By Amy Shearn, REDBOOK
When I found out I was going to have my first child, I did what any responsible, expecting mother does: I started to compile a reading list. After all, what is procreating but an excuse to revisit favorite childhood books? Since my daughter is only two, we haven't exactly made it through all my favorites yet (Anne of Green Gables, The Wizard of Oz, and Remembrance of Things Past, to name a few); however, there are a few beloved picture books I've managed to sneak in.
1. Oh What A Busy Day by Gyo Fujikawa
I didn't even remember that this was a childhood favorite of mine until I randomly came across it at our local library. Just seeing the colorful illustrations made my mind zing with reptile-brain-level recognition. There is a particular way that pictures look to you when you poured over them with the focused attention only a very young child with lots of time to spend staring can muster. I can remember which of the adorable-and incidentally, awesomely dressed in dress, tights, and cute shoes-kids I stared at the longest, and which of the vignettes of this picture book most captured my imagination. So it was extremely gratifying when I shared this book with Harper, and she immediately adored it. What a clever child! She was particularly taken with the endpapers in the same way I had been as a child. The first set features a "good morning" scene, while the same houses and kids waving out of windows grace the back endpapers, saying good night. Parental-book-share win.
2. Eloise by Kay Thompson with illustrations by Hilary Knight
I can also very distinctly recall studying the pages of Eloise as a small child-those intricate, funny little illustrations! How I loved Eloise's pretend world, her turtle, her doll, and the fold-out diagram of a day spent fooling around with the elevators. I also remember being dimly aware that my mother hated this book, which I chalked up to bad taste. I was excited to share this NYC-centric childhood classic with my own little New Yorker, but the first time I read it to her, I realized with a sinking sensation what my mother hated so much about this book: IT IS LIKE 500 PAGES LONG! Also, Eloise is kind of a PITA. And what seemed awesome as a kid-that her mother ignores her completely and the main adults in her life are her put-upon nanny and the maitre'd of the Plaza-seems very sad to me now as a mother. Harper loves to look at the illustrations, but luckily she's still a little too young for this nutty book. Fine. Hiding it away.
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3. The Very Little Girl by Phyllis Krasilovsky with illustrations by Ninon
When my mother had another baby (much to my chagrin), my aunt and uncle gave me this adorable book. It features a very little girl and her little world rendered in some of my favorite illustrations ever. Spoiler alert: The little girl gets bigger. Big enough to be…a big sister, to a baby brother, who is very very little.This amazing picture book is probably the sweetest "new baby brother" book ever. When I was pregnant with Alton I couldn't read this book to Harper without weeping. Pregnancy hormones make you crazy, yes, but it's also just so SWEET. Harper got really into it, too, and would point to the fat little baby and squeak, "Leetle leetle baby!" Satisfying.
4. The Best-Loved Doll by Rebecca Caudill
This book was very influential to me in my doll-loving-for-probably-too-long girlhood. A ratty old dolly gets taken to a doll-themed birthday party and makes a name for herself among the fancier, prize-winning moppets. Again, I loved the pictures so much, and something about this story really captured my imagination in a major way. I think I even had a "Best-Loved Doll" party of my own, though I might only be imagining that. I keep trying to get Harper invested in this book, but tragically we have not even gotten through it once. It's pretty long, I admit, and more for the mature kindergarten set. Also, I think she is a little scared of Jennifer, the doll in question, who does, it must be said, look a bit like an abuse victim.
The good news is we still have many years of bedtime stories left, and lots of time to get to the good stuff, like Nancy Drew and A Wrinkle in Time. As for that baby brother, well, let's just hope he likes riveting tales of spunky girls. He has yet to voice many dissenting opinions, but then again, he doesn't know how to talk.
Amy Shearn is the mother of two small children, and is the proprietress of Household Words, a blog about babies, books, and Brooklyn. She also writes for Oprah.com and MommyPoppins.com. Amy is the author of the novel How Far Is the Ocean From Here (Shaye Areheart/Crown 2008) and a forthcoming novel about, what else, a Brooklyn mother, which needs a title and will be published by Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, in 2013.
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