In keeping with conventional wisdom, as well as my own love for them, I am raising my infant on a healthy diet of books. When my friends ask me what they should get him, I tell them books. During playtime (which is anytime he isn’t asleep/feeding/going for an evening stroll in his pram) his play-yard is scattered with toys and the book he is reading or being read to.
One of my favorite stories about kids and books is children’s writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak’s response to a little boy’s fan card. In his words: “Once a little boy sent me a charming card with a little drawing on it. I loved it. I answer all my children’s letters — sometimes very hastily — but this one I lingered over. I sent him a card and I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on it. I wrote, “Dear Jim: I loved your card.” Then I got a letter back from his mother and she said, “Jim loved your card so much he ate it.” That to me was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. He didn’t care that it was an original Maurice Sendak drawing or anything. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it.”
So I have a list of books based on research and a clear idea of what I want to expose my boy to before he turns one. Here they are:
1. Where the Wild Things Are
No surprise then, that this occupies pride of place in my son’s bookshelf. This is an award-winning book for its brilliant illustrations of a little boy’s adventures one night after he is sent to bed hungry for being naughty, and his mother calls him a ‘wild thing’. He is transported to a forest where he meets the “Wild Things”. It’s a beautiful allegory at so many levels: the domestication of a small child’s fears, his embracing of what is perceived as aberrant and ugly, and the safety and comfort of the familiar.
2. Ladybird’s Baby Touch – Box of Books
This set of three books – Colors, Words, and Numbers – is great for a variety of reasons. First, they are board books – which means my son can do with them what he wants, without fear of them getting torn or him swallowing paper. They introduce key concepts to babies in an interactive manner – through information conveyed with bright colors, smiling faces, and most of all different textures – bumpy, sparkling, rough, cottony, reflective or suede. As my son grows, it’s very interesting for him to explore these textures with his hands while also learning about fundamental ideas.
3. Goodnight Moon
This is an acclaimed toddler classic. As the name suggests, this book is about a child saying goodnight to every object in the room, from a painting to a chair, telephone, socks, rug, and finally the moon and stars. The writing makes for a soft lullaby due to the lilting cadence and lightly rhyming sentences when narrated. This is also a good book for the ages. As my son grows older, the various illustrations in the book will also serve as a dictionary of sorts, allowing him to understand and familiarize himself with the everyday objects that one finds in their daily interactions.
4. The Very Hungry Caterpillar
This is a book about a caterpillar who emerges from an egg one day and realizes that he is very hungry. He then goes on to eat his way through the book — quite literally, because there are holes made through the fruits which he eats. He grows bigger and bigger till one day he makes himself a cocoon house and is transformed when he emerges from it. It’s not only a well-designed book but also a beautiful and metaphorical story, accompanied by lovely colors when he becomes a butterfly. My son never tires of putting his fingers through the holes in the book.
5. Abol Tabol
Last but by no means least, Sukumar Ray’s wondrous collection of Bengali short rhymes in the genre of gibberish or nonsense poems, much like Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky. Their sheer lyricism and meaninglessness allow for the most versatile narration, full of exclamations, sounds of mock anger, fear, laughter, and surprise. It always leaves my son laughing, and also gives me a chance to expose him to the sounds of his mother tongue, which is a very lyrical language in itself.
These books are not limited by age, language or genre. I firmly believe that there is no “right” book to introduce your child to the magical world of stories. The right book is whatever grabs your child’s fancy, making them squeal with laughter or curious enough to turn the page. Or in Maurice Sendak’s words, eat the book!