From January, all babies will receive two of the four books, free, in a pack to be handed out at their eight-month health check as part of a pounds 6m project run by Sainsbury's and the Book Trust charity. The books are Tickle, Tickle and Dressing by Helen Oxenbury, Mr Bear Says Goodnight by Debi Gilori and Stripey Shirt by Moira Butterfield.
As the two-year programme progresses, further books will be added to the list, which was picked by an advisory panel of experts in young children's reading. At least one million books will be given away.
The project, which is part of the Government's National Year of Reading, is based on Bookstart schemes run by the Book Trust. Bookstart began in Birmingham six years ago when 300 babies were given free books at their eight-month health check. When they started school, teachers found that their literacy and numeracy had benefited and two years later they were three times more likely to be interested in reading than children who had not taken part.
Gill Garvey, whose daughter Jessica was one of the first Bookstart babies, said: "We're neither of us the sort of people who relax with a book and we wouldn't have thought of starting reading with her when she was still so young. But she loved it. We have a video of her when she was a baby. Her dad is reading to her and watching the TV at the same time and she keeps taking the book from him and trying to make him read it." Jessica is now seven and doing well at school. Her parents still read to her in the evenings but she then reads to herself.
Ruth Stuart, a parent in Wandsworth, south London, said that she would not have been confident enough to take her baby to the library if the pack she received at the health clinic had not suggested that she should.
Alexandra Strick, Book Trust's head of children's literature, said: "We hope to inspire parents to introduce their children to books from an early age and to visit libraries and bookshops to discover more."
Schemes will be able to choose which books they offer. The packs will also include an information leaflet on sharing books with babies, a rhyming action card, a list of other recommended baby books and an invitation to join a library.
Book Trust is urging the Government to spend more on books for schools. Ministers have already promised pounds 20m but Professor Eric Bolton, former chief inspector of schools and the trust's chairman said: "However, given the historically low level of spending on books in many schools ... it seems likely that many teachers and children will have neither the numbers nor the range of books needed to educate, or be educated, in the ways that they should."
Best Bedtime Reading
Tickle, Tickle, by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books).
"A multicultural book showing children playing in the mud, in the water, brushing their hair etc. The language and repetition make it a joy to read."
Mr Bear Says Goodnight, by Debi Gilori (Orchard Books).
"This large-format board book with warm illustrations and short rhyming text is a pleasure to share and to talk about at the end of the day."
Stripey Shirt, by Moira Butterfield, illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church (Ladybird).
"An attractive touch- and-feel board book that will encourage babies to think about different items of clothing."
Dressing, by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books).
"A delightful wordless board book, distinctively illustrated - depicting a baby and his items of clothing."Reuse content