What should be on the baby’s bookshelf?

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008 | Reading

** This article originally appeared on QueryCat.com. **

Although I am not a mother, I am a proud aunt and a literacy specialist, so I am frequently asked my all-time favorite question—what should be in the baby’s library?  Whether you are a parent, friend, or family member to the new bundle of joy, I encourage people to purchase books as gifts for baby.  Books are items to be cherished over time, and are much more meaningful than onesies and rattles.  Certainly, I understand there are necessities when welcoming a new child home, which are not to be overlooked.  Yet, there is no denying the lasting power of a book, especially when it is coupled with a plush toy, or even more crucial items such as the needed clothing, furniture, and diapers.  Think beyond baby showers, too.  Don’t forget any of the upcoming festivities and holidays, which are all perfect occasions for bringing books as gifts, such as birthdays, baptisms, Thanksgiving, etc.  Books are relatively inexpensive, and create enduring memories. 

Nowadays, both common sense and research tell us that reading to children regularly, from a very young age, and exposing them to books on a frequent basis, all have far-reaching effects on children’s overall well-being, but especially pertaining to their success in school.  I encourage people to read to children at any age, even from the womb, and as early as their first months of life.  In fact, there is absolutely no reason to stop reading together, even as the child grows older.  Evidence shows that older children, teens, and even adults love to hear books read aloud.

Obviously, you could read the Yellow Pages in a compelling way and the baby will listen attentively, although I do think some books are better than others!  While I have never considered myself a “book snob,” and I can easily be found rummaging through sale bins and yard sales scavenging for cheap books, some books are definitely of better quality than others.  There is no denying that some books are deservedly classics, so if you are going to make the investment, I would suggest some of the following titles.   

Board books… with a little extra

Before baby starts grabbing and placing items in his/her mouth, clearly any book is okay and safe to read.  However, before too long, little hands will be gripping pages and drool is inevitable.  That is why I would recommend board books.  Fine quality board books are made entirely of sturdy cardboard, with smooth, rounded edges.  In most cases, they are safe for infants and toddlers to handle, although please proceed with caution and keep an eye on the children.  Most board books are made with care and consideration of tots, however I have unfortunately seen plenty of board books that have been produced irresponsibly, with flimsy pull-out flaps and rough edges, which I would certainly not recommend.  Nearly all book stores and libraries have areas devoted entirely to board books in the children’s sections.  Peruse thoughtfully. 

When I purchase board books for babies, I often select the following.  These books are not only classics (or of considerable quality), but also sometimes come in gift sets with a little additional gift, such as a plush toy.

1.  My first choice is a classic most of us will recognize, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  Most readers love its rhythmic, repetitive prose.  This gift set comes with baby socks that are embellished with “cow jumping over the moon.”

2.  Second, who can forget the over-eating caterpillar in Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar?  This delightful set comes with a plush toy of the starving culprit.  Carle has a whimsical, unique style; he is one of my absolute favorite author/illustrators, so I think any of his books are perfect.

3.  Third, there is no denying the popularity of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, which is an endearing story reminding us that there is no contest when it comes to how much a parent and child love one another.  Since it’s the perfect bedtime story, cuddle up at bedtime with the accompanying plush rabbit in this gift set.

4.  Fourth, the lyrical language and playful quality of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen is always a crowd pleaser.  It could be fun to act this one out with the supplementary plush bear in this gift set.

5.  Fifth, is an exceptionally written and illustrated tale of maternal love in Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, which also comes with a plush owl toy. This book will easily follow children into their pre-school and early reading days.

6.  Sixth, is another classic tale most will remember—naughty Peter Rabbit, who wanders into Mr. McGregor’s garden, despite his mother’s warnings.  The exquisite text and illustrations by Beatrix Potter, all accompanied by this plush toy version of Peter, are the ideal gift.

7.  Seventh, another recognizable, timeless text is Pat the Bunny by  Dorothy Kunhardt.  You may remember that this book is already tactile in nature, yet it still comes in a gift set with a plush bunny for additional play.

8. Last, for bedtime, I would recommend snuggling up with either Time for Bed by Mem Fox, or Tell Me Something Happy Before I go to Sleep by Joyce Dunbar.  Both come with book-themed night lights in these gift sets.

Cloth Books

Another often over-looked option to the more popular board books are cloth books.  Cloth books are simply not as prevalent as board books, but they are nonetheless a great option, since they’re soft, cuddly, and washable.  As with anything else, I would be careful of choking and suffocation with these items, but cloth books provide an excellent tactile experience for infants and toddlers.

If you decide to go the cloth book route while shopping, I would suggest a popular book such as P. D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother?  This fun, playful, repetitive text captivates young children.  When I was a full-time babysitter and child day care provider in my college years, I had this book memorized!

Book Sets

On a special occasion, such as a milestone birthday, or a religious service such as a baptism/christening, please consider a slightly pricier option for book gifting, such as the following book sets.  As the impractical friend and fabulous aunt, I have been known to show up to baby showers with heavy armfuls of book sets, instead of with blankets and pacifiers.  Book sets tend to be slightly more expensive, so please shop with care, and follow the suggestions of others and your own instincts to ensure you are purchasing classic books and books of significant quality.  Perhaps most importantly, see these book sets as important, meaningful investments.  Book sets are items that families will cherish for years, and are far more poignant than lots of other gifts.  Children will grow into these books, and will treasure them for decades.  Remember, by buying the books as a set, you are purchasing several books in one keepsake box, often by the same author.

Here are some suggestions:

1.  Years ago, when my older cousin and his wife had their first child, I showed up at the baptism with the World of Peter Rabbit Box Set by Beatrix Potter.  While it’s certainly easier to throw some cash in a greeting card, I am confident this classic box set created unparalleled memories.

2.  One of my frequent purchases for baby showers is Jan Brett’s Little Library Box Set.  Since the set comes with three of Brett’s most famous books, in board book format, it’s an excellent price, and Brett’s artwork is superb with its delicate details.  This one never disappoints!

3.  Even if my other suggestions have not been familiar, here is one everybody will recognize.  Consider the Pooh Library original 4-volume set.  With the beloved, wisdom-filled text of A.A. Milne and Ernest H. Shepard’s unmatched, elegant illustrations, you’ll be the hit of the party with this gift!

4.  Trust me—I used to teach 1st grade, and my next suggestion will not only tantalize an infant or toddler with its rhythmic language, but will also be a new reader’s best friend.  The Brown Bear & Friends Board Book Gift Set is perfect for children of many ages and stages.  You can’t go wrong with any of Bill Martin and Eric Carle’s classic texts.

5.  One way to create lasting memories with the children in your life is to read nearly any text by Maurice Sendak.  There are too many to name, but I would suggest the Nutshell Library (Caldecott Collection) Box Set by Maurice Sendak, which includes four memorable books that will entertain children for years.

6.  My final suggestion is the only recommendation that may be gender-specific to girls, although there is absolutely no reason a little boy cannot enjoy the Madeline’s House Book Set by Ludwig Bemelmans.  Children adore the exciting adventures of Madeline and her friends from the girls’ school in Paris.

In conclusion…

The next time you (or one of your friends) organize a baby shower, instead of the typical wishing wells and silly games common to showers, consider having a book-themed shower, and have a box devoted just to book gifts. 

Furthermore, I would just like to re-emphasize that I am as frugal as the next person, and I am far from being a “book snob.”  As a child, I adored the simple, formulaic books my mother would purchase me from grocery stores, and I still own all of the inexpensive Little Golden Books that loved ones gave me over the years.  Also, don’t forget the library, where the books are borrowed for free!  Owning the books is certainly not imperative!

Obviously, there are far more classic picture books than I could ever name in one, simple article. I will write future articles about additional picture books to follow children into their growing years.  Last but not least, I never even mentioned the array of playful, fun counting books and alphabet books that are currently on the market.  In short, have fun when browsing in the children’s book section, and select titles that resonate with you.  Just remember that a book is a far more powerful gift than a toy the child will quickly forget.  When you buy a book, you create a sincere memory.

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