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TODAY

Sunday, February 17

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Even though my son is only four months old, he loves when I read to him. How can I tell? Even though he can't understand what I'm saying, he eagerly responds to the colors of the illustrations, the movement of the turning pages, the sound of my voice -- especially if it is a rhyming book -- really grabs him. Everyday when I read to him, it is always a quiet, special ritual we share and I feel our bond grow even further.

Child development experts everywhere agree, the earlier you begin reading aloud to your child, the stronger his or her verbal skills will be. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, reading is a major component in brain development.

Dr. Joseph R. Zanga, the former president of the AAP states on their website, "Pediatricians are acutely aware of the role that reading plays in infant and child brain development. We strongly recommend that parents read to their children daily from six months of age....yet only 50 percent of infants and toddlers are routinely read to by their parents." Fifty percent isn't nearly enough, so it's time for you and your baby to get your book on!

Of course, I'm not reading Dostoyevsky to my son; Seuss, Rey, Wadell and Silverstein are now common names in my home. To feed his growing bibliophile state, I must buy books, and while the big name chain stores may have tons of them, they just don't have the same feel as the smaller, independently owned stores.

Various bookstores in Chicago and outlying areas are specifically geared towards children. The latest books, for children ages 0-14, line their shelves waiting to be taken home. With several author signings, book clubs and story hours, it is easy to find a book-related activity in your area to enhance your home reading. Two of the more well-known stores in Chicago are Women and Children First and Children in Paradise.

An Andersonville staple for more than 20 years, Women and Children First has a wide selection of children's books and a friendly staff who really know and love their store. Be sure to look over the staff recommendations while you are there -- their 13-year-old volunteer, Hope, makes book recommendations, too.

In a warm, child-friendly atmosphere with clearly-defined sections, Children in Paradise encourages children of all ages to browse and read the books in the store. Meanwhile, parents have the advantage of a knowledgeable staff at their fingertips who can always steer them in the right direction if you aren't sure what to buy.

Interested in making a "Story Hour" part of your arsenal? One of these days and times might fit your schedule. Children in Paradise has three story hours: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 10:30am and Saturdays at 3pm. The Magic Tree bookstore in Oak Park features a monthly story time with puppets, the second Saturday of each month. Anderson's in Downers Grove is hosting an upcoming story hour on Saturday, October 16, at 10am that will feature singing, games and dancing. Finally, Crocodile Pie in Libertyville offers story hour Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays at 10:30am and Wednesday afternoons at 1pm.

As your baby grows, so will their love and respect for books and reading -- and think of the fun the two of you will have once he or she is able to join in more actively in the experience: mimicking your words, your tones and memorizing his or her favorite book.

And while you might feel silly reading to your baby now, especially if he or she seems to be off in their own world, don't stop. Keep in mind that even though you may not be teaching your infant to read, you are laying the foundation for future reading success by helping build their vocabulary and promoting a respect for books and eagerness for reading. And besides, is there really anything better in the entire world than snuggling in your bed with your child while you read? I don't think so.

Chicagoland area children's book stores:

Anderson's Bookshop
123 W. Jefferson
Naperville, IL
630/355-2665

5112 Main St
Downers Grove, IL
630/963-2665

The Book Vine for Children
3980 W. Albany Street, Suite 7
McHenry, IL
815/363-8880

Crocodile Pie
866 S. Milwaukee Ave.
Libertyville, IL
847/362-8766

Children In Paradise
909 N Rush St.
Chicago
312/951-5437

Magic Tree Bookstore
141 N. Oak Park Ave.
Oak Park, IL
708/848-0770

Women and Children First
5233 N. Clark
Chicago
773/769-9299

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About the Author(s)

Alejandra Valera is a new mom and writer. If there's a baby- or kid-friendly place, product or event you think she should cover, email her at .

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