Which books are best?

One of our primary goals at Little Birdie Books is to make it easy for families to have great books in their home. We want books that will capture your child’s interest and encourage them to engage and communicate. As speech language pathologists, we are particularly passionate about finding books that promote language learning.

Audio Blog 9 – Which Books Are Best?

First and foremost, we strongly believe that it is HOW you read, not WHAT you read to your children that matters. However, there are some books that are more helpful than others in helping your child interact and communicate with others.

Here’s what you need to know about different types of books and their effect on language learning in children:

1. Do the different types of pictures in a book affect what a child is learning?



A study by Simcock and DeLoache (2006) looked at 18-, 24- and 30-month old’s ability to learn the steps of a new task from three types of picture books: one with colour photos, one with coloured drawings and one with black-and-white drawings.

Their results:

  • 18-month-olds learned more steps from colour photos than colour drawings
  • 24-month-olds demonstrated the same performance with colour photos and colour drawings but learned less from black-and-white drawings
  • 30-month-olds learned some of the required steps with all three types of drawings

It seems that different types of books do make a difference to what children learn from a book. What this study is really looking at is a child’s ability to understand different types of symbols. A symbol is something that represents something else. For example, a red cross symbolises something medically related. Pictures are symbols, varying from a more concrete and simple symbol that looks close to the real thing (e.g. colourful photograph) to the more abstract picture symbol (e.g. black and white drawing) that doesn’t resemble the real item as closely.

When it comes to pictures, which books are best? For younger children, go with books with colourful, realistic photographs.

2. Are moving parts in books helpful?



There are so many books on the markets with tabs, flaps and pop-ups. Are they actually beneficial to language learning? Here are the results from two studies:

Study 1:

Tare, Chiong, Ganea & DeLoache (2010) looked at typically-developing (20 – 36 month old) children’s ability to learn new words and new facts from three types of picture books:

  • books with realistic, colour photographs
  • books with colour drawings
  • books with colour drawings and manipulatives such as flaps and tabs

They found that children learned the most from books with colour photographs and the least from books with manipulatives. The authors concluded that “trying to increase interest by adding irrelevant ‘bells and whistles’ [like manipulatives] actually results in less learning” and that “less is more when attempting to convey information to young children” (p. 400).

Study 2:
This study (Kaderavek & Justice, 2005) compared the language used by four children with language impairment while looking at a regular storybook versus a storybook with manipulatives. Their study found that children used longer sentences and more complex sentences, and asked more questions when reading the book with manipulatives. The authors suggest that the books with manipulatives stimulated increased sentence length and raised the children’s level of interest and engagement in the text.

When it comes to books with moving parts, are these books helpful? The verdict still seems to be out on this one. For typically developing children, they might be distracting. But for children with language impairments, they may encourage greater participation and more language use.

3. Do electronic books promote language and literacy development more than paper books?



de Jong, M. & Bus, A. (2002) compared 4-6 year old children’s learning from a paper and an electronic version of the same book. Children who read the paper book:

  • Were exposed to all pages of the book
  • Could produce more text (words) from the story
  • Knew the content of the story better
  • Could read some words from the story, with and without pictures that depicted the words.

On the other hand, children who read the e-book:

  • Looked at only 35% of the pages and not in the correct order
  • Made progress reading words with and without accompanying pictures only when they were restricted access to the e-book’s games
  • Spent most of the time playing the e-book games as opposed to reading the book

It seems clear that the attractive buttons and games in e-books diverted children’s attention away from the story. They concluded that e-books cannot be considered to provide children with the same reading experience as paper books.

When it comes to e-books, are these books best? No. Stick with the good ol’ paper book.

Choosing the best book:

Well, there you have it – a few things to consider when choosing the best books for your child to promote language learning. Keep in mind:

  • the type of pictures in the book – colourful realistic photos are a good option for a young child (under 24 months)
  • bells and whistles – electronic games, flaps, tabs, and pop-ups may detract from conversation

If you get stuck with book choice, make sure you follow us on Instagram or Facebook as we are regularly recommending our great book finds.

Of course, you can subscribe to get your own Little Birdie Books 6 month membership where we have picked some of the very best picture books with a whole bunch of activities to go along with it!


  1. Simcock, G. & DeLoache, J. (2006). Get the picture? The effects of iconicity on toddlers’ reenactment from picture books. Developmental Psychology, 42(6), 1352-1357.
  2. Tare, M., Chiong, C., Ganea, P., & DeLoache, J. (2010). Less is more: How manipulative features affect children’s learning from picture books. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 31(5) 395-400.
  3. Kaderavek, J. & Justice, L. (2005). The effect of book genre in the repeated readings of mothers and their children with language impairment: a pilot investigation. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 21(1), 75-92.
  • de Jong, M. & Bus, A. (2002). Quality of book-reading matters for emergent readers: An experiment with the same book in a regular or electronic format. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(1), 145-155.

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