Stocking Stuffers: The Year’s Best Books for Little Learners

Reading to your little kids is not only a way to bond as a family, it’s also a way to give them an educational foundation that will last.

In fact, in a recent New York Times article that discusses the United States’ lagging academic scores compared to other nations, the reporter shares this tidbit: “Ina V. S. Mullis, an executive director of the International Study Center, said that students whose parents reported singing or playing number games as well as reading aloud with their children early in life scored higher on their fourth-grade tests than those whose parents who did not report such activities.”

Kathy Barclay, professor of Early Childhood and Reading at Western Illinois University, says that it is never too early to begin reading to babies and young children. “Reading aloud boosts language development, provides opportunities for children to hear new words and sentence structures, and aids in development of a wide range of skills that lay a firm foundation for later success in school,” she says, adding that many books can also help further enhance small children’s emotional development and their understanding of others.

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“Some of the best first books for very young children are board books with bright colorful pictures of familiar objects and limited text on each page,” she says. “Books designed to help teach basic concepts, such as alphabet, counting, colors and shapes can typically be found in a board book version.”

With 2012 nearly behind us and gift-giving fully underway, TakePart asked Barclay (who co-authored the upcoming Meeting the Common Core Standards for Informational Literature, K-2) to share with our readers a handful of her favorite books that were published this past year. Here are her picks:

1. Amazing ABC by Sean Kenney (Henry Holt, 2012). The colorful alphabet illustrations that pack this charming book were created entirely with Legos. Ages 2 and up.

2. Pete the Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons by James Dean and Eric Litwin (HarperCollins, 2012). The latest in the Pete the Cat series showcases our groovy hero singing a song about the number of buttons he has on his favorite shirt. Ages 4 and up.           

3. Pantone: Colors by Pantone and illustrated by Helen Dardik (Abrams Appleseed, 2012). A brilliant first Colors! by National Geographic Kids (Look & Learn Series, 2012). These high-quality color photographs will attract children of all ages. Ages 1 and up.

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Kristin Kloberdanz is a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. She has written for Time, the Chicago Tribune and about everything from economic crises and political snafus to best summer beach reads.