The most important gift you can give your baby is to read aloud to him, according to Sheilah Egan, a children's book expert who works at A Likely Story, a children's bookstore in Alexandria, Va. In fact, she says, begin reading aloud to your baby in the womb, choosing rhythmic, rhyming stories, such as Mother Goose rhymes or poems. Your baby, who already knows your voice, will be soothed by the quiet rhythms of such books, creating a happy, serene environment in utero.
Once your baby is born, make reading a special time. Hold him close, snuggling together with the book. He'll soon associate books with the pleasure of having you all to himself. Books are a great conversation starter — from pointing out colors and objects with babies to dealing with moving to a new home, new siblings and potty training later on.
Make books and story time a part of your youngster's day, and as he gets older, incorporate books and reading into activities, from consulting a recipe for a special dessert to helping with shopping lists or experiencing the joy of a card or a letter from a loved one. Books on tape can be an excellent companion on car trips or when you can't stop for story time.
Egan suggests that parents looking for activities that can help your youngster become an avid reader consult Slow and Steady, Get Me Ready by June Oberlander (third edition, Bio Alpha, 2000). A retired kindergarten teacher, Oberlander wrote the book to advise her daughter-in-law on activities she could do with her new daughter from birth to age 5.
See the next page for book recommendations by age.