In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Friday, May 7, 2010

More first books for babies

Dear Aunt Debbie,

I've been wanting to write about great first books, the ones I give most often as presents for new parents. As you mention, Goodnight Moon has played a major part in our parenting life, and is one of my all-time favorites.

Goodnight Moon

Starting when Eleanor was about 6 months old and we were trying to establish a bedtime routine, I stole a great idea from a mom in my new moms group. Each night, we'd read Goodnight Moon aloud as our last book, and then go around the room saying goodnight to everything: Goodnight books, Goodnight mobile, Goodnight light, Goodnight window. It's calming, and it also makes you aware of some of the weird things you have in your kid's room: Goodnight Teddy Roosevelt (Uncle Dudley's old framed bandanna), Goodnight 50 Foot Woman, Goodnight Buster Keaton (our framed movie posters). The routine faded after a while, but now that we've moved Isabel into Eleanor's room, we've started it up again.

Every night, after Eleanor's teeth are brushed and she's ready for bed, we pick up the board book and read it together to Isabel. Some nights, Eleanor says it aloud with us -- she pretty much has it memorized. Isabel slaps at the pages and tries to eat the book as we go. (The corner of the last page is worn away from Eleanor eating it three years ago.) Isabel loves the book, especially the color pages; she really stares at the pictures. How many times have I read this book aloud by now? Easily three hundred. But Margaret Wise Brown is brilliant, and I never get tired of it. There's something about the rhythm of each line.

We have at least three copies of Goodnight Moon, one the big hardcover with normal paper pages.

Goodnight Moon hardcover (not board)

I'm pretty sure the half-eaten copy we're using now was our second board book version. Do you remember the story about Michael trying to climb into the pictures of Goodnight Moon when he was maybe 1 1/2? I don't think I remember him doing it, but my mom has told us the story so many times I have an image of it in my head: Michael putting the book on the floor, then carefully stepping on the pages, then crying, so frustrated that he wasn't actually in the room. Clement Hurd was a genius too.

The other two I want to write about tonight were, of course, gifts from you. I Kissed the Baby, by Mary Murphy, is a nearly perfect book.

I Kissed the Baby

It's super-simple. On each page, one animal asks another animal if they've done something with the baby, and the other says yes: "'I sang to the baby. Did you sing to the baby?' 'Yes! I sang to the baby, and the baby sang to me!'" The drawings are high-contrast black and white, with a little splash of color on the edge of each page, and the baby, when it appears, bright yellow. It also allows you to do the things you're reading about ("I tickled the baby. Did you tickle the baby?") as you read. I've given this book as a new-baby gift several times, and my friend Tui recently emailed me that her mom has turned the text of the book into a song, and they sing it to their baby regularly. He, like every other baby I've seen interact with the book, adores it.

Then there is the joyful and loving "More More More," Said the Baby, by Vera B. Williams, another I've read aloud so many times that I know it by heart.

"More More More," Said the Baby: Three Love Stories

It contains three stories, each about a little kid being fondly chased by an adult: Little Guy and his daddy, who kisses his belly button; Little Pumpkin and grandma, who eats Little Pumpkin's toes; and Little Bird and her mama, who puts a sleepy Little Bird to bed. The three variations are rhythmic and affectionate, with each adult lighting up and calling the child, "Oh my best little baby." Every page is alive with color. The book is also unobtrusively diverse. Little Pumpkin (whose gender is never specified) is black, while grandma is apparently white and blonde. Little Bird and her mama might be Hispanic, might be Asian, and when Little Bird falls asleep, her mama makes her a bed out of the couch. Little Guy and his daddy are white, but his daddy is hanging out at home in shorts and flip-flops. There is total joy and love on each page.

And so many favorites I've left out! I will definitely be revisiting this theme.

Love, Annie


  1. Oooh - I need to check out "I Kissed The Baby"... *Our* favorite baby bedtime book is Mary Murphy's "I Like It When" (with the penguins). It's been amazing to see Zane respond to it just as Hope did - reaching for it from across the room, giggling with delight as he settles in for bedtime. Zane of course chewed it within an inch of its life, so I'm thinking of buying a fresh copy to squirrel away for posterity.

  2. Thanks for this, just in time for a baby gift, and for expanding our bedtime routine!