Each January since 2000, a group of child development experts, librarians and community members has gathered. They read aloud, evaluate, praise and sometimes pan a selection of the previous year’s books published for the very youngest listeners.
Some titles are submitted by publishers. Others are recommended by individual committee members or by their colleagues. However they come to the committee’s notice, each book is read and re-read, examined and critiqued. All are measured against the same set of criteria as they are considered for the Best Books for Babies list.
Books aren’t judged by their covers, but the pictures inside are very important. Clear, uncluttered illustrations are the most accessible for young listeners. And babies from birth to 6 months focus best on black and white.
Sturdy pages that turn easily make it possible for babies to interact with books. This early handling begins the process of understanding how books work.
Of course, words matter, too. Simple, direct language works well, but more fanciful descriptive text can also be effective. After all, the more words children hear the better for their future learning.
Different formats, from board books to picture books, cover basic concepts and introduce simple narratives. The variety honors the developmental strides made from birth to 18 months.
Finally, finding ways to be as inclusive as possible feels more important than ever.
Committee members take their responsibility seriously. But they also enjoy the process, championing their favorites and cheerfully criticizing books that they feel aren’t good enough for the list.
Despite occasional disagreements, every year the group has managed to arrive at a final list of distinguished titles for babies birth to 18 months.