By Christie Matheson, author of Tap the Magic Tree
1. Read hands-on books with babies! It’s so cool when really young readers get excited about a book, and in our house the early favorites included Pat the Bunny (yes, it’s goofy and old-school, but kids love it), Dear Zoo (yes, you’ll need to suspend disbelief about the premise—opening the flaps and seeing the animals is what it’s all about),and Peek-a Who?
2. Choose interactive books that ask readers to do something to move the story forward. I hear Tap the Magic Tree is a good one. ;) Press Here and Count the Monkeys are a lot of fun, too.
3. "Read" wordless books and talk about what’s happening on each page. You can tell the story together, and there’s no getting it wrong. Journey, by Aaron Becker, is a gorgeous one. My kids love Chris Raschka’s A Ball for Daisy (which won the 2012 Caldecott Medal) and its follow-up, Daisy Gets Lost, which came out this October.
4. Read rhyming books that you and your child know well, and pause occasionally to give your child a chance to finish some of the lines (but don’t force it—if it doesn’t happen, just finish the line yourself and keep going). I think this works best for books with excellent, natural verse—Julia Donaldson’s books are perfect. The Llama Llama books by Anna Dewdney are great for this, too.
5. Create art inspired by a book. Try drawing a character (check out any of the Elephant & Piggie books by Mo Willems—the characters are very drawable) or a scene. Or play with a style of art you see in a book, whether it’s painting or collage or pencil drawing. I love it when I see art inspired by Tap the Magic Tree, like this. One of my favorite illustrators of all time, Eric Carle, offers detailed instructions for making a collage in his style.
6. If your young reader starts spontaneously interacting with the characters in a book, go with it. One night when we were reading Fancy Nancy and the Mermaid Ballet together, my daughter started asking all the kids in the book, “What’s your name? How old are you?” We gave all of them very interesting identities.
7. Make up stories together about favorite characters. The night after the “What’s your name?” game, my daughter and I were reading the same book again, and we made up a story about Fancy Nancy herself jumping out of the book and coming to play in my daughter’s room. Since then we’ve made up stories about Madeline, Laura and Mary, Betsy and Tacy, Matilda, and many others.
8. Ask questions about things you notice, take time to respond to questions your child asks, point out clever details, or ask your child to look for something specific in an illustration (like the mouse on every colorful page in Goodnight Moon).
9. Read stories about places you’ve been and look for landmarks you’ve seen together. If you love Boston, like we do, Make Way for Ducklings is a great book for this kind of interaction.
10. Encourage young readers to hold books and touch them and use them well and “read” them long before they are actually reading the words. (And take some video of them doing this, because it’s so darn cute.)