Books and babies

When I began to think about the phrase “books and babies,” it immediately reconfigured in my head to the tune of “love and marriage.” “Books and babies, books and babies…” It got stuck in my head, which was unfortunate, because the next line to come to mind was “go together like a bat and rabies.” I’m not sure Frank Sinatra would approve. At any rate, when the lovely and witty mama writer Katey of Kateywrites asked me to do a guest post for her series Raising Readers Monday, I knew exactly what I wanted to explore as my topic: books and babies.

Image of mother and her infant son sitting in a chair reading

Reading with my son when he was 2.5 months old

Below is a snippet from my post:

It is never too early to begin reading to babies. Even newborns. They benefit from the visual stimulation of the pictures before them, the rhythms of the words and narrative, the act of being held and cuddled, the sound of a parent or caretaker’s voice. As far as literacy goes, babies begin to learn about the orientation of a book, the way the pages turn, and that books have particular sound patterns that go along with them, long before they can even fully absorb a story.

Enjoy the cuddles, and don’t worry if your baby wants you to turn the pages quickly. Just because they are speeding through doesn’t mean they aren’t enjoying it, as well. It might mean exactly the opposite, in fact! My son loved the collages and rhythms of Dancing Feet! by Lindsey Craig and Marc Brown long before he had the patience to listen to every word. But that didn’t matter. Eventually he wanted to hear all the words, too, but in the meantime we skipped around or did a speed reading version, which made me laugh. It remains one of his favorite stories. Above all, have fun when you’re reading together with your baby. Have fun watching them read with others, too. Have fun watching them decide story time isn’t for them on a particular day and crawl or scoot or squawk at the library instead. Parenting a baby…it’s a precious time, an anxiety-ridden time, a time that I wanted to speed read on some days, and on other days to linger on each page, each word, each image.

Read the full article, which includes suggestions for making book selections for the youngest readers, interpreting your baby’s opinions on books, and ways to incorporate story into your child’s life. Take some time to explore Katey’s blog! I have already learned so much from her, and am honored to share a small corner of her online thought space.
Image of a toddler sitting on his mother on a couch while they read together

The second I lay down on the couch, my 18-month-old toddler, rocking some stylish bed head, runs over with one of his favorite books and climbs up.

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Parenthood

Photo of shadows of a family on sandAn old friend recently reached out on Facebook for perspective on having children. She wondered in particular how parents stay sane in the face of things like explosive diapers, extensive sleep deprivation, childhood illnesses, and the need to find and then pay babysitters to do anything without a child in tow. She explained that while lots of parents she knows say their kids are the best thing that ever happened to them, she could not see how she would overcome the aforementioned obstacles. Her questions and comments struck me for two reasons: one, their honesty — I think a lot of people have these questions and wonder why people assume having children is a good thing rather than just the next logical step at a certain stage — and two, I think she has picked up on something. Yes, plenty of parents do think and say that parenthood is the best thing to ever happen to them but not many expound on that. It is a lot easier to vocalize the frustrations of another sleepless night than the reason having a child is so wonderful. Plus, based on my very unscientific observations on the social media I inhabit, snark is a lot more “in” than sincerity. Complaints are or can be funny. Talking about love and joy, not so much (or at least those subjects take a lot more work). There is also the presumption, I think, that parents don’t need to explain to other parents. But for what it’s worth, here is the gist of the response I gave my friend.

I don’t judge anyone who doesn’t want kids. There are as many reasons to not be a parent as to be. (Furthermore, not having children does not make your life childless. Some of my child’s most ardent and adoring fans are dear friends who do not want their own children.) For me, though, having a child has been an exercise in falling in love, the greatest love of my life. There has been all the excitement, leveling of expectations, and attempts to be the best version of myself. More sleepless nights, yes, although it hasn’t felt so very different than college exhaustion-wise and from all accounts will probably last about as long per child. The reasons for the sleeplessness are different, and the responsibilities are greater, but exhaustion is exhaustion as far as I am concerned. However, no other person has the ability to make my heart explode with joy so many times a day. Or my throat tighten as quickly if I see them hurting. To make me feel like a superhero or like the most helpless creature on this planet. I have never had more fun or felt as humbled. The diapers, night wakings, illness, and babysitters, they’re all temporary. There’s probably a reason that those things coincide with the phase in which your kids love you so hard and so openly it can blow your mind. Thus far, parenthood is another type of education. High investment, high return, and the lingering hope that I don’t go utterly broke in the process.

Is my child the best thing that ever happened to me? Yes. “Best” is a misleading term, though. It sounds easy and obvious. Likewise, my “worst” days as a parent, the days when I feel most challenged, still contain more love, joy, and pride than any single day prior to becoming a parent.

When My Baby Dreams by Adele Enersen

Cover Image of When My Baby Dreams by Adele EnersenEnersen, Adele. When My Baby Dreams. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2012.

Plot:  We all know that babies are expert sleepers. But what do they dream about? A new mother gives readers a glimpse into her baby’s imaginative dreams through playful photographs.

Point of View: 1st person (mother)

Theme: Babies, mothers, sleep, dreams, dreamscapes, photography, imagination

Literary Quality: Originating in Enersen’s popular photo blog, this picture book uses the author’s photographs to illustrate the dreams of her baby, Mila. Whether dreaming of playing in a forest, of being a bee or a butterfly, or of traveling around the world, Mila’s dreamscapes are composed of soft materials such as blankets, clothes, and carpet with accents like books, stuffed animals, and balloons. The spare text narrating these whimsical scenes is brief enough to hold the attention of babies and young tots, who will most likely enjoy the variety of familiar and unfamiliar words, concepts, and animals, as well as pointing out the baby in each image. The changing pastel page colors also help maintain the soft and subtle tone of this book. Sweet and visually interesting, When My Baby Dreams shows readers yet another creative way to tell a story. Read more about Enersen’s process of making the photographs and book here.

Audience: Ages 0-8. A picture book whose content appeals to the youngest readers and their parents, but that also might inspire some older siblings to imagine (and draw pictures of!) their newest family members’ dreams during all that sleepy time.

Personal reaction: I found When My Baby Dreams to be full of charm and adorable without being overly sweet. I appreciate the way that the short text, use of color, and a simple, repeating layout keep the emphasis on the photographs, allowing the story in each scene to truly shine through. I also couldn’t help thinking that Mila seems like an especially cooperative baby!

Mommy Loves by Anne Gutman and Georg Hallensleben

Cover image of "Mommy Loves" by Anne Gutman and Georg HallenslebenGutman, Anne. Mommy Loves. Illustrated by Georg Hallensleben. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2005.

Plot:  This story begins with a timeless theme: “All mommies love their babies.” Each page then describes a mommy animal who loves her baby animal, and helps young children count from 1-10.

Point of View: 1st person (although it could be 3rd person until the final page)

Theme: Babies, mommies, mothers, children, love, affection, animals, baby animals, numbers, counting, board books

Literary Quality: This board book uses a popular theme among children’s books – animals and their babies – to convey a simple and universal message: all mothers love their children. Repetion of the “Mommy…loves…” phrase on each page with different types of animals provides a soothing rhythm for babies. In addition to the more commonly seen animal pairs such as cats and kittens, dogs and puppies, Gutman includes pairings of less familiar animals and their babies such as hedgehogs, mice, and fish. The number of babies in each illustration increases from one to ten, accompanied by the same printed number painted in the corner of each page. These details, along with Hallensleben’s bold and colorful oil paintings of the animals, make this book a wonderful choice for infants and toddlers. Interestingly, the original French title, Les Chiffres (Hachette Jeunesse, 2001), puts more emphasis on the counting and concept aspect of this book than its English translation, which focuses on the motherly love element.

Audience: Ages 0-4. This is a board book babies can grow with, and parents might even learn a couple of new baby animal names!

Personal reaction:  Mommy Loves is the first board book I picked out as an expectant mother, and I look forward to sharing this sweet and gentle story with my baby. I love the combination of Hallensleben’s rich paintings, the simple and comforting text with some unusual animal choices, and the counting concept.