The gift that keeps on giving: why a love of reading is the best present you’ll ever give a child

Published on: 04 March 2024

At BookTrust we know that the long-term benefits of reading together can begin at birth (or before!). We asked early years author Camilla Reid her thoughts on why reading with babies is so important. 

A life-changing gift

If I was to tell you that there was one small thing, a tiny gift, that you could give to your baby that would make them happier, healthier AND more financially secure in adult life, you’d give it to them, wouldn’t you? Especially if I told you that the thing was super simple, really easy AND would make you both feel great, too. You’d do it I mean, why wouldn’t you? It’s an absolute no-brainer.  

This life-changing gift is, of course, a book or to be completely accurate, a number of books. Because that really is what books and reading do for children. A whole bunch of studies have shown that kids who grow up reading books for fun (rather than because they have to) have better life outcomes than those who don’t.   

That’s because as well as being a vital skill that we all need in life, reading also helps a child’s development in multiple, complex ways, so its effect is incredibly powerful.  

It seems too good to be true… what’s the catch? 

Well, there’s not a catch but, I have to be honest, like all amazing deals, I do have some terms and conditions. But don’t worry, they aren’t too tricky – and there are only three of them: 

  1. First of all, for the gift to work, you have to make sure that you cuddle up with your favourite small human on your lap, and get SUPER comfy. Not so difficult.  

  1. The next thing is that you have to choose a book that is really fun for you BOTH. How hard can that be?  

  1. And lastly, you have to do it every day (or as close to that as you can manage!) But the good news is that all I’m asking you to give is 5 minutes daily – just like teeth-brushing, really. That’s it.  

So, 5 minutes a day, cosied up having fun together with a book is all that it takes to give your child the most amazing head start in life. It really is that easy.  

The reason this all works so beautifully is the shared attention on a book means that children will view reading and books in a positive light. By always making sure it’s fun and doing a little every day, before you know it, your child will be choosing to look at a book as often as playing with toys. 

Got a question? Hopefully Camilla has the answer…  

As an author of early years books, I loved sharing books with my own kids. But I do recognise that it doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and can even feel quite challenging to some people. Here are a few of the questions I often get asked by parents and carers. 

When should I start reading with my baby? 

The experience of cuddling up with a big person, hearing their voice and sharing a story does amazing things for kids. It makes them feel wonderfully safe and relaxed – and that’s incredibly important to them. You can explore books with a baby literally from birth they’ll benefit from it even when they are tiny. I started reading with my kids from around 4 months old, and loved it because it gave us a way to calm down and reconnect before bedtime. I read to them all the way through their childhoods and only stopped when they were in their early teens (they weren’t sitting on my lap at this point, I should be clear). So the answer is the best time to start is now! 

But this isn’t reading – my child’s only 12 months old. What’s the point? 

Turning the pages, looking at the pictures, joining in with the animal noises, lifting a flap, finding a hidden character is ALL reading! Like learning to walk, you have to start with small steps, so if they’re engaging with the book, they are reading! My top tip is to praise them for doing ‘great reading’ whenever you finish a book, so they feel a sense of achievement, however young they are. 

What books should I choose? 

You know your child best of all so the obvious thing is to pick the ones you judge they’ll like and will fit their developmental stage. But it’s super important that the books appeal to you too because your enjoyment is central to the whole thing your child will really notice this. If you’re having fun reading with them, they’ll copy you, and a positive spiral starts to kick in. So choose something that you like the look of, too.  

For the very youngest of babies, aim for books with lots of physical interactivity, so the child feels involved in the book. This could be felt flaps to lift, sliders to push and pull, sound buttons to press, a hidden mirror. My top tip would be to read anything that makes you both laugh! As they get older, they’ll want to join with the text too making animal noises, or saying the words on cue. All this makes them feel great because they feel that the book needs them, and they love this.  

Help! My child keeps picking a book I hate! 

Depending on your acting skills, there are two choices hereeither you need to pretend that you’re enjoying it or you need to hide the book! It’s absolutely essential that your child sees you having fun when you share a book – so they pick up the message that reading is a cool thing to do.   

I’ve never felt very confident with books and worry my child will notice...

There’s no reason your child should feel the same as you did. So choose the books that you feel happy sharing with them – funny books, books with lots of pictures and interactivity rather than words. Hopefully, your confidence will grow together. If you have trouble reading the words, talk about the pictures – it really doesn’t matter. 

But books are so expensive – I can’t afford them. 

I totally understand this, and agree that books can be really pricey. If you want to buy a new book, go to the big supermarkets – they charge really low prices for top quality books because they buy in bulk. I used to pick up lots of cheap, second-hand books from charity shops – they were sometimes a bit worn, but that didn’t worry me. And, of course, public libraries are the other amazing option – they’re free AND you can keep trying new books as your child grows. Also, libraries have lots of fun activities to do with little kids, so it’s worth the visit. 

My child can read by herself – is it OK to let her read on her own now? 

It’s so great to hear that your daughter is reading – you’ve both done really well to get to this point! While it’s brilliant that she can read on her own, can I persuade you to keep reading together as well? Shared reading will keep improving her reading skills and expand the range of books she’s willing to tackle. But, crucially, it’s also fantastic for your relationship. Like any shared experience, it gives you something to enjoy and discuss together, and will keep you connected. I have teenagers now and, trust me, it’s really important to stay connected!   

I do hope this all helps to encourage you to either start or keep sharing books with your kids. Reading together can be so much FUN!   

Happy reading! 

Camilla xx 


Use the Bookfinder to find the perfect book for you, your family and friends.

You can use our special tools to search hundreds of children's book reviews by age, category and theme.

Try the Bookfinder now