Bring up baby with 4 beautiful picture books

Books

This Is the First Book I Will Read to You

Start off on the proverbial right foot with This Is the First Book I Will Read to You, in which a father celebrates the joys of reading with his newborn child. “I’ll be nervous,” he admits, “to share this moment that only you and I will be a part of.” As the father speaks, he gets the child ready for bed, walking through a house filled with loving family photographs. “You might not want to listen at first,” he continues. “But then we’ll find our way together.” Author Francesco Sedita’s sedate, pitch-perfect prose conveys the father’s jitters, but it’s dad’s quiet determination that rules the day.

Magenta Fox’s sweet digital illustrations are bathed in soft pinks and blues. As parent and child walk into the nursery and begin to read, Fox depicts the imaginative transformation that follows as wallpaper with a forest motif becomes an actual forest. Suddenly, father and baby are right there in a wooded clearing as an inquisitive squirrel looks on. It’s the perfect visual representation of the transportive power of books. As they keep reading, the pair ascend a hill, reach the sea and gaze up at the moon. “We have stories to discover and magical places to visit, you and I,” the father shares. “But tonight, this is the first book I’ll read to you.”

Sedita and Fox offer a gentle tribute to the strength of the parental bond and to all of the adventures, hopes and dreams that lie ahead.

★ The World and Everything in It

Kevin Henkes is widely known for his charming mouse characters, led by spunky Lilly of Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse, as well as numerous children’s novels, including the Newbery Honor books Olive’s Ocean and The Year of Billy Miller. However, Henkes’ less rambunctious picture books, such as Old Bear, Waiting and The World and Everything in It are treasures that shouldn’t be missed. They sparkle like little gems as they impart a deep sense of understanding and appreciation of our world.

Henkes begins with a simple idea. “There are big things and little things in the world,” he writes. On the page opposite this text, we see an illustration of a large tree trunk with a small green sprout beside it. In subsequent pages, he explores this idea systematically through spot illustrations of “little animals,” “tiny flowers” and “pebbles.” There’s even an empty space captioned “things so small you can’t see them.” Henkes next turns to big things, such as the sun, moon and sea.

After that, he helps young readers begin to grasp where they fit in among all these big and small things. For instance, he notes that “the sea is big, but you can hold some of it in your hands.” And just like that, this talented literary magician seamlessly moves from straightforward statements of fact to a series of sentences that capture sublime wonders. “Most of the things are in-between,” he explains. “Like you. And me. And just about anything you can think of.”

Henkes’ illustrations are tightly focused, economical and free of distractions—just right for the very young. He closes by repeating “Everything is in the world,” and the phrase feels like a benediction that reminds readers of the endless delights, both big and small, awaiting them.

★ The Moon Remembers

Stories about the moon are a staple for the very young, from perennial favorites like Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd’s Goodnight Moon and Eric Carle’s Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me to new classics such as Jane Yolen and John Schoenherr’s Owl Moon and Floyd Cooper’s Max and the Tag-Along Moon. E.B. Goodale’s exceptional The Moon Remembers deserves a place among them.

The book’s endpapers show the black-and-white phases of a friendly-faced moon, adding a nice touch of reality to this anthropomorphic fantasy. As a round, almost full, smiling moon gazes lovingly down on a nude roly-poly brown-skinned baby, we read that “when a baby is born, the moon is there. The moon remembers.” In fact, the moon remembers all babies, including your parents, and not just human babies: It shines its light down on baby crickets, rabbits, owls, flowers and trees. In a spread sure to find great favor, we learn that “even every DINOSAUR was a baby once!”

Goodale’s spare text offers comfort and reassurance as it describes how the moon “remembers where you came from . . . even when you’ve forgotten.” Her artwork is fittingly suffused with the soft glow of moonlight, which appears especially luminous in spreads that depict a dark green forest filled with ferns and undergrowth. Against this moody, arboreal backdrop, pops of pink, purple, white and yellow wildflowers feel perfectly placed. And of course the moon is omnipresent, whether it’s gleaming in the sky or reflected in a stream.

The Moon Remembers pays quiet but powerful homage to families and the promise of new life. After all, the moon remembers “every life . . . every sweet moment. And the moon will remember you, perfect you, as you go and wherever you grow.”

Awake, Asleep

Awake, Asleep chronicles a day in the lives of three young children in clever rhymes, following three families in the same neighborhood from dawn until bedtime. We meet a single-parent family, a multigenerational family with same-sex parents and a family who will soon welcome a new baby as we enjoy the beauty of an ordinary day that’s filled with rhythms—including ups and downs—that all families share.

Author Kyle Lukoff won a 2022 Newbery Honor (along with a number of other awards) for his middle grade novel Too Bright to See. Here he employs far fewer words but with just as much impact, creating strings of short noun phrases to describe the ongoing action of the day. In an early spread, for instance, we read, “A yawn, a peep, a stretch, awake!” as we watch a cat, a child and their parent wake up and get out of bed. Later, Lukoff neatly summarizes a child’s evening meltdown over putting away a train set with “a take, a pry, a scream, a cry.” The book’s genius is that because the scenes and situations are so readily identifiable, readers need no additional explanation.

Nadia Alam’s illustrations present a series of curated moments depicting, for example, a father and child putting on their pink sneakers together in the morning, and later, another child helping an older relative who uses a cane stand up from a park bench. Alam showcases myriad emotions along with the love that pours over these children no matter their mood. Young readers will identify with all of these inquisitive, happy, grumpy and, finally, sleepy faces. The book concludes with a bedtime story (“A hold, a keep, a voice, a book.”), which makes Awake, Asleep feel like a loving review of the day gone by as well as a comforting way to prepare for all the many days to come.

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