Last week, we learnt some important facts about New Zealand two-year-olds: They love bananas. They are very accomplished tantrum-throwers. Many are bilingual. These and other nuggets of information are contained in a new report from the longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand (University of Auckland), which has been tracking 7000 New Zealanders since birth.
But there was one toddler statistic that was a surprise – and not a good one. It appears that one-third of New Zealand two-year-olds are missing out on regular daily contact with books.*
Apart from the fact that it’s good fun for both reader and listener, there’s a growing body of research to show it’s extraordinarily good for a toddler to get books read to them. It supports language development of course, but it lowers stress levels and creates an intimate bonding opportunity between parent and child. One recent study concluded that children whose fathers read to them concentrate better at preschool and even do better in maths.
There are myriad reasons for the fall-off in reading to kids, but we thought we’d try to make it a tiny bit easier by putting together an irresistible list of some of our favourite New Zealand read-aloud books. They’re all great reads, and none of them take more than a few minutes, so grab a book, cuddle up to your toddler and get reading…
1. Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy by Lynley Dodd. Get your child hooked on Hairy Maclary and his friends and there are about 20 canine adventures you can enjoy with your toddler, including some feline ones – grumpy Scarface Claw and sneaky Slinky Malinki.
2. Joy Cowley’s Mrs Wishy-Washy also inspired an entire series and is based loosely around our heroine’s obsession with keeping clean. The stories include rhyme, repetition and farm animals – a combination that children have been enjoying for more than 30 years.
3. Not exactly a Kiwi book but published by marvellous local publisher Gecko Press and translated by a local (Linda Burgess) so we’ll claim it as our own. The Cake by Dorothee de Monfreid is a great opportunity to shout and encourage rebellion amongst your young listener. (Perhaps not entirely suitable for quiet bedtime reading!)
4. If you are looking for something to calm things down at bedtime, you can’t go past Pamela Allen’s Grandpa and Thomas. Gulls screech, the sea sings, sandwiches are eaten and a good time is had by both grandson and grandfather. A quiet and charming cross-generational beach story.
5. Toucan Can by Juliette MacIver & Sarah Davis is a lively rhyming romp that follows the charismatic Toucan as he demonstrates his many talents. Toucan Can is one of the finalists in this year’s NZ Post Children’s Book Awards. The others are pretty good too and you can find more details about them here: www.booksellers.co.nz/awards/new-zealand-post-childrens-book-awards/2014-finalists
6. The Grumble Rumble Mumbler,Melanie Drewery’s take on things that go bump in the night (including a taniwha and a maero), is not for the faint-hearted. But it’s full of energy and the lift-the-flap action provides a bit of added fun.
7. We have to mention The Little Yellow Diggerwhen it comes to fabulous read-aloud books. Written and illustrated by Betty and Alan Gilderdale, it has it all – machines aplenty, mud galore and a plucky digging hero.
8. Huia Publishers has translated some best-loved children’s books into Māori and Samoan. Te Tanguruhau: The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Kei te Kihini o te Po: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak appear in te reo Māori; 'O le Katepila Matua Fia 'Ai: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle and 'O le Nofoaga 'olo 'o lai Meaola Mata'utia: Where The Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak in Samoan. All are great read-aloud adventures.
9. The Wheels on the Bus by Donovan Bixley is a fabulous Kiwi take on the traditional song. In this version the driver is a kiwi and the passengers include a kea, a striped marlin, a morepork, a takahe, a sheepdog and of course a sheep. Their sing-song journey from one end of New Zealand to the other will be a delight for many toddlers.
10. The last one on our list is the marvellous Margaret Mahy. Last for no other reason than it was so hard to pick just one book. Favourites include the anarchic Bubble Trouble, the madcap Down the Back of the Chair, the cautionary tale of The Great White Man-Eating Shark and the imaginative Lion in the Meadow. We could go on for ever….
* Now We Are Two: Describing our first 1000 days, a report from the longitudinal study Growing Up in New Zealand (University of Auckland), states that "Approximately two thirds of mothers reported reading books to their child at least once a day, 38% (2365) reported reading books to their child several times a day, and 29% (1837) reported reading books to their child once a day" (page 44).