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Friday, May 11, 2012

Great Board Books for Speech-Delayed Children (and why they are so very awesome)

A great number of children adopted internationally experience speech and language delays, and not simply because of the switch in languages.  It's quite mind-boggling to consider how many things can hinder speech and language development, including poor core strength (lack of tummy time; few gross motor opportunities); weak oral-motor strength and skills (extra-large holes in bottle nipples; bottle propping; delayed introduction of solid foods), auditory processing and social pragmatic language delays (an overall lack of stimulation), not to mention emotional influences (shyness with new family; possible early trauma experiences).

Our family has been working not only with a speech and language therapist, but also an occupational therapist and an education specialist to help Squirt, adopted almost one year ago, catch up in terms of language development.  There are times - like with our family - that adoptive parents need the help of specialists (oh, and check out these posts Language Disorders in Children Adopted Internationally and when to refer, both written by adoptive moms who are also speech pathologists).  There are also situations where adopted children simply need time and extra attention from their new families.

But what are parents supposed to do to provide that "extra" help?  There are so many ideas out there, but I wanted to focus on something I love that I also haven't seen before -- a parent's guide to toddler board books and how they promote language development.  Now, I'm just a momma who adores children's books, who used to teach preschool, and who has been through the early intervention process with both of my girls.  Which means y'all need to take my list with a grain of salt.  But there doesn't seem to be a list out there, at least not at the descriptive level that I've been looking for, so I thought, 'why not create one?'  The list includes 10 categories, with two books per category, so please excuse the length of this post, y'all.


These types of books use text and/ or sounds, textures or moving parts to promote actions.  Think lift-the-flap and touch-and-feel books, but also think of books that instruct children in how to move.  Interactive books promote language development because they add to comprehension.  An interactive book doesn't just say "a soft towel," it instructs the child to "lift up the soft towel," thereby teaching the child how "soft" feels.  An interactive book doesn't just say "she nodded her head," it challenges the child listener to join in on the fun and nod her own head.  There are tons of interactive books for toddlers on the market, but I selected two of our favorites that are distinctly different to show you this category's broad range.

From Head to Toe by Eric Carle 

This book is only interactive if you make it so, but oh, how Mr. Carle makes it easy.  "I am a buffalo and I raise my shoulders.  Can you do it?"  The book encourages young children to turn their heads, bend their knees, clap their hands and wiggle their toes.  Parents need to get in on the action, though, for the youngest ones to truly learn what those action words mean.  Be prepared to arch your back like a cat, wriggle your hips like a crocodile and thump your chest like a gorilla.  (Heh.  I'm your new best friend now, aren't I?  Just promise me you'll take pictures.)
Where Is Baby's Belly Button? by Karen Katz

Lift-the-flap books are great for development, especially in children with speech delays since they are less likely to become distracted by moving parts.  These types of books promote fine motor skills and also reinforce object permanence (just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there).  Where Is Baby's Belly Button? does all of those things, and also uses simple text to teach the words for body parts and common objects as well as the prepositions under and behind.


There's a reason babies and toddlers love the song Old MacDonald so much.  Children acquire the ability to make certain sounds at different ages and stages.  There is a progression.  The first sounds a child can make typically include vowels and the consonants p, m, h, n, w, b, t and d.  Create simple consonant and vowel combinations using those letters and what do you have?  Animal sounds!  These types of books help children gain confidence, which is why they are so very popular with the ankle-biter set.  Here are two of Squirt's favorites.

Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton

Over 200 people on Amazon.com gave this seriously silly book a five star rating.  "A cow says MOO.  A sheep says BAA.  And three singing pigs say LA LA LA."  The simple text places the focus where it needs to be - on the animal sounds - but the humor keeps even older toddlers engaged in the story.  With it's last line, "it's quiet now.  What do YOU say?," I point to Squirt's chest to encourage her to verbalize.  (She, of course, almost always screams, "La La La!")

Mr. Brown Can Moo!  Can you? by Dr. Seuss

This "wonderful book of noises" follows the great imitator Mr. Brown as he struts through this story making all sorts of sounds.  While not every page contains only the simplest consonant sounds, children love to imitate this amazing and clever guy as he says: moo, buzz, pop, klopp, cock-a-doodle-doo, hoo hoo, dibble dopp, choo choo, tick tock, knock knock, boom and splatt.  The illustrations are classic Dr. Seuss, and keep a toddler visually entertained throughout the story.


Repetitive books are extremely important in a young child's library.  They are typically predictable in many ways, with words or phrases repeating often.  This not only encourages a child to join in, verbalizing the predictable phrases alongside the reader, it also allows the child to understand the content of the story more easily.  This decrease of "cognitive load" helps a child verbally express because there is less to concentrate on.  Many children's classics fall into this category, including the two much beloved stories listed below.

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Eric Carle

Can I just say how much I adore this book?  I loved reading it to the Tongginator seven years ago, and I love reading it to Squirt now.  This is one of my go-to baby shower gifts.  You can't go wrong with Brown Bear: it teaches both colors and animal names.  And the last page even introduces the concept of left-to-right progression (reading from left to right across the page, from the top of the page to the bottom).  The simple text of this book makes it simple for pre-readers to easily predict the next rhyme.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown

This is quite possibly THE bedtime book to end all bedtime books.  The quiet cadence of the story, with its repetitive phrases and beautifully muted illustrations, lulls children to sleep.  The ritual of saying goodnight to familiar objects soothes children as they prepare to go to bed themselves, stretching out those last few moments of the day with mom or dad.  At Tonggu house, the story always ends in a soft whisper... "Goodnight stars.  Goodnight air.  Goodnight noises everywhere."


Although most repetitive books are also quite rhythmic, there is something special about longer children's stories that make you want to sway back and forth while reading them.  Not only do they help the youngest of children develop longer attention spans, they also reinforce patterns of speech and act as a kind of introduction to poetry.  The trick to reading rhythmic or cadence books is to basically chant them expressively.  I promise, your child will be captivated if you do!

Bear Snores On by Karma Wilson

You can't help but dance to this book!  On a cold windy night, an itty-bitty mouse "pitter-pat, tip-toe, creep-crawls" into a sleeping bear's cozy lair, looking for relief from the bitter winter weather. Soon he is joined by a plethora of woodland animals, as an impromptu party begins. Popping corn, brewing tea, and chattering, the critters enjoy themselves thoroughly until an errant pepper flake wakes up the hibernating bear with a giant sneeze.

One Duck Stuck by Phyllis Root

Just as the title of this counting book states, there is one duck stuck in the muck, down by the deep green marsh.  Different animals come to help him get unstuck - from two fish to 10 dragonflies - before the duck's webbed foot goes "spluck" and sets him free.  You can't help but chant to this rhythmic story, and young children will sit still for the story simply because they enjoy the cadence of your speech.  They'll also join in each page with "stuck in the muck, down by the deep green marsh."


Study after study shows that children with expressive language delays learn to verbalize much faster if they're primary caregivers sign and speak at the same time.  This occurs because children who are able to understand a word, although unable to speak it, are able to use their hands to sign the word.  The parent responds and the communication cycle begins.  Learning to communicate is not the same as learning to speak; the two skills overlap, of course, but they are not the same.  Help your child communicate before he or she can speak.

Baby Signs for Animals by Linda Acredolo

There are so many "baby signs" books on the market, but I picked this particular board book for two reasons.  First, children love animals.  They are fascinated by them.  Eager to point out a cat, dog or duck whenever they spot one, children need ways to communicate to mom and dad, "do you see the...?"  Second, hell-O.  There's an Asian-American girl on the cover of this book.  Enough said.

Baby Signs for Mealtime by Linda Acredolo

I chose this second baby sign book because, if there is one thing children love more than animals, it's food!  It's vitally important for children to be able to let parents know when they want to eat or drink, or when they are all done or want more.  Learning the signs for these words can help cut frustration levels in half.  The signs shown in this book to describe eat, drink, all gone, ice cream and banana are accurate American Sign Language (ASL) signs.  The signs for more, apple, hot and cereal are modified a bit to make it easier for babies and young children, with their limited coordination, to accurately perform.


Humor provides more learning experiences than one first realizes.  Humor connects us with one another, creating an environment ripe for both verbal and non-verbal communication.  A toddler's growing cognitive and language development help him to recognize incongruities ("look! I put a shoe on my hand!"), which can cause all manner of giggles and comments.  Silly rhymes and nonsense words can tickle a toddler's funny bone, encouraging her to attempt new sounds.  In terms of reading, the best way to build reading and listening skills is to build excitement within a story, and nothing beats humor as a way of generating excitement.

Sheep in a Jeep by Nancy E. Shaw

In my opinion, Sheep in a Jeep is - hands down - the absolute best humor book for young children.  I am amazed at how author Shaw used less than 50 different words to create such a funny story.  Filled with slap-stick comedy and silly sound effects, this tale will set young children to giggling as they follow the antics of these muttonheads who just can't seem to get their act together.  And I can't help but grin - every time - as I read the words on the last page: "Jeep for sale: cheap."

There's a Wocket in My Pocket by Dr. Seuss

Subtitled "Dr. Seuss' Book of Ridiculous Rhymes," this book is the collection king of nonsense words.  Children will giggle as they search for the zamp behind the lamp and roll their eyes at the mean ole bofa on the sofa.  They will chant along with you as you speed through the list of cellar dwellars, and they'll shake their heads at the snooty nooth grush on the toothbrush.  I also love that this book turns the oh-so-boring task of learning everyday, common household items into a fun, laugh-filled experience.


Every home with young children needs at least one or two books that highlight the most essential words a child should first learn.  These books really detail the steps a child takes in language development.  First, a child will gradually learn the skill of pointing to objects depicted in the book, non-verbally "asking" mom or dad the name of the object.  Before long, the child will be able to point to the object after mom or dad verbalizes, thereby identifying the object rather than requesting its name.  Eventually, the child will be able to verbalize the word while pointing.  There are so many of these types of books on the market, I selected the two we happen to have here at Tonggu House.

First 100 Words by Roger Priddy

This book's vibrantly colored photogrpags help capture the attention of even the youngest of children.  Children will learn the names for various animals, foods and drinks, articles of clothing, household objects and toys.  It's a perfect book for acquiring language, as first the parent, then the child points to various items and verbally labels them.  Oh, and it's a perfect book for chewing on, too.  (I'm just saying, y'all.)

First Words: Touch and Feel Picture Cards by DK

Squirt received one of these boxed sets at Christmastime.  It was such a huge hit, the husband and I ran out to purchase three more sets.  Squirt loves to manipulate (and chew on) the cards.  She loves to touch their soft or bumpy surfaces, and to say the words she is able to say.  I recommend these card sets for anyone with a speech delayed toddler, even above and beyond the books.  It's amazing how often toddlers will pull out these cards to sort, "read" and drop in the box... take out of the box... drop in the box... take out of the box.  Heh.


Music speeds up the process of acquiring language.  The brain is wired to learn effortlessly through music because the rhythms of sound have a powerful effect on cognition.  Don't believe me?  Think back to your early childhood... I'll bet the only things you remember with word-for-word accuracy are songs and the occasional nursery rhyme.  Parents are often amazed at how quickly young children can memorize a song, and then translate that memorization into "reading" (singing) that same song while looking at a related song book.  This is called "magical memory reading."  In very young children, it helps to build their comprehension as they sing lyrics while viewing the pictures.  Here are two of our favorite books in this genre:

Eensy Weensy Spider by Penny Dann

Truly any songbook about the itsy bitsy spider is a good choice; I simply selected this one because it is multicultural (for example, page four depicts a young Asian-American girl; and every time Squirt sees this picture, she says "Tongginator").  While I'm reading this to Squirt, I change the words from eensy weensy to itsy bitsy because, well, I'm a creature of habit, but otherwise this book is great.  It clearly shows in pictures what it means for the rain to "wash the spider out (of the water spout)."

10 Little Monkeys by Annie Kubler

What child doesn't love to sing along with these mischievous monkeys?  There are so many teachable opportunities with this song book: number awareness and recognition, cause and effect, telling time and on and on.  We like this version of the book because Squirt loves to put her fingers through the holes, but we are not fans of its rather large size, which makes it hard to hold while also holding a baby or toddler in your lap.  There are several versions out there, though, so you have to decide: finger holes and large size?  or no finger holes and a more manageable size?


Books about the human body are more important than one first thinks when developing language in young children.  I guess the easiest way to explain why is to compare "human body books" with the "vocabulary building books" listed above.  Just looking at the front covers of the vocabulary books, and you will see vivid photographs of individual objects, with a clear demarcation from one object to the next.  Human body books aren't like that.  The child often looks at a picture of a whole object, such as a child's head, and then needs to isolate where individual "parts" are located, such as the eyes, ears, nose, etc.  This is a very different and more challenging skill, which is why we start to teach it using human body books.  If you're going to teach something challenging, you need to have a subject matter that is very familiar to the child.  And what's more familiar to a child than their own bodies (or someone else's)?

All of Baby, Nose to Toes by Victoria Adler

I love that this body book also has a strong theme of attachment parenting.  From nose to toes, there's a lot of body for a baby to discover.  A closeup illustration of the roly-poly baby (Baby's got eyes,/ bright little eyes) is followed by a page divided into four illustrations (Round as pies eyes./ Just the right size eyes./ Like an owl—wise eyes./ Peeka-peeka-boo).  The story lends itself not only to identifying body parts, but also to lots and lots of infectious giggles and hugs. 

Here Are My Hands by Bill Martin, Jr.

I love this multicultural book about the human body, not only because it depicts children of all races, but also because it assigns common actions to parts of the body.  Children learn that "here are my knees for falling down; here is my neck for turning around; here are my cheeks for kissing and blushing; here are my teeth for chewing and brushing."  These short phrases definitely say more with less.  Young children might be challenged to spot the featured body part, but the story characters' pointing fingers will help to guide the way.


Books that focus on emotions are vital in language development because language, when you boil it down, is really just a means for making sense of and/or resolving emotions.  A young child feels frustrated.  Why is the child frustrated?  Because he needs help opening a box.  If he communicates his need for help, and receives said help, the frustration goes away.  See - emotions are important!  Without knowledge of emotions, you wouldn't recognize frustration and label it as such.  But why do so many emotion books center around infants?  Well, young children love to look at faces, especially the faces of other babies.  And that's why so many emotion books are "baby face" books.

Baby Faces by DK

Squirt's very nice educational specialist covets this book, and she'll be thrilled to learn it's now back in print!  What's great about this board book is that it clearly shows one face, with one obvious emotion, per page.  This is pretty rare when it comes to "emotion" books, which usually cram several faces on each page, so snatch up this book while you can.  Young children are captivated by babies, so what better way to teach emotion words than by showing baby faces expressing specific emotions?

Global Babies by The Global Fund for Children

I couldn't decide whether to go with this book or its sister book Carry Me.  Just so you know.  What I love about this baby faces book is that it is multicultural in the extreme... not simply depicting young babies of different races, but also of different cultures and religions.  Diversity is more than just skin color, in my opinion, so why not introduce that fact from a very young age.  Appearing phrase by phrase at the bottom of the pages, the book's complete text reads, "Wherever they live, / wherever they go, / whatever they wear, / whatever they feel, / babies everywhere / are beautiful, / special, / and loved."

Now I'm sure this is not an exhaustive list (despite it's rather exhausting length), so I'd love additions and suggestions if you have them.  Regardless, I hope this helps y'all.  I know it helped me organize my thoughts as I wrote it.


"Indescribable" said...

I love a list of good books!!!
It was so hard for me to know if our 4yr old had ever held a book before we adopted him because he showed no interest for about 2 months, (never mind all the concepts about how books go for our culture is different for the one he was initially raised in.) I keep a small basket of board books, some of the same titles you listed for the same reasons, at his access. I found him making dog sounds at Moo, Baa, La La La a couple of days ago!
Thank you for sharing York list!

Jennifer said...

Here Are My Hands is one of MY favorite books ever! It was one book I never tired of reading over sand over. Great list!

Carla said...

the ONLY book my oldest would actually allow me to read him when he was under the age of 3 was Moo Baa La La La! I <3 that book! :)

We love to sing Brown Bear Brown Bear as well to the tune of Baa Baa Black Sheep I think.

LBC said...

My kids like it, but I just LOVE the Bear Snores On book. Chill, bear. We can pop more corn, brew more tea. He's a good host, asleep or not.

Dana said...

Love, love, love Goodnight Moon and The Bear Snores On.

Heather said...

We also love "Bear Snores On," although my daughter prefers "Bear Feels Sick"... same type of story, but more fun to read with voices of having a "stuffed ("duffed") up nose ("dhose")." :-)

My daughter also loved, loved, loved the flash cards when she was 2.5 yrs old and below. Now that she's starting to pick up sight words, she's returning to them to look at how words are spelled or using them to make up her own games (she says she's playing "checkers", but it's not like any checker game I've ever seen...).

Thank you for the list. Off to Amazon to feed our book addiction...

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to give a thank you for this post! I'm a huge lover of children's books and have adopted four times. It hasn't been until this last adoption that we've had to reroute almost everything - from diet, therapies you name it. Our little gal was really struggling, not growing, not responding to any traditional thing. So fast forward to working w/ a holistic doctor six months now and she is a changed person. She is finally interested in books and we have half on the list and I just bought the other half! Great reminders of how to "use" them and incorporate them into our at home time...really appreciate it!!