Lots to report! It’s been three months since we first checked in about my precious granddaughter Olympia’s reading habits at the ripe old age of six months. Since then, her taste in books has grown by leaps and bounds. She’s become an involved, interactive reader, eager to use her tiny fingers to touch, feel, pat, whatever. It’s tons of fun for her and for me, and it feels quite different from her reading behavior of three months ago.
Olympia and I still start our daily visit with a brisk stroll around the neighborhood, passing by Elizabeth Warren’s house and singing a tune. Lately it’s been Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again,” because we are, literally.
When Olympia turned six months old, she received an awesome Born to Read welcome package from our “local,” the Cambridge Public Library, filled with information about library activities for babies, tips for reading to a baby, book lists, and even a hard copy of Curious George Goes to the Library. Even during this pandemic, a lot of the information still holds. Her mother, an attorney who was brought up in and learned to read at the very same library, never misses one of their Virtual Family Story Times with Olympia. The idea is to instill a love of reading and a love of the library, even if it can’t be in person for now. It’s never too early to start, and Julie Roach and the other children’s librarians are such awesome readers!
Despite decades working at two distinguished children’s book publishers, I find the best suggestions for books for Olympia come from friends, librarians, and the invaluable How to Raise a Reader by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo. I also appreciate the suggestions sent in by readers of this column. Keep ’em coming!
Olympia still appreciates a simple and rhythmic “story,” but she’s especially enthusiastic now about lifting a flap, patting the bunny, and turning everything into a game of peekaboo. This has led me to an even greater respect for the all-important production and manufacturing of board books. If it’s deemed a favorite, a board book will endure thousands of re-readings and being, um “closely examined”: gnawed, licked, and chewed, dropped, and even hurled. It’s all part of the fun of loving books at this age, so it’s crucial that the pages and flaps, etc. are thick, sturdy and durable, and that everything feel totally safe.
A few of Olympia’s favorites at nine months include: Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell, Peek-a-Who? by Nina Laden, Curious George’s Peek-a-Book!; Little Fish and Friends by Lucy Cousins, Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow, and a series of books featuring an adorable French giraffe named Sophie, a successful spinoff from one of her favorite chew toys (do babies have chew toys, or just puppies?), also named Sophie. Because she loves Olivier Dunrea’s Gossie so much, her parents dressed her as Gossie (including the bright red boots!) for her first (in-home, alas) Halloween celebration.
I’m happy to report that Olympia has “reversed her decision” on her Ruth Bader Ginsburg board book by Anna Membrino and Fatti Burke. Previously, it left her cold, but right after the Supreme Court justice’s tragic death in September, it became one of her favorites. She especially likes the page that says “Ruth is STRONG” and shows RBG lifting up the Supreme Court. Sigh.
But hands down, her #1 favorite right now is Pat the Bunny. She is blissfully unaware of the controversy around it being retro, heteronormative, etc., and simply adores it. It strikes all the right chords: simple, colorful illustrations, minimal text and, best of all, fun interactive elements on every single page. She even enjoys smelling the flowers. Well done, Ms. Kunhardt!
Another new skill of Olympia’s that makes our reading time even more fun is that she now chooses the book she wants us to read. I usually pull two or three off the shelf, spread them out in front of her, and she makes it clear which one she prefers. I like to think that it empowers her, and it makes it easier for me to figure out her favorites, too.
In her non-reading time, Olympia is crawling like crazy, pulling pots and pans (and books) out of cupboards, climbing up on things, mastering the xylophone, etc. so there are plenty of demands on her time. She’s busy! But we still make it a priority to cuddle up and read together for a good while every single day. I mean, what could be better? It’s my favorite part of the day, and she seems to enjoy it, too. I hope it lasts forever... or at least through middle school. I’ll be watching her closely and reporting back with more updates. So please continue, as Rachel Maddow would say, to watch this space….
Becoming a grandmother is Betsy Groban’s latest accomplishment. She has also worked for decades in book publishing, public broadcasting, and arts advocacy.