Monday, November 07, 2011

Favorite Baby Books (Birth-12 months)

Life with a young child means never having the time to do all the projects one would wish. When I get a free moment to blog, it is going to be for my family to hear about my child, and this project takes a seat in the waaaay back of the bus. Today's post will serve as a two-fer, as we discuss great baby books.

I was inspired a few months back by a post entitled, 10 Books To Capture Your Baby's Attention. It is a Mom-tested, Baby-approved list, with some thoughts about what her baby seemed to like about the book, and around when.

Today, I would like to attempt the same, using my daughter's favorites from birth to 1 year.
Fire Truck by Peter Sis (board)

 This was the first book I ever read with my daughter, when she was about 1-week-old. I have discussed this book on this blog before. It is a book about a boy who loves fire trucks so much, that one day he wakes up and "becomes" a fire-truck. (My husband loves that is essentially The Metamorphosis for kids - with a happier ending. And hey, fire trucks!) The illustrations are simple and high contrast, using minimal backgrounds and only the colors red, yellow and black. Very eye-catching to even young babies. And it is still an absolute favorite at 14 months. We were thrilled to receive a new copy for her birthday, because we now have a stroller copy and a home copy.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (board)

This is the classic baby shower gift book. Everyone owns this book. Usually in multiple copies. I still had it memorized from when my youngest brother was a toddler. We used this as a sleep-aid of a book when my daughter was a newborn. And sometimes she really did just drift right off to sleep. She certainly did the first few times, and my husband called it magic!

(Later, she needed longer books and we moved on. I should really find our copies and resurrect them, because she would be interested in the pictures she never actually saw in those first few months.)

 Baby's First Books (soft books)

(My husband insisted that I include these on the list.)
We received these books as a present before my daughter was born, from some friends of mine with 4 kids. They are washable soft books with different sensory pieces in each book, and high contrast illustrations. The key book for us was Cute As A Bug!, a book with Papa Bug, Mama Bug and so on. One page is baby bug, which has antennae surrounding a mirror. When our daughter was 3 weeks old, and my husband was away on a business trip, my mother suggested we put something on the changing table to keep her entertained. I put that page and thus mirror-[our baby's name]  was born. Mirror-[baby] was very important, and if she fell down, woe to the person who let her fall (and then had to climb under the changing table to retrieve it). Many motor skills developed on the changing table over the early weeks and months as our daughter started manipulating mirror-[baby]. Mirror-[baby] finally got separated from her book about two months before my daughter turned one. I will still find that page popping up in random places around the house to this day. 

Sheep In A Jeep by Nancy Shaw, illustrated by Margot Apple (board)

 "Beep! Beep! Sheep in a jeep on a hill that's steep." Instant love from my daughter when we first read this book in those early weeks. Don't think a baby under 6 weeks old can fall in love with a book? Oh, yes, they most certainly can.

The simple, rhythmic and rhyming language comes naturally to small babies. They love that kind of cadence (which is why nursery rhymes are so common with infants). We learned as she grew older, that if you add comments that seem to fit in with the story's flow, you have to keep including them forever! In our case it is lines about the bird (i.e. "Sheep shove. Sheep grunt. Sheep don't think to look up front." But the birdie does!) Before she even got to 6 months old, she would look very confused if someone else read the book and didn't include our extra lines. Wonder how mad she'll be when she learns to read?

This book disappeared in our house for a few months prior to her birthday, but she was very happy when it reappeared one day from under the couch. Still a keeper at 14 months.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Soft Book (toy)

When my daughter was around 1 month old, we decided to check out our local independent toy store. Well, on her first trip to a toy store, we had to get her something. I found this squishy, crinkly, shiny, squeaky, soft book version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It has one image per page from the original book. This was probably the first object my daughter reached for when she started reaching for objects. In particular, the page featuring the shiny apple with a small caterpillar popping out. She learned about turning pages with this "book", and even that she could find her favorites if she turned pages (long before any other kind of "object permanence" emerged). It even kept her occupied in her car seat for about 20 minutes on Thanksgiving while we tried to figure out how lost we really were (she was about 2.5 months, and not prone to occupying herself for such long stretches). Interest in this book probably waned around 7-8 months.

And as a side note, when she was 5.5 months old, she was given a plush version of the caterpillar that was almost as big as she was. Her eyes went wide as saucers that her little caterpillar had grown so big. She clearly recognized it. She was treated to her first reading of the real story, and she was rapt with attention. She had no idea there was an actual story attached to this little toy of a book.

The Tale Of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter (hardcover)

I have discussed this book on this blog in an earlier post. My Great-Aunt gave this book to my daughter when she was 2 months old. One night while waiting for a bottle to warm, I tried reading it to my little 2.5 month old. She listened to the whole thing and promptly fell asleep! I was surprised to say the least. A few months later it had become our standard bedtime book, read every single night. Now, at 14 months, it is not our bedtime book every night, but it is certainly a favorite. She will bring this one to be read at many times of day. But if we are going to be traveling, or at a family gathering that will last beyond her bedtime, it is a must to come with us.

Beatrix Potter books come down to language and size at this age. I doubt my daughter has spent much - if any, really - time looking at the illustrations. There's a cadence to it that appeals (although after the umpteenth time reading any of her books, you will cringe whenever you get to her plethora of "presently's" and "quite" anything), and thus far the two stories we have are largely interchangeable as far as my daughter is concerned. (With a slight preference for Peter Rabbit.) She definitely likes that the books are like older kid picture books, or what Mommy and Daddy read, but just the right size for her hands.

Peek-a Who by Nina Laden (board)

This one arrived when my daughter was about 3-4 months old. It is such a simple concept and wonderfully executed. Each page (including the cover) has the same asymmetric hole to let the following page peek through. The left hand text is "peek-a," and when you turn the page you see the image and the word "moo" (cow), "boo" (ghost), "choo-choo" (train) and so on, until the final page which is a mirror (peek-a you!).

You simply can't go wrong with peek-a-boo and mirrors. Plus, since it is a sturdy board book with die-cut holes, there is no worry of the baby ripping off the flaps or pages like there is in most manipulative books. This is also a stroller favorite of ours, and still a favorite at 14 months. I gave a friend a copy of this book at a baby shower when my daughter was about 10 months old. I had trouble carrying it around the bookstore without a meltdown, and I wisely brought my daughter's copy with us for when the mama-to-be opened the gift.

Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee (board)

We received this book in the same gift package as the previous one, somewhere around 3-4 months. Each two-page spread shows babies doing everyday things - eating, being rocked, playing and so on. The text repeats, "Every day, everywhere babies...", and rhymes, "...are born. fat babies, thin babies, tall babies, small babies. Winter and spring babies, summer and fall babies." The illustrations are usually many small vignettes on a page of different babies doing similar things in a myriad of ways. Some are full two page spreads, such as the different ways babies are carried, which shows a street scene.

My daughter definitely liked the rhythm of the language, and looking at all the babies doing the same things the she did, or that she saw other (older) babies doing. This book went into the mix as a bedtime/naptime book. Although, if we were reading it as part of a sleep ritual, we would often skip the page about eating, lest she decide she was hungry instead of sleepy! After a few months, this became a book to look at individual pages, instead of reading straight through.  I can't remember when interest waned on this one. Maybe 10 months? It is somewhere in the house, and I suspect that if I found it, there would be renewed interest at this point, now that pictures and word-books are such a hit.

The Napping House by Audrey Wood, illustrated by Don Wood (board)

My daughter was introduced to this book in a class probably around 5-6 months old. I hadn't really thought of this one as a baby book before then, but the babies liked the rhythm. I bought us a home copy, which turned out to be a good plan. (Not so much for my husband. The first time he picked it up to read to her was an extended middle of the night wake-up. It looked like a bedtime book, and started out promisingly. Boy was he surprised when that flea bit the mouse and started the chain reaction of everyone waking up rather exuberantly!)

This is a book in the vein of "The House That Jack Built," where each action builds upon the next and the chain of story gets longer. "There is a house, a napping house, where everyone is sleeping. (next page) And in that house, there is a bed. A cozy bed, in a napping house, where everyone is sleeping. (next page) And on that bed, there is a granny..." The illustrations are great as well, and will carry your child into many years of finding new things to love about this book. As babies, it is definitely the rhythm of the language that has them paying attention. This is one you will memorize. (And yes, you can use it at sleep-time, you just need to be aware of the switch in the middle and keep your tone soothing and even. Unlike my poor husband who got caught off guard, and undid the nice sleepy cadence he had going.)

Still a favorite at 14 months, and I don't see that changing for a long time to come.

But Not The Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton (board)

Oddly, though this has been one of my husband's favorites to give at baby showers and as new baby presents, we didn't purchase a copy for our daughter until she was 6 months old. This one is cute, silly, and rhyming. The opening page is "A hog and a frog cavort in a bog. But not the hippopotamus." It goes on like that until finally the hippopotamus gets to join in... but not the armadillo! It's silly good fun, and as a parent you can just read it straight or do a lot of extending with this one as your child gets older. Still a favorite of both the 14-month-old and the daddy. Sometimes a stroller book.

You Are My Little Cupcake by Amy E. Sklansky, illustrated by Talitha Shipman (board)

I still don't know why I bought this one in the first place. It's the kind of cutesy, treacly book I usually avoid. But the cover was so darn appealing with the happy baby, and the shiny, bumpy cupcake wrapper that it just caught my attention in the store. Each two-page spread has two sentences about the baby, relating back to the cupcake theme, "Your smile is a sweet as frosting. Your snuggle can't be beat." The pictures take you through a baby's day (although the gender and ethnicity of the baby and parent changes between pages) with a happy baby and parent pair.

I bought it when my daughter was 6-7 months old. I think I cringed when I actually read it aloud the first time, wondering why. But she loved it. She likes it a snuggly book. At first she liked to look at all the pictures of babies and parents. As she got older, she would bring it to me, climb in my lap and happily snuggle as I kissed, hugged, tickled or whatever was happening with the babies in the book, and related it back to her day. ("That baby is taking a bath in the big girl tub with her daddy, just like you will do when Daddy gets home.") And she always likes to run her fingers over the cover. Still a favorite for snuggling at 14 months, and I have grown to cherish it.

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter (hardcover)

This is our other Beatrix Potter book. My daughter received it from that same Great-Great Aunt when she was about 7 months old. Largely interchangeable with Peter Rabbit from her point of view. In fact, this morning I found her flipping through the pages (and not ripping them, which is a feat for a 14-month-old) and saying something that sounded a lot like "Peter Rabbit" on each page.

Moo, Baa, La La La! by Sandra Boynton (board)

Obviously, we are Boynton fans in this house. More of her silliness, this time surrounding animal noises. "A cow says moo. A sheep says baa. Three singing pigs say la la la!" Not quite sure when this came into our house. Probably in the 6-8 month range. I know that it got used in a class that we were taking, but we already owned a copy. This was a stroller book for many months. It is still in rotation, and she still asks to read it, but I wouldn't call it a favorite anymore at 14 months. I don't think it will fall out of favor, though.

Gossie by Olivier Dunrea (board)

This book came into our house when my daughter was about 9 months old. I took it out of the library as part of a storytime I was running for 2-5 year-olds. But my daughter was immediately attracted to the small size (I had picked up the hardcover edition, which is about the size of your average board book), and large, bright illustrations. The language is simple, "This is Gossie. Gossie is a gosling. A small, yellow gosling who likes to wear bright red boots." The story is all about the things that Gossie likes to do in her bright red boot, and then her frantic search when she thinks she has lost them. In the end she makes a friend, and we are introduced to another gosling who appears in the other books in the series. (So far, none of the other books in the series have held the same appeal to my daughter.) Given the simple language and large, high contrast illustrations, I think this book could be good for babies of any age, no need to wait until 9 months.

We had to buy a copy of this one after it turned out she wanted to read it every day. Just like Gossie wears her boots every day. It went into heavy naptime rotation. For several months. I already had the book memorized by the time I ran that storytime a week or two later. It never became a stroller book because I really didn't need the book along. We haven't used it much recently, but I suspect if I brought it out again we'd be back at it.

The Little Red Hen by Byron Barton (board)

This book came into our house in a similar way to Gossie. I picked this one up for my daughter on a library trip around the same time, so 9 months. My father had always enjoyed telling a version of this story when I was little, and I thought my daughter would like the repetitive language and the simple illustrations in this version. It became quickly evident that she would love the library copy to death if I didn't buy one of her own. It didn't hurt that her favorite thing to eat at the time was crusty bread! (If you don't know the old story, it is about a chicken who finds some wheat seeds and asks her friends to help with the planting, tending, reaping, and baking of the resulting wheat. They always say no until it is time to eat the fresh bread. But the little red hen eats it all herself - with her 3 baby chicks in this version - because they didn't help.)

I like to extend this one by talking about what the other animals are doing instead of helping. ("Not I," squealed the pig. [etc] The cat and the duck are far too busy getting a ride from the piggie. Then I will [do whatever] said the Little Red Hen. And she did.) This one gets lots of love, and we are probably due a new copy. While she doesn't yet do the "mine mine" thing at 14 months in general, she will go after any other kid in the library who is reading this book.

Bear In Sunshine by Stella Blackstone, illustrated by Debbie Harter (board)

I bought this one at 11 months. It was an impulse buy when she woke up in an expensive children's shop, and realized she was surrounded by stuff she wanted to have. Plus, well, as a librarian I am always happy to buy books, so it's not like my 11-month-old manipulated me into anything there! I grabbed it because it is colorful, and Barefoot Books is a very good publisher, so I knew that whatever it was, it would probably be good.

This is one in a series of books about Bear. This one is all about seasons and weather. There is not much in the way of text, "Bear likes to play when the sun shines. Bear likes to sing in the rain.", but the illustrations are wonderful. Everything is awash in colors, and there are a myriad of nice touches in the details, such as a page where various nursery rhyme characters cavort in the background. This is one my daughter likes to look at herself, taking in all the colors.  

Toes, Ears, & Nose! by Marion Dane Bauer, illustrated by Karen Katz (board/lift-the-flap)

While we have had this book in the house since the baby-naming, my daughter never showed much interest in it until a week before her birthday. (Just snuck into this list!) It is a lift-the-flap book with various body parts covered by articles of winter clothing. One morning she just picked it up, and started looking under the flaps, and asking me to play peek-a-boo with various pages. She completely destroyed the first page by the end of that day (despite my attempts to tape things back down). This has lead to interest in other manipulative books, but that is really a later stage than this list is meant to cover.

And there you have it - high contrast illustrations to stare at, straight through to manipulating flaps on her own. One baby's first year in books.
This entry is cross-posted here at Dreamwidth.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

"Postcard" From New Zealand

On Saturday we received our first "postcard" from New Zealand. Actually, it was an impressive packet from a homeschooling family. (Now I feel a little guilty about only sending a postcard!) There was indeed a hand drawn postcard from a 6-yr-old boy of the sun and Mercury's orbit.

The packet described many cool projects that the family works on, complete with pictures. Photos of robots they have built, as well as prehistoric animals such as Arthropleura and Opibinia constructed out of recycled materials. You can see some videos of their robots and other projects at Chaos - It's Not Just a Theory. Rounding it off was a booklet of the boy's drawings of bugs.

Ahh, but this was meant to have book suggestions, was it not? Fear not, there were 2.5 pages of book covers to peruse. And here is the list:

The Mousehole Cat by Antonia Barber
Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian
Amos & Boris by William Steig
Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca
Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson
Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
A Collection of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories
Olive, the Other Reindeer by J. Otto Seibold
Comets, Stars, The Moon, And Mars: Space Poems and Paintings
Babar Visits Another Planet by Laurent de Brunhoff
Tawny Scrawny Lion by Gustaf Tenggren
The Secret Staircase by Jill Barklem
Bob Books by Bobby Lynn Maslen

And one Australian book: For The Love of Vincent by Brenda V. Northeast

A nicely varied list, I have to say. Interestingly, I had been thinking of looking for an illustrated version of the "Just So Stories," so that's a nice place to start. And I had no idea that Babar ever visited another planet.

I wonder what will show up next?

This entry is cross-posted here at Dreamwidth.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

International Postcard Swap

I am participating in this year's international postcard swap run by the children's lit blog Playing by the Book:

The idea is to swap children's book recommendations with families who have children roughly the same age as your own. I sent post cards to families in Germany, Australia, Chile, the UK, and Texas. Being from Boston myself, I went out and bought postcards with a picture of the duckling statues in the Public Gardens from Robert McCloskey's classic Make Way For Ducklings:

But then it got interesting - how does one choose books to recommend to families in another country? I decided that the books/authors I chose should be fairly popular here in the US, but not old standards/classics. The really classic books here in the US may already be old hat even in other countries. But there needed to be some hope of the families being able to check out these books if they were interested in doing so.

For the family in Germany, I lucked out. I wanted to recommend Mo Willem's Knuffle Bunny (or any Mo Willems really) to their oldest child. When I checked online, I discovered it had been published in Germany just this past January as Knuffelhase:

Now I await my 5 postcards from around the world.

If you were choosing books to recommend internationally how would you choose? Or, alternately, which books would you choose for international families with children from 0-4 (the range I had)?

This entry is cross-posted here at Dreamwidth.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reading To Older Children

I love listening to stories. I love it when I'm being read to, and I love a good oral storytelling performance. I will admit to being less fond of audio books, particularly when it comes to novels for adults. But as a kid, I loved listening to the records where you listen and then turn the page of a book when you hear a chime. (And if you miss those old 45s or cassettes, take a look at for several hundred digital recordings free for your listening pleasure!)

I came across a blog entry the other day, entitled Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids. It has an excellent list of reasons, including allowing your child to hear books above their reading level (but not comprehension), and increasing the variety of books your child soak up. But what caught my attention was the idea of making memories.

I am an oldest child, and I vividly remember my parents reading books with me all the time. But as I recall, the nightly bedtime ritual ended somewhere around the time I was 6 or 7, when my mother and I were reading our way through the Narnia series. After that, the bedtime ritual became a thing between my parents and younger brothers. (Although there was many a time that I read the bedtime books to my youngest brother instead of my parents.)

Since I was eldest, and always had my nose in a book anyway, they probably thought there was no need. However, there was one time of year that guaranteed I would hear my mother read me a story, and for a full week: Chanukkah! I can even remember being in high school when she was ostensibly reading to the brother 8 years my junior, but it was always me that asked for the story, and I eagerly awaited this ritual every year.

The book we read was fun - a silly and somewhat educational book about Chanukkah: The Animated Menorah: Travels on a Space Dreidel"

It had a story for each day, so this was a treat to savor. There was a joke that my mother would have to record herself reading this book when I went off to college.

Time marches on, and it has been nearly two decades since my mother read aloud to me at Chanukkah. In college I would come home, and occasionally sit down with my youngest brother and read to him: The Boggart by Susan Cooper, the first Harry Potter book when it was new. And this was when he was in middle school himself.

As an adult, I have made part of my living reading aloud to kids, and telling stories to kids and adults. I treasure the storytellers out there still honing their craft and telling stories for everyone to share. It brings me the same sense of wonder I felt as a child, when people read aloud to me.

As a mother, now I am the one making memories for my daughter (or will be once she gets old enough to remember these times together). I hope to continue these long after she is reading on her own, if she will let me.

What are your favorite reading memories as a child? What memories have you made lately?

This entry is cross-posted here at Dreamwidth.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Babies and Books

Your humble author has returned, and hopefully for real this time. Much has transpired since the last post, and I hope you will excuse my lengthy absence. I am no longer working as a children's librarian, as I am now spending my time as a stay-at-home mother to my daughter born in August of 2011. And it is about babies and books that I wish to touch on today.

Before having my own daughter, my knowledge of babies and books came from two places: family lore, and my schooling as a librarian.

When asked by a patron about books for their baby, I would dutifully explain about high contrast images, nursery rhymes, and the rhythm of story. I would explain how the concept of "book" as pleasurable object was probably more important than the "right book" at that age. I pointed them to excellent resources such as Brooklyn Public Library's First Five Years pages, where they break it down so nicely. And so on.

As to family lore, well, as legend has it, my father apparently read me The Hobbit and the whole Lord of the Rings saga as a newborn/infant. When I began to talk, I would point at trees, and say "hoom!"

This was my starting point. And I had big plans for my daughter. I would read Alice's Adventures In Wonderland to my "peaceful newborn." And then we would move on from there.

Well, my little darling had some medical issues that sucked all our time and energy, and she's a feisty high energy girl. I think that now, at around 8 months, we're still at the same 2 chapters that we were in that first month. Perhaps parents of more placid babies have better luck with such things.

But my daughter is still the child of a librarian, and she does love her books. From the time she was about 1-week old, I began reading her Peter Sis' Fire Truck:

It's still a favorite, and she surprised us all when she was maybe 4-5 months old, and my father and I were reading it with her. On the page where it lists all the items the fire truck holds (1 driver, 2 ladders, 3 hoses etc), she began placing her hand in the right spot just before we read the next item. She really does pay attention!

My biggest surprise in regards to babies and books has to be her bedtime book. We started with Goodnight Moon when we first wanted to try a bedtime ritual. A classic, and a good first choice. But it's not long enough for my daughter, and we found ourselves doing it over and over in one sitting. After a number of tries, we have landed on The Tale of Peter Rabbit by Beatrix Potter:

We were first given this book by my Great-Aunt when my daughter was about 2.5 months old. While waiting for a bottle to warm, I decided to give it a try. I did not expect my high energy 2.5-month-old to sit still for the whole thing. But she did. She was rapt with attention. And at the end, she softly drifted off to sleep. (Of course, I wanted her to eat so this was a bit of a problem!)

And now we read it every night. She may not sit for more than a page or two of another book during the day (on her most high-energy days), but Peter Rabbit is a must. And whether she wants to go to sleep or is fighting it, she waits each and every time for Peter to get out of that garden.

I still stand by the advice I gave my patrons, and still give to new parents. What matters most is that you do read aloud to your baby, no matter how young. But your baby may surprise you by having strong book preferences from an extremely young age, like my daughter did.

This entry is cross-posted here at Dreamwidth.