• How to Use Picture Books to Encourage Speech and Language Development

    All products were chosen independently by our editorial team. This guide contains affiliate links and we may receive a commission for purchases made.

    Are you an introverted parent? Do you overthink conversations or find it difficult to start a dialogue with your young child? Has this created concerns about your child’s speech and language development?

    Talking to your baby promotes communication and literacy skills and supports social and emotional development. The significance of this can put a lot of pressure on parents, especially those that suffer from speech impediments, social anxiety, or who are just not talkative in general.

    As an introvert myself, I internalize and often find myself in quiet observation of the world around me. This caused me concern after becoming a new parent, as I was overwhelmed by the statistics and parenting advice from pediatricians, bloggers, family, and friends that encouraged speaking often to my newborn. I recall staring into my son’s beautiful eyes, thinking about his present and future. Then it hit me, "Don’t just think. Speak!"

    I started with your typical elevator talk about the weather and the news of the day. "Mommy enjoyed our tummy time," I said. I then progressed into naming the items in the room and outdoors. "What a beautiful blue sky" I continued. However, despite my attempts, I felt the conversation dwindling. I was certain in these moments that I had ruined my son’s future as a public speaker.

    Then, it dawned on me. Books!

    I ran to his bookshelf and began to read stories that became our personal favorites, such as Jabari Asim's Who's Toes Are Those. There was no word shortage because the books constantly provided new words to learn. The conversation was natural, as the book provided the topics and context.

    These stories became my resolution to introversion. I had found my mom hack!

    How Picture Books Help Kids Develop Literacy Skills

    It is stated that reading picture books to children foster enjoyment in learning in early childhood and provides important skills in vocabulary, sound structure, and language. Also, children who are read to at least three times per week have a better foundation for early learning and development 2.

    Picture books can help parents foster relationships and dialogue with their children, which in turn can support the building of these early literacy skills. Here are a few parenting tips on how to do it.

    Make sounds: Infant language development (First 3 months)

    During the first 3 months, babies begin to use their voice and body to communicate. For example, they’ll smile, laugh, make cooing sounds, and move their arms and legs when they’re interested or excited 1.

    This is a perfect time to introduce sounds and use your personal instrument (i.e., your voice). Whisper, sing, and make animal noises! This keeps them engaged and teaches them their range. ⠀⠀

    Use props: Infant language development (after 9 months)
    After about 9 months of age, your child will let you know they’re interested in something by staring, pointing, touching, and grabbing 1. Do you have a companion to your story, whether a stuffed animal or a hat? Now it’s time to create an immersive experience! You may also consider books that encourage touching, such as
    Never Touch a Porcupine by Rosie Greening and Stuart Lynch.

    Name pictures: Infant language development (about 12 months)

    By about 12 months of age, your child will probably understand the names of things they see or use often, like "cup, ‘doll’ or "toe" 1. Use this time to continue to point out objects, creatures, and people in the story.

    Don't try to rush through the pages at your pace, but rather give them time to take in the images and explore the page. Encourage them to locate images and assign words. Kind of a "Where's Waldo" for children. The children’s book, Baby Goes to Market by Atinuke, is one of my favorite books for these purposes as it’s filled with exciting imagery.

    Ask questions: Toddler’s language development (1-2 years) 
    As your toddler’s language develops between 1 and 2 years, you and your child might start to have simple conversations 1. This is the time to give the child a chance to use their reasoning skills.

    When reading stories such as Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney to my son, I will ask questions such as, "Why do you think the little llama is sad?" or "why is momma llama running?" I have also recently come across the book  Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty which has a lot of fun questions throughout and teaches the importance of asking “Why?”.

    Thanks to these interactions, even at this early age, I’m noticing that my son’s starting to tie together actions and responses. A bonus to this, he is now asking me more questions!


    We all need a lifeline. Books can provide this for those new parents that want to inspire a love for learning and improve literacy in their children. Get started by checking out the previously recommended books to read and those written by Zayzay Literary Co., such as The Adventures of Keva: The Power of the Trees.


    1. https://raisingchildren.net.au/babies/connecting-communicating/communicating/talking-with-babies-toddlers

    2. https://www.readingrockets.org/article/dialogic-reading-effective-way-read-aloud-young-children