baby shower book

How to Make Sure That Your Baby Shower Book Won’t Get Returned

Don’t follow the leader! Find a way to make your baby shower book stand out from the pack…

There was recently a post on Brightly (a site I’ve been writing for) that I really liked – “8 Baby Shower Books That Won’t Get Returned” by Janssen Bradshaw. Not only did it offer some great gift book suggestions, but it also got me thinking about the subtle politics that go into buying a friend a really great gift book for their baby shower. Because, let’s be frank, you WANT your book to be the favorite. You want your book to be the hit of the shower. And, more than anything, you don’t want your book to suffer that fate worse than death for a gift book – to be returned, with a stack of similar books, for (shudder) store credit.

So, how do you make sure that your baby shower book stands out from the pack? For starters, don’t buy anyone Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, Guess How Much I Love You, or any other standard shower staple. Yes, they’re fantastic books, but they’re PREDICTABLE. Any bookish parent worth a damn is going to get ten copies of those titles from ten different people. They’re the baby shower equivalent of the letters Pat Sajak gives you as freebies during the final puzzle of Wheel of Fortune.

What other advice can I give you? After reading Bradshaw’s article, I took to Twitter the other day to list off some of my favorite tips for buying baby shower books. Some are no brainers, some are super-passive aggressive, and a few are borderline evil. But they should give you a decent idea of how to plan out your baby shower book purchase and ensure that your book finds a place of honor on their child’s bookshelf for years to come.

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If you want any specific ideas for other superior shower books, here are a few suggestions I’ve had in the past:

Five Great Board Books That Aren’t Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny
Building a Library for Friends: Great Starter Books for Your Best Friends’ Baby

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[read the rest of the post…]

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Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same

Just in case you were wondering, Grace Lin’s “Ling and Ting: Not Exactly the Same” is one of the best kids’ books about twins I’ve ever read

A few months ago, I found out that two of my best friends in the world were having a baby. And not just “a baby”, they were having twins – twin girls – after years of unsuccessful attempts to get pregnant. Needless to say, I was overjoyed, just completely over the moon for them. But then… all my OCD impulses kicked in and I immediately thought, “Oh man, I have to make sure those girls have a decent selection of reading material.” So, for the second time, I embarked on an attempt to “build a library” for a new baby (or babies, as it were).

I used the same methodology I used for my own daughter – I would buy one book a week during the pregnancy and I would try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts. (Goodnight Moon, Runaway Bunny, anything that’s available at Target, etc.)

However, a few weeks into the pregnancy, my friends turned to me and said, “Hey, remember that whole one-book-a-week thing you did for Charley? We’re doing it too.” I laughed hysterically, said “Good to know!”, and pulled out the eight-or-so books that I’d already bought them. Fortunately, we hadn’t doubled up on any of the books – but they’re twins, so I feel doubling up is OK – and it just reaffirmed my long-held opinion that my friends are AWESOME.

But it didn’t stop me from buying the books. All it did was add another variable to my selection process. So now I buy one book a week, try to stay away from books that they’d probably get as baby shower gifts, and try to stay away from books they’d buy themselves. (And I’m being a little more diligent about saving the gift receipts as well.)

They’re in around their 20th week of the pregnancy, so I haven’t finished my “40-week library for friends” yet, but I thought I’d share what I’d bought them so far to give you some ideas about buying books for expectant parents. (I’ll share the second half of my library list after the twins are born.)

If asked to “build a library” for the children of my very best friends, these are some of the books that would immediately rise to the top of my list. Yes, it’s subjective and selective and built around my own weird variables – there aren’t any Mo Willems books on the list yet because I wanted to see how many Pigeon books they’d get at their baby shower – but I think ANY of these books are great places to start.

If you’re building a library for a friend or even just looking for some great baby shower gifts, these books are definitely worth checking out. (Some of these books have been covered on the blog before, so I’ll provide links to the longer write-ups.)

1. My Friends by Taro Gomi

My FriendsLast September, I called My Friends “an ideal bedtime book. Truth be told, I literally read My Friends to my daughter at bedtime every single night I put her to bed from when she was five months old until she was about 15-months-old.” One of the best board books in history, in my humble opinion.

2. Press Here by Herve Tullet

Press HereLast November, I called Press Here “a fairly amazing book because it doesn’t wow its audience with a story or with particularly flashy illustrations, but rather it draws readers in with interactivity, with humor, and with that drive that comes with all printed books – the drive to see what happens next, to see what’s happening on the next page.”

3. Animalia by Graeme Base

AnimaliaWe actually don’t own a copy of Animalia ourselves – I don’t know if my daughter has ever read it – but it is simply one of the most expansive and beautiful alphabet books that I’ve ever encountered. Graeme Base has created this gorgeous tapestry of images, a collection of widescreen fantastical images of animal life, each accompanied by short alliterative phrases like “An Armoured Armadillo Avoiding an Angry Alligator.” I love the idea of taking the 70mm Cinemascope beauty of Base’s illustrations and plopping it in front of a young child. It will blow their minds. And they’ll think the alphabet is a million times more interesting than it actually is.

4. Jamberry by Bruce Degen

JamberryEasily one of our most read board books of all time. I don’t what makes Jamberry so appealing to young children, but my daughter loved it. The story follows a boy and his bear best friend berry-picking and wandering through a variety of berry-inspired landscapes. We start with “One berry, two berry, pick me a blueberry” and, as the boy and the bear head out “looking for berries / berries for jam”, the verses quickly pick up steam. The whole book is a crescendo, throwing the friends into one bigger situation after another, escalating to the point where their travels involve marching bands and elephants figure-skating on jam. And every page of Jamberry is just teeming with berries in every way, shape, or form. It’s a lovely, energizing book to read out loud and, in my experience, kids love Bruce Degen’s visuals of his odd little berry universe.

5. The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs by Paul Galdone

Little Red HenLast November, I wrote an article about “The Difficult Task of Introducing Your Kid to Folk Tales and Fairy Tales” and one of my recommendations was to steer kids towards “anything in Paul Galdone’s Folk Tale Classics series.” Galdone is a tremendous author and illustrator and his “Folk Tale Classics” represent some of the best retellings of “classic” stories that I’ve ever seen. If you want your kid to grow up with a firm knowledge of everyone from The Gingerbread Man to Red Riding Hood, Galdone is your man. For this library project, I went with two of my daughter’s favorite editions of Galdone’s folk tales – The Little Red Hen and The Three Little Pigs.

6. Bink & Gollie by Kate DiCamillo and Alison McGhee, illustrated by Tony Fucile

Bink and GollieBack in September, I waxed rhapsodic over the second Bink & Gollie book, Two for One, but the original is just as good, if not better. With Bink & Gollie, the authors – Kate DiCamillo, Alison McGhee, and Tony Fucile – have created a George & Martha for a new age. It’s a beautiful, hysterically funny look at friendship. As I mentioned in my review of Two for One, “I’ve been meaning to write about the original Bink & Gollie for months now (and I still probably will one day), but it’s one of those books that is SO good that it’s actually intimidating to write a review of it. How can I possibly convey the depth of the warmth and humor in Bink & Gollie in a simple blog post?” That’s all still true. This is a home library essential.

7. Frederick by Leo Lionni

FrederickI have never, ever encountered a book that does a better job of explaining the importance and value of art and artists than Leo Lionni’s Frederick. It takes all of these abstract concepts like art and emotion and, through the travails of these brilliant little collage mice, makes them easily understandable for young readers. This is a STAGGERING book with an amazing message, and it’s fun to read too. My daughter loves it. [read the rest of the post…]

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The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

One of the best kids’ book about creativity that I’ve ever read…

At the end of June, I attended a technology and education conference in San Diego and had the great fortune to meet Peter H. Reynolds, a fantastic children’s author and illustrator, perhaps best known for his picture books The Dot and Ish, at the Upstart Crow Bookstore right next to my hotel. I detailed my family’s first exposure to Peter Reynolds in a post back in February about Plant a Kiss, a really warm, inventive picture book illustrated by Reynolds and authored by one of my daughter’s favorite writers, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

In that review, I commented that:

Illustrator Peter Reynolds is also a pretty big deal in children’s lit – his picture book, The Dot, is supposed to be fantastic – but, I’d admit, he’s one of those children’s book creators whom we’ve somehow missed entirely. Plant a Kiss is actually the first Peter Reynolds book we’ve ever read (it won’t be the last)…

After reading Plant a Kiss, during our very next trip to our library, my daughter saw a copy of The Dot on the shelves and, recognizing the artist, asked if we could check it out. Three weeks later, when we had to return The Dot to the library, my daughter brought the book over to the children’s librarian and asked if they had any more books by Peter Reynolds. Coming from a five year old, that’s a fairly huge endorsement.

Ish by Peter H. Reynolds

The sequel ain’t half-bad either…

Reynolds is a bit of a renaissance man. Aside from writing and illustrating his own children’s books – titles like The Dot, Ish, So Few of Me, and The North Star – he’s also illustrated the Judy Moody series by Megan McDonald, Someday by Alison McGhee, and a whole host of other titles by authors like Rosenthal, Gerda Weissman Klein, Bob Raczka, Eleanor Estes, and Judy Blume, among others. As if that’s not enough, he’s also the co-founder of FableVision, Inc., a “turn-key educational media developer and publisher committed to creating positive programming and products that help all learners navigate their full potential.” (I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds fascinating.)

There are many reasons why I think my daughter really liked The Dot. It’s a wonderfully illustrated story. It has a very relatable protagonist – a young girl named Vashti, who is convinced that she simply CAN’T draw. And it has a very strong message at its core about creativity, confidence, and using art as a means to express one’s self.

Personally, one of the major reasons why I liked The Dot so much was because it was came along at the perfect time in my daughter’s life. My daughter just graduated from kindergarten back in June and she was one of the younger students in her class. (Just FYI, new parents – the debate surrounding whether you should send children with late-in-the-year birthdays straight to kindergarten or to a “Young Fives” program first is EASILY the most contentious parenting issue I’ve ever encountered. Certain parents go NUTS when the topic is brought up. I understand about being defensive about choices you’ve made for your family, but, jeez…)

The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds

Reynolds is a very cool guy in person and my daughter LOVES this inscription.

Because my daughter was almost a year and a half younger than some of her classmates, there were some developmental differences we noticed between her and some of the older students in her class. Yes, my daughter could read them all under the table, was great with numbers, and has memorized Batman’s almost entire rogue’s gallery (reminder: nerd dad), but, in terms of motor skills, my kid was undeniably on the younger side, particularly when it came to handwriting and coloring in the lines.

And, because such things are inevitable, one of her classmates picked up on this and began to tease her. He laughed at her pictures, he called her a “scribble-scrabbler”, and he called her a baby. The little jerk even picked up a term used by their teacher and weirdly chided my daughter for “not producing quality work.” (I won’t even tell you the names I told my daughter to call him back in return. Honestly. I really can’t. Whenever I tell people, I never come out looking good.) [read the rest of the post…]

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Baby Reading a Book

Question: What's cuter than a baby reading a book? Answer: Almost nothing.

The upside to having your own kid lit blog is that now, when friends’ kids have birthdays or when a new baby is born, the expectation is that I should be the one who gets to go out and buy new books for the kids. This fact delights me, since I really enjoy buying books, and vaguely annoys my wife (which also kind of delights me). Granted, the existence of the blog also adds some added pressure to my book picks as people now expect that I’m only going to select profoundly great titles for their children, which is a hard expectation to live up to. So, it was with this mixture of joy and anxiety that I headed out to the bookstore last night to buy some new books for friends who just had a new baby. (A girl named Scout – how cool is that?)

I decided to stick to board books because there are years and years to make sure that your kid has a great library of paperback and hardcover classics at their fingertips, and I love actually giving babies books that they can start abusing right away. Board books are solid, sturdy, and, if your baby HAS to chew on something, I’d rather have them chomping on some high quality kid lit as opposed to just some old binky or blanket. Plus I think one of the best things you can do to encourage your children to read is to just have lots of books around and available for them to experience. Books need to be a part of their daily environment, and board books are very safe, very accessible reading material for developing kids.

I did a feature a while back on “Five Great Board Books That Aren’t Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny and, while those are all great board book titles that I recommend HIGHLY – don’t get me wrong, Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny are still must-own canon classics – I decided to pursue a few different options this time, picking out a mixture of classic and newer titles. If you’re in the market for some new board books or if you’re about to buy a gift for a friend with a young baby or toddler at home, here are the five board books I bought last night, all of which I’d definitely recommend.

Board Books

Note the gift receipt as I hedge my bets....

1. The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone, illustrated by Mike Smollin

OK, after yesterday’s post, I kinda had to buy this one, didn’t I? But it’s still one of the best board books ever.

2. Dinosaur vs. Bedtime by Bob Shea

Dinosaur vs. Bedtime

Always bet on bedtime...

We actually don’t own any Bob Shea books ourselves, but he’s been on our radar for a long while – my daughter read I’m a Shark at a friend’s house and loved it – so I decided to pick up Dinosaur vs. Bedtime and give it a read at the store. I’m glad I did. Shea’s illustrations are fun and bombastic, and the whole book just has this wonderful anarchic energy that I think kids will really respond to. (Also, Dinosaur reminded me of the six-year-old older brother of the new baby I was buying for, so that was an added bonus.)  In the book, Dinosaur throws him up against obstacle after obstacle – a pile of leaves, spaghetti, his parents, etc. – and, after tackling his opponents, he throws his hands up and declares “Dinosaur WINS!” However, at the end of the book, Dinosaur discovers the one opponent he can’t defeat – bedtime. [read the rest of the post…]

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The Monster at the End of This Book

One of the most essential kids' books of all time... seriously

I’ve mentioned several times (probably too many times) on this blog that the very first book I bought for my daughter was The Phantom Tollbooth. But, dear readers, do you know what the SECOND book I ever bought for her was? It was The Monster at the End of This Book by Jon Stone and Mike Smollin.

So, with the entirety of children’s literature in front of me, why did I choose to purchase a Sesame Street book, a book based on a TV show,  as the second foundational text of my unborn daughter’s home library?

It’s a simple answer – The Monster at the End of This Book is an AMAZING book. It’s a groundbreaking book. In my humble opinion, it is one of THE greatest read-aloud books ever written, it is one of the best “books about books” in the history of literature, and, personally, I have a hard time of thinking of more than a few other titles that do such an effective job of showing kids how breathtakingly FUN reading a book can actually be. And, yes, it’s a book about Grover, a small blue puppet from TV. It’s freakin’ great.

The Monster at the End of This Book was the first “meta” book I ever remember encountering as a child. I know hipsters throw around the word “meta” almost as frequently as they line up for overpriced brunches, but, for the rest of you, a good working definition of “meta” is: “a term, especially in art, used to characterize something that is characteristically self-referential.” In other words, The Monster at the End of This Book is a book that is wonderfully aware that it is, in fact, a book. And that’s a really, really fun and potentially mind-blowing concept to introduce to a young reader.

The Monster at the End of This Book

This book might have my favorite typography of all time

The lead character, Grover – lovable, furry old Grover – is one of Sesame Street‘s friendly monsters and, as the star of this “meta” picture book, he can talk to the readers, he knows that we’ll be turning pages… unlike most characters in children’s literature, he is fully aware that he is a character in a book and he understands the mechanics of reading books. He knows that, in the act of reading a book, we as readers turn pages until we get to the end of the book. And that’s a problem for Grover because, in his post-modern “meta” world, he was able to read the title of his own book and he now knows that “there’s a monster at the end of this book.” And poor old Grover is afraid of that monster and, to prevent us from ever encountering the rumored beast, he wants us to stop reading RIGHT NOW.

That sounds like such a simple idea, but it’s as complexly absurd as anything Lewis Carroll ever proposed in any of his Alice books. Who ever heard of a character asking you to stop reading their book? And he’s not just asking you – he’s BEGGING you. Grover realizes that, every time you finish reading a page and turn to the next one, you are bringing him that much closer to this so-called monster. So there is this tangible countdown, this almost inherent drama at the core of The Monster at the End of This Book, in which, more than in reading almost any other kids’ book, you are in-your-face AWARE that you’re moving towards SOMETHING. And, by asking us to stop reading, Grover has ensured that any curious kid worth their salt absolutely MUST reach the end of this book. [read the rest of the post…]

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If you’re still on the fence about some of the board books that I recommended yesterday, you should definitely check out this Weston Woods animated version of Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig. Sure, the book is better, but it’s a really charming video and the narration by Chevy Chase is surprisingly great. Honestly, aside from Community, this is the best thing that Chase has done for YEARS.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UCchxTFepPc

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There are a few constants in the universe that you can always count on. Your DVR will always cut off the last 30 seconds of your favorite show. You will always hit traffic in the last hour of a two-day family road-trip. And, if you have children, you WILL own multiple copies of Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny. It’s just a fact of life. We’re at the point now where OBY/GYNs should just issue new parents copies of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny along with their coupons for formula and free copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Goodnight Moon

70% of the universe's missing dark matter is made up of copies of "Goodnight Moon"

This is not to say that either of these are bad books. On the contrary, Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are such ubiquitous baby reads because they’re really damn good. They’re gentle and genteel. They have this amazing rhythm to their text, which is somehow both calming and stimulating. As you read Margaret Wise Brown’s verses aloud, you can watch your child get sucked into the cadence of the words and the details of the illustrations and just see this sense of confident calm spread across their faces. Reading board books to the very young is a meditative experience, which, I’ll admit, I miss now that my daughter is older. And Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are the world’s most popular illustrated zen mantras for children.

However, as I alluded to earlier, they are also probably the two most popular books in the world to give to new parents. We received multiple copies of each when our daughter was born, and both have become baby shower gift staples. If you know a parent who doesn’t have a copy of Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny… something’s weird there. I’m not saying they’re bad parents or anything, but, just FYI, there’s a 70% chance that their marriage and new baby is a cover for a CIA training facility or a DEA deep cover operation.

So, since Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny are the ultimate no-brainers when it comes to picking books for your child, I thought I’d offer up five alternative selections for great board books that any kid should enjoy. Hopefully, these suggestions might help parents branch out a bit from the cozy charms of Margaret Wise Brown or, at the very least, give you some alternate ideas for baby shower gifts. (Evil parent advice: If you inscribe your copy of Goodnight Moon or The Runaway Bunny with a personal message for the baby, it makes it impossible for the parent to return the copy you gave them, thus ensuring that they’ll keep your gift and take back the 12 other copies they received. You win!)

Note: Many of these books, including Goodnight Moon and The Runaway Bunny, exist in both in board book and hardcover versions. We have the board book versions of all of these works and I’d recommend the board editions, if only because it makes them a little more durable and explorable for kids 2 and under.

1. Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

It’s hard not to like Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg, which probably stands as one of the most read board books in our library. The Ahlbergs have created a wonderfully interactive story that’s part nursery rhyme and part look-and-find for beginners. On each page, the authors ask the young readers to play “I Spy” to find some of the most iconic characters in early children’s lit, a series of happy-go-lucky characters that all meet in the end for a pie picnic. We begin with “Each Peach Pear Plum / I spy Tom Thumb”. After your child finds Tom Thumb reading on the branches of a peach tree, we turn the page to read “Tom Thumb in the cupboard / I spy Mother Hubbard.” This pattern continues throughout the book – one character in the foreground, one character hidden somewhere in the background – as we’re introduced to Cinderella, the Three Bears, Little Bo-Peep, Jack and Jill, Robin Hood, and more.

Each Peach Pear Plum

Each Peach Pear Plum

Janet Ahlberg’s beautifully detailed illustrations will give your child wide, dense landscapes to explore, and the story actually works as a nice way to introduce classic literary characters to young readers. My daughter knew some, but not all of the characters in Each Peach, but rather than that being a negative, it actually made her even more interested in learning about the characters she didn’t know, which, as a parent, gave me a great in-road to introduce to her classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales that we hadn’t encountered yet. An extremely fun bedtime book.

2. Pete’s a Pizza by William Steig

Pete's a Pizza

Pete's a Pizza

Steig is probably best known as the creator of Shrek and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble, but Pete’s a Pizza is the first Steig work that my daughter fell in love with. The premise is simple. On a rainy day, a young boy named Pete is stuck inside, unable to play ball with his friends. And then, Steig gives us, what might be, two of my favorite sentences in any board book ever: “Pete’s father can’t help noticing how miserable his son is. He thinks it might cheer Pete up to be made into a pizza.”

That absurd statement transforms into a really loving and funny exchange between a father and son, where Pete’s father creates a new game where he pretends to turn Pete into a pizza. It’s actually a very fun idea for a game – my daughter and I now turn each other into pizzas all the time. Pete’s father kneads his son, rolling him out like dough. He then tosses him, sprinkles him with oil (it’s really water), adds some tomatoes (they’re really checkers), and, of course, there’s the stage in the recipe where the pizza just has to be tickled. Shrek and Sylvester are classic literary works, but there’s something about Pete’s a Pizza that, as a father, I just really responded to. The facial expressions of Pete’s family are so expressive and intimate, and the story does an amazing job of capturing the manic fun of a family playing together, inside on a rainy day, when someone has invented a simple new game that is really, really fun. I can’t think of another book that does a better job of portraying the giddy fun of parents playing – really down-on-your-knees, getting-dirty PLAYING – with their children than Pete’s a Pizza. [read the rest of the post…]

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On some level, I get the appeal of personalized children’s books. The idea is that your child sees his or her name in print, they get excited, they get engaged… I get that concept. I’ll even admit that I’ve seen the concept work before – my wife once read through an entire Roald Dahl novel, switching out the name of the lead character for my daughter’s name (they’re similar names), and my daughter loved it. So I understand why there’s a whole cottage industry of companies that specialize in personalizing children’s books. The concept is appealing – I can definitely see why it’s such a popular baby shower gift item. The concept seems sound. I just, personally, haven’t seen it done well yet.

Winnie the Pooh Personalized Book

Your child was never meant to go to Hundred Acre Woods. At least, not like this...

Maybe I’m just being cynical. Or I haven’t seen the good ones yet. (If you know of a really great one, tell me and I will gladly eat a heaping plate of crow.) But, on a whole, personalized kids’ books just seem pretty damn awkward. They normally come in two varieties – books where they break down the spelling of your child’s name (“C is for clever, H is for helpful…”) or books where they actually try to shoehorn your child into the story. For me, the name books are the far less offensive of the two options. Those seem to the purest in terms of selling the concept of “your kid wants to see their name in print.” You can see an example of one of those books here – from ISeeMe.com in a personalized book called My Very Own Pirate Tale. (The website proudly crows that “Brooke Shields, Courteney Cox-Arquette and Jessica Alba purchase our books as children’s gifts!” See? US Weekly is right. They ARE just like us.)

The “story” and art for My Very Own Pirate Tale is mediocre at best – why not just buy your kid a copy of How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long and David Shannon? It has plot! And characters! And it’s funny! – but, sure, I can see how some kids might actually benefit from seeing their names broken down letter by letter like that. It wouldn’t be my favorite vehicle for teaching kids about the letters in their own names, but, fine, if it works for your child, so be it. I can accept those titles as a very specialized and expensive form of alphabet books, although, c’mon, be honest, your kid is going to be MUCH more interested in the elements of their own name rather than the skeleton of a half-hearted pirate story.

However, the “working your kid into the plot” personalized books are twenty times worse than the “breaking down your name” books. In these titles, the plot is actually a selling point – YOUR child will go on an adventure with the Disney Princesses, Winnie the Pooh, Santa Claus, etc. – so they can’t just hide behind the fact that they remembered all of the letters in your child’s name. The problem is these “stories” pretty much embrace the lowest common denominator in terms of storytelling. Maybe it’s because no author worth their salt would actually want to put their heart and soul into crafting a story where the lead character is called “INSERT_YOUR_NAME_HERE”. But the stories in these things… dear lord, in the ones I’ve seen, the level of storytelling reminds me of those Hostess ads from the 1970s where Captain America stops an alien invasion by giving them a heaping pile of Hostess Fruit Pies. (That ad actually exists. Click here for a great archive of those old ads with some hilarious commentary included.) [read the rest of the post…]

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I kicked off the blog with a book that my daughter probably won’t read for several years, so it seems only fair that I shift over to a book she’s actually read – in fact, one of the first books we ever read to her. I don’t entirely remember how we got a copy of Taro Gomi’s My Friends, but the person who gave it to us deserves an annual thank you note. It’s that good.

My Friends by Taro Gomi

My Friends by Taro Gomi

Japanese author-illustrator Taro Gomi is probably best known as the mad genius behind the ultimate potty book, Everybody Poops – which, strangely enough, we’ve never read – and he also makes the coolest coloring books you’ve ever seen. (Seriously. If your kid is into coloring, Gomi’s Scribbles and Doodle books can’t be beat.) Gomi has additionally created some truly wonderful picture books for younger readers, and My Friends is one of our favorites.

It’s an ideal bedtime book. Truth be told, I literally read My Friends to my daughter at bedtime every single night I put her to bed from when she was five months old until she was about 15-months-old. Which I realize makes me sound fairly obsessive-compulsive, but so be it. Maybe my daughter’s incentive to learn to talk was her burning desire to ask me to change-up the bed-time reading. (“Daddy, STOP.”) But I don’t really think so. We still read My Friends from time to time even now, although now it functions as more of an “I Can Read” book than a cuddly bedtime book. (Pause as I mourn the passage of time to the tune of “Cat’s in the Cradle.”)

What’s so great about My Friends? It has a lot to offer in a very elegant package. The story is simple – we follow a young girl as, on each double-page spread, she tell us what she’s learned from the world around her. The majority of the lessons she’s learned come from animals. “I learned to walk with my friend the cat… I learned to jump from my friend the dog… I learned to climb from my friend the monkey…” As the book goes on, we see what the girl has learned from a variety of animal pals, from books, from teachers, from classmates, and it all ends with the “awww”-worthy declaration that “I learned to love from a friend like you.”

Taro Gomi Board Book Box Set

Boxed set of three Taro Gomi board books, including “My Friends”

Gomi’s illustrations are bright, charming, and have this underlying sense of fun and wonder that my daughter really responded to. Even when she was only a few months old, this is a book that made her light up. I mean, yes, I think My Friends is really well done, but the real reason I love it is because of the response it elicited from my kid. She’d smile and sit calmly while I read through the thick cardboard pages of the board book, occasionally trying to flip the pages herself. As she got older, we’d add animal sounds to the pages with animal illustrations, and the book evolved into a call-and-response story where, after I’d finish reading the page, she’d give me the correct corresponding animal noise (her gorilla was the best) or some finger movements we worked out to mirror the actions on the page. (Few things are funnier than watching a seven-month-old try to make her fingers run, jump, and/or karate kick.)

Plus, as a first-time father who is now aggressively aware of gender disparity in relation to his sweet little girl (irony noted), I really loved reading her a book with a strong female character who is out there in the world, learning from nature, kicking, jumping, exploring, excelling at school, and being affectionate, all at the same time.

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