The Secret to a Great Brain? The Right Children’s Books

Fascinating research on the brain is unlocking the science behind the magic of books, and what parents can do to turn their kids into lifelong readers.

Written by Pat O’Neill

Reading rewires the brain.

By kindergarten, kids who have been read to regularly are less stressed, more social, and better equipped to thrive academically than their peers. They may also have better brains.

Neurologists say reading fundamentally rewires the brain through the creation of white matter, the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of grey matter where information is processed. As a result, when infants and toddlers experience books, their brains forge more substantial neural pathways, leading to improved concentration, memory, and listening skills.

Book-lovers are more emotionally intelligent.

In addition to the academic benefits of reading, studies reveal clear social and emotional gains in children who read at home. A phenomenon called grounded cognition shows how what we read is processed in the brain. When we read about a character sprinting, for example, the same neurons associated with the physical act of running are activated. It’s true with reading about a character’s emotional experiences, too.

Cognitive scientist Keith Oatley says books are life simulators. They allow us to see ourselves in someone else, and test drive experiences.

Take books along for the adventure.

The presence of books in the home has a greater influence on a child’s educational outlook than does parents’ income, nationality, or level of education, researchers say. Having as few as 20 books at home has been shown to have an impact on a child’s literacy for the better — but the real magic happens when the home library includes at least 80 books.

Why? Repetition. According to a 2018 study, children need to hear a new word 4-12 times before it’s added to their vocabulary, making home libraries and repeated readings invaluable.

Great literature builds great minds.

Bolstered by the latest brain science, new subscription book clubs have sprung up to help parents create a home environment that supports consistent reading habits. Companies like Literati want to make sure the books at home are just right: age-appropriate, fun, and vibrant.

Literati draws on the expertise of early childhood professionals to find books that build on skills kids already have, and will help them flourish.

“Our approach is pretty simple,” says Literati co-founder Jessica Ewing, who studied cognitive science at Stanford. “When kids love a book, they’ll want to read it again and again. All we have to do is give kids the chance to read great books, and with a little help from Mom and Dad, or Grandma and Grandpa, their incredible brain will do the rest.”

All we have to do is give kids the chance to read great books, and with a little help from Mom and Dad, or Grandma and Grandpa, their incredible brain will do the rest.

Literati co-founder Jessica Ewing

Literati launched in 2017. Its first club member was Finn, the son of co-founder Kelly Carroll.

“I wasn’t one of those parents who read to my child in utero,” says Carroll. “I struggled to find incredible books we could return to over and over again. To be honest, that’s one of the reasons we started Literati.”

Two years later, Carroll says she has experienced firsthand the brilliant benefits of reading at home. Finn loves his library, Carroll says, and his vocabulary is astounding. “Seeing my son ache to read together stops me in my tracks at times. It makes me feel like I’ve given my son the start every kid deserves. I’ll never have to worry about whether he loves reading.”

What is Literati? Only the greatest children’s book club on Earth. Each month, Literati sends 5 obsessively researched, age-appropriate books in a magical package personalized to your child. Explore the books for a week and keep only the ones you love. The monthly membership is $9.95, and Literati matches or beats the Amazon list price on books kept. Your first month membership fee is on us: Sign up for a risk-free trial today by using offer code BRAINYBOOKS at checkout.

Begin your free trial now.