Wondering when is the best time to introduce your baby to the world of The Very Hungry Caterpillar or Pete the Cat? The earlier the better, as per Burnaby-based librarian and children’s book author Jane Whittingham.
“It's never too early. I mean, I brought books to the hospital with me when my son was born," she said.
Whittingham added, "It helps build warm feelings around reading the earlier you start because then they (the kids) associate reading with the people they love. If their mummy, daddy, nana or whoever reads with them, they think: ‘Okay, picture book means love — it means the people I love are reading with me’."
It doesn't matter that they don't understand the words yet, "they just build that sense of 'this is something that makes me feel happy and safe',” she said.
Whittingham will be reading out from a mix of books — hers and other authors' — at four different storytime sessions scheduled at Kinder Books starting Sept. 26. “The first week, we'll be reading Animals Move and getting wiggly!” she said.
Animals Move is the first of four books that Whittingham published this year alone; she has published three others between 2017 and 2021.
“There's going to be songs and rhymes; we're going to do some dancing. It's going to be books, but more,” she said.
What books work best for toddlers?
Having worked as a children’s book librarian for the past eight years, Whittingham has assessed what books work for toddlers through "trial and error."
“With the really little guys, you want to have limited text and a lot of repetition because that helps reinforce the vocabulary. Rhyming picture books are great because they have a great rhythm to them that help the kids really engage with them.”
Her all time favourites for read-alouds and circle times are Pete the Cat: I Love my White Shoes by Eric Litwin; Bark, George by Jules Feiffer; Little Owl Lost by Chris Haughton; Don't Push the Button by Bill Cotter; and I Ain't Gonna Paint No More by Karen Beaumont.
Lots of singing, and picture-heavy books, she said, seem to help hold a toddler’s attention. But even if a book checks all these criteria, it's possible that a child may not seem interested.
“And that’s fair,” said Whittingham.
“Sometimes, parents are concerned. They go, ‘Oh, my child is so active. They won't sit still while I read.’ That's normal. Kids have lots of energy.”
So what do you do if your little tyke crawls away?
“You just stop,” said Whittingham. “You can always pick it up another time. Or find something they're really interested in — like, my son's really interested in trains. So any book that has trains in it, he's going to want to want to read about.”
Having said that, even if it seems like the kids are not paying any attention to the words, “they are like little sponges," she said.
“Even if it doesn't look like they're listening, they are,” she said.
The storytime sessions are scheduled on Mondays — Sept. 26, Oct. 17, Nov. 14, and Dec. 12 — at 9.30 a.m., at 810 Quayside Dr., upstairs by the Vancouver Circus School. All the books that Whittingham reads out from will be available at Kinder Books to purchase, or at the New West Public Library to borrow.