You know the ones I mean, right? Either they are too little to care about what happens to Chicken Little while they attempt to stuff the pages in their mouths, or they leave four pages in because you read too slowly, or they turn the pages for you before you even finish one sentence. Some kids — probably all kids, at one time or another — are not into the whole “let’s sit quietly and read” thing. I saw a poster at the library once that said, “Read to your little one 20 minutes a day,” and about died. That was something like 40 attempts to read a book for us at that point.
A few things I do (in general):
1. For babies, I keep at least two books on hand. One to chew on, one to look at. Sometimes you have to trade back and forth, but it’s all good.
2. For older kids, keep it short. Maybe you just read one line per page.
3. Find one with interesting pictures to look at. Busy, complicated pictures are sometimes the best, because you can practice sitting still while you look at some of the details. Guide them along with your finger, find anything you can comment on, even if it doesn’t seem very interesting.
Ok, now for an actual list list:
1. Peek-A-Baby. It is almost more toy than book, which is great for a tiny wee one who needs to chew and handle everything. I love playing peek-a-boo in books. Karen Katz has a few nice ones, too, like Where Is Baby’s Belly Button?
2. Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton. Many of her other books are great as well. I am also a big fan of Blue Hat, Green Hat and All the Hippos Go Berzerk! for wiggly kids. Some of her books have actual music to go with the words and this can help some kids hang out a little longer. But Moo, Baa is the fastest, shortest one and it comes in a board book.
3. Cars and Trucks and Things That Go! by Richard Scarry. The pictures are full of detail that reward careful examination. If that sounds boring, trust me, kids like looking for where Gold Bug is hiding on every page (and if you get stumped, it is often inside a purple car, but that’s just between you and me). You don’t even have to read the words, just find Gold Bug and keep on moving.
4. Freight Train by Donald Crews. You might be thinking: Oh, I can find some books with a small number of words on the page, that’s all I need. But then you read a book like Freight Train and you see how a master does it. My favorite way to read this book is to sit the kid on my knees and bounce them a little bit. During the first few pages, when it is describing the train cars, I bounce very slowly, and then when the train leaves on its journey, I start to read faster and faster and bounce faster and faster, until we get to the last page: “Going, going … gone.” Stop the bouncing, whisper “gone” and tell me even the wiggliest kid doesn’t turn around and ask for it again. The board book works best for this tactic, because you have to whip through the pages quite quickly.
5. Maisy’s Fire Engine by Lucy Cousins. Or any Maisy board book. I do not completely understand the magic of Maisy. In all honesty, I find these books slow and uninteresting; there is not even a payoff at the end, where there is a pun or a lame joke or anything. But that’s ok, kid books are not for me. So many small children I know adore Maisy. And these books are some of the shortest ones we have.
6. Any of the Priddy Books with big pictures. We have this one called Organic Baby Machines, a title that is beyond silly to me (the machines are neither organic nor baby/small — it is just printed on organic material for babies), but it is a good book. A kid with patience can look at the photos and learn what properties group them together. A younger, squirmier one might be able to point out fast ones or red ones or big ones. You don’t have to read the words on the page, just explore together. Sometimes I just like to find one and claim it is my favorite, like the snow plow train. A train and a snow plow? Mind blown.
7. Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle. There are a few in this series and they are all very similar (Panda Bear, Panda Bear and Brown Bear, Brown Bear). The illustrations are gorgeous and bright, the text is simple and repetitive.
8. Dinosaur Roar! by Paul and Henriette Strickland. The ending (“Gobble, gooble, nibble, nibble, munch, munch, crunch!”) gives you the opportunity to walk your fingers up your child’s arm or leg, or to give a little tickle. I think it helped us develop that sense of anticipation, which seems to go hand-in-hand with patience.
9. We’re Going On A Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. There is something so playful about this book. The sing-song words, the action-oriented text, the bear chase at the end.
When All Else Fails:
10. Audiobooks. Sometimes your kid just wants to jump on the couch while doing story time (sigh). Well, finding super short audio stories can be a solution. Listening to a story and imagining the action is a different skill than looking at words and pictures, but it’s an important one nonetheless. Barefoot Books has a free podcast that features very short audio stories; some clock in at just 4 minutes. When we started using these, I “previewed” them to my son by telling him shortened versions of, say, The Gingerbread Man for a few days (we were potty training, so we had ample time when we were sitting around and waiting, but bedtime or a car ride could work, too). Once he knew the general story, he could follow the audio version and asked to listen to a few of these on repeat. Which really helped me get dinner done on a lot of nights.
11. Photo Albums. Sure, there’s probably no words, but the pictures feature the creature most fascinating to young children — themselves. You can still practice looking at pictures in the order of words on a page, left to right, up to down. And it can open up all kinds of conversations about old vacations, celebrations, friends, feelings.
This is what I do when I have a squirmy kid who doesn’t want to sit down for a story. What do you do? What books do you pick up to keep a wiggly one interested?