Reading stories together: bring words on the page to life

18 November 2019

Reading stories together provides wonderful opportunities for babies and very young children to make independent choices and express their thoughts, feelings and ideas. By responding positively and sensitively to these cues we’re showing children that they are valued and respected – that they have a voice, says Lindsay Quayle, Scottish Book Trust. 


Sharing stories with young children  is a great way to  develop  communication and let  little ones know that they’re valued.  


Babies are finding ways to communicate with us from the minute they arrive in the world. They can communicate through  facial gestures, sounds like coos and gurgles, as well as through their  body language. So even if they don’t know the words or  have  the language skills,  they’re already learning to ‘speak’ to us; letting us know how they feel, expressing wishes and making choices. 


When we share stories with babies and young children, we are engaging in a two-way communication process.  We may be the one bringing the words on the page to life, but how  our little ones react to stories  also helps us understand their preferences and learn more about their interests.  


Taking the time to tune in to our children, looking for cues  and responding appropriately is key to letting our children know that we care and that we’re taking their views on board. Is  baby  gurgling, pointing, or pulling themselves physically closer to the book? Maybe it’s a bright illustration, or the sound we make as we share a particular  page  that  draws  them in – if we  follow our  baby’s lead we will be rewarded with  their positive response. And we shouldn’t  worry if our baby’s response to  book sharing  is less encouraging at times. If they turn away or don’t look  interested, they could be telling us that it’s not for them right now. Perhaps they’re too tired – a calming song, rhyme or cuddle may be in order instead.  


Slightly older babies and children may show preferences by taking control of the physical book; turning back to a page they want us to share with them again (and again!) or pointing to the pictures that interest them. They could also  start  choosing the  stories  that  they want us to  share together – picking up books that appeal  or  closing one book before we’ve made it to the end and choosing something  different.  Responding to these  preferences and actions  during book  sharing  is hugely empowering for children. It helps them begin to understand that they have  rights, and that  we, as their mum, dad, or carer,  respect  these rights.  It also offers the  perfect opportunity for us  to  support their language development. Extending  our  conversations with children  around their  preferred  stories or pictures is more likely to result in a higher quality language learning experience. 


A child’s  sense of their own developing agency – independence to make their own decisions – is something to be celebrated.​  Young children can’t always be in the driving seat, but book sharing is a wonderful opportunity for them to be more in control. We can let children take the lead on book sharing,  give them the independence to choose the books, and make sure that we  respond to our baby’s non-verbal cues  when  we share books together. By doing so,  we’re not only  allowing them to express themselves, but we’re also letting them know that their opinion is valued and respected. We’re giving them a voice. 


And just as importantly, we’re encouraging in them a love of books – hopefully something that will grow with them through childhood and beyond.​ 


Lindsay Quayle is Early Years Digital Content Coordinator, Bookbug, Scottish Book Trust. Bookbug gives every child in Scotland four free bags of books as babies, toddlers, and as 3 and 5-year-olds. The Bookbug Bags are supported by free Bookbug Sessions where mums, dads and carers can enjoy sharing stories, songs and rhymes with their little ones. Find out more at

This blog is published as part of Starcatchers’ campaign Making My Mark, and to mark Book Week Scotland 2019.

Using drama to boost literacy is part of Creative Skills programme and Starcatchers’ Commissioned Training.

Download Starcatchers’ Commissioned Training Booklet