Gather round, friends, for the latest update on my adventures reading with my precious grandkids. Since my last column, a wonderful and surprising book entered my already book-filled life. It’s called The Adventures of G-Ma (Pia and Ira’s name for me). It was (self-) published by my kids and it focuses on how much I love to read with their kids. As you can imagine, it’s my favorite book by a mile.
But enough about me. Let me give you an update on Pia. At the ripe old age of two, books continue to be an enormous part of her life, and she continues to be very insistent that you read to her, even in the bathtub. “Read it again!” is a frequent refrain. She especially likes books with animal sounds she can bellow while she matches up the sound with the correct animal photo. “Baaaaaaa! Moooooo! Neighhhhh!!” We’ve also been reading Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book a lot lately, and though she’s familiar with the alphabet song (come on, you know it), the part that totally cracks her up every time is the L page where the lion is sucking on a lollipop! Can anyone tell me why that is so funny?
Something brand new has also happened to Pia in the past few months. She loves to grab a book and read it out loud to herself or to a chosen stuffed animal or two. Her powers of memorization are truly impressive, even taking into account that she’s been read many of these books, like Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle, zillions of times. And her dramatic reading makes me think she should consider a career in the theater. Though I’m eager to initiate her into the wonderful world of picture books and tried recently with one of my favorites, Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo, she likes to handle books a bit too enthusiastically and turn the pages by herself in a manner that’s not yet suitable for picture books. So we’re sticking with board books for now.
Pia’s screen time is very limited, almost nonexistent, but she’s sometimes allowed to watch In the Night Garden, a gentle and somewhat hallucinatory British show narrated by Sir Derek Jacobi. It reminds me a bit of Teletubbies, the controversial, also British, public television series from the ’90s. The characters in In the Night Garden have intriguing names like Makka Pakka, Igglepiggle, and Upsy Daisy; the Teletubbies had names like Tinky-Winky, Dipsy, Laa Laa, and Po. Sound familiar? Naturally I’ve acquired a bunch of In the Night Garden tie-in board books, which Pia and I love to read.
Ira-man, closing in on one year, is also an enthusiastic reader. He likes to approach his bookshelf and make his own selections. Often they include one of the simple, painterly Llama Llama books by the late and lamented Anna Dewdney. He’s got a great boxed set that includes Llama Llama Wakey-Wake, Llama Llama Nighty-Night, Llama Llama Hoppity-Hop and Llama Llama Zippity-Zoom. He also responds well to the magnificently illustrated Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by Jerry Pinkney, another children’s book legend gone too soon. Another one he reaches for is the playful and relatable Whose Toes Are Those? by Jabari Asim, illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Ira is perfectly adept at turning the pages at the right time, and often likes to grab an extra book to have at the ready when he’s finished with the current one. He reads throughout the day and certainly before bedtime.
Bath books are big for both Pia and Ira, enhancing what is already a favorite time of day. Water play and books: what a great combo! Two favorites in both households are Float-Alongs: Three Little Duckies by Melissa & Doug, which comes with three floating ducks, and Gossie and Friends Go Swimming by Olivier Dunrea, which is packaged with a gosling that squirts water!
Pia and Ira’s parents feel the way many exhausted young parents do during this endless pandemic when day care and school are unpredictable. They’re grateful for books they can read with their kids, especially the favorites they can read over and over and over and over again.
The way I feel about spending time reading and just being with Ira and Pia is captured by Winnie the Pooh when he said to Piglet: “Any day spent with you is my favourite day.” Exactly.
Becoming a grandmother twice is Betsy Groban’s latest accomplishment. She worked for decades in book publishing, public broadcasting, and arts advocacy and is currently a correspondent for the Boston Globe.