Books for baby

At the end of October I gave birth to a handsome baby boy named Joe, which means I am typing this one-handed while the little guy sleeps against my chest. When we were leaving the hospital one of the techs came in and gave me two books, a paperback picture book and a board book. I think I was more excited to see these books being given away than most moms because I used to volunteer at my local library for that same book program.

The program, B.A.B.E.S. (Babies And Books Equal Success), gives away two books to new moms when they leave the hospital and a third book when they visit the hospital again for their baby’s one month check up. The books used to come with a pamphlet about the benefits of reading to babies right from the start. It encouraged moms to read and visit the library, telling them how far away their baby can see and how black and white images are easiest for newborns to make out. Last February the funding for RIF and the books for babies program through my library was cancelled. First we dropped the third book given but eventually we had to shut down entirely. We packaged as many books as we had remaining on the shelves and then my weekly trips to the library were over. When a friend of mine had her baby girl in April she didn’t get any books. We both worked at the same bookstore and had plenty of books from friends and family, but I was sad to know that the program I had spent so much time working with didn’t benefit her. It was also frustrating to know how many newborns didn’t have the same libraries at home that our babies had, sometimes the books from the hospital were the first books babies received. I’m thrilled to see the program up and running again.

Joe has dozens of books. I’ve been stockpiling since I first became pregnant and friends and family have given us their own childhood favorites. We have classics like Goodnight Moon and The Giving Tree, newer titles like Bear Snores On, and my personal favorite, The Velveteen Rabbit. I teared up reading it to myself when I was still pregnant, silly hormones. I look forward to reading him bedtime stories every night. I hope he shares my love of stories and books in the future.

I emailed my old volunteer supervisor after I got home from the hospital, excited that the program had regained its funding. She emailed back saying that these were still just leftover books. New grant opportunities were not given to our library by RIF (Reading is Fundamental) so we didn’t have the funds to continue the project. The library has so little money right now that even if RIF funding did come through, it would likely go to other programs that people understand better. Babies getting books was always something that people in the funding department had difficulty understanding. Maybe they preferred to give books to the bookmobile, something I always loved as a kid, and other programs for kids who were more established readers. But the way you get an established reader is to read to the kid from the start. BABES encouraged parents to start reading to their baby before the child really knew what was going on. It was important bonding time and leads to a pattern of reading in the household. I think the program is invaluable to parents who might not have the access to books that I do.

Right now, at 13 days old, he’s just not interested. I tried a board book with different textures but he’s too young to be reaching out and touching things. The cloth book my friend made for him held a little more interest, probably because when he mashed his face against it the book was soft and he could rub his cheeks on it hoping for food. Cloth books are great for starting out reading to little ones, I could hold the book on one hand and didn’t have to worry about jabbing the new baby with pointy corners. My friend bought the pattern with the pictures on it and simply cut along the dotted lines then sewed it back together. That’s a craft project even I can do.

As much as I would like to establish nightly reading with the kid now, I think a better understanding of what night is will have to come first. My boy is an excellent daytime sleeper but is a night owl. I want to do everything perfectly which is a tall order for a first time parent. Right now maybe I’ll focus on keeping him fed and clothed with a clean diaper. I’ll focus on reading my own books in the 15 minutes I can sneak here and there. If I want I can read to him from A Dance with Dragons, the fifth book in George R. R. Martin’s series, which is the only book I want to read right now. Too bad I have it in hardcover; it might be bigger than the baby.

When Joe can reach for things and I have a little more sleep in my nights we can try taking another crack at his library. My husband’s work recently sent us a baby gift basket that included a new book among the toys and clothes. The universe seems pretty determined to have me raise a voracious reader, I’m happy to have so much help.

Kelly Hannon worked in an indie bookstore, is editing her first novel, and blogs about annoying people at www.letterstopeopleihate.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyMHannon

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