Children’s Books: Read-aloud fun for parents and little tots at bedtime

I’ve just returned from a week as granny-nanny for my 7-month-old granddaughter, filling in while her baby sitter was on vacation. I experienced for myself the incredible busyness I’ve forgotten over the decades – how often a baby beginning to crawl gets frustrated, how mercurial a baby’s moods, and how magical their first book experiences.

My son and daughter-in-law are carrying on the read-aloud tradition I always held dear. Even when the baby is cranky or crying before sleep, they read aloud. My granddaughter’s diaper bag is packed with at least one book.

A current favorite is Lucy Cousins’ “Maisy’s Snuggle Book” (Candlewick, 0-2). I love that she’s getting an early introduction to Maisy, a favorite character for the youngest audiences. Maisy, the mouse, smiles from the cover of this bright red cloth book, welcoming babies who may prove they have good taste in books by gumming its washable pages. Even though this book has few pages and words, there’s actually substance that will satisfy toddlers. Maisy introduces five friends who model all the important bedtime rituals – getting into jammies, brushing teeth, drinking milk, getting a cuddle and, of course, reading a story.

She’ll have to wait a bit for the book I’d brought along, Cousins’ “Katy Cat and Beaky Boo” (Candlewick, 1-3). More than 40 flaps create a playful peek-a-boo pattern as the kitty heroine searches for her bird buddy. At the same time, small listeners discover concepts like colors, clothes and foods. Though just released in a sturdy paperback, it needs an audience that doesn’t experience the world orally.

My granddaughter crawled towards Eric Carle’s bright expansive pictures and was lulled by Bill Martin’s rhythms in “Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? Slide and Find” (Priddy, ages 0-3), a book her daddy loved and read to her in utero. While she could turn the oversized board book pages, she’ll need more manual dexterity to slide the windows that will add both surprise and participation to her experience of this book.

So many new accoutrements for babies, but there are some constants. One is Sandra Boynton, who has re-released four board books that I read a million times with my son. “Moo, Baa, LaLaLa!” “The Going to Bed Book,” “Opposites” and “But Not the Hippopotamus” (all from Little Simon, 0-3) might be 30 years old, but they still captivated my granddaughter. There is a strong rhythm for babies, silly word play for toddlers and plenty of humor to help parents through repeated readings.

Mem Fox’s “Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes” (Houghton Mifflin, ages 1-3) is now a bi-lingual board book, “Diez deditos de las manos y Diez deditos de los pies.” Rhythms and repeats in this longer board book didn’t stave off a fussy period, but one day I know she’ll join in the many choruses. And who knows? Maybe the book is better in Spanish. Her real baby sitter can try it out when she returns from Panama.