We are experiencing a baby boomlet in central Indiana, borne out (hah!) by both the sudden length of the birth announcements in the local paper and the increase in sales activity in our board book section. If I were more of a detective, I’d probably investigate the increase in local “activity” about nine months ago… which was during a spell warmer than usual January temps, but full of thunderstorms, heavy rain, and lots of evenings just perfect to stay home. Our NFL Colts franchise quarterback (and great reader: check out andrewluckbookclub.com) underwent shoulder surgery that month, and our NBA Pacers maintained a rather uninspiring 8th place in the Eastern Conference Division, just enough to predict that we’d probably make the playoffs, but we’d probably have to play Cleveland early. All in all, it was a good month to stay home and work on personal relationships.
There’s a charming custom that has grown in recent years to present expectant parents with the favorite books of all the guests at their baby shower. I love this tradition, both as a bookseller but also a sentimentalist (and I suspect that those two things are mostly the same). I love the idea of family and friends participating in the nighttime ritual of reading to baby through selecting the very stories that they enjoyed reading to their own kids, or even the favorite childhood books of the new mom and dad. Often, a visit to the board book section is a reminiscence of evenings in the rocking chair with a new little person, reading quietly aloud long after small eyes have closed, just to breathe in that wonderful baby smell and watch them dream.
Here’s a short list of favorite backlist titles in the baby section that are often wrapped and ribboned at our store, and I’d love to hear yours, too:
Babies love faces. Researchers note that newborns will look at faces (or any image with two eyes and a mouth) longer than any other image, a trait believed to be hard-wired into infants to promote an early bond with their caregiver. I certainly bond with the faces in all the books in this series (Global Baby Girls, Global Baby Boys, American Babies) and suggest its inclusion in every stack I wrap for a new nursery.
It’s the rhythm and the rhyme here that keeps this book in my short list of all-stars. Stories for very young people which ask a repeated question with a changing answer are using a surefire formula for success (“she hangs by her feet, and lives in a cave, I do not think that’s how a llama behaves”) that will be chanted without benefit of page turn.
Little Guy, Little Pumpkin and Little Bird should be in every baby’s friend group, for their grownups love them. The gorgeous art in this book is at once simple and striking, capturing the exuberance of the demanding toddlers (more! more!) and the affection lavished upon them by doting family. This is just the feeling that I think we want childhood to hold, and parents and caregivers to echo.
Jamberry (by Bruce Degen, HarperFestival) is longish in text, delicious in rhyme, and simply bursting with fantastical images (“raspberry rabbits and a brassberry band, with elephants skating on strawberry jam!”) and pure love of language. This is a book which pairs perfectly with the rock, rock, rock of the nursery chair, and will later be poured over by a child on the floor, delighting in a parent tripping over “raspberry, jazzberry, razzamatazzberry” and suggesting ice cream (which I always crave upon reading this title.)
Owl Babies (by Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson, Candlewick) Not only is this a favorite suggestion for baby showers, but it’s my “go to” gift for the birth of a third child. Sarah, Percy, and Bill are perfect representations of birth order (Sarah, the oldest, optimistic and brave; Percy, the middle child, practical and adaptable; and little Bill, who steadfastly repeats that he “wants his Mommy.”) The nighttime setting and the darker pages are good contrast to many infant books with white and pastel pages, and the reassuring message that “Mommy will come back, what’s the fuss?” is pitch perfect. (Blogger’s note: I really, really wanted to include the image of my worn copy from 2001, with the original black cover, but the blue is nice, too.)
The Snowy Day (by Ezra Jack Keats, Viking) is a classic not just because of its awards (Caldecott Medal, 1963) and millions of volumes sold but because of the sense of wonder and possibility it explores, which in a not-so-perfect world are the core themes of a happy childhood. The combination of Keats’ collaged illustrations and perfectly pared down poetry is a reminder of the power of the small, the quiet, and the simple. As a child of the midwest, and a mom raising children in snowdrift country, this book captures all the excitement of the best day of the year: the day of the first big snow.
Good Night, Gorilla (by Peggy Rathmann, Putnam) is my very favorite for three reasons: first, it features my favorite animal. (No, not the hyena.) Second, the spare text allows the caregiver to tell the story using words that are familiar to the listening child, and later, for the child to “read” the story back to an adult or a younger sibling, without bothering with hurdles like “sounding it out.” Finally, the story ends as most nights did at my house, with a pile of sleeping children all in one room… dreaming of the stories we would read tomorrow.