My Story: How I Started Reading to My Babies

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I LOVE reading. However, I didn’t read to my unborn babies in utero. I was busy wrapping up work before I left my job to become a stay-at-home mum. Nor was I one of those mummies who read to their newborns. As a new mother of twins, I was severely sleep deprived. So, extra shut-eye and my general survival trumped whatever research I had read on the topic and any grand intentions I had in the beginning of introducing books to my bubs early on.

I’m actually glad I only started reading books to my twins when they were closer to 12 months. It was more meaningful as my children were able to understand what was going on and more rewarding as I was able to see their reactions to my reading.

A bedtime story routine is really the best way to acquaint your babies with books. After all, bedtime reading combines some of your child’s favourite things: snuggles, interesting pictures, fascinating sounds and, of course, you!  

I learnt from some good sources (like Born Reading: Bringing Up Bookworms in a Digital Age by Jason Boog) and personal experience how some books are better at holding babies’ attention than others. I follow a simple criteria:

  1. Great to read aloud
  2. Good pictures – a few large pictures (in colour or stark black and white), or colourful spreads
  3. Sturdy pages – get board books and if they have flaps, ensure the flaps are not too flimsy (or say hello to your new “friends” – Mr. Scotchtape and Ms. Scissors)
  4. Large text – a few large words (more than an inch) in mostly lower case is preferred
  5. Fun story, with interesting details you can point out as baby grows with the book

Point to each word as you read. Allow your child to help turn the page. My kids love to decide when to turn the page and it allows me to know for sure that they are really engaged.

Warning: toddlers will request for repeated readings of their favourite books, but you can console yourself when reading a story again and again and again that this is how your little ones learn.

On the occasion of International Children’s Book Day on 2 April, I’d like to share with you a few books that my twins really enjoy and still repeatedly ask for.


Say Goodnight / All Fall Down / Clap Hands / Tickle Tickle By Helen Oxenbury

Say Goodnight was the first book I read to my twins. My daughter still anticipates each turn of the page and says the words with the actions I taught her before I read them aloud. Each page of the Big Board Books in this set has only four to six words. Their oversize format and large-scale drawings (the babies’ faces are about fist-size) showcase Oxenbury’s winsome, multiracial babes, who spill food on each other, sing together, play with adults, bounce on beds, and clap hands.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? / Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? / Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You See? By Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle

I like these books – that come in a gift set – better than the more popular The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Exuberant artwork and pages that lead seamlessly into the next make these rhythmic stories the perfect introduction to animals (from the familiar to the more exotic), colours and sounds. My kids love the simple repetitive language, and can now recall the animals and sounds spontaneously.


The Babies On The Bus By Karen Katz

My son loves cars and buses, and we love this version of the song. I disliked Katz’s bubble-head babies, but they grew on me. My kids learn words and concepts (e.g. up, down) more easily through songs. We sing through the entire book, incorporating easy actions for each verse such as tracing the wheels for “round and round”, signing “open and close”, imitating wipers for “swish, swish, swish”, pretending to press horns for “toot, toot, toot” etc. I play the song on YouTube and use flashcards with the same words to reinforce recall, and they love learning the same things in different formats.


Goodnight Moon By Margaret Wise Brown, With Pictures By Clement Hurd

I’ve been curious why this was considered a staple for every child’s book collection. I frankly didn’t understand people’s fascination with this famous picture book – about a bedtime routine, told from a little rabbit’s perspective – until fairly recently. I didn’t like its stark colours but learnt that babies are visually stimulated by black and white stripes or light and dark contrasting colours. The book uses rhyme efficiently and beautifully. Brown gently encourages children to seek out the many objects in the room to make sure each one gets its own special goodnight. Little details make Goodnight Moon incredible – like the clock continuing to move forward every time it is shown, or the moon slowly making its way higher in the sky as the story progresses.


There’s A Wocket In Your Pocket / Hop On Pop by Dr. Seuss

Straight-laced parents may proclaim that Dr. Seuss’ books are absurd and use English incorrectly, so should not be read to children. They’re missing the point. A child learning to speak and read needs to first learn the sounds that go with letters before he can put these together to make words and sentences. Speech therapists say it’s important for young children to make age appropriate sounds, even if they cannot always say the words. Dr Seuss’ wonderful whimsical books motivate even reluctant readers to repeat sounds frequently, helping children to eventually master language.

Children’s book author and illustrator Tomie dePaola said, “Reading is important, because if you can read, you can learn anything about everything and everything about anything.” However, like everything else with children, it is important to first help them find the fun in reading. Learning will happen naturally when you love doing something.

Li-Hsian recently left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role.

Image Credit: Li-Hsian & Amazon.

Li-Hsian left a career in corporate communications to become a full-time mum to twins. She is learning new things daily as she tries to balance the romance of motherhood with the messy realities of her latest role. She is also currently the co-facilitator of the Art Discovery Tours for Kids and coordinator of children's programmes at the ILHAM Gallery in KL.