Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pulp Fiction

This is a guest post by Stewart, aka "Papa":

As a willful 10 month old, Max has taken over our lives, and our apartment, in many ways – not the least of which is our bookshelves. The living room bookcase used to feature nothing but award-winning hard-cover tomes. Never mind if we had actually read any of them, the bookcase advertised to all of our visitors that we possess exquisite literary taste. Updike? Austen? Murakami? Check, check and check!

But that was then. Now our bookcase contains no less than 57 baby books for Max. Goodbye “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” hello “Cat in the Hat”! 57 books for a 47 week old may sound a tad extreme, but it’s not entirely our doing. Presents, hand-me-downs and gift-cards generated the majority of his collection.

Left side of baby bookshelf

And I’m very glad to have all 57, for a reason that might surprise you: their construction. Books published for Max’s age come in the form of “board books.” That means they are comprised not of leaves of paper, but of thick cardboard slabs. Most of you probably know this, but I didn’t until a couple of years ago, when our nephew Luke (the son of my sister-in-law, Esther) was perhaps a year old. He was very into animals at the time, and Jacob and I had excitedly bought him a huge hard-backed book full of animal photos that we planned to present to him during our next babysitting gig. Esther, however, rained on our parade by correctly pointing out that the glossy animal photos were laid out on thin sheets of paper that Luke would instantly tear up in his enthusiasm over their content. He simply wasn’t ready for paper books.

Right side of baby bookshelf

Max certainly isn’t either, as he reminded me this weekend when his own babysitter came over. As I was cleaning up the apartment Sunday evening in preparation for her arrival, Max was innocently watching me as he sat by the bottom shelf of our bookcase, where we keep our DVD and music collection. When the doorbell rang announcing the babysitter’s arrival, I turned to pick up Max, only to see him cheerfully munching away on the paper cover to my Ella Fitzgerald CD box set! (A cardinal sin in this gaddy’s eyes). After my initial reaction that I was glad the babysitter hadn’t witnessed this abject lack of decorum on the part of my son, I shifted into what probably should have been my initial reaction, which was concern over Max’s decision to start a paper-based diet.  It was then that the genius of the board book -- letting babies handle their cardboard pages without tearing them apart, and easing fear of babies’ knack for chomping on their reading materials -- truly hit home.  It’s no wonder that the children’s publishing industry nicknames board books: “chewables”!

Max does Ella wrong

So why am I happy to have 57 of these chewables?  Because the pages of board books are so thick, and the books themselves are so tiny – so as to fit in tiny toddler hands – that these books can have as few as four pages to them . . . total. That’s just fine and dandy for the kids, who have the attention span of a cartoon character, but for us parents the experience does not quite satisfy at the Updike, Austen, Murakami level. Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite parts of my day with Max is reading with him before his bedtime.  But part of what makes the experience enjoyable on my end is that I have 57 books to choose from on any given night. In the 15 minutes that Max is on my lap, we tackle at least 5 or 6 books, so having that variety each night is crucial. No matter how much I genuinely enjoy many of Max’s books, if I had to read the same 10 or so night after night I might go crazy!

Now that I feel like I have a little experience in this genre, in my next post I will share with you my all-time favorite books from Max’s collection, and why I find them so enjoyable to read with Max. So if you are in the market for some board books, for yourself or for that special new parent in your life, be sure to check it out!

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