Sunday, March 14, 2010

Review: Books Before Five

Books Before Five by Dorothy White

This book is a diary of "reading notes" a mother (Dorothy White) made as she read a variety of books to her daughter, Carol, over the years. White was a children's librarian by training and even published a book previously (About Books for Children) which I have not read. More than most, then, she was able to seek out and share a diverse collection of books with her daughter.

The introduction talks about what a wonderful book this is for exploring child development as we watch Carol expand her experiences and learn to integrate what she hears from stories with what she knows in her "real life." I agree, but that's not what I love most about this book. (Note, of course, that it is a partial record of one child's development and therefore not necessarily applies to all children.)

I think this is a perfect book for the parent or caregiver who doesn't know where to begin reading with a young child: What kind of books should we read? How can we select quality children's books? How do I tell if the child understands the book? Enjoys the book? Is the child learning or integrating the book with pretend-play?

Dorothy White doesn't set out to answer questions like these, but she records Carol's questions and concerns. She's not afraid to set a book aside until later or to send it back to the library without qualms if it's just not right for them. She evaluates books both on their own merits and her preferences as a mother (and with her own artistic preferences) but also by closely observing her daughter's reactions to them. By exploring our own children's reactions, we can make similar evaluations about current books.

Though many children's books are mentioned in the book (and there's even a helpful list at the end for those who wish to seek them out), this book is not meant to be a list of specific books we should read to all our children. For one thing, Carol was a young child in the 1940s and 1950s in New Zealand. There are a great many books she could not have experienced and had access to only a portion of those in print. I have refrained entirely from adding any of these books to our list. I would guess, though, that we have read (and often enjoyed!) half of the books mentioned. Of the others, a great many are probably out of print. No, the real treasure here (other than the glimpses into young Carol's fascination with stories) is the documented interaction between a reader and a listener (and one who asks a great many questions).


  1. Sounds a lot like this.

    Have you seen it?

  2. I haven't read Before Five in a Row (though I have seen Five in a Row), but from the Amazon description I'd say it's a little more focused on giving ideas for activities or crafts for little ones in connection with specific books. White doesn't talk much about seeking out ways to connect her daughter to the stories; it's more like the stories they read naturally tended to reflect their own lives. Or at least, that's what her daughter was most interested in.

  3. One thing I really liked about Before 5 in a Row is it gave scripture references that tied to the themes of each story. And the story suggestions in it were really neat as well.

  4. Books Before Five was one of my go-to books when my oldest (now university age) was small, along with Dorothy Butler's Babies Need Books. Although I realized that it wasn't necessary to search out exactly the same books that Carol enjoyed, I kept my eyes open for them anyway, since my own daughter seemed very much like Carol! We still have a copy of Let's Play House.

  5. Mama Squirrel, thanks for coming by! Have I seen you around Afterthoughts?


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