Board Books 101: Reading with Baby by Samantha Cleaver

The day I brought my daughter home from the hospital was the day I realized I was completely unprepared—I had no high-contrast black-and-white board books. I mean, zero.


We’d been given board books as gifts for our baby shower and I had the prerequisite Sandra Boynton, Goodnight Moon, and Baby Lit’s Alice in Wonderland and Dracula. But, as I sat on the couch in that new-parent daze, I looked through the titles and realized none of the books were all black and white. I have no books that my daughter can see! I thought in a panic, opened my laptop, and ordered Hello, Bugs and Hello, Animals by Smriti Prasadam-Halls, and Look, Look by Peter Linenthal.


Those were the first books my daughter read. In the early days, I used reading as something to do when I’d run out of activities for tummy time. As she grew older, reading became an expected activity. She didn’t bat an eye if I pulled her into my lap from playtime to read a few books. Often, the stacks of books we read in one sitting spilled across the couch cushions. We started with simple board books, but over time, she started listening to longer books too; Little Blue Truck by Alice Schetle, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, and Little Fur Family by Margaret Wise Brown.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends parents read to their babies from the day they’re born.


“But why?” a mom friend, who also had an infant, asked me. “What do they get out of it?”


I replied with a litany of facts: The AAP says that reading with young children develops their brains and strengthens relationships. The National Institute for Children’s Health and Development says kids need 1,000 hours of lap time to develop reading readiness. Reading builds phonemic awareness, language, vocabulary!


And, I think reading with babies creates a world where it is normal for them to read. They learn to listen, to anticipate, to associate words in familiar cadence with images. And they learn that books—which, are the quietest of toys—are something that you can actively engage with.


Now, my daughter is 9-months-old. During playtime, she crawls over to boxes of books that are in the corner of her play mat and goes through them, pulling them out, looking at each one, and then tossing them into a pile. When we read, she chooses which books she wants. And, when I open her favorites—Karen Katz’s The Babies on the Bus, The Teddy Bear’s Picnic, Bill Martin’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear—she smiles, kicks her feet, and squeals. She’s eager to turn pages or lift flaps to find a hiding puppy or baby’s bellybutton. If you recite the words from a book to her (which I can do as I’ve memorized many of them) she stares at you with recognition and delight.


It’s never too late to start reading with kids, but I’m glad I started in those first, hazy new parent days. She won’t remember any of these baby reading sessions, but I will.


Samantha Cleaver is a former teacher and mom who writes about books and reading at