2.16.2015

Children's Books For My Son's First Birthday . . . and our current favorites.

I intended today to be a post on Octavia Butler (and also a catch-up on my missed Object Permanence project yesterday — expect that later this evening) but I became utterly distracted children's-book-shopping on the internet for my son's first birthday coming up in March. I love children's books and I am going to share my excitement with you!
From "May the Stars Drip Down," by Jeremy Chatelain;
illustrated by Nikki McClure

We are a low-key family when it comes to birthdays, and we are especially low-key when it comes to a birthday we know he won't remember. I will make some cupcakes, and, if we are very lucky and the weather is warm, we will go outside under the trees and have presents, cupcakes, and singing. Guests will include me, his Papa, his auntie who lives close by, and maybe a grandparent or two. Oh, and his teddy bear.

As far as gifts, my husband is making a little something in the wood shop, and I just can't help myself with the books. I set a strict budget (it should probably have been stricter, but . . . books!), which worked out to four books.



Reading is the greatest pleasure in my life, next only, perhaps, to a long conversation with a loved one. I want to truly share a joyful experience of reading with my son, not just be a spectator to his experience. Therefore, I am very deliberate about buying books for him that I think will be a joy for both of us. Sometimes these are books I loved as a child and sometimes these are books I've come to love as an adult.

Picking out books for a one-year-old is tricky. It's not as if he can follow a story yet. His favorite book right now is Pat the Bunny; he is especially captivated by putting his finger through mummy's ring, tugging on the bunny's fur, and looking for the baby in the mirror.

Nevertheless I am always on the hunt for books for him. I tend to buy used, and in huge armfuls. I raid my parents' house for childhood favorites. Sometimes, as when I bought him Pat the Bunny, I go to a bookstore on a mission. Sometimes I want the freedom to buy just exactly the right thing and so I go to the internet.

Celestial Pablum, by Remedios Varo
I can't use the word "pablum" without
imagining this painting.
I try provide him with an even mix of male and female protagonists. I try to include racial and ethnic diversity, which is much more difficult than it sounds (and a roundup of "diverse" children's books I love may be the subject of a later post). Given all of that, I also try to pick books based on delight, not "politics" (I really hate the framing of diversity as "political," but we'll roll with that word for now.) I want beautiful, compelling art. I want well-written stories. I reject pablum.

Given all that, one might conclude that children's book-buying is, for me, a joyless and painful task. Not at all! There are so many riches to be found.

These are the four currently making their way to my door. 

1.) May The Stars Drip Down, by Jeremy Chatelain; illustrated by Nikki McClure (see picture at the top of the page.)

More than any of the three books that follow, this book is for me. I love Nikki McClure; she's probably my favorite contemporary artist. This is a sweet bedtime book, the words to which are the lyrics of the song by the same name, from the band "Cub Country." This is the sort of bedtime book I love to share, a book that feels like a prayer. I'm not teaching A. spoken bedtime prayers like the ones I learned growing up. I'm starting to tell him the things I'm grateful for at the end of the day as I put him to bed. Sometimes I light a candle and we have some silence. But I still like to send him to sleep with my blessing, and books like this help me do that.

2.) Umbrella, written and illustrated by Taro Yashima.

From Umbrella, by Taro Yashima
This was one of my childhood favorites. For her birthday, a little girl receives an umbrella and bright red rainboots — then she waits with great excitement for the first rainy day.

I loved rainy days as a little girl, I loved the watercolors in this beautiful book, and I think this might have been my first exposure to poetry:

“ On the umbrella,
raindrops made a wonderful music
she never had heard before —

Bon polo
bon polo
ponpolo ponpolo
ponpolo ponpolo
bolo bolo ponpolo
bolo bolo ponpolo
bolo bolo ponpolo
bolo bolo ponpolo ”

3.) Life Doesn't Frighten Me, by Maya Angelou, illustrated by Jean-Michel Basquiat.
Untitled, by Jean-Michel Basquiat

I'm not sure there's much I can say about how delightful this book is. The text is a poem by Maya Angelou, written “for all children who whistle in the dark and who refuse to admit that they’re frightened out of their wits.” The drawings are energetic, intense, and just scary enough to make the text seem important. Life is scary, and a paean to whistling in the dark is just the right antidote.

4.) Fox's Garden, by Princesse Camcam

This is a wordless picture-book about the kindness of children. As much as I love words, I also love chances to let go of words. This is made easier by the beauty of these illustrations. I have a soft spot for paper-cuts, for snowy winters, for odes to small kindnesses, and of course for foxes.



Of course we have some old favorites, too. This is what we are loving together right now. 

All of these (except for Pat the Bunny, which is its own thing)we have in board book form, which is perfect for this time of life.

1.) Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt. See top of the post.

2.) The House in the Night, by Susan Marie Swanson; illustrated by Beth Krommes. The most beautiful children's book we currently owned. I cried the first time I read it. (I was pregnant!)

3.) Runaway Bunny, by Maragaret Wise Brown; illustrated by Clement Hurd. I love this so much more than Goodnight Moon that there is no comparison.

4.) We're Going On A Bear Hunt, By Helen Oxenbury and Michael Rosen (or: how to make a bouncing game last a full five minutes!)

Come back this evening for my Object Permanence Project latebreaking Valentine's Day edition!