I know, I know– writing again so soon? An embarrassment of riches, isn’t it? Here’s the thing: a) I’ve found that writing here is very effective at getting my general writing muscles moving, which is good news for the old dissertation; b) I went to the Children’s Book Shop in Brookline today, which means that I’m bubbling over with inspiration.
Why was I in Brookline? Well, you see, I have five babies who were either very recently born or are coming into my life imminently. The Changeling’s birthday is also coming up soon, and I elected to give the four kids coming to her party books instead of loot bags (easier and more fun for me, and hopefully more lasting on the other end than the usual ephemera in loot bags). So that meant I had nine people in my life in dire need of picture books. Which means I basically got to go to the bookstore and have a complete blowout. It was fantastic. There’s no way that buying online would have been half as fun as browsing those shelves, seeing what was new, and recklessly adding everything that hit my “I love this” button to the pile.
And so, having recently exercised it, I want to share my baby-present-buying process with you. First of all, is there an older sibling in the picture? If so, I almost always give the family Here Babies, There Babies because I think it’s great for introducing a toddler or little kid to the wonderful world of babies. Another book I like to give pretty much every family is A Child’s Garden of Verses, just because it lasts so well: it’s useful from babyhood up to reading it to your own baby.
But apart from those two staunch comrades there’s the rest of the world of books. My philosophy of books for baby presents is to get books which will speak to the parent, because, well, honestly, anything you’re reading to a newborn you’re reading for yourself, really: the baby just wants to hear your voice. I remember reading Eleanor Farjeon and Shakespeare to the Changeling. She didn’t care, but it was fun for me and the cadence soothed her. So get books the parents will like and will grow with the kid. That meant that I got an animal-loving family Big Cat, little cat and Madlenka’s Dog, for example. Another family is getting The Way Home in the Night.
Let’s take a look, though, at a few of the new-to-me books which struck me as being perfect for families to grow into together.
Consider Emily’s Balloon by Komako Sakai. The story goes like this: Emily gets a balloon, and she plays with the balloon all day. When the wind blows the balloon into a tree, Emily is heartbroken. She had planned to eat supper, brush her teeth, and go to bed with the balloon– what will she do without it? Her mother promises they’ll get the balloon tomorrow, but Emily isn’t comforted until she sees the balloon is still in the tree waiting for her, gleaming like the moon. It’s a tender, ever so slightly sentimental story of childhood love for something so simple as a balloon, but what hooked me was the wistful longing at the end: few children’s books dare to have such unresolved endings, leaving you on the note of her hope for tomorrow. And then there’s the love between mother and daughter, too, perfect for a new mother to read.
If you want something that sits right on the boundary between funny and sweet, then Love Is by Diane Adams and illustrated by Claire Keane is the book for you or that new baby in your life. The illustrations tell the story of a little girl who finds a homeless duckling and raises it for a year, but the accompanying text can be applied to so much more. It begins a bit more specifically: “Love is holding something fragile, tiny wings and downy head,” which nevertheless seems as applicable to a downy new baby as to a duckling, and carries on to the much more general, “Love is in familiar voices, feeling lost, and being found.” Every line, however has something to tell us about love, both to the new parent and to the child. I love imagining an older child reading it to a younger sibling, too. And the funny pictures of the duckling’s antics will keep children of any age enthralled.
This one isn’t going to be a baby present– it’s going to be an instead-of-loot-bag treat: Rain! by Linda Ashman, illustrated by Christian Robinson. This is exactly the kind of story that’s perfect for Christian Robinson to illustrate: witty and clever with lots of room for the child’s personality to come out. And he does a stellar job here. We have two main characters: an elderly gentleman and a little child. The grumpy gentleman is quite miffed with the rain, while the child is thrilled to get to be a frog in the rain. The two go their own ways until they literally run into each other in the coffee shop, where the gentleman’s encounter with the child makes him rethink his approach to a rainy day. Funny and sweet, I can’t wait to see how my Changeling’s friend enjoys it! (Maybe I’ll read it to the Changeling first, just to give it a test drive– what do you think?)
So that’s how today’s shopping trip went. How was your day?
And I just realized– there are three birthdays coming up, and all those kids need presents. What could make a better present than a book? I wonder what I could find…