Friday, June 10, 2011

Words for the Children

My son, Cedar, loves to read. Or rather, he loves to look at books. And sometimes he likes to listen to them, too. Sometimes not. Sometimes he’d rather just turn the pages really fast. But, in any case, books are his favorite “toy.” We can pass some good chunks of time sprawled out on our king-sized mattress on the floor, reading.
Cedar is fourteen months old, but with many of the books he likes, I don’t think age really matters. In fact, I think that’s what distinguishes a good book from a great one. The great ones, anyone can enjoy. And perhaps it is no coincidence that the ones that I like, my son likes too. I’m sure it affects how often I reach for said book and with what level of enthusiasm I might read it. But that said Cedar most definitely expresses his own preferences, too.
I thought I’d share with you some of our favorites.

  1. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss: We read this one from the beginning for many, many months. No matter how many times I’ve repeated the silly rhymes, I can still get into it. (Disclaimer: I enjoy making weird noises). Cedar especially loved the “BOOM BOOM BOOM! Mr. Brown is a wonder!” page-- mouth opening, eyes widening, and hands quivering with excitement, something he’s done since he was an infant. That said, I’m also glad we finally moved on—and so was Cedar. I was starting to have to read it with an English accent or sing it with impromptu melodies or read it super fast to entertain myself.
  2. Hug by Jez Alborough: Cedar’s torn this one apart. For a while, he’d just turn back and forth between a few key pages. There are no words in this book except for the cry of “Hug” which is uttered by a little monkey in search of his mother, wandering through the jungle observing all the animals hugging. I like narrating this one in slightly different ways each time, sometimes just reading the word hug, sometimes asking “Where is his mama?” with a sad voice as the monkey travels along, and sometimes pointing out the different names of animals. Cedar is always so excited when they find each other at the end-- and the other animals hug in celebration too. It makes me wonder how much he understands.
  3. Mud by Mary Lyn Ray: This is a lush and beautiful picture book with vivid, abstract paintings of mud and toes and green. It’ simple and poetic, a pleasure to ingest, invoking the thawing of Winter and coming of Spring. Cedar had a love affair with it (with due quivering and gaping), but now it’s on the ‘rest’ cycle of our rotation.
  4. Whoever You Are by Mem Fox: “Little one, whoever you are, wherever you are, there are little ones just like you all over the world…” this book begins, with colorful, intricate (yet not too intricate for a baby to take in) and whimsical paintings of people from all different cultures doing things differently and the same (i.e. crying, laughing, going to school). It’s got a wonderful message about diversity and our shared inner humanity, but not in a preachy or annoying way. (A little man in a blue sombrero also floats around in the sky with a bunch of kids.)
  5. The House in the Night by Susan Marie Swanson is Cedar’s current favorite. Up until a couple months ago, he didn’t take much interest in this book’s wonderfully detailed black and white line etchings, highlighted with splashes of yellow (a sun and moon, a key, a bird, a light). This Caldecott medal winner has a wonderfully poetic rhythm and circular, chant-like story invoking the innerconnectedness between everything. It starts with the picture of a child being handed a key, “Here is the key to the house.” And on the next page, “In the house burns a light…”.

Cedar has plenty of other board books he likes, but I save these special, favorite ones for bedtime. That way we will not easily tire of them, and it makes bedtime that much more sacred. (Yes, it is a sacred hour when my child goes to sleep!) These books have messages for both of us-- whether it’s silliness, wonder, open-heartedness, or magic. They are messages that are meant for anyone of any age. Thank you to our dear friends who gifted them to us!

What books do you and your child love to read together?

Please share your list!

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