Dear Aunt Debbie,
You wrote recently about the recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that parents read aloud to their children starting in infancy (yay, pediatricians!). My good friend Emily, who last guest blogged for us about grown-up poetry for YA readers, has been thinking a lot about this idea:
One of the hardest things for me as a new mother has been
establishing so many new routines – for waking up, going to sleep, even for
making my own tea in the morning now that I’ve got an infant attached to my hip
– so when the American Pediatric Association announced its recommendation that
infants should be read to from birth, I was overwhelmed. I could barely find
time to do the laundry and now I should be reading to a being that can’t focus
Lucky for me and my one month old daughter Alice, many wonderful
friends gave us board books to celebrate her arrival. In search of a new
reading routine, I put a few of them next to the rocking chair where I most
often nurse, and a few more next to the bouncy chair where she sits in the morning,
and waited for the right moment.
My first attempt was Mary Murphy’s “I Kissed the Baby,” a
book Annie herself gave to us, which I read to Alice at six thirty am as she
sat in her bouncy chair and I sat next to her on the kitchen floor. (Long story.)
It was a hit! Four week old Alice seemed to be staring at the high contrast
pictures -- or was she just gazing at the stripes on her chair? -- and the sudden,
sing-song rhythm of my voice appeared to please her. After a few weeks of talking
awkwardly about all the random events of the day – “Now I’m putting the sheets in
the dryer!” – it was lovely for me to have Murphy’s lilting, warm-hearted text
to work with. I ended up reading the book twice, once for Alice, who
immediately drifted into a nap, and a second time for myself.
A few days later, I read “Owl Babies” by Martin Waddell and illustrated by Patrick Benson to Alice as she lay on my lap in the rocking
chair after nursing. In it, a mother owl leaves her three babies while foraging
for food, only to return -- surprise! -- in the end. Unmoved by the drama of
maternal absence and return, and only vaguely able to focus on the expressive,
high contrast faces of the three baby owls, Alice once again fell fast asleep.
I was so happy reading, though, that I continued on through Susan Meyers“Everywhere Babies,” illustrated by Marla Frazee, and cried the whole time at the simple, loving text and diverse,
beautiful families in the illustrations. Reading to infants, it seems, is perhaps
more moving to mothers than to their charges.
There are several strains of books
that Alice isn’t ready for, for instance the highly visual “Good Night,Gorilla” by Peggy Rathmann or the “Touch and Feel” sequence (we were given
“Touch and Feel Kitten” and "
Touch and Feel Dinosaur”) that includes
interactive panels (“Touch my ROUGH pink tongue”) fitting for babies who,
unlike Alice, have control over their hands. That said, the sonically oriented books
were perfect. I was initially concerned when Alice began freaking out during Sandra Boynton’s “Moo, Baa, La La La!” but it turned out she just had to burp. Stomach
calmed, she once again perked up at Boynton’s appealingly rhythmic barnyard
nonsense. In a few months, she’ll no doubt begin to appreciate Boynton’s charming
drawings as well.
All told, I can now see why the APA might have made such a recommendation.
(My wife, I should say, remains highly skeptical.) Though Alice herself is
still mostly indifferent to literature, as a parent I really enjoyed reading to
her once I’d figured out when and where it might be possible. I can also see
how a board book or two attached to an afternoon nursing session might evolve
into reading in the rocking chair before bed in a few months. Most lovely of
all, though, I found myself repeating some of the refrains from our books from
time to time, especially Mary Murphy’s “Of course I kissed the baby, my own
amazing baby.” Perhaps the APA knew what it was doing after all.
As I've said many times in the last couple of months, Alice is a very lucky kid.