It’s been a long hard winter for most of us, but my granddaughter Olympia continues to live her best life. Her progress—physical, intellectual, emotional—is an ongoing joy for me to observe. At one year, Olympia is almost walking, which is exciting, of course. But her increased mobility comes with a downside (for me, anyway). She is, temporarily I hope, quite a bit less interested in reading and more interested in exploring: crawling, climbing, and hurling objects (including books) off tables. She’s also beginning to make more intentional sounds—not quite words just yet—and that probably takes up a lot of her mental energy, too. However, she still loves picking books off the shelf, turning them right side up (yay!), and “reading” them on her own. And she loves “reading” a good bath book in the bath. But I still treasure the times we spend reading together most of all.
We continue our nearly daily constitutionals through the neighborhood, even as the temperature dropped and the snow fell. I try to match the weather with a song and right now, somewhat counterintuitively, it’s Raffi’s classic “Baby Beluga,” which I remember singing with my own kids.
As she approached her first birthday, Olympia reached a new level of understanding, anticipating plot twists (the double page “party” spread in Hippos Go Berserk! by Sandra Boynton is a great example) and reacting to them. I can tell when she leans forward and smiles or pays extra attention that we’re getting to a part in a book that she particularly enjoys. She didn’t do this even a few weeks ago. And when she “reads” to herself, she pauses on her favorite pages. She also likes to point to things with her teeny pointer finger, often dots in the background or an animal’s dotty eyes.
Olympia continues to refine her book preferences. As to be expected, her favorite books are not necessarily mine (or the critics’), but I love to see her developing her own taste in reading. In addition to Hippos Go Berserk!, recent favorites for us both are the board book edition of the luminous and hypnotic (even hallucinatory?) Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd; Who? A Celebration of Babies by Robie Harris and Natascha Rosenberg; the irresistibly rhythmic Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox and Helen Oxenbury; and the Storytelling Math board books by Grace Lin. I can’t swear that Olympia is taking in any math or other lessons, but she really enjoys the simple text and colorful illustrations of all four of these books. In the category of “nonfiction,” she often reaches for I Love Engineering! by Alison Wortche and Steven Mack, and not just because her dad’s an engineer!
One book in particular has caused me and Olympia to experience a serious case of sequelitis, defined (somewhere) as “the tendency of a well-received work to spawn many inferior sequels.” The book I am referring to, sadly, is Pat the Puppy, a pallid imitation of the brilliant, if controversial Pat the Bunny. The plot—visiting your grandparents—is fine (natch), but the paper engineering is minimal and uninteresting to Olympia. How can rubbing grandma’s (barely) shiny sunglasses, for instance, compare with playing a real game of peek-a-boo with Paul in Pat the Bunny?? I mean, c’mon!
Olympia remains the girl of my heart, and I love sharing the joys of reading (and everything else) with her. Even more good news: I recently received another bundle of joy (and future reading buddy): my brand-new grandson, Ira! Please stay tuned for our further adventures in the land of literature for babies. But, for now, that’s all, folks!
Becoming a grandmother is Betsy Groban’s latest accomplishment. She has also worked for decades in book publishing, public broadcasting, and arts advocacy.