Books on Oliver’s shelves

Oliver and books

Last Christmas, shortly after announcing my pregnancy, I received a gift for Baby J that made me cry — and it wasn’t just the hormones: two sweet board books from Magan at Rather Be Reading, favorites of her daughter’s. The official beginning of our little one’s library.

In April, Baby J became Oliver, and our son’s book collection has grown exponentially. Like many excited readers and parents-to-be, I’ve been quietly building his stash for years. I wrote about my “secret” book-buying back when he was the proverbial twinkle in my eye, and I’m finally able to share many of the books I’ve been collecting with him.

At nearly 6 months old, Ollie is starting to show an interest in “reading.” I prop him up in my lap with a book in front of us, then try to be patient as we’re inevitably interrupted by baby hands slapping the pages or a hunger cry breaking the momentum.

I love reading aloud. Not to, you know, toot my own horn or anything, but I was pretty much the designated class reader in fourth and fifth grade. So.

Since my reading talents have been dormant for the better part of two decades, I’m really livin’ it up now. The whole reading-to-my-belly thing never felt natural, but reading to an actual infant is an entirely different experience.

Ollie is too little to have obvious preferences, but he does kick his little feet crazily to a few “favorite” books. Here’s what we have stacked in the nursery right now.

(And P.S.: taking a page out of Steph’s book, I created a Goodreads shelf to catalog Ollie’s reading adventures. I plan to keep up with them there!)


Children's books


The Pout-Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen
Illustrated by Dan Hanna
This unique, adorable story — with very clever rhyming — chronicles the Pout-Pout Fish’s excuses to friends as to why he’s a total downer. A shot at love turns that frown upside down. The Pout-Pout Fish is so much fun to read, I find myself thinking of the little rhymes — “I’m a pout-pout fish with a pout-pout face . . .” — throughout my work day. You know: alone.


On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
If you want an instant parent tearjerker, look no further. A sweet, soothing story describing the uniqueness of each child welcomed into the world.

Nothing we’ve read feels as personal nor has impacted me as deeply as this book, which was a gift from a family friend in New York. We didn’t receive it until Oliver had been home from the NICU for a few weeks, but I read it once and immediately fell in love. I’ve read it with and without Ollie, and have the entire story memorized.

The “night” part is what gets me, I guess. Oliver was born at almost 10 p.m. I remember laying alone in my hospital room after my husband went to see him, the first person in our family to touch his tiny hand. Though I know it’s cliche, we were changed forever. On the Night You Were Born so perfectly summarizes those feelings for me, and how special and unique each tiny baby is. It’s just . . . a beautiful book.


Don Quixote by Jennifer Adams
Illustrated by Alison Oliver
This retelling of Miguel de Cervantes’ famous story is simple, but compelling to little eyes: bold colors and vivid illustrations with both English and Spanish words. Something about this book ignites a fire in Ollie; he kicks his feet like a madman and loves it.


Whoever You Are by Mem Fox
Illustrated by Leslie Staub
A story that packs a powerful punch. Regardless of skin color, nationality or origin, children everywhere are alike, linked and connected. A great primer for teaching about differences, tolerance and friendship.


Firebears, the Rescue Team by Rhonda Gowler Greene
Illustrated by Dan Andreasen
If you know a future firefighter (or even if you don’t), Firebears will captivate them. The story of a rescue squad ready to (adorably) protect the community, the Firebears come to the aid of neighbors and cats stuck in trees before fighting home fires.

Given I was a child so paranoid about flames that my parents purchased a fold-up ladder for my second-story bedroom, this might have freaked me out as a tot — but the message about safety is a good one, and I love the vertical images of the bears sliding down the fire pole. Cuteness.


The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
This classic has enchanted me since childhood with its bright colors, beautiful illustrations and evolution of a hungry caterpillar who eats everything, then eventually emerges as a butterfly. This was the very first book I read to Ollie (who slept the whole time, of course): short and truly sweet!


A Halloween Scare In . . . by Eric James
Illustrated by Marina La Ray
Written for each state (we have Maryland), this Halloween story will delight children and parents equally with its local places, clever state connections (the flag on a mailbox!) and cute story about being yourself and facing fears. My hometown is mentioned, which is really icing on the witch-shaped cake. Very adorable!


I’m always seeking new reads for Oliver’s collection. What are some of your favorites? What books do your little ones adore? Please share!


Building my secret library

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I have a confession to make.

In a spot far from prying eyes, I’ve been quietly building a library. It grows novel by novel, paperback by paperback — books stacks atop each other where I can reach them, but don’t see them every day. It’s enough to know they’re there: these stories I plan to share someday. With my future kids.

Yes, friends, I have a kids’ library — for the kids that are nothing but a sparkle in my 27-year-old eye.

I guess it’s weird to be collecting books for children that don’t yet exist. But as I’ve gotten older and started planning my life with Spence, I’ve had things like this on the brain.

Not too on the brain, now. Don’t get scared. Just, you know . . . floating around in the periphery. For years from now.

And babies? Babies are everywhere. If I thought everyone was getting hitched before, the rings have been tossed aside for baby blankets. The pregnancy announcement is the new engagement announcement on Facebook, and my own friends and family are no exception. My lovely cousin Karen is expecting her first baby with husband Ben this spring, and we’ve been asked to bring a favorite book from childhood to start building my new cousin-to-be’s library at the baby shower.

Being an insanely crazed and eager reader, I was all over this request. My mom and I set out to our local bookstore to comb the shelves for just the right story yesterday, and I picked up several hardcovers before getting serious about choosing just one: my absolute favorite childhood book. That sounds scary, doesn’t it? And intimidating? I won’t share my final pick in case Karen sees this, but suffice it to say it’s awesome and not one I expect other guests to bring. Um, hopefully.

Not that you can have too many books.


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But back to my quirky kid library. I’ve added new titles to my pile: the BabyLit books, a series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. A collection designed to introduce young readers to classics like Moby Dick, Sense & Sensibility and Romeo & Juliet, BabyLit books sent the reader in me — and someday-but-not-too-soon aspiring parent, too — into a tizzy.

Of the three I own, courtesy of the publisher, my absolute favorite is Jane Eyre. This counting primer features gorgeous illustrations and enough bookish acknowledgements to make the classics lover in me giggle. Perfect for sharing with little ones, Jane Eyre even features a sketch of that complicated, dreamy Mr. Rochester. You know, if you’re into that sort of thing.


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For literature buffs, the BabyLit series is a great way to introduce children to great works . . . in an easy-to-digest, cute package. Though the Bronte sisters might be a wee bit intense for your 2-year-old, this Jane Eyre will be right up their alley. The colorful artwork is a treat for the senses, and I’m sure you’ll be the hit of your book lover pal’s baby shower with one of these tucked in their gift bag.

I’d share them with friends, but I’m way too greedy to give them up. Books about books: they get me every time.


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