baby proof: bedtime stories.

September 21, 2015

baby proof: bedtime storiesMy enthusiasm for bedtime stories is born in part from my own memories. In our house growing up, my sisters and I would pile into one bed or another with one parent or another and read. In my mind’s ear—if you’ll allow—I can hear my dad’s voice reading Dr. De Soto. The exact timbre and gravity of his voice reading The Polar Express is etched in my brain. I’ll probably never master my mom’s rendition of Eloise—complete with high-pitched tremolo and lightening fast speed—but you can bet I’ll try.

It’s not just the stories themselves that I remember. I can conjure the particular perfume of my sisters’ and my damp hair as we lay, freshly bathed, waiting for stories; the rise and fall of my dad’s chest as he made his way through Frog and Toad; the safe comfort of the spot below my mom’s collar bone, where I’d tuck my head and settle in for another reading of Miss Rumphius.

There’s solid research that shows that reading aloud is good for babies—even very tiny ones. You’ve probably heard this. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in 2014 confirmed that reading aloud to children from infancy has direct correlation with language acquisition and brain development. As a result the internet is filled with how-tos and suggestions for parents to carve out story time for their young charges. In the past few weeks alone, I’ve seen no fewer than three blog posts on the subject. (Here’s the official guide from the AAP.) Experts and parents alike recommend incorporating regular reading into a baby’s daily activities. They say to read with emotion. And to supply sturdy books in anticipation that they might get gummed once a baby can grasp them. Repetition is good. Choice is terrific. There’s the suggestion that a bedtime story ritual can promote calm and quiet for the baby at the end of the day.
baby proof: bedtime stories But in all of the things I’ve read, there’s rarely been the suggestion that the time can be beneficial to the parents. I appreciate that this maybe isn’t the point. And I realize that my sample size of one might not be terribly convincing. (There’s two if you count James!) But I love story time. It’s a built in break from my day. It practically requires me to unwind a bit in the evening. If I’m lucky, I can disappear into another world for a half hour. I get to practice all my weirdo voices. My cockney accent is getting good. I can recite a few of our favorites from memory.

Sixteen months in, I won’t say that reading bedtime stories doesn’t take some amount of perseverance (and even physical strength). Faye tries to somersault off the bed at least as often as she lays back and turns the pages. Last night alone, I lifted her back up onto the bed from which she’d wriggled no fewer than five times. But mild wrestling aside, the time that we manage to carve out is mostly magic. It’s the moment in our day when we’re most likely to notice that Faye is trying out a new word or animal sound. It’s a chance to snuggle in close and listen to the sweet sound of her sucking on her tiny fingers and watch her twirl her hair.
baby proof: bedtime stories In building our own little library—which we keep tucked into two boxes under the cot—I try to find a mixture of books that are beautiful and thoughtful and pleasant to read. We have old books that I loved as a child and new books that have caught my eye in our neighborhood bookstore. There’s most always a stack of library books to choose from, too. I try to find books that show a range of people and places. There’s a strange preponderance of whiny kids and worn out parents in children’s books and I steer clear of those when I can. (Children might whine and parents might get worn out, but I don’t mind glossing over that dynamic at bedtime.) We have books that take place in the country, but enough that take place in the city so that things like water tanks and pigeons and windowsill squirrels also find their way into Faye’s stories.

Because some of you have asked, here’s a list of favorites in our current collection:

A few recent favorites:

Little Blue Truck: I love this book. It’s such a joyful and bouncy story with a nice rhythm and lots of opportunities to make funny voices.

Little Blue Truck Leads the Way: The citified sequel is also cute and offers more city views (and trucks and taxis).

Home: The illustrations in this book are just wonderful. Faye is enamored with the one featuring a boot-full of children. She repeatedly flips the pages backward to find that one.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be: A rhyming book with beautiful illustrations that show diverse and imaginative children.

I Want My Hat Back: Faye’s a little young to fully grasp the plot here, but she’s enthusiastic about spotting the turtle and the big bear delights her. Me too.

Bright Barnyard: This ’60s classic was re-released this year. Faye loves it. It’s a long one, but she’ll sit through the entire thing, totally entranced by the bright illustrations (and her father’s clucking).

A Funny Little Bird: This was one of the first books with an actual plot that Faye would sit through. The illustrations are lovely and the story sweet.

The Moon is Going to Addy’s House: I’m a sucker for a good-looking children’s book and this one is gorgeous—paper cutouts from marbled pages.
baby proof: bedtime stories Some oldies but goodies:

Ten, Nine, Eight: I love the rhythm of this book. “Ten small toes, all washed and warm…”And in a world that’s woefully short on children’s books featuring children of color, this one is a refreshing, if practically vintage, exception.

Freight Train: This book is an excellent way for parents to engage in a little low-stakes competitive chuggachuggachoochooing.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: I had to teach James how my dad read the line about the stomachache, because I just couldn’t hear it any other way. Now that he’s got it down, it’s a favorite. Tiny holes for tiny fingers to poke at help the attention span.

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom: I mentioned this one on Instagram the other day and was met with lots of enthusiasm. ABC’s turned fun.

Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes: Faye loves illustrations with lots of faces and this book has them aplenty.

Two confessions:

1. I sometimes fudge the language. Just slightly. I realize I have a limited timeline on this, but I’m taking full advantage.

2. We’ve finally started to graduate to regular-sized picture books. And—gasp—I’ve taken to recycling dust jackets with abandon. At first it felt like sacrilege. Now it feels smart. I’ve saved pieces of the prettiest to reuse for cards and gift tags, and recycled the rest.

Now the real point: What are your favorite children’s books?

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  • Reply Debbie September 21, 2015 at 12:09 pm

    Oh my goodness, what a lovely post! This took me back many (about 33 or so!) years, to reading to my own two children. I so loved reading to them, using all the voices etc.! My (and their) favourite was a book entitled Peace At Last – not sure who it is written by, but it was the story of a daddy bear trying to get to sleep… To this day we can all recite the entire book pretty much word for word, together with all the necessary inflections of tone ("Oh no, I can't STAND this"!). Thank you for your beautiful post. x

  • Reply Anna September 21, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    If you have the space and inclination, dust jackets can also make nice artwork for a child's room or play space.

  • Reply Marieke September 21, 2015 at 12:32 pm

    We LOVE reading with our 17 month old son. We don't read in English but in French and Dutch. We have A Funny Little Bird in French, it was originally published by a great independent French Publisher : Les Editions MeMo. You will find lots of other books on their website, I don't know how many are translated into English but some of them must be. We really like the author Emilie Vast. Malo's current favorites are A Bit Lost from Chris Haughton, the Big Book of Beautiful Babies by David Ellwand, anything with Miffy, and one of Hervé Tullet's books – jeu de hazard. Thanks for sharing your favorites, some of those will definitely be added to our little library !

  • Reply liv September 21, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    'All the World' and 'The Magic Beach' are two favorites. So pretty and I never mind reading them. Love this list. The first three have been favorites here too. Story time is sacred for our little family.

  • Reply Alexandra September 21, 2015 at 1:13 pm

    Great post. We love reading the Little Blue Truck to our 16 month old who conveniently is obsessed with trucks and farm animals… Now we've got to get started reading to our 1 month old!
    I definitely recommend Rosie Revere Engineer. It's a great book with a really nice rhyme, beautiful and colourful drawings, and more importantly a great message. I also like Iggy Peck Architect from the same author but that might be because I'm an architect 🙂

  • Reply Emily S. September 21, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    If you like the rhyming and playful Little Blue Truck, one of my absolute favorites to read is called Bubble Trouble by Margaret Mahey.

    Other favorites include: Press Here by Herve Tullet, Head to Toe by Eric Carle (which was my son's favorite book from about 18 months when he was able to learn all the actions), any of the Leslie Patricelli books, Cars, Trucks, and Things that Go by Richard Scarry, I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean by Kevin Sherry and any of the Mo Williams pigeon books get lots of laughs over here as well.

    We recently started reading Roald Dahl chapter books to our three year old and I'm amazed he will sit still and is interested! Such fun.

  • Reply sarahstaebler September 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    Omg you're so right about recycling dust jackets! I feel bad throwing them away, but I don't even like dust jackets on books I read, let alone on ones my little guy reads…he'll end up ripping them anyway. That's a great idea about recycling them for cards or other things! 🙂 Thanks so much!

  • Reply k.mandeng September 21, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    "I want my hat back" is definitely a big favourite around here. Great ideas for dust jackets! We have actually used one or two as decoration for our daughters changing table area by hanging them in simple white frames (helps keep her distracted/less aerobics required by me to put on the diaper). Our other favourites include "Press here" (very interactive) and "Olivia"(my daughter loves the simple black/white/red illustrations).

  • Reply Ashley Deitz September 21, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Anything by Mo Willems, Harold and the purple crayon, and Jan Brett books-they are almost like hidden picture books

  • Reply Ashley Deitz September 21, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Anything by Mo Willems, Harold and the purple crayon, and Jan Brett books-they are almost like hidden picture books

  • Reply Ashley Deitz September 21, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    Anything by Mo Willems, Harold and the purple crayon, and Jan Brett books-they are almost like hidden picture books

  • Reply KP September 21, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Giraffes Can't Dance by Giles Andrae … rhyme, room for many voices, great illustrations and a quite moving message. Highly, highly recommend it.

    You might also like Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers (in same camp as Ten Little Toes) — my little ones loved the images of the babies throughout.

    Both are great at your daughter's age. Bonus: No whiny mischief nor "need" to editorialize in either!

  • Reply Shannon September 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    My daughter is two weeks or so older than Faye, and her current favorites include My Friends and Bus Stops by Taro Gomi, Drummer Hoff by Barbara and Ed Emberley, Each Peach Pear Plum by Allan and Janet Allberg, the seasonal books by Gerda Muller (Summer is the favorite at the moment, but I am trying to put Fall into the rotation!), The Swing by Robert Louis Stevenson and Julie Morestad, and More More More Said the Baby by Vera B. Williams. I wish I could let go of the dust jackets on the regular-sized books; instead I tape them back together (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom just this morning!) as I try to wait out this paper ripping phase. It DOES pass, right?

  • Reply mickey1 September 21, 2015 at 3:06 pm

    You should also get a subscription to BabyBug. It's a little magazine for tinies and it is the most adorable. We keep them on hand too. They look like a little book. Our subscription just ran out, but we are getting a bit old for it. I love it so much that we might get it again!

    • Reply Emily S. September 22, 2015 at 3:48 pm

      Oh I agree! My mom gets my sons BabyBug as a gift and it is wonderful. They are great to throw in the diaper bag or car too 🙂

      They also make Ladybug magazine for the next age group, mickey1. Same company. Does Cricket (that I used to get as a child) and Spider for other ages too!

  • Reply Vanessa September 21, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    Well, I can't speak from parental experience, but last year I bought three vintage copies of Richard Scarry's The Animals Merry Christmas on eBay – one for my partner's niece, and two for my brothers and I to redistribute once our mom decides who will get her well-loved copy. It was reissued a few years ago but the new version is missing some of the original stories. The book combines some of my favorite Christmas and reading memories, and the stories and illustrations are just so sweet. Worth keeping an eye out for a copy if you celebrate Christmas!

  • Reply Boo21's Mom September 21, 2015 at 3:49 pm

    For babies, "Moo, Baa, Lalala" and for older little ones, "Miss Rumphius". I read both to my daughter and am now reading both to her 15-month-old daughter. I enjoyed this post.

  • Reply Jen September 21, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    "Giraffes Can't Dance" is one of our favorites that we read to our almost 17-month-old. My mom bought it for him when he was about three months old and we all love it.

  • Reply Emily C September 21, 2015 at 4:13 pm

    I'm seconding All the World, it's a lovely book with quite a diverse cast of characters, and it's well written too. We've been reading Owl Moon almost every night, which I didn't read as a kid but am loving (I'm an ornithologist and am so happy she's independently found she loves learning about owling!)

    A friend sent along two of her kids' favorites recently, one of which is all about the city (The Adventures of Taxi Dog) which Juniper loves more than I do, and one about an young scientist whose experiment goes very… weird… it's a fun and surreal book (June 29, 1999).

  • Reply Kari September 21, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Something to think about. Don't stop reading to Faye when she learns to read. Reading aloud is a wonderful way to connect and to foster a love of literature, even as the kids grow. We were reading aloud to our kids each evening, right up until they left for university. We would take turns, sometimes us reading, sometimes the kids reading. (That skill really helped when they had to read things aloud in school.) We all loved it.

  • Reply Becky September 21, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    This is maybe my favourite of all your posts. You've encouraged me out of mere reading. I currently love the illustrations in Gaston by Kelly Dipucchio and A Lion in Paris by Beatrice Alemagna.
    And, Kari – my partner read Three Men in a Boat to me over Skype while I lived in France. There's something very soothing about listening to a story.

    • Reply Becky September 21, 2015 at 7:05 pm

      Encouraged me to comment, rather than merely read your posts, I mean. I just realised that was terribly worded on a post about books…

  • Reply Juliette September 21, 2015 at 7:56 pm

    My daughter is 4 and she still deosn't get "I want my hat back", she thinks the bunny just gave back the hat and went on his way…. I never correct her, it is so sweet…

  • Reply marie September 21, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    If you want to see a whale – for the story and the images
    Bestiario by Adrienne Barman – for the images and the fresh way of catalog animals

  • Reply Callie September 22, 2015 at 2:06 am

    You are so right. As a working mom, reading to my 2.5 year old is one of MY favorite activities. She is a crazy reader but I think part of the reason is because I love it so much. We have a lot of these books. Look at Sun Bread and some of the Waldorf books like The Forest Children. Josephine loves these.

  • Reply Nancy Cavillones September 22, 2015 at 2:10 am

    My two year old loves In The Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak, Brown Bear, Brown Bear by Eric Carle and Go, Dog, Go by… I don't remember! My five year old loves all the Jillian Jiggs books. And I'm reading longer books to my 7 year old, like Pippi Longstocking and currently, Ramona Quimby, Age 8. My five year old actually brought home The Moon is Going to Addy's House. I loved the pictures, too. Gorgeous.

  • Reply Anonymous September 22, 2015 at 2:27 am

    You may enjoy Everyday Reading at She's a former librarian with three young daughters and her book choices are always impeccable and found at the library. Love your blog too, it's my "everyday reading" 🙂 Thank you!

  • Reply Helen C. September 22, 2015 at 5:05 am

    Wordless books are such a joy- we discovered Where's Walrus as a great early one. I crack up every time- this great big walrus hides under delicate hats or by posing in a fountain- as his zoo keeper looks for him- but M enjoyed finding him at an early age and the big shapes make it easy for the little ones. Now we LOVE Journey and Floatsam (she's 3.5, so Where's Walrus lost it's charm)– and of course, the classic, Tuesday. Those early days of struggle all pay off– one night you'll be fixing dinner and notice a quiet from the other room… and you'll walk in to see your daughter "reading" all on her own. And your heart will melt.

    • Reply Helen C. September 22, 2015 at 5:08 am

      And I second the Mo Willems comment! Piggie and Elephant are the greatest new books that fit the "I wish I had when I was young" category. And everything he touches seems to be gold.

  • Reply Katharine Paljug September 22, 2015 at 12:20 pm

    One of my favorite books growing up, which I can't wait to read to my own children, is You Be Good & I'll Be Night. It's a books of fantastic children's poems, wonderfully sweet and rhythmic, many of which I still have memorized. "You be tree and I'll be pear / Carry me carry me up the stair / You be good and I'll be night / Tuck me in tuck me in nice and tight."

    And I 100% second the wonderful memories of bedtime reading with my parents. I actually kept it up all the way through elementary school because I loved the ritual and the time together so much.

  • Reply Angela September 22, 2015 at 1:09 pm

    Giraffes Can't Dance, for sure. My son is also really into Eric Carle's "Baby Bear, Baby Bear…" Right now. For when he is a little older, I love Agatha's Feather Bed and many of Tomie de Paola's books.

  • Reply L M N September 22, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Thanks for the recommendations! I will be looking for some of those to replace some of ours that have gotten old or never were very good. We get a lot of books from our neighborhood's many Little Free Libraries. I love that the little people get to choose what to take and what to take back, but the selection is mostly not what I would choose. And I have to say that it feels like a bit of a relief to know that someone else discards book jackets. I first did it feeling smart (little hands will just tear them up, right?) and cut them up to use for scrapbooking (good way to reuse and preserve some reading memories, right?); but lately I've been feeling like I was hasty. Now I feel a little better about it (:

  • Reply Jodi September 23, 2015 at 12:21 pm

    Please get "Peepo" for Faye. It's one of our all-time favourites x

  • Reply Anonymous September 23, 2015 at 12:26 pm

    The Cat at Night and other Dahlov Ipcar books for beautiful illustrations, and anything by Robert McCloskey.

  • Reply Aimee September 23, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    We're also big fans of Little Blue Truck, and recently have found an old stash of Stephen Kellogg books. Is Your Mama a Llama is great for our 16-month-old. Boy, books are awesome.

  • Reply Anonymous September 23, 2015 at 11:02 pm

    Always such a pleasure to read you.
    I'll add a couple more to this ever-increasing list: The Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon.
    They were my favourites. Beautifully illustrated and so soothing. The message in the first one is just so heartwarming.

  • Reply Veronica Funk September 23, 2015 at 11:11 pm

    Two of our family favorites were (and still are many years later) Edwina the Emu and The Mitten.

  • Reply Cait September 24, 2015 at 2:20 am

    We LOVE Little Blue Truck! I'm so excited to hear there's a city version. I love Nancy Tillman's book, 'It's Time to Sleep, My Love.' Several of the illustrations I would love to frame.

  • Reply Juliet September 25, 2015 at 3:42 pm

    have you read Sonja's Chickens? it's a gorgeous book with a beautiful story. if you are new to Phoebe Wahl's work you will just love her!

  • Reply Haley September 25, 2015 at 9:10 pm

    We have many of the same, a favorite of mine and now my daughters' as well is Wynken Blinken and Nod

  • Reply denovojournal September 28, 2015 at 2:49 pm

    I really want to read "The Moon Is Going to Addy's House"–I've heard it's lovely and a possible Caldecott contender. Isabelle Arsenault is a favorite illustrator of mine, so I always look forward to her latest, though they're for slightly older children–my favorite thus far being "Migrant." As far as words go, though, I have to say Sandra Boynton, for all the lack of elegance, really seems to know and understand babies and toddlers. Her rhythms of language and silly twists delight little ones.

    On a totally unrelated note, I have to ask again, Where might I find a little waldorf doll like the one pictured in so many of your baby toys images? It's such a sweet little one. 🙂

    • Reply admin September 28, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      This particular doll underwent a little grammy surgery to remove a set of wings that were originally part of the design. The doll is made by a company called Nanchen! Available locally at Acorn Toy Shop and Bella Luna toys among other places!

  • Reply Nicole Krensky October 4, 2015 at 5:16 pm

    My father-in-law (Stephen Krensky) is a children’s book author and has written several books, but my recent favorites are his board books. So beautiful (vintage-inspired illustrations) and hardy for little hands, and the stories are so sweet. “I Can Do It Myself” is my absolute favorite!

    I have quite the collection going for when we have kids, and it will be so fun to tell them that Grandpa wrote the stories!

  • Reply Viky October 5, 2015 at 1:08 pm

    My girls are grown, but our favorites were Brown Bear, Brown Bear (Bill Martin, Jr. and Eric Carle) and Max the Minnow ([William Boniface and Don Sullivan). Brown Bear was great for when the girls started “reading” themselves (they had memorized the book, but felt like they were reading to us) and Max the Minnow is a lyrical, rhyming tale with you-be-you, brains>brawn, etc. themes. For example, Max gets advice from a manta ray named Morris A., who led the jazz quartet. Morris A. helped max by saying “I digs what you be askin’ me, but one thing I don’t figure, why you don’t groove the way you be, no smaller or no bigger!”

  • Reply charlene October 12, 2015 at 4:05 pm

    I loved this post and I have to say I agree it is great for the parents! I miss the days when I read to my children at bedtime, sometimes I would have to make up stories because they always said mine were better, lol! I enjoy reading to my grandchildren now, although it is not bedtime. Being close to the children and making memories is what it is all about~

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