How soon should you start reading to a child? I think the answer is, it is never too soon…
I once received an e-mail from a young mother. She told me that colleagues had given her my picture book If Kisses Were Colors as a baby shower gift. She began reading it frequently to her son Alex—in-utero! She reported that as soon as he was old enough to express any preferences, If Kisses Were Colors was his favorite book!
I’ll admit that I didn’t read to my son and daughter quite as early as Alex’s mom. I know I started when my son was a baby, and I read for hours at a time. I’m not sure why I did this, since I was not often read to as a child (my folks were loving, but busy). Perhaps it was because I didn’t have enough to say myself. I’m not talkative by nature, and I knew that hearing speech is very important for developing verbal skills.
Once I started reading picture books, I was hooked! I love the sounds words make and how they play off one another. Our voices are musical instruments that can make words sing across a spectrum—soft, loud, staccato, soothing, melodious, and more. When illustrations are added, both reader and listener are transported to a magical place. To a picture book place.
And for someone shy, like me, there is the realization that you can’t make a fool of yourself in front of the picture book crowd; they are with you all the way as you read the silly refrains of The Baby Beebee Bird or the nighttime cadences of Owl Moon.
I fed my addiction as my children grew older by writing my own picture books and continuing to read them and other stories out loud. My family still shares favorite holiday picture books, even though my son and daughter are now young adults. We laugh at Olive, The Other Reindeer. We tear up when an elderly couple, long separated since the Holocaust, are reunited by a Christmas Tapestry.
At least my addiction has benefits. Science tells us that reading out loud to a child encourages verbal development, fostering better communication and social skills. It builds a foundation for early literacy—the ability to read and write. It provides unique human connections via a snuggle or cozy side-by-side as a story is delivered by a reassuring, familiar voice.
But I confess that all these benefits for babies and children are of secondary importance to me. My passion and preference for picture books are fueled by the wonderful stories, the musical words, and the magical illustrations. Quite simply, I am a picture book addict—and I’m not looking for a cure!