When we moved into our fixer-upper last fall, the first (and only) piece of furniture that went in what would become the nursery was our largest bookshelf. Before we had figured out a crib, or a rocking chair, or a place to change diapers, I was determined that this little girl needed our largest bookshelf for baby’s first library.
I didn’t anticipate how much I would overthink filling those shelves. The middle grade chapter book collection and YA selection were on point, but she was sorely lacking any picture books or basic reads. What’s to overthink, you might wonder. Well, in case you don’t know me too well, the answer is apparently everything.
In my adolescence I loathed board books (yeah, I was a weird teenager who had opinions about board books. I write a book blog. What did you expect?). Ten pages about opposites on crummy cardboard pages with subpar illustrations or stock images of farm animals? No thanks. I’d read them to kids I babysat, scoffing as I imagined how my future literary offspring would only be read lovely, respectable picture books, printed on standard paper with normal binding.
Then, when I found out I was pregnant, I started noticing how small children interact with books. I have three nephews (2, 2, 1) and one niece (4) with two more nephews on the way. These kids love books. But the little ones are rough on books. I’ve witnessed plenty of kids chew on them, throw them, stand up in the middle of story time and walk across them. They get excited to turn pages with their cute little not-fully-developed fine motor skills and tear pages in half. Sticky fingers leave jam and plenty of other substances across beautifully illustrated pages when they eagerly point to a character they love. I want the excitement and the love and the interaction. But kids loving books early on means lovely paper books get a little beat-up in the process.
So a basket of durable, short and sweet board books found a place on the bookshelf.
Guess what? They are wonderful. I’ve been gifted with board book editions of Dr. Seuss and other great evergreen reads, some of the amazing BabyLit board books, and recently couldn’t pass this up at Target. Board books, it turns out, are pretty great.
The Internet is full of lists on building a library for baby. But I just can’t seem to get excited about a lot of the repeat suggestions on these lists. Eric Carle and Eric Hill and Kevin Henke and Corduroy and Paddington and Madeline and Dr. Seuss, sure. I’m on board.
But, not to upset the whole baby literary cannon or anything, but does every child really need a copy of Goodnight Moon? Or I Love You Forever? Or Pat the Bunny? Do generations of children really love these books, or do people just like buying them because that’s what you buy? Better yet, if I take a pass on purchasing these reads, have I robbed my daughter of some sort of cultural rite of passage?
My first instinct was to buy all of the books I remember loving as a child. A few in particular were hard to find, so I scoured AbeBooks and Amazon for used copies of some out-of-print favorites.
But then the first of these nostalgic purchases showed up in my mailbox. It was…duller than I remembered. The illustrations weren’t as vivid and captivating, the story seemed less imaginative. Like trying to binge-watch a favorite old cartoon on Netflix, I realized the books hadn’t aged quite as well as I’d hoped. Several of the books I loved as a kid didn’t have that special something that made them stick as an enduring classic of children’s literature. Now, some have held up: Make Way for Ducklings, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Alexander’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, Officer Buckle and Gloria, Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, and so on. But some are just…okay.
I’m sure our kid will be disinterested in some but love others regardless of my opinion. But now, I’m trying to avoid forcing nostalgic aspects of my childhood onto my unborn daughter. She’ll have new books and new movies and new toys that she loves, and that’s wonderful. Her childhood doesn’t need to replicate every element I liked of mine to be great.
Don’t get me started on varying editions of fairy tales and folklore, nursery rhyme collections, the pros and cons of bind up editions, or introducing diverse role models. Yeesh.
Just simplify this for my poor neurotic brain: what picture books, old and new, do you think are a necessity for building a baby’s library?