As I mentioned yesterday, the third annual Share a Story - Shape a Future literacy blog tour is happening this week. This year's theme is Unwrapping the Gift of Literacy. Today's specific theme is about giving the gift of literacy. Dawn Little, today's host, asked me to write something about giving the gift of literacy to new parents. This is something that I have now experienced as giver and recipient, and I jumped at the chance to participate. [Image credit: SAS logo designed by Elizabeth O. Dulemba]
Giving books to new parents is, I think, one of the highest yield ways there is to give the gift of literacy. There's a reason that organizations like RIF, Reach Out and Read and Dolly Parton's Imagination Library, among others, focus on giving books to infants and preschoolers. Children who have books of their own are much more likely to learn to love reading than children who don't. And kids who grow up loving books later reap many rewards, from improved literacy to enhanced imaginations to better math skills. [I'm not sure there are any studies about the enhanced imaginations part, but I'll bet it's true.]
If I were a fairy godmother, I would bless children with the gift of loving books. As a regular old godmother, aunt, and friend, I do what I can by giving books. I buy books for baby showers, christenings, and birthday parties. And you can, too.
I will admit that I have an advantage here. As a reviewer, and now as a parent, I read a lot of picture books. I read blogs where people recommend picture books. I see the ALA and Cybils awards lists every year. I subscribe to Horn Book Magazine, and various newsletters. It's easy for me to come up with a few high quality titles, titles that are a bit out of the mainstream. Titles that the new baby would likely not have received otherwise. I belive that it's my job to get those titles into new parents' hands.
But even if you aren't out there keeping up with all of the newest picture book releases, you are qualified to pick books to give to new parents. Pick the books that you loved most as a child, or that you enjoyed reading to your children. Or ask a librarian or bookstore associate for help. Tell the new parent why you chose these books. I promise, this information makes the gift even more special.
Whether the books you're giving will be the only ones that the family receives, or whether yours will be one of hundreds, you can't go wrong by giving books. I don't believe that it's possible for a child to have too many books - the parents can always donate or share them with others later, as the child grows older. Hardcover picture books are nice as gifts because they make good keepsakes. But board books and cloth books can used right away, chewed and loved and looked and tucked into the diaper bag. I like to give a mix of both.
Here are a few titles that I've been giving to new parents lately, and/or that we received for our baby and particularly enjoyed (I'm leaving off the really obvious classics, though are usually be good choices, too):
- Begin Smart Baby Faces (great for brand new babies - the first thing that our baby really looked at)
- Begin Smart Animal Faces (cloth book with attached rattle - the first thing that our baby reached for, and still a cherished favorite)
- Who Do You See: My First Taggie Book (cloth book with tags and a mirror - much loved for the animal images and as a pillow)
- Each Peach Pear Plumb by Janet and Allan Ahlberg (review)
- Kiss Good Night by Amy Hest (ill. Anita Jeram) (review)
- Any of Leslie Patricelli's board books, like Yummy Yucky
- ABC Baby Me by Susan B. Katz (ill. Alicia Padron)
- Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester (ill. Lynn Munsinger)
- Blueberry Girl by Neil Gaiman (ill. Charles Vess) (especially good for girls)
- The Goodnight Train by June Sobel (ill. Laura Huliska-Beith) (review)
- Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown (ill. Garth Williams) (review)
- Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox (ill. Helen Oxenbury)
- Click Clack Moo: Cows that Type by Doreen Cronin (ill. Betsy Lewin) (I especially like to give this one to parents who are on the computer a lot)
- Scaredy Squirrel by Melanie Watt (kids love his smiling, timid face)
- Anything at all by Mo Willems
I also like to give new parents a copy of Jim Trelease's The Read-Aloud Handbook (reviewed here). The early chapters make a strong case for why parents should read aloud and why they should start early. Jim Trelease writes from the perspective of a parent (and now grandparent). A parent somewhat obsessive on the topic of reading aloud, sure, but still, a parent. This makes The Read-Aloud Handbook a good starting point for people.
Of course there are other great books out there for parents looking to nurture young readers, like Esme Raji Codell's How to Get Your Child to Love Reading and Mem Fox's Reading Magic, among other titles. If you already know that the new parents are actively seeking to raise a reader, one of these books would be an excellent choice, too.
A Note for New Parents and Parents-To-Be
You can help the people who care about you to give your child the gift of literacy. My daughter, our first child, was born last year. The people who knew me best knew that the thing I would most want for my baby was books. But I was afraid that some of them would be paralyzed by the idea that I must already have a lot of picture books, books that they wouldn't want to duplicate. And in truth, my library was missing many classics.
So what I did was made a wish list for Baby Bookworm on Amazon, and linked to it from my more traditional baby gift registry (and from my blog, and from a footer in my personal emails). I wasn't trying to drum up gifts, you understand, but if there were people out there who wanted to buy my baby books, I wanted to make it easy for them to see what we needed.
We ended up having a lovely "book shower" thrown by some of my fabulous blog friends (special thanks to Terry for organizing and to Sarah, shown here, for collecting and delivering the books). We also received books from high school friends, college friends, relatives, and even a few people I met through Twitter.
Baby Bookworm now has this fabulous library, with books from people from all different stages of my husband's and my lives. I get a bit teary-eyed just thinking about it. I wrote the giver's name in each book, too. Whenever I read a book to Baby Bookworm, I tell her where the book came from. This makes our far-flung friends and relatives feel closer.
Of course you don't have to use Amazon - I'm sure that your local independent would be happy to set up a wish list, too. Or you could do what my business partner did, and create a little web page of your own with a list of books that you want (or list the ones that you already have). The point is, if you let people know that you're interested in books, and you make it easy for them to select books, you can help people to give your child the gift of literacy.
One of the most meaningful and lasting gifts that you can give to new parents is to support their children's future literacy. You don't have to be a blogger or a literacy advocate or a librarian to do this. All you have to be is willing to take the time to pick out a few books. Choose books you loved as a child. Choose this year's Caldecott winners. Choose whatever catches your eye at your local bookstore. Don't worry too much about what books the new parents might already have (duplicates can always be shared or traded with friends). Just get out there and give books. They're fun to buy, easy to wrap and ship, and can last for years. And the real gift that you're giving, supporting the child's love of books, well, that lasts a lifetime.