a baby playing with toys on a toki mats play mat

Customer Spotlight: MaiStoryBook

May 1, 2023

As parents, we know how important it is to encourage our children to read. Starting from birth, babies benefit from being read to by their caregivers. Reading teaches children about communication, and builds listening, memory, and language skills that have lifelong benefits. As children get older, it can become more and more challenging for parents to keep them interested in reading, but Maya Lê not only accepts that challenge, she’s helping parents everywhere rise above it. As a new mom to a 7-month-old baby boy and the creative behind MaiStoryBook on Youtube and Instagram, Maya is taking it upon herself to make sure that every parent who comes across her channel leaves well-equipped to foster a love for reading in their own child. We spoke with Maya about what inspired her to start MaiStoryBook and her expertise in childhood education, so we could share her insights here with you:

baby sitting with a toki support pillow on a toki mats play mat

Q: When did you start MaiStoryBook and what inspired you to start it?

MSB: I started MaiStoryBook in 2017, the summer before I started my Masters of Education program. During my undergrad, I worked for Americorps’ Jumpstart program teaching preschool children. Through the teacher training, I learned about the importance of asking questions while reading books to children and making storytime interactive. I wanted to share that knowledge with other caretakers and educators, so I started MaiStoryBook’s YouTube channel to share examples of interactive read-alouds. I then paired the video read-alouds with craft ideas and started the blog, Maistorybook.com, and eventually started my instagram account to share more book recommendations: @maistorybooklibrary.

Q: What Toki products do you have and how do you use them?

MSB: I have the vegan leather Toki mat and we use it Every Single Day! We currently live in a one bedroom apartment, so there’s no nursery and there isn’t too much space. We have our Toki mat spread out in the living room area, and that is baby’s designated play space. Basically, whenever we aren’t holding him, he is on his Toki Mat. I love how soft and supportive it is, but also hugely appreciate how it is wipeable and so easy to clean!  We use it for tummy time, floor time, storytime, and currently for sitting practice. We also have the Toki support pillow, and use that to help prop baby up while he practices sitting. The pillow was also helpful with tummy time when he was younger. 

Q: Did you grow up with a love for reading or is that something that came about later in life?

MSB: I grew up with a love for reading, thanks to my own mama! She set an example for us since she was always reading herself. I think because we saw her always reading, we just always thought it was “normal” to read. We would go to the library often, and it was always a fun outing! We would also do a book club at home, where we would pop a big bowl of popcorn, and all read together on my parents’ bed.

Q: What age would you say is most important for children to be encouraged to read by their parents?

MSB: You can encourage children to read right from birth! There’s even research that you can read aloud to your baby in the womb, and they can hear the cadence of your voice as you sing or read nursery rhymes and songs. But, I do believe you can build a love from reading right when your child is born. What matters most during storytime with a baby is the intimacy— snuggling and hearing your voice. 

mom and baby reading a book on a toki mats play mat

Q: What is your biggest tip for getting a child interested in books if they’ve never shown any real interest before?

MSB: My biggest tip is reading aloud. Children may not be interested in picking up a book on their own, but modeling by reading your own books while around them, and reading stories aloud to them is a great way to get them interested with low effort required from them. What’s important to note is that storytime also doesn’t have to mean the child sitting still and listening quietly while you read, especially if you have an active child. You can read aloud while they are coloring or playing next to you. They are still listening, even if they are engaged in another activity. 

Q: Can creating a reading nook in the home be beneficial for getting a child more interested in reading? Would you recommend incorporating a soft mat, such as a Toki mat, in that nook?

MSB: Creating a reading nook would definitely be a motivation to get a child more interested in reading! I recommend making a super cozy space, and designating it as the special reading spot. This cozy spot is only for cuddling up with a book, so the child can enjoy the reading nook when they have a book. A soft Toki mat would make a great addition. Add some plush pillows, a few stuffies, maybe even use blankets or scarves to make an overhang above, and your little will have the coziest nook!

Q: What are your top 5 favorite books for babies?

MSB: 1. Indestructible Books from Workman Pub. They are chew-proof, rip-proof, and waterproof!

  1. Black and White High Contrast Board Books from DuoPress Labs. Newborns can only see in black-and-white, so these books are perfect for piquing their interest.
  2. Tummy Time!: A high contrast fold-out book with mirror for babies by Mama Makes Books.
  3. Nursery Play Books from Kane Miller Books. These versatile cloth books bring sensory stimulation for babies. Each animal-character-shaped book features a well-known rhyme, plus a mirror, ribbon tags, rattle sound, and tactile features to encourage cognitive development.
  4. The Blur by Minh Le. This is a picture book, and is probably more meaningful to the adult/parent reading it, but I recommend it to all new parents as it is the most precious story about celebrating special milestones and the passing of time. 

Q: What are your top 5 favorite books for toddlers?

MSB: Toddlers love interactive books! Board books are great for this age, as they are still learning how to read and use books. Five of my favorites are:

  1. Mail Duck: A Book of Shapes and Surprises by Erica Sirotich
  2. What’s for Breakfast by Stephani Stilwell 
  3. Be My Neighbor by Suzi Ultman
  4. Water Wonders: In the Jungle by Vanja Kraguli
  5. Let’s Go Shopping: Bookstore by Nastja Holtfreter

Q: During story time at school or at the library, children typically sit on the floor, rather than in chairs. Why is this and are there benefits to sitting on the floor?

MSB: Children have a hard time sitting still, and love to wiggle and move. Sitting on the floor allows them more flexibility with their bodies. I personally think it also creates a more relaxed atmosphere during storytime. As for benefits, sitting on the floor can also increase hip mobility and strengthen core and trunk muscles. That’s why floor time is so important for littles!

Q: You’re an aspiring children’s book writer. Do you have any specific topics that you want to write about?

MSB: I’m a huge advocate for diverse representation in children’s literature. I would love to write stories with Vietnamese representation and about mixed-race children and families, as I want to share stories that represent my own identity and my baby’s identity.

baby laying under a play gym on a toki mats play mat
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Customer Spotlight: MaiStoryBook

About the Author: Alice

Alice Mendoza is a copywriter and blog writer based in Los Angeles. She began writing for a baby brand while on maternity leave, and realized she had found her niche. Today, she writes exclusively within the baby space, using her BFA in Creative Writing and her own experience as a mother to guide her. When she’s not working, you can find her chasing down her toddler, going on walks around the neighborhood, or watching reality TV.

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