Do you know a child who’s losing a tooth?
There’s a book for that.
Do you know a child who’s afraid of the dark?
There’s a book for that.
Do you know a child who has a funny looking forehead scar, lives under the stairs and receives mail delivered by owls?
There’s a book for that too!
I work in the children’s department of my local library. One of my favorite things to do is help visitors locate books that connect to a particular life milestone or challenge. For easy reference, librarians have compiled lists of popular subjects like the first day of school, potty training, and going to the doctor. There are also lists of tough topics like divorce, illness, and bullying. Quite literally, we have books for all reasons and all seasons.
Lots of these topics are addressed in picture books. While short in length, picture books pack a punch with beautiful illustrations, emotional range, and read-aloud ease. Some books bring out the showman in parents who enjoy adding voices, song, and pantomime to their storytelling. But even if you are not cut out for the stage, bringing books home is one of the best things you can do for your child. Libraries offer reading programs with incentives that motivate children to become life-long readers. Find out if your local library has a summer reading program and also check national early literacy programs like 1,000 Books Before Kindergarten Early Literacy Challenge. Reading with your child yields many benefits including boosting the ability to feel empathy, fueling imagination, providing validation and preparing for life’s milestone moments.
Check in with your child while reading and ask questions like, “How do you think the main character is feeling?” “What advice would you give if you were their friend?” Researchers have linked reading fiction to positive effects such as being more charitable, improving the ability to interpret nonverbal facial cues and anticipating the feelings of others. Help your child build their sense of empathy by stepping into someone else’s shoes through books.
Picture books often follow a classic structure where the protagonist sets out to solve a problem with several failed attempts before landing on the solution. Prior to reading a new book, ask your child some questions: “What do you think will happen if the crayons quit?” “Why do you think dragons like to eat tacos?” It can be fun to compare the imaginative explanations your child conjures up with the actions in the story.
Books can help us feel like we’re not alone. When my own children had a rough day, I would pull Alexander and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. Even into their teenage years, I read the book aloud. Usually it helped put things in perspective, evoked a little smirk, and served as a reminder that everyone has a bad day once in a while - even in Australia.
The medium of picture books is so appealing, I have authored a couple of my own. My most recent book, The Way We Say Hello (Starry Forest Books, 2023) is framed around a milestone moment - the birth of a baby.
In this story, a young child journeys around the world in search of the best way to greet a new sibling. Readers learn languages, gestures and some historical tidbits about the way we greet one another. Watching the actions of a character in a book helps promote discussion and prepares readers for a similar event in their own life.
Do you know a child who’s about to become a big brother or big sister? There’s a book for that.