text over photo of shelves of colorful books: Health literacy for Kids: The coziest First step. www.mayapeds.com

Health Literacy for Kids: The Coziest First Step

What’s something parents can do today to help there kids be healthier for the rest of their lives? They can snuggle up and read a favorite book. Really.

Hear me out.

Kids who enjoy books may later learn to enjoy reading. The more they enjoy reading, the more they read. In other words, they practice this skill.

As they become better readers, they learn to understand and interpret written information. Later, when that information involves their health? They can make more informed decisions.

What is health literacy?

Health literacy refers to the ability to access & understand information in order to make health decisions. We know that people with improved health literacy are more likely to actually be healthier. This means fewer emergency room visits and less medication errors, to name two concrete examples.

So, improving health literacy in our children now will help them be healthier (and make healthier decisions) for the rest of their lives.

A Few Picture Books to Consider

Looking for a place to start? Below are some favorite picture books. While any book that a child enjoys can lead to improved literacy, some of these have extra benefits. Unless otherwise noted, these books are good for any age that can handle paper pages (as opposed to board books). For many kids, this starts at around age 2 years.

As a reminder, there’s no need to read every word on every page for children to enjoy a book in a parent’s lap. If you’d like extra tips for reading aloud with young children, this article From Learning Differentiated has some excellent and practical advice.

This post may contain affiliate links. This means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. See here for full disclosure. And, many of these children’s book reviews first appeared, in some form, on the Mayapeds Instagram page.

The Animals Would Not Sleep! by Sara Levine and illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

photo of book cover of The Animals Would Not Sleep by Sara Levine

The Animals Would Not Sleep! (affiliate link) tells the story of young Marco trying to get all his toy animals settled for bed. Whew, what a task! Through his attempts, we learn a lot about sorting and classifying. There’s also an emphasis on treating others with kindness along with some very familiar refrains about bedtime.

This book is also a great chance to think about math and science literacy too.  I think of being able to understand things like statistics, graphs, and basic science. This also leads to informed decisions. With books like this, we can build a strong introduction to math and science, therefore healthier people.

Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young by Jack Prelutsky and illustrated by Marc Brown

(affiliate links)

Rhyming is such an important step in general literacy, so Read-Aloud Rhymes for the Very Young is a delightful place to start. This is a fun collection of very silly poems. It’s a fun book to read (or re-read) in small moments of time.

Nature Parade by Nikki Samuels and illustrated by Martina Heiduczek

photo of hardback book cover Nature Parade by Nikki Samuels

Nature Parade is a joyful book for all those who love time outdoors (affiliate link). It captures the sheer thrill and fun of exploring outside. As I’ve discussed earlier, spending time outside is also so good for kids’ health; so it’s a little bonus if this inspires a child to play outside. The rhymes and onomatopoeias are perfect for little ones. And, the illustrations are captivating, so full of movement.

Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep by JaNay Brown-Wood and illustrated by Elissambura

(affiliate links)

The premise of Shhh! The Baby’s Asleep is simple (and highly relatable). The delivery is just wonderful. 

This is a book to savor and love. It has the expected refrain (hint: the same phrase as the title). Young toddlers may delight in whispering it on each page, trying to shush the different characters. The characters are family members just going about their day, incidentally making noise that could wake a sleeping baby. A favorite page includes “Daddy’s loud belly wants PB & jelly.”

The illustrations are fun and spot on. Many of us have experienced the intense emotions around babies sleeping, not sleeping, or being woken up. (Or just wanting a sandwich and not understanding why someone is shushing your tummy grumbles). The illustrations capture those feelings perfectly. 

Bird Watch by Christie Matheson

(affiliate links)

Every book I’ve read by Christie Matheson is a treasure. Bird Watch is a beautifully illustrated book, ideal for all ages. It’s especially wonderful for kids who have a fondness for birds.

This book has elements of “search and find,” counting, facts about nature, and just really lovely art.

Just a Minute:  A Trickster Tale and Counting Book by Yuyi Morales

(affiliate links)

This counting picture book is wonderful for many reasons. It’s great for a child and parent (or other caregiver) to bond. Together, an adult and child can spot all 8 piñatas, 2 pots of tea, 9 grandchildren etc.  They can giggle and note the brilliance of the illustrations. As is true with many picture books, there are new details to notice with each re-reading.

As one would guess, it’s also good for actual counting, matching a number to a quantity of objects. It has a lovely rhythm to the story with the language itself. This alone simply makes the book enjoyable. Many children love the main character’s repeated phrase.

A Big Mooncake for Little Star By Grace Lin

(affiliate links)

It was so hard to choose just one book for this list by Grace Lin. So, let me start by saying if you are browsing at the library and you spot something by her, it will be worth your time. She has board books, early readers, gorgeous picture books like A Big Mooncake for Little Star, and novels.

This particular book reminds adults and kids alike that a child’s mischief is the natural order of things. It’s a gentle story with several layers. Kids may love the young main character tiptoeing around, thinking her mother is unaware. Parents may love the knowing twinkle in the mother’s eye.

Summary: Improved health literacy can be built one snuggle and page-turn at a time.

A child is never too young or too old to enjoy reading with a parent. Spending that time together is great for their relationship and feelings of connection. Picture books are also a wonderful introduction to reading itself. It’s possible that the more enjoyable books are at young ages, the more empowered and healthy children can be as they get older.

The list above is far from exhaustive. There is so much wonder and beauty in children’s literature. Stranded without a book and still want to improve a child’s literacy skills? See this post.

And, I’m always looking for another good read. Feel free to let me know some of your favorites in the comments below.

Maya M. Mahmood, D.O., FAAP is a board-certified pediatrician and mom. She is passionate about parents having evidence-based information to help their families be healthier.

Disclaimer: This post is for information only. No medical advice. See full disclosure here.

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