I make my living as a freelance writer so it might go without saying that books and literature are an important focus in my life. My husband, a fantasy novelist and comic artist, is equally hooked on phonics. With parents like us, Babyface was always going to have a small library dedicated to helping her connect to the world around her in the same ways her parents always have.
Sure enough, she already has so many books that we’ve had to implement a toy rotation system just to keep our sanity with her books–she has relatively few actual toys in comparison. Though I’ve yet to decide how often I’ll swap her books around (I’m leaning towards a weekly system), we currently have two outward-facing shelves of books in her nursery and one tote of books in the playroom, while six clear plastic totes of books reside in our basement, ready to be swapped around as necessary. The majority of the books in our arsenal came from the baby shower, when my hosts cleverly asked guests to bring books in lieu of cards for Babyface. They include many of the classics–the Dr Seuss books and the Berenstain Bear books and many of the others GS and I grew up with. They shimmer with nostalgic energy, and I know that we are eager to share those memories with our daughter. Other books are new to our home, and we anticipate the family learning from and enjoying those books together.
Outside of books we received at the shower, however, Ginger Snaps and I have made some intentional book purchases with the goal of exposing our daughter to certain ideals at a young age. These aren’t classics–we hadn’t heard of them (though as first-time parents, perhaps that is the norm)–but we anticipate that they will become fast favorites in our family.
After a few misses with books we purchased online that didn’t quite live up to our expectations (alphabet books these days take far too many liberties with their letters!) we started purchasing books in person after reading through them. Target has become our favorite stop for more inclusive children’s literature–we’ve had to implement a Target ban until she at least gets here and is able to enjoy some of the books she has. In the meantime, if you’re curious about progressive children’s literature and some of the favorites GS and I purchased “extra,” check out Babyface’s Book Haul.
Books to Teach Her About Inclusivity
Diversity has become a buzzword these days, and I have no desire to wear it to death. What I will say is that kids can be mean to each other and that some of that meanness comes from the fear and uncertainty associated with a lack of understanding. Like most parents, GS and I want Babyface to be kind. I think of an episode of Good Luck, Charlie that hit home with me when I was a kid. The eldest son overheard what his dad said about all the kids in the family–that his sister was smart, his brother was sharp, his baby sister was adorable, and he was nice. When he confronted his father, incensed that nice was “all” that could be used to describe him, his father responded with what I think may be some of the most poignant words aired on Disney: “As a father, the most important thing to me is that my kids are good people. Kind-hearted. Genuinely concerned about other people. Nice. By that standard, you’re the kid I’m most proud of.”
Many of the parents I talk to want their kids to be nice, but when I mention making a point to teach diversity, I often hear, “They’ll learn about that when they come across it in the real world.” Why is it that we make a point of teaching our kids their letters before they “come across it in the real world,” but so often we don’t make a point of teaching them how to be kind, inclusive, and understanding? I remember being actively startled as a child the first time I saw someone in a wheelchair, terrified when I met a man who was old and infirm, and uncertain when I encountered a child my own age who was differently abled. I remember avoiding the girl in my kindergarten class who had a hearing aid, not, I think, because I was some terrible bullying jerk, but because I hadn’t been taught that other people were different from me. I want to be sure that my daughter is equipped to interact with all kinds of people, and for me, that means exposing her to all kinds of differences from an early age with the hope that the more she sees it, the more normal it is for her.
We’ll Paint the Octopus Red is a book about having expectations about a new arrival in your life and having to adjust those expectations to meet reality. Specifically, it’s a book about a little girl discussing her baby brother with her dad. When her baby brother actually arrives, it turns out that he has Down’s Syndrome. She and her dad work together to discuss what the baby can’t do based on his diagnosis, and end up learning together that, while they may have to work with him more, he can do many of the same things they were hoping for before he was born.
I love this book for multiple reasons. It brings awareness to Down’s Syndrome to children who may never have heard of it before, giving them an opportunity to ask questions in a safe environment and giving parents an opportunity to learn and discuss alongside their children. More than that, however, the book can be used as a jumping off point for any family welcoming a new child into their home. Children are never exactly who we expect them to be, and while your family may not be facing something as potentially severe as Down’s Syndrome, the book can be a great way to talk about any adjustments you may need to make to your expectations in language that is accessible to kids.
Both of these books are written from the point of view of a little boy named Toby and discuss his love for his big sister, Clemmie. She’s different from other sisters, but as Toby discusses his love and admiration for her, it becomes clear that many of her differences are also the attributes he loves most about her. The art in these books is riveting and the story is sweet and easy to follow. My husband and I both got a little teary-eyed reading Just Because. One of the things that I love about this books is that Clemmie’s diagnosis is never made explicit, nor does the name of it matter to Toby. Exposure to certain diagnoses is important sometimes, but sometimes it’s good to remember that kids don’t need to know the name of a diagnosis to understand how to treat each other with love, compassion, and understanding. These books hit the nail on the head when it comes to that.
Books to Teach Her About Emotions
My understanding of parenting is that a huge chunk of it involves teaching our kids to understand and communicate their emotions in a healthy and respectful manner. From helping children put names to their emotions to teaching them that it’s not okay to bite when they’re upset, a lot of our energy will go towards this task. I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life, and depression, anxiety, and addictive behavior runs in both my family and in GS’s family, which means that our daughter has a genetic predisposition to not handle her emotions well. As a result, our job as parents is to work ever more diligently to ensure that she learns healthy coping skills from an early age.
Already I’ve been previewing TV shows and books, trying to determine how they’ll help Babyface learn to be in tune with her emotions and manage them healthfully. Unfortunately, children’s programming often focuses far too long on unhealthy behaviors, finally having an adult come in during the 9th inning to correct and say “you should be doing this instead.”
This is one of the few books I’ve found that focuses more on positive behavior than on negative. The books mentions, for a few pages, some of the destructive things superheroes could do when they’re having a bad day, but it spends the rest of the book delving into all the positive coping mechanisms they use instead. GS found this book, and he and I both fell in love with it for that reason.
Books to Teach Her About Gender Assumptions
I’ve written before about our concern with gender assumptions, and just yesterday I read a great blog post that illustrates some of my concerns with how we codify gender within our society. Because this has been a concern for both me and GS since before Babyface was even conceived, the books in this section are some of the earliest books we purchased and have sat on our shelves for several months now, utilized already by our nieces.
Every time our youngest niece comes over, she demands one of us read her “the dragon book.” Specifically, she is discussing this book, in which a little girl uses her wits to defeat a dragon. Towards the end of the book, a prince tries to judge the little girl based on her looks, and the little girl turns it back around on him, telling him that despite his great looks, he’s a bum. I love the book because it portrays a little girls wits and cleverness as vastly more important than her appearance. Our niece likes the book because she thinks it’s hilarious when the princess outwits the dragon. It’s a win-win.
I think the thing I love most about Tough Boris is that 50% of the story is told through pictures, not words. For a very little kid, it’s a bit of a complicated idea, and it would likely take multiple retellings for them to notice the nuances of the book, but I like that it can grow with a child. The message of the story is simple but important–that even the toughest guys cry sometimes–and puts this book both in this category and in the category of teaching Babyface about her emotions.
Books That Are Really Just For Fun
Of course, the real reason GS and I had to leave Target the other day was that we love books. While some books teach good lessons and are important to have on our shelves, others are really just a delight to read. We could easily spend a small fortune on these kinds of books for Babyface, but two in particular stood out as fun books that we “had to have.”
This interactive board book encourages kids to have fun with their reading, from shaking the pages to pressing “buttons” on the book. The first time we read it with our niece, she was so well-behaved and had been so well-taught on how to respect her books, that she wouldn’t participate. It took GS and I doing the activities before she’d tentatively give it a go. By the third time we read the book, however, she was laughing out loud at its silliness. And really, any time a book can leave a kid that delighted, it’s a good purchase.
This story is about a wishing well trying to convince a little kid not to wish for a unicorn. Along the same veins of “If you give a Mouse a Cookie” series, it goes through the cause and effects of wishing for a unicorn and why it’s a terrible idea, and it’s laugh-out-loud funny in its antics. GS and I give the book bonus points because the kid who wishes for a unicorn at the beginning of the book happens to be a boy.
We have been blessed with a beautiful library for our little girl, and we’re excited to share every book we’ve received from family and friends with our daughter. That said, there were a few extra books we couldn’t resist purchasing for her ourselves.
What about you guys? What are some of your family’s favorite books, and why?