The book goddess was smiling on me (again) in February when I joyously welcomed my first grandson into my life. I’m already firmly ensconced on cloud nine since the arrival of his cousin Olympia last February, but I needed the carpenters to raise the roof beams really high once again when Ira arrived. He’s an adorable, chubby, sunny baby who already has a big appetite for books. Olympia calls him “Rah Rah,” which lets us know that she’s already rooting for him. Ira’s mother was not the bookworm that Olympia’s mother was as a child, but her commitment to reading to Ira is ferocious. She and her husband are especially excited about the scientific correlation between reading books at bedtime and longer sleep for babies!
Their baby registry was at their awesome local bookstore, Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, N.Y., which says a lot. They regard How to Raise a Reader (by Pamela Paul and Maria Russo) as a Bible and started reading to Ira from the jump. They have piles of books for daytime reading and different, calming ones for night, primarily board but occasionally cloth. He even reads during tummy time. As with his cousin Olympia, his attention span seems remarkable to me. Not to mention how carefully he tracks the pages with his eyes... and he’s only a few months old! And the entire adult population of Ira-ville is dedicated to making sure that he’s an enthusiastic reader. Happily, their local library, the Clinton Community Library, has tons of programming for kids, including prerecorded readings of books for all ages.
So far, Ira’s fave book seems to be the simple, high-contrast, black-and-white Hello, My World by Duopress Labs and Jannie Ho. He’s also getting a good head start on Olivier Dunrea’s Gossie books, especially Gideon and Otto; the classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Ten Little Rubber Ducks by the dearly departed Eric Carle; Peek-a Who? by Nina Laden; Jimmy Fallon’s Everything Is Mama and Your Baby’s First Word Will Be DADA; and, of course, the universal soporific, Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd.
Between books, I like to sing to Ira as I do with Olympia. My current song for him is It’s Raining Men, a campy anthem from the ’80s. And I love to sing both kids the old-timey Mister Donut jingle from my own youth:
I can’t help but notice more than ever that the majority of children’s books take place in rustic settings filled with flowers and trees and sheep and horses and suchlike. Honestly, I’m sick of it, and wonder how many kids live in or can connect to such settings. When my grandchildren are ready to enter the wonderful world of picture books, the first one I’ll reach for is the Caldecott Honor book Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo, both for contrast to all the pastoral stuff and because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool urban dweller. And I’m sure a lot of other grandparents are, too. I mean, really!
Olympia, now well over a year old, continues to love reading, especially when it features her go-to characters—Good Night, Curious George, Gossie (especially BooBoo, who loves bubbles, one of her favorite words), Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, Dr. Seuss’s The Foot Book, and Corduroy. She loves to revisit her favorites and has gained a deeper understanding of them. Her current new absolute fave is the recently published 100 Animals by Steve Jenkins, which has about a million lift-the-flaps, each with a fun animal “inside.”
Now that Olympia’s walking, there’s nothing better than when she marches over carrying a book and insisting I read it to her right now! She’s in daycare now, and, happily, it’s stocked with good, age-appropriate books. Some of her favorites are books that she reads both at home and at “school” (Planting the Rainbow and Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert, another dearly departed children’s book author). If a book features words that she’s learning—balloon, banana, bubbles, etc.—that quickly becomes a favorite, too. She continues to point to special or familiar things in a book, which can be surprising and fun for me, too. At daycare, her observant teachers noticed that reading or being read to is a surefire way to calm Olympia down if she gets upset about anything in the course of a day. Another perfect demonstration of the magical power of books, especially if you start really early.
I couldn’t be luckier than to have these two adorable and literary grandchildren in my life. I look forward to snuggling up and reading out loud with them for a long, long, long, long time.
Becoming a grandmother twice is Betsy Groban’s latest accomplishment. She also worked for decades in book publishing, public broadcasting, and arts advocacy.