Eight years ago, my mother died after 10 years of dementia.
“Because she died in hospice,” a nurse told me, “she can have a religious service.” I laughed. My mother always labeled herself an atheist, and besides, who would I ask to a ceremony, and what would she have wanted? Still I wanted to acknowledge her amazing life. So, I invited friends to celebrate her and all that she loved: Mexican food, chocolate, ice cream, scrabble and poetry. I shared stories about her creativity and eccentricities.
As my mother was dying, I learned I would expect my first granddaughter. Seven months after the celebration that I’d come to call “My Mom’s Party,” I had a baby book shower for my son and daughter-in-law. Guests brought foods that they loved as children or that their children had loved.
And each brought a children’s book that was special to them. Together we celebrated the baby-to-be and built a library for read-aloud adventures. A special magic came from sharing stories and all of us joined in celebrating life and reading. These two events bookended my year.
My daughter, Emmy, was far away in Vietnam when these events took place, but now she’s pregnant. Last month, she and my son-in-law came to visit. She, in her second trimester, agreed to a baby book party. There was different food and new titles, but the same magic occurred as guests gave the parents-to-be books that their families had loved. This became a celebratory sequel affirming parents, children, reading and shared experiences.
Baby book parties don’t just make a library and instant connection among guests possible. They send a message, a belief in how family reading builds closeness.
If you’ve got a child or friend who’s pregnant, consider this form of celebration. Here are suggestions for gifts along with classic and new books. Don’t limit yourself only to baby books. Choose books with longevity. Remember you are building a library to support years of reading for years to come.
Mood changer books
▪ Singing books can cajole children out of fits or into sleep. Recommendations? Karen Beaumont’s “I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More” is a new board book (Houghton Mifflin). Sung to the tune of “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More,” this silly song with outrageous illustrations by David Catrow features a creative child who can’t stop painting his body parts.
Other suggestions include “Twinkle, Twinkle, Dinosaur” by Jeffrey Burton (Simon and Schuster) and Sylvia Long’s “Hush Little Baby” (Chronicle).
▪ Calming books are quiet books to be read at day’s end. They set the scene for settling down. Recommendations? Barbara Berger’s soft metaphorical picture of day’s end, “Grandfather Twilight” (Philomel); Sandra Boynton’s rhythmic “The Going to Bed Book” (Simon and Schuster); Sandra Howatt’s “Sleepyheads” (Little Simon) and Mem Fox’s “Time For Bed” (Harcourt).
Books for learning
▪ Colors: Eric Litwin introduces colors in a rhythmic story that invites participation, “Pete the Cat: I love My White Shoes.” (Harper)
▪ Body Parts: Karen Katz has diversity of babies and body parts in “Where is Baby’s Belly Button?” (Little Simon)
▪ Animals and their noises: Alice Schertle’s rhyming “Little Blue Truck” (Houghton Mifflin) introduces a can-do vehicle whose “beep” greets animals. Their sounds invite joining in just as much. There’s magic in the flap book by Elsa Mroziewicz’s “Peek-a-Who?” (mini-editions).
▪ Counting: “Countablock” (Abrams) is an original chunky board book that contains images while it counts to 100.
Books to invite participation
▪ Rhythmic books with refrains are a sure bet for young children. Two classics are Bill Martin’s “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” (Simon and Schuster) and Don and Audrey Woods’ “The Napping House” (Harcourt). There’s fun in the new “Five Little Monkeys Get Ready for Bed (Houghton Mifflin)
▪ Children love these books that require active participation: Mo Willem’s repeated “No!” response in “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” or guessing animals with the aid of rhyme and clues in Eileen Christelow,“Is Your Mama a Llama?” (Scholastic)
Pick some favorites
Make sure to include your child’s favorites. My daughter’s favorites included books at all levels.
▪ It thrilled me that her favorite was the chant-rich “Men at Work” (Harper), which included women in a construction story.
▪ Mem Fox’s “Koala Lou” (Harcourt) provided sweet reassurance in the story of a koala who wonders about her mother’s love. I changed the chorus to “Emmy-lou.”
▪ When my daughter’s baby is born, I’m going to send her a collection of A.A. Milne’s “The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh” (Dutton). We laughed so hard at a particularly long sentence that it became a memory.
The books you write
I kept two fairly complete baby books for my daughter and handed them over when she visited. She read both cover-to-cover. I was delighted that she received a similar recording book, Lea Redmond’s “Letters To My Baby” (Chronicle). I hope one day, her daughter will read it with the same joy.