On Giants' Shoulders

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Babies and Books

In some families books don't make much of an appearance until after the child's first birthday. Some parents seem to find it a waste of time to try to introduce books to a younger baby. I'll admit to being one to push the envelope on this score. Our first born arrived on November 29th and I bought him books for his first Christmas. By 5 months he actually had a "favorite" book (God Made Me, which if I could only locate among the boxes in the attic I would have introduced to LW long before now!). By 11 months he would sit for up to 40 minutes listening to books. Now it was not books with story lines of course, but sing songy type books and books that labeled things. His little sister at the same age was only willing to sit still for 20 minutes worth of books, but she's more than made up for that over the years.

There are books that even now bring a smile to my face when I see them Goodnight Moon, I Am A Kitten, Millions of Cats, Paddington Bear, Make Way For Ducklings and countless others. I bought books for birthdays, books for Christmas, books for Easter, and books for no reason at all other than that there was a good book available. We also frequented at least 3 libraries, hit up the library book sales, etc. It was a very happy day when the library discarded our beloved "Isabelle and the Library Cat" (it's awaiting LW being old enough to enjoy it).We undoubtedly have a collection that rivals the children's room in our local library.

I honestly believe that introducing babies to books very very early is a really good thing. The predictable book that drives adults mad after several readings is a joy to a very little one. My son-in-law recently railed about Dr. Seuss, I'm not sure which Seuss he's read once too many times, but I heartily disagreed with him. I've read Green Eggs and Ham to more than one little child more than dozens of times to each, and the book still never fails to make me smile as well. LW is still a little too young for Green Eggs and Ham, but One Fish, Two Fish is a good choice for her right now. I was absolutely thrilled to find a lovely copy of the Berensteins' Inside Outside, Upside Down for her last fall. It was like time traveling for me to sit with a baby in my lap reading that book. The cadence with which I read it hasn't changed over the past 30 years and I still love the last line, "Mama, mama, I went to town, inside, outside, upside down."

There will be books that are far more sophisticated in the future. The day will come when the Little House Books, Narnia, and Anne of Green Gables get pulled out. However, I must admit I'm looking forward to two and Make Way For Ducklings, Katy and the Big Snow, Blueberries for Sal, The Honey Hunt, and Peter Rabbit. In the meantime, I've got to rustle up our copy of Mr. Paint Pig, Papa Small and Mother Goose. LW is about to turn one and that's a wonderful time for books as well.

For little babies it's the rhyme, and the predictable words. For one year olds the labeling becomes important. Books are a wonderful way to help a child expand their vocabulary and they become a window to a wider world. City children learn about things in the country and life on the farm. Country children learn about things like subways, and taxi cabs. Actual Bible stories, like other books with more complex story lines don't really seem to catch on until around two, but books that remind a child that God loves them, that Church is a special place, that they have a guardian angel. Those fit well sometime in the second year.

Poetry is good from the beginning. I've been singing Over In the Meadow to LW since she was a tiny little baby, but I can't wait for her to be old enough to appreciate "Whenever I Walk In a London Street," "They're Changing the Guard at Buckingham Place," "Animal Crackers," and other favorites from my own children's early years.

Children may be "carnal" lovers of books as they don't understand that books aren't for eating or ripping, but one of the joys of life is to have a little person drag a favorite book out of the stack and bring it to you to read. It may in fact be tiring for some adults to read the same story over and over again, but for me it's a reminder of G.K. Chesterton's thought that "Our Father is younger than we are." Chesterton pointed out that God says to the sun each day, do it again. So I'll continue to respond happily to "read it again."


At 2:45 AM, Blogger Sarah said...

I remember the Berensteins book! And it is the cadence that is the most memorable. I remember my dad reading Walter de la Mare poems - the poet's name itself has a wonderful rhythm, especially the way my dad read it. Our Little Man likes to play nearby as I read to him. I'll be looking up some of the books you have suggested Liz, but I won't go Dr Seuss though (I think The Grinch takes Christ out of Christmas). Sarah :-)

At 6:50 AM, Blogger Liz said...

I'm not sure that we ever did the Grinch here either, although we probably watched it on television at least once. I agree that Seuss's version of Christmas is a much more cultural one than Christian one. I love Seuss for his rhyme and outrageously funny drawings, and Horton Hears a Who is a book my pro-life friend Terry quotes regularly, "A person's A person no matter how small." I recently heard an interview on NPR about Seuss's own life that made me eager to go back and re-read some of his stuff. One of the best things about reading things like Green Eggs and Ham and One Fish, Two Fish is that they are so fully of phonics. It's a great way for a child to painlessly learn what some schools of teaching reading call "word families." It had a lot to do with making learning to read easier for my son. Yet, you don't treat it as a phonics lesson, it's just rollicking good fun. The Berenstain's Honey Hunt and at least one other of their books (the title escapes me, but they go on a picnic) have a lot of rhyme as well.

Anything by Robert McKloskey (author of Make Way For Ducklings) is good and has the added benefit of wonderful artwork as well. A book I still highly recommend to parents is Gladys Hunt's Honey For A Child's Heart. It's written by a serious Protestant and some of what she says will reflect that, but her recommendations for books are simply about the best I've ever encountered. I used her book lists to write curriculum for my kids clear into high school and some of the books I read to them I would never have discovered apart from these lists.


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