Children’s author and educator Pooja shares tips for sparking a love of reading in your little one, including both her and her daughter’s favourite books for children!
My preschooler and I are aiming to read 1,000 books together by the time she is five years old. We began reading together on the day she was born, and we are currently on target, nearly four-fifths of the way to our goal. We have been charting our progress on Goodreads.com. Why? I love books and language, and I hope to ignite this passion in her.
But I also know that research has shown reading aloud to young children reinforces her emerging literacy and language development, and bolsters our relationship and attachment. Reading improves her vocabulary, her ability to read independently (when she is developmentally ready), and fosters a lifelong love of books and reading.
Once she is an independent reader (my child is far from this!), reading for pleasure becomes a worthwhile activity in and of itself, no doubt. However, there is considerable international research evidence that reading for pleasure (independent choice-led reading) is a strong predictor of reading fluency. Reading improves general knowledge and comprehension, and contributes to a rich vocabulary across the curriculum. Reading will allow her to gather information about the world and how she fits into it, supporting identity exploration and mediating the challenges of her non-mainstream identities. Lastly, reading literature in particular will excite and develop her imagination, and aids the development of empathy, key in her social and emotional education.
When other parents ask me how to best select books for their child/building their child’s library, I tell them to consider these top line developmental and literacy milestones. Remember that each child’s development is unique and complex, and, although children generally develop through a predictable sequence of milestones, they may not proceed through these steps in the same way or at the same time.
One-year-olds enjoy nursery rhymes and books with single pictures of familiar and related items. They may name pictures in books read to them. Reading to infants and pre-verbal toddlers stimulates their growing brains, a good start towards a lifelong love of reading and books.
Two-year-olds enjoy reading books with adults and may pretend to read familiar books. Simple event stories, such as The Snowy Day and Goodnight Moon are perfect for their short attention spans for stories.
Three-year-olds are learning their letters, notice print in the environment, may ask what text on the page means, and realise that print in books tells a reader what to say. During this year, children become consciously aware of rhyming words in nursery rhymes and predictable books.
Favourite Singapore reads: Extraordinary Eloise by Charlene Chua; the Timmy and Tammy series by Ruth Tan and illustrated by Eliz Ong; Sampan by Chua Hui Ying and illustrated by Dawn Ang; There Was a Peranakan Woman Who Lived in a Shoe by Gwen Lee and illustrated by Cheryl Kook; Jack and Jill at Bukit Timah Hill by Gwen Lee and illustrated by twisstii; and Pura the Cat by Soon Meng and illustrated by Tan Soon.
Between the ages of four and five, children choose books from other items available to entertain themselves and request visits to the library (if library use has been encouraged!). Those who have a long history of hearing stories read aloud can tolerate waiting until the next day for an adult to finish a long story or another chapter in a chapter book.
Favourite Singapore reads: Maxilla by Lianne Ong and illustrated by illustrated by Shing; The Adventures of Squirky the Alien series by Melanie Lee and illustrated by David Liew; The Robot in My Playground by Pauline Loh and illustrated by Avina Tan; and The Mango Tree by Hidayah Amin and illustrated by Idris Ali.
Between the ages of six and eight, children begin to read a variety of texts for pleasure (stories, informational texts, poems); demonstrate their understanding of texts through discussion, written response, and participation in dramatizations; and read for pleasure and choose books based on personal preference, topic or author.
Favourite Singapore reads: Come To The Party! Celebrate Indian Hindu Festivals by Suzanne Lauridsen and Sally Heinrich; Farrer Park: Rhyming Verses from a Singapore Childhood by Ann Peters and illustrated by Yang Liye Lydia; the Ellie Belly series by Eliza Teoh and illustrated by Wolfe and Rachel Liam; the The Diary of Amos Lee series by Adeline Foo and illustrated by Stephanie Wong; the Girl Overboard series by Sheri Tan and illustrated by Fernando Hierro; and the Danger Dan series by Lesley-Anne and Monica Lim.
The Singapore titles suggested here aren’t representative of Singapore’s diversity. As I wrote in my essay for Quartz, children’s and YA literature written by Singaporean writers are a very recent phenomenon. Singaporean friends, of all races and ethnicities, tell me that they grew up on colonialist British literature, just as I did; ‘Crumpets, treacle, and ‘beastly,’’ in their words. There are no official statistics as to the number of books for young readers published in Singapore, but Adan Jimenez, assistant director of the National Book Development Council of Singapore, a literary non-profit, and co-author of the middle-grade series, Sherlock Sam, says, “A total of 73 children’s and YA books were published in Singapore in 2013, nearly double the number of books published in 2012”, but adds “the rapidly growing industry has a long way to go before reflecting the country’s rich diversity of races and cultures.”
Rudine Sims Bishop uses the terms “mirror books” and “window books” to describe how we both see ourselves and see others when we read literature and the value of such books: “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author… Literature [also] transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”
So, my daughter’s collection includes many books by/about American POCs (people of color). In fact I go out of my way to select books that are representative of the various diversities (race/ethnicity/nationality, gender/sexuality, family structure, disability, etc.) in my communities. I urge you to select books that are representative of the various diversities, well beyond the scope of this list, just as I do!
Singaporean Citizens and Permanent Residents can borrow up to eight library items (including three audio/visual materials) per visit for free; however, Permanent Residents have to pay a one-time registration fee of $10.50. Annual membership for non-Singapore Citizens and non-Permanent Residents is $42.80. NLB offers a “Premium Membership” scheme for $42.00 for one year, $78.00 for two years, and $112.00 for three years. This membership allows patrons to borrow sixteen library items (including eight audio/visual materials).
Our favorite libraries are:
- We visit Queenstown Public Library at least twice a week. It is Singapore’s first public library and was officially opened in 1970 by then-Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
- Woodlands Regional Library is home to the city’s largest collection of Asian children’s literature. The Asian Children’s Literature (ACL) Collection is an 8,000-item collection, and includes rare and historical publications.
- We love the “Green Reading Space” at Geylang East Public Library.
- Jurong Regional Library houses an Early Literacy Library for children ages 0-6.
Children’s books are expensive, and my daughter is lucky to have inherited the vast collection that I have amassed through my professional work (writing for/about children, as an early childhood educator, working in children’s publishing/media).
If you do have the means to purchase books, we recommend:
- Woods in the Books sells picture books, graphic novels, and comic books, handpicked by owners Mike Foo and Shannon Ong. The minimalist shop carries work by house favorite, French cartoonist Jean-Jacques Sempé; quirky graphic novels; pop-up versions of The Little Prince and The Wizard of Oz; and of course, classic books such as Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild Things Are.
- Littered with Books is the most charming bookshop in Singapore! It’s housed in a beautiful Duxton Hill conservation shophouse with inviting nooks and crannies in which to settle down with a good book. Their children’s books are often priced lower than other independent bookstores.
- Children’s Book Centre in Bras Basah Complex houses a sizable collection of new books for young readers, priced at 30% off retail.
Online, aside from the usual suspects, we prefer:
- Groovy Giraffe is Singapore’s first online remainder store and specializes in books for young readers. “Remainder books” are overstock and overprint books and are heavily discounted (up to 85% off retail!). Groovy Giraffe offers delivery of three working days and free shipping for orders above $60.00, and allows payment by credit/debit cards and PayPal.
- Dog Ear Books stocks books for children ages 3 months to 12 years, and titles are searchable by “Academic Level” and “Age.” Unfortunately, Dog Ear Books only accepts payment by PayPal and bank transfer, but will deliver your purchase to your home or office in three to five business days for $6.00. Alternatively, shoppers can self-collect their items for free at Ubi Techpark from12:00pm to 5:30pm on weekdays.
- My Imagination Kingdom offers a small inventory of hand-selected collection of local and international children’s books at affordable prices. My Imagination Kingdom offers delivery of seven to fourteen working days and free shipping for orders above $50.00, and allows payment by credit/debit cards and PayPal and bank transfer (in Singapore only). – My Imagination Kingdom also has a brick-and-mortar shop in 1KM Mall in Paya Lebar.
Happy reading mamas!