Ever was born in March of 2011, and we made a point to start reading with him as soon as we brought him home from the hospital. At first reading with him was easy, because it didn’t matter what we read. I read him articles from Linux Journal, selections from a thick book about programming in Python, and a few stories from The Way of Chuang Tzu. Ever was happy with all of these, as long as I kept holding him and he kept hearing my voice. But soon he became more aware of the words we were saying, and we had to find more appropriate books. It didn’t help that Linux Journal only had pictures of computers, the Python book only had text, and the Chuang Tzu book only had a few small line drawings. We kept an eye out for children’s books at garage sales, and Ever’s grandparents sent him books from when Erin and I were younger. We now have a couple shelves full of books just for Ever, and we already have some favorites. The books that have been on steady rotation throughout this first year have been On The Day You Were Born, Everywhere Babies, No Matter What, and several others.
On The Day You Were Born
I think On the Day You Were Born was the first book we read with Ever. On The Day You Were Born tells Ever that the whole world – all the plants and animals, and the planet itself – were happy for his arrival:
On the eve of your birth
word of your coming
passed from animal to animal.
The reindeer told the Arctic terns…
I am a math and science teacher, so I was happy to see text that is poetic but grounded in scientific understanding, and illustrations that are beautiful but also scientifically accurate:
On the day you were born
gravity’s strong pull
held you to the Earth
with a promise that you
would never float away…
The illustration accompanying this passage shows a cross section of the planet. There is a hot core at the center of the planet, a layer of solidifying rocks surrounding the core, and a green crust with a few rivers of blue at the surface. A baby stands on the surface holding a single flower in the middle of a garden. The baby has both arms and one leg reaching up to the sky, but one foot is firmly anchored to the surface of the planet. The whole text has this same mix of poetic imagery with a basis in factual accuracy.
Erin’s favorite book so far is Everywhere Babies. It is a simple book, reminding us that the wonders happening in front of our eyes every day are happening all over the world:
Every day, everywhere, babies are fed
by bottle, by breast,
with cups, and with spoons,
with milk, and then cereal,
carrots, and prunes.
The book is honest, acknowledging the many different ways babies are taken care of around the world. We find ourselves quoting from Everywhere Babies from time to time, and making up our own variations on the book’s theme. The book never mentions crying, but sometimes when Ever is crying I find myself reminding him that “Every day, everywhere, babies are crying.” We then talk about why it’s okay for babies to cry sometimes, and how we are always looking out for his best interests, even when we let him cry about some things.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Ever probably hears Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? at least once a week. He might even want to hear it more often, but he is not old enough to ask for a particular book yet.
Brown Bear, Brown Bear,
What do you see?
I see a red bird
looking at me.
There are large illustrations of each animal mentioned in the book. These are classic Eric Carle illustrations; if you don’t know him by name, you will probably recognize his style when you see the book. Ever loves to look at and touch the different animals’ features: the red bird’s wings, the yellow duck’s bill, and the green frog’s eyes. The book has a nice repetition to it, which makes it a fun book to give to people who want to read with Ever. Ever has had Brown Bear read to him by his grandmother, his aunt, his mother, and me. We all have our own style of reading, and it has been enjoyable to hear each other’s different reading styles. It reminds me that Ever will hear about the world from many different people, and someday develop his own perspective on the world. I also find myself inventing lines for this book when I find him looking at different things throughout the day. “Ever boy, Ever boy, what do you see?” “I see my mommy looking at me!” He smiles big when we say these kinds of things to him, and it’s pretty satisfying to see him recognize ideas that have been read to him from books.
No Matter What
Each of these books has an important message. In No Matter What, a baby fox is grumpy and thinks his mother couldn’t possibly love him anymore. His mother tells him she will always love him, no matter what. The baby fox imagines a number of amusing scenarios and asks if his mother would still love him:
But if I turned into a squishy bug,
would you still love me and give me a hug?
There is a funny illustration of a green bug sitting at the dinner table, trying to slurp a bowl of soup through his proboscis. His mother assures him that yes, she will always love him, no matter what. The illustrations are beautiful, and the story is timeless. This is a book I believe Ever will love throughout his childhood.
Mama, Do You Love Me?
Living in Alaska, we had to have a copy of Mama, Do You Love Me? In a theme similar to No Matter What, a young Inuit girl struggles to understand the depths of her mother’s love. She asks her mother how much she loves her, and how long she will love her. She asks her mother if she’d still love her after dropping the family’s ptarmigan eggs, and:
What if I put salmon in your parka,
ermine in your mittens,
and lemmings in your mukluks?
The little girl learns that she is her mother’s Dear One, and she will be her Dear One forever. I think it was after reading this book to Ever that I began calling him Little One, which I still love to call him.
Reading is not very easy
Reading to Ever is not so easy these days. At first we could read him anything, because he just needed to be held throughout the day when he was awake. But as he has grown older, he is less content to just sit and listen. If it were up to him, he would eat every book we hold in front of him. So paper books are out for now, while board books and teething books like Flutter Fly are in. I enjoyed reading things like The Way of Chuang Tzu and Programming Python when Ever was really little, but now I enjoy the board books just as much. These are clearly becoming the books that he will remember hearing from his childhood. I am really looking forward to hearing his thoughts about these stories as he begins to talk, and to seeing which books he chooses for himself when he is able to.