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The Perfect Books for Little Hands

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Learning to read requires more than the ability to decipher words. Children need to learn basics, such as what a word is and that reading goes from left to right. Pictures are clues to the words, but most kids will memorize oft-heard text before they’ve learned how to read it.

As you go through a book with a beginning reader (anyone about 18 months or older), talk about the pictures in addition to reading the words out loud. Move your finger from left to right, stopping under each word as you say it.

Recognizing the shapes of words is also important in learning to read. On each page, repeat a key word and see if the child can find it in the sentence.

If your child is not ready for reading, don’t force him. Simply enjoy the pictures and story together. Encourage her to relate to the illustrations. Ask him to talk about his favorite sweater or the time you went to the zoo, as pictured. After reading aloud together, ask the child related questions: Can you find the wagon? Do you like elephants? Ask her to find other children in the book. What are they doing?

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Encourage children to hold the book and pretend to be a reader. Can he talk about the pictures while you listen? Ask him to “read” a story to Teddy, or another special friend, or a pet or a younger sibling.

Chunky little board books for pre-readers (to about age 4) are perfect for this, just the size for little hands and sturdy enough to withstand chewing and tossing as well as multiple reads. Here are a few titles with which to start.

Janet and Allan Ahlberg’s “Peek-A-Boo!” is an old favorite (1981), and it’s lost nothing in Viking’s 1997 board book edition ($6.99). Baby can peek through holes cut in the sturdy pages, playing along in a favorite childhood game. The Ahlbergs’ text and detailed illustrations are warm and comforting, like the gentler times they depict (fetching coal, pegging laundry, warming a nightie on the oven).

An active 21-month-old I know really enjoys Lodestar’s new “Puppy,” a $4.99 flap book by Moira Kemp--so much so, in fact, that his mom “got tired of reading it 20 times in a row,” she said. “He loved it.” Readers help a mother dog look for her puppy in hiding places around the house. Kemp’s soft, realistic drawings contrast with Eric Hill’s bright, whimsical ones in the popular Spot stories ($4.99, G.P. Putnam’s Sons), which feature that perpetual pup in a variety of lively scenes, such as “Spot Joins the Parade” (1998).

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For cat fans, “Five Little Kitty Cats” ($5.99, Dutton Children’s Books, 1998) might appeal. One friend told me her daughter (13 months) always brings this book when she wants to be read to. The traditional counting-down rhyme (". . . and then there were four”) follows felines in mundane activities. The larger format of this board book makes it easier to handle. Janet Morgan Stoeke’s illustrations are amateurish, but who can get cats to pose?

Susan L. Roth’s “My Love for You” (a 1997 story reprinted as a board book this year by Dial Books for Young Readers, $5.99) is a sturdy counting story with colorful collage illustrations of animals illustrating love that’s “wider than 4 elephants, longer than 5 pythons.”


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