiet time to snuggle up and bond, and has been found to foster close bonds between parent and child. I didn’t know any of that when I first opened up a book as my baby sat on my knee, I just wanted to pass some time.
I have always loved books, and was keen to pass that passion down to my daughter. Nowadays, reading is a part of our bedtime routine. She chooses three books and I read them to her in bed before we lie down to go to sleep. She chooses different books every day, though she does have a few favourites that pop up time and time again. Now that she’s three, she often has questions at the end of the story, or simply wants to comment on the story or illustrations in the book. That time, snuggled up together at the end of the day, enjoying a book, is one of my favourite times of day.
That’s why I love buying books as new baby gifts. Well, that and I can’t really handle going into Next and looking at the outrageously adorable baby clothes with my ovaries imploding. I am a big fan of anything by Dr Seuss, Julia Donaldson, Janet and Allan Ahlberg, Oliver Jeffers and Jon Klassen. I’m also on the look out for more storybooks and would love to hear your suggestions for other authors and books to check out.