Welcome back to my ongoing series of observations about my grandkids’ reading habits. For context, Olympia is closing in on 20 months and Ira is seven months young. One big change is that it’s “Pia” now, a nickname the former Olympia can more easily call herself. And Ira is almost always referred to as “Ira-man.”
For Ira(man), a book is still very much a physical object to be licked, gnawed on, turned over, and sometimes, even by accident, pages turned. But, like his cousin, he has a long and growing attention span for books, which I attribute to the patience and commitment of his parents. He even likes looking at books!
There’s a wonderful British phrase “Begin as you mean to go on,” which, in this context, means that I intend to go on reading to these two precious grandkids for as long as they’ll tolerate me. Eventually they’ll learn that I’m prepared to read middle-grade and YA books out loud to them, too. Not to mention the “Pia and Ira and G-Ma Book Group” that I intend to form in a couple of years. But later for that.
It’s sheer bliss to spend time “reading” with Ira-man since he’s a captive audience. And he seems to enjoy it. A new development is that he’s able to communicate which books he prefers, sometimes quite strenuously, which seems quite advanced to me (natch). The Animal Babies foursome (Farm, Forest, Pets, Zoo) are tiny, pudgy, and perfect for six-month-old hands to grasp and nibble. Other current faves are New York Baby by Puck, illustrated by Violet Lemay (Ira is, after all, a New York baby), and the classic Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert.
Careful readers of this column will know that I’ve previously expressed my aversion to gimmicky kids’ books geared primarily to adults, but Music Cats: A Pawsitively Purrfect Compilation of Musical Legends, illustrated by Angie Rozelaar, encourages fun musical improvisation by adults readers, who, if they’re game, can sing along to feline hits like “Purrple Rain” by Purrince, and “I Scratched the Sheriff” by Bob Meowley. I’ve been overheard singing an out-of-tune but enthusiastic rendition of “Single Kitties (Put a Collar on It)” by Meowyonce to Ira, and it gets a big smile every time. There’s something so compelling for him about the giant eyes and bright colors of the illustrations, and, of course, the music.
Pia still loves to read, and has become somewhat more demanding about being read to (“More, please!”), which is, of course, both welcome and adorable. She has also started to require a larger audience when she’s read to, insisting that certain stuffed animals or dolls be present before the reading can commence. Two new favorite books are Max and Nana Go to the Park and Bea Gets a Checkup by Lovevery. This series of books contains sensitive and straightforward photographic portrayals of everyday occurrences: a grandmother (yay!) comforting a child after he takes a fall in the park and a visit to the doctor, including getting a shot. Pia continues her strong attachment to books with photographs of animals. The most recent is the exemplary oversized board book: First 100 Animals from Priddy Books. She’s learned nearly all the names (and sounds!) of the animals in the book, and loves to match up each animal with its photo. Another frequent request, with its irresistibly inconsolable baby, is Hush Little Baby by the brilliant Marla Frazee.
Watching these kids grow and learn and love to read is the greatest pleasure imaginable. For me, reading with them is best summed up in two simple words: duck soup!
Becoming a grandmother twice is Betsy Groban’s latest accomplishment. She also worked for decades in book publishing, public broadcasting, and arts advocacy.