Sunday, September 22, 2013

Going to a Baby Shower? 12 book suggestions.

In honor of the many babies soon to be born or recently come to this beautiful world and into the arms of friends of mine, I have put together a list of books. These are all picture book, many of them board books I love and which I would regularly recommend to customer when working as a bookseller at Labyrinth Books. I've shied away from more typical/popular books, but by all means, please buy Very Hungry Caterpillars, Goodnight Moons, The Snowy Day or Where the Wild Things Are for the children you love, though bring a gift receipt just in case they already have it.

1. Brian Wildsmith's Animals to Count
A very small board book, this gem is defined by its hauntingly beautiful illustrations and its unusual choices of animals. Rather than non-specific "monkey" or "dog" has cranes and deer, weasels and tigers. The author has many small boardbooks, I recommend them all, but have found this one to be especially nice for the littlest of little children, as it has less text than some of the others.

2. Bruce Degen's Jamberry

You may know Degen's illustrations from the early Magic School Bus books, wildly energetic and bursting with life, all qualities healthy and present in Jamberry. This book is a frolicsome, whimsical rhyme about berrypicking, lots of fun to read, and one parents have mentioned to me as a book that doesn't get tiresome with frequent repetition. Available in boardbook as well as paper and hardback, I like the boardbook best, because the illustrations seem particularly lively in the smaller scale.

3. & 4. Sara Pinto's The Number Garden and The Alphabet Room
The two books are some of the most delightful Alphabet and counting books I've seen. They are board books, but for slightly older kids, maybe 24 months and up? They cardboard is thinner (and the price is a bit higher) because they have many more pages than typical boardbooks. However, they are utterly charming wordless stories for children to page through again and again. In the Number Garden each page presents an object or a character to join in the action of the story. 6 might be garden gnomes, so starting on page six, every page has six garden gnomes. On page 7 we might find seven pairs of sunglasses--six of which might be worn by the garden gnomes, but who gets the seventh?--and so it continues onward up to 12. Alphabet Room has the same format, except teaching letters instead of numbers. 

5. Taro Gomi's Bus Stops
Another boardbook, this one is a find and seek book. Each spread shows different people getting on and off of a bus, and asks the little reader to find the people described. On each spread there is also a little orange car. It's a quiet book, with a fair deal of emotional variation, commuters rushing, one stop where no one gets off, and finally a return home.

6. Anno's Counting book (Mitsumasa Anno)
One day lady came in looking for a book for her granddaughter. She had a specific counting book in mind, "the Japanese one, with the field and the river. It fills up as the numbers rise." I hadn't known the book before, but we found it together in the counting section, and she pointed out why she thought it was so special. She smiled at me, opened to the first spread and said, "It starts not with one, but with zero. My husband and I, we are mathematicians, and we care a lot about zero." So there you have it. Besides being a counting book, it also shows a town growing (one more building, and tree, and train car) with each turn of the page, and the seasons changing. It's lovely, though not available in boardbook to my knowledge.

7. Lois Ehlert's Eating the Alphabet
Ehlert is famous for illustrating Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, all brash greens, oranges and hot pinks. While that is a lot of fun, I like her illustration style in this book even better. It's done in gentler colors with watercolored cut paper, and shows off the beauty of fruits and vegetables, produce for every letter of the alphabet. Because this title is particularly popular, it is available in boardbook, both large and small sizes, as well as paper and hardback.

8. Pantone Box of Color
When customers came in looking for a book for a BABY--not for a baby to enjoy later in his or her life, but AS A BABY, I was glad to recommend this box of little books. It comes with six extra small, extra thick and sturdy board books each one showing a different color in its variations. The charm of these books is in the transformation of shapes from one image to another. If you look at the "Firetruck" image below, you may be able to see that the red shape shown is a shape cut out of the cardboard. When you flip the page, that same firetruck shape becomes a wagon! Each cutaway shape makes two different pictures against the background color on either side. It's mesmerizing even for adults, and the books are sturdy enough to last the teething of more than one child.

9. Catch Me and Kiss Me and Say it Again by Clyde Watson, illus. by Wendy Watson
Unlike the other books on this list, this book is out of print. That means that you'll have to search for a decent copy online and buy it used. While this may deter you, (who wants to buy a used book for a babyshower?) let me just say that this book is one I loved beyond expression as a child. It is a book of rhymes for children infinitely superior to most typical nursery rhymes because they are about normal life (including mundane things like clipping fingernails and taking baths) and they come to mind when doing normal things (like cutting portions in two). I still have many of them memorized. For example:

One for me and One for you
If there's One leftover
Then what'll we do?
We'll take up a knife
And cut it in two
So there's
One for me and One for you.

10. John Feierabend's The Book of Lullabies

This book is a treasure house, particularly for parents who like to sing and can read music. John Feierabend is an expert in folk music, and this is his compilation of words and music for dozens of beautiful lullabies. If you don't know if the parents can read music, don't despair! I'm certain there are recordings on YouTube of people singing the tunes, and both words and music are in the book. This is one in a series of books (including The Book of Wiggles and Tickles, and The Book of Bounces) also excellent for the parents of babies.

11. Sleep Like a Tiger by Mary Logue and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski

This gorgeous picturebook came out last year, and when we sold out in the holiday rush we were dismayed to find that the distributers, even the publisher was out of stock, and that there were no more available until they could print more. It won a Caldecott Honor, and no wonder, since the illustrations are so luminous and rich that you can just fall into them. The story is also gentle and gracious, showing a little girl as she gets ready for bed. It's not a book geared for infants, but it's one that will last years of reading. As far as I know, this book is still only out in hardcover.

12. Rosie's Magic Horse by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Quentin Blake

Remember the Frances books? A Baby Sister for Frances? A Bargain for Frances? Wonderful, right? Russell Hoban wrote those, and this is the last book he wrote before he died. The story alone is pure gold, but it's also illustrated by another one of the greatest contributors to children's literature, Quentin Blake. When I read this book, I spent about a week, reading it to anyone who would stand still. Don't just give it to children, give it to everyone you know.

Those are some of my favorites. Have I forgotten yours? Let me know which books you think are a MUST for the smallest of children.


  1. I'm going to look up these books at the library this week! I love getting suggestions from friends with excellent literary sensibilities.

    A few of my favorite board books for very young children are Dear Zoo (Rod Campbell); Wherever You Are and Where Is the Green Sheep? (Mem Fox). Two of my favorite picture books for toddlers/preschoolers are: Ox-Cart Man (Donald Hall and Barbara Cooney); and The Hello Goodbye Window (Norton Juster & Chris Raschka). We check these two books out from the library on a regular basis.

    OH! And Mr Gumpy's Outing by John Burningham. That's a favorite from childhood. Another favorite is Quick as a Cricket, which has really fun, inviting illustrations.

    I'm blessed with a bookworm of a daughter, so we spend a LOT of time with books. She has numerous books memorized, and now she "reads" aloud to herself.


    Books are great.

  2. Hurray! I should follow up with another post for "a bit older" kids picture books. :) Remember taking Children's Lit together? I loved sitting near you when we were passing around the piles of books, so we could smile over bits together. :) Yay bookworm daughter!

  3. I am in love with these details. On this weekend I would be attending a baby shower at the local LA venue and was really confused about the gift for mommy to be. Your list of these awesome books is just so nice and helpful. Would like to purchase any two books soon from an online portal.

    1. I'm so glad you like these suggestions! I didn't link to a place to purchase the books, but there are lots of places you can order books online, Amazon of course, which may be the speediest, but I always want to put in a plug for Labyrinth Books-- it's in NJ, but they ship! I used to work there, and they are a wonderful store. There may also be a local children's bookstore that might be a lot of fun to visit, if you like, I'm sure they'd appreciate the business. :)


Owen recommends hitting Cmd-A then Cmd-C (or Ctrl-A then Ctrl-C on Windows) to copy your comment to the clipboard before you hit "Submit". That way, if your comment doesn't post for whatever reason, you can paste it back into the comment field with Cmd-V (or Ctrl-V) and try again.