Books for Children

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Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:489–494 DOI 10.1007/s10643-008-0236-5

Selecting Books for Children Birth Through Four: A Developmental Approach Julie Dwyer Æ Susan B. Neuman

Published online: 22 February 2008 Ó Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Abstract The selection of books to read to young children matters enormously in the role books play for enriching children’s lives. This paper reviews the scientific evidence for the appropriate selection of books, and argues that care in selecting books targeted to children’s developing skills will enhance the power and the pleasures of reading to young children. Keywords Book reading Á Storybook Á Young children Á Literacy Á Achievement Á Development Á Children’s literature Á Vocabulary Á Knowledge Á Caregiver Á Parents

The early years are a time of joy and great learning for young children. These are the years when children begin to learn to interact with print, and experience the delights of being read to. Today, a superabundance of wonderful books awaits them due to the virtual explosion in publishing for the very young. Nevertheless, whether children benefit from this vast array of books depends upon the adults in their lives: why, how, and what caregivers read to young children matters enormously in the role books will play in enriching children’s lives and later school achievement (Neuman and Wright 2007). The purpose of this article is to review the scientific evidence for the appropriate selection of books to read to young children at different developmental levels. We J. Dwyer Á S. B. Neuman (&) School of Education, University of Michigan, 610 e. University, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA e-mail: sbneuman@umich.edu J. Dwyer e-mail: dwyerj@umich.edu

believe that care in selecting books targeted to children’s developing skills and understandings may not only enhance the power, but the pleasures of book reading for young learners. Shared book reading is the single most important activity for helping children become literate. Studies suggest that book reading stimulates vocabulary development, knowledge about the world, and children’s motivation and interest in becoming literate (Bus et al. 1995). Children as young as 6 months begin to respond to book reading. Consequently, it is never too early to read to young children. Shared book reading helps children to develop a literate orientation (Holdaway 1979; Whitehurst et al. 1988), an understanding that books have a structure, and a set of conventions that represent a different form of communication than speaking. Sulzby (1985), for example, in a nowclassic study found that well-read to children appeared to develop a literate orientation, often imitating the literary language they would hear in the text. Snow (1983) referred to this language as ‘‘decontextualized,’’ or representing ideas and interactions not directly present in the story. More recent studies (Bus et al. 1995; Ezell and Justice 2005) have highlighted its influence on vocabulary development, and the use of more sophisticated words in children’s discourse. Book reading, for example, provides a powerful source for language and vocabulary development because of its varied sentence forms, complex syntax, and uncommon vocabulary children are likely to hear when being read to (Beck et al. 2002; Girolametto and Weitzman 2002). Conversations, carefully tailored to children’s developing language skills, help to develop richer and more extended language interactions (Whitehurst et al. 1988). For storybooks to make a significant influence in children’s lives, however, they need to be selected carefully,

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Early Childhood Educ J (2008) 35:489–494

based on children’s development. This article reviews the research base that underlies quality features of books for young children that relate to their developmental level and interests.

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