A short list of books for newborns. Yes, newborns.
By Karen Ritz
It is the eternal question, shifting as our life does – school, friendships, families, jobs, parenting, grandparenting everything. It feels HUGE as our children move on in their own lives: college: adult relationships: marriage (yikes, all that wedding stuff!): and now, expecting a child of their own. We have all that kid experience, but it has been a while, and there are new rules. What will the parents want? What about the other set (or sets!) of grandparents? What are the right things to say? What and when should we volunteer? What and when should we wait to be asked? What if we are far away? And still working?
“Don’t be too quick with your list of things you will or won’t do, as your heart may change.”
Of course, there are no right answers, only the best answer on any given day. And you know how to do your best. I am three years out from the first grandchild, there has been a second, and, like anything else, it is all about the journey. I know it is different if it is your son or daughter expecting, but you will find some universal truths in your role. Don’t be too quick with your list of things you will or won’t do, as your heart may change. And those new parents may reach a point of tearful desperation, and you will have pre-emptively shut the door. Remember your own desperation days and keep your heart open, to more than just the baby.
Your First Task
Here is your first assignment, beyond shopping for cute baby clothes (that you will enjoy beyond measure – you are not going to believe all the cute stuff, even at Old Navy, and Etsy – OMG!).
Go out and get a paper on the day that baby is born and tuck it in a drawer – someday he/she will love reading about all that was happening that day, even the ads. Don’t bring to the hospital, or give it to the parents yet, it will be lost in the confusion.
Your Second Task
Then, without a second thought, sit down with a pen and paper or your laptop and write. Write about the day, what the weather is like, where all the important players are, what they are thinking and hoping. Write about the first time you heard the baby’s name, what you thought in learning the gender, just write. Write about what you remember from the child’s dad or mom being born and what you know about their last few days waiting. If you are at the hospital, write about all the parts of the day, including visiting family members and what they said. If you are home, write about all the parts of the day, and the all-important phone call with the news. Don’t say you aren’t a writer, just write. No rules. Tell a story, too, if you like, about you, or their mom or dad, what you remember about your grandparents – no rules. And tuck it away with the newspaper.
The First Week
I am mother to the new mother and was with them for the first few days after coming home until they got their footing. I didn’t spend as much time at the hospital, saving up for sleepless nights. There are lots of visitors in the hospital, and new parents need rest and instruction. My favorite memory is that first night home at 1 am, when the parents were exhausted and at a complete loss for what else to do to comfort a baby. I had rested earlier and sent them off to bed, with baby Jack tucked in with me on the couch. We didn’t see the parents again until 6 am, dazed and amazed. I don’t always have the right answers, but I find answers, in respect to my daughter, by thinking about what I would have wanted in a given situation, and that has worked well enough. I know I cooked that week, even delicious “recovery” lunches, but I didn’t prepare a bunch of meals ahead or anything. I did put lemon and mint in a glass of water to make it feel more like a spa, and I had one too. Ha, a spa with burp cloths, baby wipes and a week of sporadic showering. That new baby had to work to get used to us as well!
You may be a mother to the new father and find yourself caretaking in those first days as well. Families have lots of versions of everything. Breathe it all in; listen more than take charge. No one is asking you to be super mom, just be there for the little things you would have wanted.
It seemed like just five minutes before, I wasn’t ready to be a Grandma. My youngest was just finishing high school and I had been a single mom since he was seven. It wasn’t vanity, just fatigue! But I don’t have to be responsible for every aspect of this little one’s life, just along for the ride. And who doesn’t like a good road trip?
That Kid Needs a Book (Actually, you both do!)
Yep, even as an infant. First, to focus his developing eyes on an image, and second, to hear the repetition of your voice. Did you know that babies’ first coos are reflective of the languages they hear? Reading to a baby gives us a way to speak to a baby with caring attention and a tenderness they understand. And it is a fine thing for a baby to relate reading with a warm snuggle, full attention, and a comforting voice. You can also use these books to keep newborns awake a little bit longer if you are working on sleep patterns.
There are several favorites that will show up as shower gifts – Goodnight Moon, Where’s Spot?, Brown Bear, Runaway Bunny – they will love them!
This list of must-haves for newborns is chosen by Children’s Literature Professionals, and tick those boxes for rhythmic language and visual stimulation, making you one smart Grandma.
Black on White
By Tana Hoban. Black silhouetted images on a white background provide high-contrast for an infant’s developing eyes. The more complex (like the butterfly) the more baby concentrates. I even take this to the hospital. There is also a White on Black version.
Bright Baby: Animals
By Roger Priddy. Bright colors and large expressive photos engage baby to look and see. There are several in the series once baby is hooked!
By DK Publishing. Sweet, diverse baby faces showing that they are happy, sad, sleepy, and more. Babies are mesmerized when they see other children just like them, with bright colorful photos and simple word labels following babies’ busy day.
Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes
By Mem Fox, illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. No matter which part of the world a baby comes from—born on the ice or in a tent—that baby has “ten little fingers / and ten little toes,” the pleasing refrain of this wonderful, rhyming tribute to the chubby, sweet universality of babies of all colors. You will love reading it aloud!
By Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee. With an irresistible rhyming text and endearing illustrations, here is an exuberant celebration of playing, sleeping, crawling, and very noisy babies doing all the wonderful things babies do best.
Indestructibles: Flutter Fly
By Kaaren Pixton. Revolutionary new books invented by the mother of triplets – waterproof, chew-proof, tear-resistant, non-toxic paper-like material for reading with hands and mouth. And completely washable. Nice nature art in this one – we vote for content more than materials but thought you’d want to know about them.
By Global Fund for Children. Meet babies from around the world in their diverse settings highlighting differences in clothing, daily life, and traditions, as well as demonstrate that babies around the world are nurtured by the love, caring, and joy that surround them.
Little Poems for Tiny Ears
by Lin Oliver, illustrated by Tomie dePaola. This collection of original poems celebrates everyday things that enthrall little ones – playing peekaboo, banging pots and pans, splashing at bath time, and cuddling at bedtime. Full of contagious rhythm and rhyme, this inviting picture book introduces young children to the sound of poetry.
By Helen Oxenbury. Baby strokes a beard, pats a cat, and snuggles with a blanket. Full of character and humor, this charming book forms a winsome introduction to the senses.
Moo Baa La La La
By Sandra Boynton. Being a baby is hard, caring for a newborn is hard, take a break and share the concept of humor. This raucous story about the sounds animals make—including three pigs who say “la la la!”—is just right for reading aloud. Serious silliness for all ages.
By Mem Fox, illustrated by Steve Jenkins. With an exuberant rhyming text by the master bestselling author Mem Fox and adorable cut-paper illustrations, this book is an irresistible celebration of the joyful connection between parent and child.
My Very First Mother Goose
By Iona Opie, illustrated by Rosemary Wells. We will be making a library-building booklist, but we felt you needed this classic right away. Folklorist Iona Opie has gathered more than sixty treasured rhymes in their most perfect, honest form – from “Hey Diddle, Diddle” and “Pat-a-Cake” to “Little Jack Horner” and “Pussycat, Pussycat,” familiar verses that have been passed from parent to child for generations; these are the rhymes that are every child’s birthright.
Ten Nine Eight
by Molly Bang. Bedtime! A warm-up for our next list and a happy game to lure the most persistent sleep evader. A warm and reassuring countdown to the land of dreams – early for your newborn, but you’ll enjoy reading it, and they like everything you read to them at this point. There are elements to grow with them.
Cover image: Grace, one-month-old and already a lifetime reader
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Karen Ritz, creator of www.GrandyCamp.info – website and social for active, busy grandparents, B.S. Children’s Literature and Illustration, University of Minnesota, illustrator of 46 children’s books, and “Gumma” to Jack and Grace.
Dr. Lee Galda, Marguerite Henry Professor of Children’s & Young Adult Literature, Emerita, University of Minnesota, co-editor of Literature and the Child, now in its 9th edition, and “Readie” to Bennett and Odessa.
Dr. Rebecca Rapport, retired Children’s Literature Professor, University of Minnesota, former editor of New Books for Young Readers, and practicing with many Grand Nieces and Nephews.