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Summer reading isn’t just for kids who can read. It’s for babies too.
The Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s annual Best Books for Babies list, in fact, is targeted at children aged birth to 18 months.
The selection committee, led by Lisa Dennis, coordinator of CLP’s children’s and teen collections and Erin Zambataro, coordinator of children’s services & family engagement for the library, includes experts in early literacy and child development. Among the panelists are a positive racial identity development expert, a published children’s author/illustrator and several parents.
“The committee selects the yearly titles based on the books’ ability to promote linguistic, social-emotional, cognitive and visual development for young learners,” says Dennis. All 12 books on the list were voted on and chosen from a selection of more than 100 books in a series of two- to three-hour meetings.
A previous member of the committee, Dr. Catalina Hoyos, a pediatrician who initiated Booksburgh — a UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh program designed to get patients reading — explained the importance of exposing children to literature early on.
“Babies are what we call our ‘earliest listeners’ … and books can also help them reach other milestones such as fine motor skills as they turn the pages,” Hoyos says.
Dr. Aisha White, director of the P.R.I.D.E. (Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education) Program at the University of Pittsburgh’s Office of Child Development, has served on the committee for the past three years.
“I’m particularly looking for books that portray diverse babies from different backgrounds and illustrations that look like the populations portrayed, not necessarily just skin color, but specific facial features,” White says.
Here is the list of books:
- “My Heart Beats” by Rina Singh, a colorful read that describes the sound of a heartbeat in various languages from all around the world accompanied by photographs of an ethnically diverse group of children and their parents.
- “Jungle Night” by Sandra Boynton, a bedtime story that also has optional audio accompaniment interpreted by the expressive cello of Yo-Yo Ma.
- “Leo Loves Daddy” and “Leo Loves Mommy” by Anna McQuiin, illustrated by Ruth Hearson, two books about a baby who loves spending time with both of his parents.
- “We All Play” by Julie Flett, a book celebrating playtime with vivid illustrations of children and nature while also including a glossary of Cree words for the featured animals.
- “Goodnight Everyone” by Chris Haughton, a board book with simple shapes and heavy color contrast, perfect for babies as they do not develop strong color vision until 5 to 8 months of age.
- “Farm Lullaby” by Karen Jameson, illustrated by Wednesday Kirwan, a charming bedtime story about different barnyard animals singing their babies to sleep.
- “If You’re Happy and You Know It!” and “Pop a Little Pancake!” illustrated by Annie Kubler and Sarah Dellow, two rhyming books with illustrations of children from different backgrounds and musical notation on the back.
- “City Baby” by Laurie Elmquist, illustrated by Ashley Barron, a book about a young baby being exposed to new sights and sounds in a bustling urban environment.
- “The Night is Deep and Wide” by Gillian Sze, illustrated by Sue Todd, a bedtime read with soothing rhythm and repetition in the text that is accompanied by largely black and white illustrations.
- “Baby, Sleepy Baby” by Atinuke, illustrated by Angela Brooksbank, a gentle picture book based on a Nigerian lullaby that evokes the warmth of a parent embracing their child.
The committee additionally offers tips for parents reading to their babies:
- Books with simple black against white pictures are easiest for babies aged birth to 6 months old. Young babies also like patterns and pictures of people’s faces.
- Babies explore their world through touch and taste. Share sturdy books that offer different textures and sensations.
- Babies learn through repetition. Read stories over and over again.
- Young children are wiggly! Share books when your child is relaxed but still alert.
- Share new words every day. Point to pictures on the page as you describe them. Make connections to things you see and experience in real life too.
- Children learn from everything they experience. Talk, sing, read, write and play every day.
Carnegie Library also offers programming for parents and their young children including in-person and virtual storytimes at locations across the city. These opportunities are not only prime for educational development, but also social development.
On Saturday, July 23, the library will team up with the Western Pennsylvania Diaper Bank to host a Best Books for Babies Diaper Distribution at the Hill District branch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Families and caregivers with children aged birth through 18 months will receive a 2022 Best Books for Babies book bundle and two packages of diapers (sizes 0-3).