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Help! My newborn hates to read.

baby_books_smallBy now, we all know the benefits of reading to children from birth. The emotional bonding, the language development, the cognitive skills. Plus, there’s a sleep benefit, as Dr. Robert Needlman of Reach Out and Read discussed at the Horn Book’s Fostering Lifelong Learners symposium a few years ago. Tiny babies need to learn to fall asleep, and reading aloud can help signal the transition from wakefulness to sleep, even in infancy. Well, that seems reasonable, but what if our littlest ones don’t follow the good doctor’s orders?

Mine sure didn’t. When my children were babies, I tried mightily to get them interested in books, but they weren’t having it. They were too busy squirming, crying, bouncing, pulling up, clinging, crawling, crying (did I already say that?), etc., to sit still and listen to a story. When it came to the books themselves, their preferences were tasting, dropping, and throwing. It made me sad and a little panicky that this meant they were never going to like books.

To make a long story short, my husband and I eventually came to the conclusion that babies didn’t need homework and new parents didn’t either. We were already being inundated with rights-and-wrongs. Reading is good! Breast milk is best! Co-sleeping is bad! (Or, wait, is it good?) Yes, perhaps in a perfect world. But in the real world of work and school and siblings and just keeping things together: maybe.

So, we kept trying with the books, but in a lower-key sort of way. And by about a year old, both boys were all about the books. Caps for Sale, Frog and Toad, George and Martha. Soon we were reading morning, noon, and/or (over)night, and naturally, rather than forcibly, incorporating books into the bedtime routine. (Did this actually make them fall asleep? Not usually. And were we always reading great literature? We were not.)

So, yes! Of course! Read to them. It’s totally worth it. But don’t feel bad if some days You. Just. Can’t. There are always those days when you could barely remember your own name, let alone crack open a book. Maybe your baby already loves books. Maybe she doesn’t seem to care. Maybe it’s somewhere in between. But always keep in mind the new-parent mantra: with babies things are bound to change, and sometimes even for the better!

p.s. Who remembers those ads for "Your Baby Can Read!"? Shocker! No he can't!

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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Elissa Gershowitz

Yes, Beth, glad you are here!

Posted : Sep 13, 2018 08:14


This article and the comments make me feel SO much better. My baby is 4 months and has almost always cried when I start to read to him. I usually have to put the book to the side so he can't see it or do it while we are laying and looking up like a game. So I know I have faith it's not me, or him, or the books...or something else. Hopefully with time he'll start to enjoy it, as both my husband and I love to read and I can't wait to read together before bedtime. Thank you for this article!

Posted : Sep 13, 2018 07:25

Elissa Gershowitz

Thanks, Sondy. "All in good time" is an excellent mantra (though sometimes hard to remember...)

Posted : Oct 13, 2016 02:05


My firstborn's favorite activity when small was to rip paper. It made such a wonderful sound! We didn't have many board books, so we had to keep books away from him. (We had to turn our own books around in the bookshelves, because he'd rip the covers.) But -- around a year old, he learned that books were fun to listen to and actually knew his letters by two years old. So it was a dramatic change from not letting him near books. All in good time.

Posted : Oct 11, 2016 10:00

Elissa Gershowitz

Thank you, Rachel! Where were you when I was in tears with my "book-hating" newborn? :) What you say makes so much sense -- Yes! Read! But don't beat yourself up about it. (At least, I *think* that's what you're saying...)

Posted : Sep 21, 2016 06:19

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