We Are Both Right

Watch a little TV to encourage reading?

Reading books ranks right up at the top of my priorities along with fulfilling basic needs and good oral hygiene. My husband and I enjoy all media and so my children are exposed to practically every form of entertainment that is available and age appropriate. With so many entertainment options – apps, books, magazines, movies, music, newspapers, television, theater, video games and websites – I have to use every creative angle I can to make books stand out from the glitzy competition.

Public enemy number one in my household always seems to be the ever-present television. It’s not just cartoons or shows. It’s the Wii or our collection of 400 plus DVDs. When this topic arises while chatting with other moms, it is apparent that we all struggle to find the right balance for ourselves and our children. Some moms say no TV on school nights. Others have removed the offending device from their homes altogether. Still others place no restrictions at all.

In my house we have a few basic rules when it comes to either television or reading: No Wii after dinner, no movies on weeknights after 7 p.m., no TV until homework is completed, Thursday is reading night, Sunday is library day, and so on.

Surprisingly, I find that other forms of media, and in particular television, don’t necessarily compete with reading but rather inspire it. As a toddler, my son would gravitate towards a book with a cover that featured a character he was familiar with. You know, one of those many licensed characters from PBS or Disney movies? In marketing this is called brand extension: movies, toys, games, tv shows and books. Each cross promotes the other using one common theme. And, while it feels predatory to me at times (as in toys or non-educationally based tv shows), I have found it helpful when introducing reading to my son. My son will watch a movie, play the video game and then…READ the book!

Rather than one form of media cannibalizing the other, I find that one actually reinforces the other. If a TV show or website helps my son get past his hesitation to read a book, I’m all for it. After all, he already knows and loves the characters. He may even know the plot. He seems to take comfort in the familiar content and this gives him the motivation to tackle the words he doesn’t know.

So, while striking a healthy balance between all the different media for myself and the entire family is a daily struggle. I tend to think of it like a diet: moderation and variation is key to a healthy lifestyle. In this case a movie, some game time and a bit of reading does the trick.


Best of: Books for Toddlers

You might have to spend a few extra minutes at bedtime saying good night to the walls and such, but this classic children's book is well worth the read. ©HarperCollins Publishers

There’s something about those first books you read with your toddler that sticks with you for a very long time. (And not just because you have been reading the same two books every night for the last three weeks and can all but recite them in your sleep.)

The titles will come to you in an instant when you are asked to bring your favorite children’s book to a baby shower years from now.

They will still have a place on your child’s bookshelf, long after he develops an affinity for chapter books with underpants in the title and toilet plungers on the cover.

You might even find yourself waxing poetic about these beloved children’s stories someday, only to realize that you can’t recall the character out of the book you will be discussing that evening at book club.

So while they are still fresh in our minds, we figured we would share our favorite books for toddlers with you:


Barnyard Boogie by Jim and Janet Post: My husband had this routine of bringing L. to Barnes & Noble once a week, buying himself a coffee and reading to our son in his stroller. When he came home with Barnyard Boogie, a puppet book that has inserts for your hand into the lips of an oversized felt mouth, I couldn’t wait to hear his narration and see the baby’s reaction. Every page gives you an opportunity to act out another animal voice as you move the hand puppet in tune, with verses like “I’m a linky-slinky jazz cat, I sing meow, meow, meow. Linky-slinky me, Linky-slinky, ow. I’m a linky-slinky jazz cat, meow, meow, meow.” And the kicker — the Barnyard Boogie song that begs to be belted out in your best farmer voice on the last page. I have to admit that I still take this book out when I want to give the kids a good laugh.

I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas: This book is about Owen, a sweet little pig who doesn’t want to leave his mommy to go to school. I found it in a desperate search online right around the time my son’s separation anxiety reached its peak at 18 months old and it came in handy again when S. went through the same thing at day care. Taking you through Owen’s day at school, from coloring a picture for his mom to spilling juice on his snack and braving the slide, the illustrations show a range of emotions that are backed up by his mom’s words: I love you all day long… when you share your favorite purple crayon… or when someone takes your toy. I love you when I’m with you and I love you when we’re apart.

No Hitting! by Karen Katz: Have you ever seen the Yo Gabba Gabba promo where the dad is talking about the show’s messages resonating with his son, how he hears them sing “Don’t bite your friends” and he gets it? That’s what this book did for us. As the story takes you through all the impulsive things a toddler might do, like sticking out his tongue at mommy, each no-no (“I’m mad! I want to squeeze the cat.”) is paired with a alternative action on the flip up portion of the page (“That’s not okay, but I can squeeze some clay.”) My daughter took this as her opportunity to break out her morals and say, “Noooo, we don’t do that.” While it didn’t ward off temper tantrums altogether, reading this book did help.


Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle: Such a simple story, but my toddlers have always loved it. I don’t know if it’s the familiar cadence of the words or the bright, colorful pictures that are found on every page, but I suspect it’s a combination of both. Our youngest S. is especially a fan, asking to read it not only a few times a day, but more than once in each sitting. He’s always been particularly taken with the second-to-last-page (in our board book version anyway) that reads “Children, children, what do you see?” and shows assorted kids of all shapes, sizes and colors. I’m not sure what draws him to this exactly, but he will spend minutes (remember, this is a toddler we are talking about), staring at the page and tracing the different faces with his fingers.

Pete’s Potty (Begin Smart Books): This is a new-to-us title, one of hundreds I would imagine that tackles potty training for toddlers. My little guy has been interested in it for about six months now. At first, I took his attentiveness to the book as a good sign that maybe he’d want to try it himself, but alas, any movement I make with him towards the bathroom results in him yelling a lot. Still, he’ll bring me this at least once a day, happily looking for Pete’s missing potty (it’s not in the kitchen or the garden by the way). He’s especially taken with the mom in the book who doesn’t wear glasses (I do) and makes cookies, and the father who not only wears glasses, but has hair (my husband is lacking both). “Daddy glasses?” S. will inquire, pointing at the page. “No!,” he’ll laugh, shaking his head. “Daddy hair? No!” Good times for everyone!

Baby at the Farm and Where is Baby’s Birthday Cake? both by Karen Katz: I’m including both of these titles by the same author because by far, these are my toddler’s favorite books. Collectively, I think I’ve read both of these stories to him as many times as I’ve read books period. Simple lift-the-flap books with cheerful illustrations starring an adorable baby, S. loves looking for the rouge birthday cake and seems surprised every time we find it. And the trip to the farm is always fun, especially because some of the pages offer a chance to touch the mane of a horse and feel the eggs of a chicken. Plus, we get to make lots of animal noises, always a fun expenditure.


When your toddler settles into your lap for a snuggle and a read, what book can you count on him to bring with him?