The Booktrust is to be congratulated for the lead it has given to get good books into the hands of the youngest readers. There is no doubt that babies can respond to books and appear to enjoy the black and white experience that is right for their yet un-fixed retinas.
The shortlist for the Booktrust Early Years Awards 2007 has recently been announced. The three categories are Best Emerging Illustrator, Pre-school Award (for children up to age five) and Baby Book Award (for children under one year old).
I am particularly interested in the Baby Award. Starting babies off is not easy and depends on the skills of the adult mediator, and the simplicity and relevance of the book's concepts. The meaning the baby gets from the book experience should be more than just a special time when they can enjoy the warmth radiated by the adult's dramatised reading.
Adults often say they are confused in bookshops, as shelves labelled 'Babies' may include books with concepts and language more suitable for toddlers and pre-schoolers. Awards such as Booktrust's should help, but unfortunately this year only one of the six selections is suitable for children in the first 12 months of life. Other books in this category have been reviewed as 'a deserved favourite with two to fives' or suitable for 'older babies and toddlers or younger children'. No wonder parents get confused!
A child's development is individual, but there are recognised general stages. I think it would be simpler if the Booktrust were to change the category bands to: babies under 12 months; toddlers from one- to three-years-old; and pre-school for three- to five-year- olds. This would allow for the cognitive developments children go through and, hopefully, address the current confusion.
There are many great books published for babies and younger children, but care should be taken to select them to fit advertised categories if these children are to have meaningful experiences that match their developmental.