The best books for parents and teachers from research on how infants and toddlers develop literacy

Ann Lewin-Benham Author Of Parsley: A Love Story of a Child for Puppy and Plants
By Ann Lewin-Benham

Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by children’s language development and am a word hound. For over five decades I’ve been a teacher, teacher trainer, school founder/director, mentor, founder/executive director of a large children’s museum; author of 6 classic textbooks on how children think and learn, and author/self-publisher of one of my many story-poems. My passions are writing, studying new findings in brain development, and launching top-quality schools in underserved urban areas. Between 1969 and 1990, I founded six schools, five still running, three as private non-profit schools and two as essential entities (one called the “safety-net") in their public school systems. The MELC is the only U.S. school accredited by Reggio's founders.


I wrote...

Parsley: A Love Story of a Child for Puppy and Plants

By Ann Lewin-Benham, Karen Busch-Holman (illustrator),

Book cover of Parsley: A Love Story of a Child for Puppy and Plants

What is my book about?

Sophisticated rhymes and beautiful illustrations. A youngster, puppy alongside, carefully selects a planting location, tests the soil, hoes it: “Every row was straight/Where the seeds would germinate”—spreads the seeds“not too thick, not too thin, and one by one. I pushed the dirt back on /And gently tamped it down./Then I was done. The days were very slow/My seeds would never grow.” Finally: “Tender little things/On skinny little stalks/With “wings” eventually become bushy. Then, a surprise ending! 2-pages of illustrated planting instructions conclude the book. 16 pages of free downloadable activities are on the author’s website.

“Could become a classic like Ferdinand, to be kept and re-read to remind us of the wonder of life.” - Jorgia Bordofsky, Santa Barbara, CA

The books I picked & why

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The Little Ones of Silent Movies

By Loris Malaguzzi, Tiziana Filippini,

Book cover of The Little Ones of Silent Movies

Why this book?

At Gianni Rodare Scuola for 3-month to 3-year-olds, I watched 2 to 3-year-olds draw, a year-long project described in the book The Little Ones of Silent Movies by Loris Malaguzzi and Tiziana Filippini: The authors explain:

“Children are born with “insuppressible, vital, eager urges to build conversational friendships... Words that come later are not a sudden event born from nothing but emerge from a submerged silent laboratory of attempts, trials, and experiments in communication using tools children constantly improve through long preparation. The results—words and drawings—show the strong desire to communicate and interact, basic traits of children.”

I love this book because its text explains and drawings show the roots of language. It inspired me to observe babies more closely and introduce paints and markers.

The Little Ones of Silent Movies

By Loris Malaguzzi, Tiziana Filippini,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Little Ones of Silent Movies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Understanding Learning and Related Disabilities: Inconvenient Brains

By Martha Bridge Denckla,

Book cover of Understanding Learning and Related Disabilities: Inconvenient Brains

Why this book?

1961: My life’s thrill was Danny’s birth—happy, loving, and by age 2, articulate speech that turned heads. But in Montessori school, despite numerous materials for writing and reading, he was called “hand retarded.” He struggled, only acquiring reading in high school. Today he is a clinical psychologist with honors galore! 1961: We knew little. 1971: First brain scan. 1977: Cognitive science was born as scientists from numerous fields began brain studies. In Danny’s youth, there were guesses and alleged treatments but little science.

Cognitive-Behavioral Neurologist/Kennedy Krieger Institute, Developmental Neuropsychologist and Professor Emeritus/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Martha Bridge Denckla’s book, Understanding Learning and Related Disabilities: Inconvenient Brains, gives a scientific understanding of ADD, ADHD, ASD, and six other brain dysfunctions to parents, teachers, and others suspecting learning problems.

Wow! Dr. Denkla is so deeply knowledgeable. Her scholarship and explanations of conditions provide information to relieve readers' anxieties.

Understanding Learning and Related Disabilities: Inconvenient Brains

By Martha Bridge Denckla,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Understanding Learning and Related Disabilities as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Children with developmental disabilities inhabit a gray zone: they live and learn under normal conditions in some aspects of their lives, while their "inconvenient brains" present a range of challenges in other school and life contexts. Dr. Martha Bridge Denckla provides parents and educators with general knowledge, research findings, and practical recommendations about a variety of these developmental conditions, including dyslexia, dyscalculia, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, problems with motor coordination, and executive dysfunction. Inspired by her efforts to explain these conditions to parents over 45 years of clinical practice, she provides a science-based understanding of the issues in an accessible…


The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

By Steven Pinker,

Book cover of The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

Why this book?

Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language, explains how children master language: “Pidgin,” a “rough jargon,” results when persons speaking different languages must communicate to accomplish work. Pidgin is transmuted into a full complex language in one fell swoop by a group, exposed at the age children acquire their mother tongue.” Amazingly, we watch complex language created “from scratch.”

The brain’s inherent wiring drives language acquisition. “Humans are so innately hardwired for language, they can no more suppress learning and using language than suppress the instinct to remove a hand from a hot surface.”* Sequencing language from birth, Pinker concludes: “Three-year-olds are grammatical geniuses—master most constructions, usually obey rules, respect universals, err in sensible, adultlike ways, and avoid many kinds of errors altogether.”

*Quoted: S. Dehane, p.64. Thank you Steven Pinker for the “bible” on what language is! I can find everything I need in Pinker's comprehensive work.

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language

By Steven Pinker,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Language Instinct as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Dazzling... Pinker's big idea is that language is an instinct...as innate to us as flying is to geese... Words can hardly do justice to the superlative range and liveliness of Pinker's investigations'
- Independent

'A marvellously readable book... illuminates every facet of human language: its biological origin, its uniqueness to humanity, it acquisition by children, its grammatical structure, the production and perception of speech, the pathology of language disorders and the unstoppable evolution of languages and dialects' - Nature


Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

By Maryanne Wolf,

Book cover of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

Why this book?

Cognitive Neuroscientist and Developmental Psycholinguistic Maryanne Wolf’s trilogy is foundational to understanding how the brain reads, how to teach reading, and the impact that learning to read has on reorganizing the brain. In Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, Wolf lucidly explains: Because the brain has no “reading center,” each child must create literacy by adapting brain functions that evolved for other purposes. Wolf explains so lucidly what a reading brain is! Bravo! A real tour de force!

Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain

By Maryanne Wolf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Proust and the Squid as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'Everything about [this] book, which combines a healthy dose of lucid neuroscience with a dash of sensitive personal narrative, delights ... a beautifully balanced piece of popular-science writing' Boyd Tonkin, Independent
'For people interested in language, this is a must. You'll find yourself focusing on words in new ways. Read it slowly - it will take time to sink in.'William Leith, Sunday Telegraph
'An inspiring celebration of the science of reading.' P.D. Smith, Guardian

'We were never born to read', says Maryanne Wolf. 'No specific genes ever dictated reading's development. Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago.…


From Two to Five

By Kornei Chukovsky,

Book cover of From Two to Five

Why this book?

Kornei Chukovsky, leading Russian children’s poet, in his book From Two to Five, describes children’s “whimsical, elusive thinking—original, picturesque, amusing speech.” "Children two to five are earth’s most inquisitive creatures with questions evoked by the mind’s tireless need to comprehend its surroundings.” I know of no other author who so brilliantly captures children’s own words. I read this book over and over for inspiration.

From Two to Five

By Kornei Chukovsky,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked From Two to Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This title is part of UC Press's Voices Revived program, which commemorates University of California Press's mission to seek out and cultivate the brightest minds and give them voice, reach, and impact. Drawing on a backlist dating to 1893, Voices Revived makes high-quality, peer-reviewed scholarship accessible once again using print-on-demand technology. This title was originally published in 1963.


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