- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 31, 2004

The Little Viking, 20 months old, already has a big library and loves his books. In fact, he probably has a book for each day of the year. We read morning, noon and night, and the Little Viking wouldn’t have it any other way.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says it’s never too soon to start reading to a child, something the Little Viking seems to have known all along. Even when he was a newborn, he seemed to find our reading out loud to him soothing and relaxing.

Reading aloud did more than just soothe my tiny one, though: At feedings, I frankly would get a tad bored and start reading whatever was handy, whether it was “Winnie the Pooh” or “Wuthering Heights.” It kept me entertained and the Little Viking relaxed.

Now that the Little Viking has started comprehending the world around him a little better, we read more age-appropriate books — the thick, almost indestructible cardboard kind — whose story lines revolve around trucks, a cow jumping over the moon and a big red dog.

We spend half the time reading and half the time pointing to characters, saying their names or making their sound, such as “ssssss” for snake. The Little Viking seems to be particularly amused when Mommy and Daddy make animal sounds accompanied by funny faces.

At this age, the Little Viking probably isn’t learning much about words and reading per se, but we know he enjoys books. The fact that he’s excited by them is good enough for us.

He is, however, less excited about Mommy and Daddy reading our books and newspapers, at least in his presence. How dare we do anything other than pay 100 percent attention to him 100 percent of the time?

The good thing about books, and even more about storytelling, is they’re easy to take with you. They’re perfect for the doctor’s office or the train ride. True, they only capture the Little Viking’s attention for 10 or 20 minutes, but sometimes that’s all it takes.

We’ve heard of mommies, daddies and grannies recording themselves while reading children’s stories. What an excellent idea. We haven’t tried it yet, but these amateur recorded books would be excellent for road trips, and we’re eager to try them.

While we read at different times during the day and in different places, the before-bedtime stories definitely are the most important to the Little Viking. They are part of a ritual that includes bath, brushing teeth, story time and eventually sleeping. Like most toddlers, the Little Viking seems to love the predictability of the routine as if completing the bedtime ritual gives him a certain sense of accomplishment.

Bathed and brushed, he walks into his bedroom and goes straight for the bookshelf to pick the books we’ll read. The most easily accessible ones, the ones on the 34-inch shelf, are the most age-appropriate, the “Clifford the Big Red Dog” and “Sesame Street” books.

Once in a while, though, the Little Viking picks out “Moby Dick” or a children’s viking anthology. We look at a page or two, and then he decides it’s not for him — yet. He gets down from his bed and picks out an old standby, such as “Good Night Moon,” by Margaret Wise Brown, a story that makes little sense to adults but is loved by children for its rhyming and repetition.

At times, the Little Viking wants to hold the book and direct the speed of reading, and sometimes he skips to his favorite page, and as parents we have to resist correcting him because it’s not important if everything happens in sequence.

The main thing, to us, is that he enjoys books. If he learns a word or two in the process, great. If not, reading, particularly at nighttime, provides an excellent opportunity for us to cuddle with the Little Viking, possibly the best feeling in the world.

Gabriella Boston and her husband welcomed their “Little Viking” in May 2002. Send e-mail to gboston@washingtontimes.com.

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