Read with Me: Best Books for Preschoolers

Read with Me: Best Books for Preschoolers

by Stephanie Zvirin


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781937589035
Publisher: Huron Street Press
Publication date: 05/01/2012
Pages: 184
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Stephanie Zvirin is an editor for the American Library Association (ALA) where she acquires and develops professional books for ALA Editions and edits the ALA Editions' Children’s Programming Monthly magazine. She was previously Books for Youth editor at Booklist Magazine, review journal of the ALA. She is a former teacher and a library director, and is the author of The Best Years of Their Lives. Her articles and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, such as Book Links, Chicago Parent Magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. She lives in Chicago.

Read an Excerpt

Read with Me

Best Books for Preschoolers

By Stephanie Zvirin

American Library Association

Copyright © 2012 the American Library Association
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-937589-07-3



Why Read?

As parents and caregivers, we naturally want to help our children acquire the physical, cognitive, and social skills that will help them in daily life. We show them how to eat with a spoon, tie their shoes, brush their teeth, and put away their toys. By encouraging them to make guided choices, we help them build self-confidence; by supplying them with paper and crayons, we foster their creativity; by visiting the park, we help them develop muscular coordination; by taking them to preschool, a playgroup, or the grocery store, we widen their frame of reference and provide opportunities for them to make friends. We also play a vital role in children's language development. Even before children learn to read and write, they know a great deal about communication — much of which they learn from listening to us as we talk, sing, play with, and read to them. By the time they enter school, they have a vocabulary of between 5,000 and 20,000 words — depending on how much they have been spoken or read to.

It's well established that literacy, the ability to use language in spoken or written form, begins to develop during the first few years of life. The term early literacy, often erroneously interpreted to mean "reading," refers to the various overlapping skills that evolve while the brain is undergoing its most rapid growth — between infancy and age five. Multiples studies have shown that repeated exposure to oral language helps strengthen the neural pathways in a child's brain; the more stimuli a child receives, the more connections the brain builds. The more connections, the stronger the foundation for language development, which is the cornerstone of learning and literacy. During these years, children complete a variety of benchmark tasks. For example, they learn that books are opened from left to right, and that there's a difference between pictures and print on a page. They build conversational and listening vocabularies, learn to differentiate small sounds in words, and come to recognize that letters/symbols on the page can relate to spoken words. These facts are strong motivators for sharing books with children early and often.

What to Read When?

Although every child's needs are different, there are a few important things to keep in mind when choosing books to share. Although infants are largely passive participants in book sharing, they will listen intently for new and different sounds. They may also reach out to touch the books you share with them. Select very short books, with just a few words. Story really doesn't matter; it's the colorful pictures and the sounds that attract Baby's attention. Because an infant's vision is limited to what's right in front of him or her, you should hold the book a little closer than you might ordinarily. Between three and six months, vision evolves sufficiently for babies to track objects. Look for books with pictures of things in a child's everyday world, including pictures of other babies. Point to the images on the page and name them.

During the next year or so children begin to develop preferences. They can usually say a few words, and they'll use them to express their desire for particular persons or objects — like books. Toddlers' attention spans are longer, but books are only one of a long list of interesting things that they want to explore. Books are toys during these months. Little ones throw them, teethe on them, and rip them apart. Board books (easy for busy toddlers to carry around while they investigate their surroundings) work well, as do traditional nursery rhymes and books with simple, catchy verses or sound effects.

By the age of three, most children have a beginning understanding of order and sequence and can follow a picture story that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Animals are a favorite topic. Also try books that introduce colors, letters, numbers, and opposites. Books with interesting language and predictable, easy-to-memorize refrains are fun, too; after a reading or two, your child may chime right in when you say the words.

Older preschoolers (four- and five-year-olds) will show increased interest in the mechanics of reading. They will bring experiences from their everyday lives and from other books they know to the new stories they hear. They'll often ask questions and make comments, and they'll be more likely to interact with a story on an emotional level. Books about family and friendship are traditionally popular choices because they relate to places, events, or situations children may recognize. At this age many children can recite the words of a favorite book from memory ("Look, I'm reading!"), but most still lack the mechanical and comprehension skills reading demands. By the age of six, children who have had plenty of exposure books and outside stimuli are usually ready and eager to read on their own, and most have gained a healthy, lasting appreciation of books. Your local library is there to help you find whatever you need, whenever you need it.

Quick Tips for Book Sharing

• Reading to infants is as much about bonding and having fun with your child as it is about language and learning.

• Establish a set time for reading each day, but slip in a book whenever it seems practical. Pack a book in your diaper bag; put one in your glove compartment; take a couple to the doctor's office.

• Read with enthusiasm; inflection and tone matter. If you are uncomfortable reading aloud, practice — it's worth it.

• If your child doesn't want to read, don't force the issue. Just try again later.

• Sing some of the words.

• Read slowly. There's more to book sharing than just reciting the words. Reading too quickly prevents your child from talking about the story, which is an excellent way to enhance vocabulary.

• Encourage your prereader if he or she wants to "read" to you for a change.

• Be prepared to read some books over and over. Knowing what happens next in a story helps a child build reading confidence. It also adds to your child's word bank.

• Have an older child read a picture book to a younger sibling — perhaps a picture book that was the older child's favorite.

• Reading an extra book is a great reward, but don't withhold reading to punish a child.

• Books on tender topics — for example, a grandparent's increasing forgetfulness — can ease the way to discussion of real-life situations.

• Try to supplement reading with another activity. Make comments about every new story you share. Ask open- ended questions to encourage conversation.

• Be open to your child's questions, even during the middle of the reading. Questioning is one of the ways children learn about new things and exercise their imaginations.

• Talk about the pictures. Young children look at those first. Only later do children become interested in the words on the page.

• Try sharing wordless books; let your child fill in the story.

• Build a small home library. Include different kinds of books: board books, picture books, easy readers. Organize them in a way that makes sense to your child. Put them in baskets or sort them by color or by size. Keep library books in a special place.

• Make visits to your local library part of your weekly routine.

Libraries, Books, and More

Libraries offer myriad opportunities for your child. Along with books and knowledgeable librarians to help you and your child choose them, you'll find children's audiobooks, DVDs, and CDs, which can be used as reading enrichment. Most public libraries have well-defined, cozy spaces located near their children's book collection, where parents and children can sit, chat, read, or play quietly, and where children can find new friends.

Preschool storytimes are routine in most public libraries. The best are built around parent-child interaction. Open to both parents and caregivers, these programs are often in series that include separate sessions for infants to age six months, toddlers, two- and three-year-olds, four- to six-year-olds, or some similar configuration. Advance registration is usually required, but many libraries also have casual, regularly scheduled drop-in storytimes, some held during the early evening and some right after school. Multiage storytimes (also called sibling storytimes) are becoming increasingly popular. These programs comprise activities appropriate for infants as well as their older preschool sibs. They are a very practical alternative for parents or caregivers who have children of different ages. Along with daytime story programs, some libraries have evening sessions, especially during the summer. Children arrive in pj's, and the librarians carefully select the read-alouds and rhymes to serve as a lulling preview to bedtime. More and more libraries are now partnering with bilingual community members to extend storytime opportunities for children and families whose native language is not English.

In addition to the stories, rhymes, songs, flannelboard, and movement activities that make up the usual storytime, many librarians also suggest a craft or additional activity that can be done at home and hand out a list of library books related to their program's theme. They may also integrate early literacy tips and information about school readiness into their storytimes. Passing along information on early literacy is a priority in libraries today. Toward that end, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) and the Public Library Association (PLA), divisions of the American Library Association, have partnered in a research-based initiative designed to equip children's librarians with tools and tactics to help parents and caregivers ready preschoolers for reading and school. Libraries across the country have adopted "Every Child Ready to Read @ your library." Your local library may be one of them. To find out more ask your librarian or visit

ALSC is also responsible for two of the country's most prestigious children's book awards, the Newbery and the Caldecott, whose winners are chosen by committees comprising librarians from across the country. The Caldecott, first awarded in 1938, honors the artist of the previous year's "most distinguished" picture book. A complete list of award winners is available on the ALSC website You will also find a list of Newbery Medal books. This award, for distinguished writing, most often goes to chapter books and novels for older children, though picture books have been among winners. Books for preschoolers and kindergarteners (as well as older children) appear on the following award lists, too, also put together by librarians dedicated to children and books:

Notable Children's Books. The books on this list, which appears each January, are deemed the best children's books published during the previous year. The roundup includes the Newbery and Caldecott medal and honor books along with a wide variety of picture books, and books for middle graders and teen readers to age fourteen.

The (Theodor Seuss) Geisel Awards. Named in recognition of Dr. Seuss's lasting contribution to children's literature, this award goes "to the author(s) and illustrator(s) of the best American book for beginning readers published in English in the United States during the preceding year."

Pura Belpré Medals. These awards recognize the Latino/Latina author and illustrator whose contributions best represent the Latino cultural experience. The award is cosponsored by ALSC and the ALA affiliate REFORMA, the National Association to Promote Library and Information Services to Latinos and the Spanish-speaking.

The Robert F. Siebert Informational Book Medal. This award, administered by ALSC, recognizes excellent contributions in informational (nonfiction) books. Picture books are eligible.

ALA also supports two other awards that may yield picture book titles to share with your children: the Coretta Scott King Book Awards, which recognize outstanding books for children and teens that have been written or illustrated by African Americans; and the Schneider Family Book Awards, acknowledging an author or illustrator for "a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent." Learn more and get downloadable lists at and schneiderfamily.cfm.

About This Book

Librarians too numerous to name chose the books for this volume. Working in big and small public libraries and schools across the country, they put these titles on respected "best books" lists, favorably reviewed them in journals like ALA's Booklist, blogged about them, kid-tested them, and used them in storytimes and at home with their own young children.

As any one of them would probably tell you, the age levels suggested for each title in this book are only educated guesses, and the topical arrangement of the book is merely a convenience. Most books are about more than one thing. In addition, what we grown-ups take from a story may be a world away from what a child finds most important or compelling.

You won't find Goodnight Moon or The Snowy Day, or the Little Engine That Could listed in this roundup, even though classics like these are wonderful for sharing. Librarians know them well and can easily steer you toward them. What you will find are kid-pleasing books, mostly picture storybooks, published during the last decade. Perhaps they will help your children see the world in a different way, exercise their imaginations, make them curious, or link them to what's going on around them. Like all such lists, this is merely a place to begin. Your local librarian can help you guide your child's book journey.



There is plenty of evidence, both anecdotal and scientific, that babies in utero, in the last stages of development, can hear their mother's heartbeat as well as sounds outside the body. A quick search of the Internet reveals numerous photos of women holding headphones over their bellies so Baby can listen as they read aloud or play music. Babies can hear the bark of the family dog and the home stereo. They can also identify a parent as he or she speaks. Just the sound of a mother's voice can be soothing. It's easy to continue a reading pattern you have established after your newborn arrives. When Baby is able to sit comfortably in your lap, try lap sharing. Just keep in mind that children are nearsighted for the first few months after birth, so hold the book you have chosen close so Baby can see it. Later, as hand-eye coordination develops and Baby becomes more interested in what's going on in the larger world, introduce board books. These books, some small enough for Baby to hold, often center on fundamental learning skills, like counting and colors. They are built for hard use — and they'll get it. Children will carry them around, throw them from the crib, and even chew on them during teething (if you let them). There are also many traditional picture books published for infants and toddlers, some also available as board books. No matter whether you select a board book or a traditional picture book, first reads will have minimal text, easy-to-identify shapes without too much detail, brightly colored art, and lots of opportunity for parent-child interaction. Books that call for sound effects from the reader are ideal. The most important thing, of course, is to ensure books become part of your child's life early on.

Board Books

10 Little Rubber Ducks

By Eric Carle. Illustrated by the author. HarperCollins, 2005. Ages 1–3.

Ten rubber duckies en route across the ocean in a cargo ship are hurled into a stormy sea. For a time, they bob along together, but eventually they drift apart, each toward a different adventure. The tenth little duck finds a place with some real ducks, and at the end of the book, children are invited to press the rubber duckie's body to hear its satisfied goodnight quack. Carle's books, most of which are available in board book as well as traditional picture book versions, are ideal for helping toddlers learn about colors, shapes, and numbers. Other wonderful Carle titles include The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?

Baby Baby Baby!

By Marilyn Janovitz. Illustrated by the author. Sourcebooks, 2010. Ages 1–3.

"Bitsy bouncy baby / On a bumpity lap / Mommy's little baby likes to / CLAP / CLAP / CLAP!" Bouncy rhyme, word repetition, and cheerful pictures of parent-child bonding make this concise catalog of a baby's day a winner. Little ones will see familiar activities in pictures of Baby eating, having a bath, and at the end of the day, slipping off to dreamland. The book also offers lots of opportunity for strengthening coordination as children clap with you.

Baby Shoes

By Dashka Slater. Illustrated by Nakata Hiroe. Bloomsbury, 2006. Ages 2–3.

After donning a pair of new shoes, an irrepressible toddler decides to let his footwear "go, go, go." Leaving the store, he leads his mom on a merry chase. He has a grand time romping and puddle stomping as he races toward home, which predictably transforms his shoes from their original pristine white into all the colors of the rainbow.

A Ball for Daisy

By Chris Raschka. Illustrated by the author. Schwartz & Wade, 2011. Ages 3–5.

This wordless book features a scraggly, energetic little dog named Daisy, who loves to play with her big ball. She chases it, bounces it, puts it on her tummy, kicks it. She even sleeps next to it on the couch. It's her favorite thing in the world. During a visit to the park, tragedy occurs. A bigger dog punctures the ball, sending Daisy into doggie depression. Unlike a child, however, Daisy isn't quite as wedded to her comfort object as it first appears. The arrival of a brand-new ball immediately cures her woes. Children will tell you the story as you look at the book together.

Bear's Birthday

By Stella Blackstone. Illustrated by Debbie Harter. Barefoot, 2011. Ages 2–4.

It's Bear's birthday, and he's throwing a party for himself. He blows up ten balloons to use as favors. His guests join him in games and share a bear-size birthday feast before it's time to go. But that's not all. To complete the story, Blackstone gives little listeners an opportunity to count the balloons from one to ten — while Bear's pugnacious cat leaps across the final pages trying to pop them. Bear appears in many simple, equally charming story books, including Bear at Home, Bear at Work and Bear about Town.


Excerpted from Read with Me by Stephanie Zvirin. Copyright © 2012 the American Library Association. Excerpted by permission of American Library Association.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1 Reading Together 1

2 First Reads 7

3 Me, Me, Me 31

4 Family 51

5 Friendship 69

6 Places Near and Far 79

7 Having Fun 95

8 Making Believe 109

9 The Natural World 123

10 Reading Alone 143

Resources 151

Illustration Credits 157

Index 161

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