Book roundup: The Moon

As I have previously mentioned, Tiny J (2 years) is crazy about the moon. Like, she won’t sleep in the car anymore if we drive at night because she’s too busy updating us about whether or not she can see the moon. The exchange below was on loop for 2.5 hours on a recent drive home from my sister’s house.

“I see the moon, Daddy!”


“Mama, the moon is in my window! I can see it!”

[pause, wail] 


It has been a lot of fun finding moon books to enjoy together. There must be other moon-crazy children out there, so for them, and their parents, here is a roundup of our favourites.

Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, illustrated by Clement Hurd (board book). Let’s just get straight to the elephant in the room.  Regardless of any issues you may have with the child’s bedroom in this book (and there are many), there is still a little bit of magic lining the quiet that hangs in the air every time someone reads “Goodnight stars. Goodnight air. Goodnight noises everywhere” and closes this book. Even if it’s the seventh time that night.

Moongame by Frank Asch (picture book). The illustrations may be simple and the palette may seem a little muted to modern audiences, but this story of a bear playing hide-and-seek with the moon is still a very appealing read.

Moon is Sad by Guido van Genechten (board book). It’s simple, it’s sweet, it has a unique structure, and it ends with a wee mouse giving the moon a kiss. Now my kids kiss the moon goodnight. So, a keeper.

I Took the Moon for a Walk by Carolyn Curtis and Alison Jay (board book). I’ve talked about this book before, but with its poetic writing and sense of wonder, it deserves a further mention. I keep waiting for my sister to ask for this loaner back, but hoping she doesn’t.

Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me by Eric Carle (board book). Eric Carle, famed for his famished larva, brings his striking collaged artwork to a lovely story of a dedicated father who wants to bring the moon down for his daughter to play with. An excellent Father’s Day gift if you’re thinking (way) ahead.

I’ll See You in the Morning
by Mike Jolley and Mique Moriuchi (board book).
 Full disclosure: this book isn’t strictly about the moon, but it makes the cut for two reasons: (1) there are enough pictures of the moon to meet Tiny J’s stringent bedtime moon-image quota and (2) it’s such a sweet book that I would shoehorn it onto just about any best-of list. Tiny J likes to say the lines over and over to herself, so sometimes after she’s supposed to be sleeping I’ll hear the refrain drift out from behind her closed door: Dream your dreams of moonbeams. Let the night become your friend. The twinkling stars will keep you safe till morning comes again. One of our all-time favourites.

So, here’s what I need to know: are other kids crazy about the moon or is it just mine?

All the World

Review: All the World

All the World EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Picture book (also available as a board book)
Ages: 1-6
Author: Liz Garton Scanlon
Illustrators: Marla Frazee
Publisher: Beach Lane Books (published September 2009)
Pages: 40
ISBN-10: 1416985808
ISBN-13: 978-1416985808

Rock, stone, pebble, sand.

Marla Frazee’s illustrations always catch my eye when I see them. I’ve already talked about The Seven Silly Eaters and Everywhere Babies, two of my favourite Frazee-illustrated books, so perhaps I should move on to other artists, but she chooses the best books to illustrate. And also, she has the best name. Frankly, I wish my name was Marla Frazee. And not only because that would make me a two-time Caldecott medalist.

All the World is another book-that’s-really-a-poem. And, not unlike When I Was Born, it’s about life. But this book takes a broader perspective.

Body, shoulder, arm, hand
A moat to dig, a shell to keep
All the world is wide and deep.

Simple but profound ideas are brought to life in Scanlon’s tidy rhyming couplets and Frazee’s exuberant illustrations: a day at the seashore is rained out (Slip, trip, stumble, fall / Tip the bucket, spill it all / Better luck another day / All the world goes round this way) and we are reminded that some days are good, and some days are not so good.  Three children clamber into the branches of a massive tree, a young sapling in their red wagon ready to plant: All the world is old and new. Characters recur throughout the pages, widening the focus from one family all families, all people, all part of the world.

Everything you hear, smell, see
All the world is everything
Everything is you and me.
Hope and peace and love and trust
All the world is all of us.

A poem for everyone to enjoy. Is it weird that I want to buy children’s books and give them to grown-ups too? This is one I would love to share with my older friends as well as the younger crowd.



How to curate baby’s first library: the ultimate guide

My friends and I recently threw a baby shower for our lovely pregnant friends (well, only one of them is pregnant. It was a co-ed shower.). They wanted a book shower, which is amazing, so everyone brought a book for the baby and wrote a note in it with their best wishes. I had a serious problem, though. I was paralyzed with indecision. She’s a PhD in cognitive studies and linguistics and he’s a letterpress artist and graphic designer. They’re well-read and inordinately, unintentionally cool. Choosing exactly the right book for them was hella intimidating. I eventually on Lenore Klein’s Henri Walks to Paris because it is beautifully designed, boldly illustrated, and delightfully written with a great message about adventures, journeys, and happiness (and also because the couple loves Paris).

But this process got me thinking. This couple doesn’t have any children’s books yet. I do not remember what that feels like, though I know that was once me. I felt like going to Winners and filling up a shopping cart for them. How do you get from No Kids’ Books At All in the house to our situation, which I like to call Overrun by Kids’ Books, wherein you’re constantly trying to corral the piles of books in the shelves and baskets all over the house?

So. If you’re building a baby library from the ground up, what books do you need? How do you cover all your board book basics? Here, then, for all the future babies in your lives and their parents, I present the Aardvark’s Apprentice Ultimate Guide to Curating Baby’s First Library.

Curating baby's first library: the ultimate guide | The Aardvark's Apprentice | Find the best books for kids

All you have to do is pick a book or two from each category to take comfort in knowing that all the literary needs of your future offspring are totally covered.

High-contrast books. Babies aren’t born with the ability to see colours, and high-contrast books appeal to them. As they look at the pictures (why is there always a picture of a fish in these books?), they are learning how we read books (the pages are turned from left to right) and they are associating reading with lovely snuggles, so you are using classical conditioning to make your baby love reading, which is awesome. (You could ring a bell every time you feed her too, and see if she starts to salivate when you ring the bell. That would be neat.) Here are some good high-contrast picks.

(1) blackwhite    (2)look-look1

(3) download (8)      (4) questionmark

(1) White on Black by Tana Hoban. (also available: Black on White! And the thrilling sequel, Black & White!), (2) Look Look! and many subsequent titles by Peter Linenthal, (3) Art for Baby — this one is for very fancy people who are looking for “a perfect way to bring contemporary art to your baby.” (4) Make your own. Seriously. You can just cut some shapes out of black paper and stick them to white paper. Then you can become Pinterest-famous!

The classics. 

goodnightmoon  SnowyDayKeats  Pat_the_Bunny_image  HungryCaterpillar

You just can’t have a baby without one or more copies of

  • Goodnight Moon (though please note that this book is not without issues)
  • The Snowy Day
  • Pat the Bunny
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar
  • Good Night Gorilla
  • Ten Little Fingers
  • A selection of Sandra Boynton books (start with Moo, Baa, La La La and But Not the Hippopotamus, perhaps.)
  • A few of the younger Dr. Seuss books.

I know it’s blasphemy to say this, but some of these books aren’t even that awesome. But that’s okay because you probably won’t have to buy them. People will give you these books. You are likely to receive multiple copies. That’s not a bad thing; you can either regift your third copy of Pat the Bunny and it can become someone else’s third copy of Pat the Bunny or you can hold onto it in case your baby turns out to love Pat the Bunny so much that you need copies in every room. (Totally possible.)

Lift the flap books. Start with just a few, but know that your child will rip all the flaps off. Keep tape handy. If you lose the flaps, your baby will probably be just as impressed by a vague shape cut out of construction paper that she can lift.

(1) 71QmQucSriL  (2) wheresspot  

(3) dearzoo (4) isayyousay

(1) Although I wish I could avoid them, I can’t help but recommend the pablum of Karen Katz in this category (see my post about these blandly addictive baby books here). (2) All the Spot books are adored by babies. Even though I feel like I could probably have drawn the pictures as well as Eric Hill, I probably wouldn’t have thought to put a snake in the grandfather clock. Oddly, children don’t seem to find the snake in the clock scary. (3) Dear Zoo is probably my favourite lift-the-flap. But, again, keep that tape handy. (4) I Say, You Say Colors accomplishes the secondary task of being a colour book, a category I am leaving off this list because whether you drill them on their colours or not, they will learn them. Unless they’re colourblind, in which case I guess having a colour book is a good litmus test to find that out.

Books with baby faces. Why do babies like to look at other babies? I have no idea. But they really, really do. We like Global Babies because it’s one of the few books Tiny J (16 months) and Little E (3.5 years) can enjoy together — Tiny J looks at the babies and Little E and I talk about the different places the babies come from (India, Peru, Afghanistan…). Margaret Miller has a series of baby face books that may not qualify as memorable literature, but are certainly guaranteed to captivate your baby.

globalbabies  babyfaces  babyfood  babyfacessmile

Touch and feel books. The quality of these varies tremendously. Some “touch and feel” books have about as much texture as my shower tile. I don’t think you can beat the Usborne That’s Not My… series for variety of textures (I get a kick out That’s Not My Meerkat for reasons I can’t quite explain), but keep an eye out for books like Have You Ever Tickled a Tiger? that have things that are soft and hard and prickly and tickly and feathery and funny to touch. If there’s one things babies love almost as much as baby faces, it’s touching and feeling things.

notmyfrog  tiger  fuzzy

Word books. These are the Most Boring to read, but babies of a certain age (somewhere between ten and fifteen months) adore them, and for good reason: their little brains are soaking up words like my new “waterproof” jacket from Old Navy soaks up the rain. These books are pretty interchangeable in terms of narrative structure (picture of item with name of item) so it doesn’t much matter which ones you get.

first100   firstwords

Bedtime books. Bedtime is the nicest storytime (unless you have a grumpy baby and you really just need to make that kid be asleep — in which case, skip the damn stories and just put that baby to bed. I guarantee you her cognitive development will not suffer from the occasional skipped storytime, but you’ll all suffer if you’re trying to make an exhausted baby listen to your funny Cat in the Hat voices). The sleepier the bedtime book, the better. Chances are pretty good that you’ll be tired enough that you’ll both fall asleep. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

bigredbarn  timeforbed  dreamanimals  bookofsleep

(1) Big Red Barn by Margaret Wise Brown. (2) Time for Bed by Mem Fox. (3) Dream Animals by Emily Winfred Martin. (4) A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na. (One of our favourites; read why here.) Sweet dreams!

Nursery rhymes. Finish this sentence: “The king was in his counting-house…” Can’t do it? You’re going to need a copy of Humpty Who: A Crash Course in 80 Nursery Rhymes. It’s targeted at people who find themselves putting their kids to bed with the Love Boat theme song because they can’t remember more than a few words of the nursery rhymes of their long-ago childhood. The CD is great too. We have a few different treasuries of nursery rhymes — find one you like that has a lot of different rhymes and some lovely illustrations and you’ll be golden. Oh, and make sure it has a section of bouncing rhymes. That was how Tiny J learned how to sign “Again!”

humptywho  treasury

Books to make new parents cry. It’s a mean trick, but every new parent should be given a few books that will make them ugly cry. The best books for this seem to be Love You Forever (though if I’m climbing in through my kids’ windows in the middle of the night someday, someone please have a serious talk with me), Someday (the boy-oriented Little Boy follow-up is a little lacking — sorry, weepy parents of boys), and I Wish You More.

loveyouforever  someday  wishyoumore  OnTheDayYouWereBorn

A book of your family. This takes about ten minutes of work, and it’s very hard to find ten minutes when you have a new baby, so I suggest doing this before the baby is born or tasking a relative with this. Print out photos of your family — you can stick to your immediate family but it’s nice to include grandparents, aunts, and uncles, though you can probably safely leave out Great-Aunt Selma from Albuquerque — and put them in an album. Leave space for a photo of the baby if she’s not born yet. Add a bit of tape to make sure your little mischief-maker can’t get the pictures out. You can buy special soft albums to do this, but the albums from the dollar store work just as well (especially with the tape!). We have hundreds of books in our house, and the kids’ favourite remains the album of photos of all the people who love them.

And that’s how you put together the best library a baby could have! What do you think? Are there any categories of books you think are mandatory? Did I miss any of your baby’s favourites?

Happy reading!
The Aardvark

Review: I am a Bunny

iamabunny EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Ages: 0-4
Author: Ole Risom
Illustrator: Richard Scarry
Publisher: Golden Books (originally published in 1963, rereleased January 2004)
Pages: 26
ISBN-10: 0375827781
ISBN-13: 978-0375827785

Kids’ books are amazing these days. There is an astonishing variety available, covering every topic and idea anyone can imagine, and they all seem to do something different — there’s The Book with no Pictures, which has (you guessed it) no pictures; there are books like Press Here! that invite the reader to push and press and tilt them; and stay tuned next week for a review of a book that’s entirely black and helps sighted children get an idea of what the world might look like to a blind person. I love it. As an avowed lover of children’s books, I revel in this wealth and abundance. I love to find books that do things differently and even test our idea of what a children’s book is.

But sometimes, I just want to read my kids a sweet little story about a bunny in overalls.

I am a Bunny is utterly lacking in gimmicks and pretension. A 1963 collaboration between influential children’s book publisher Ole Risom and beloved illustrator Richard Scarry, the book is a gentle exploration of the life of a little rabbit through the four seasons.

I am a bunny.
My name is Nicholas.
I live in a hollow tree.

Scarry’s illustration capture every leaf, every daffodil, and every butterfly in loving detail. Babies and young toddlers love examining all the different creatures and plants, and older children can look up the different birds and insects in field guides. And every child (and most adults) I have witnessed reading this book is captivated by the double-page spread of Nicholas blowing the dandelion seeds into the air.

This book captures the wonder of the natural world at the level of a bunny, or of a child. It’s  not a book you should race through, although it doesn’t have a lot of words and I will admit to pushing it as a bedtime story on rushed nights. This is the kind of book you should savour, delighting in every season as Nicholas enjoys spring, summer, fall, and finally winter.

And, when winter comes,
I watch the snow falling from the sky.
Then I curl up in my hollow tree and dream about spring.

Today’s kids always seem to expect more from toys and books: they want them to beep and boop and sing and dance and pop because so many of their toys and books do. But for more than fifty years now, babies and children have loved snuggling up with a favourite grown-up to enjoy the simple, natural magic of I am a Bunny. This book is the perfect baby shower gift (I got mine from our good friend and occasional nanny — thanks Sarah!) and a classic that belongs on every child’s shelf.

Featured Author: Karen Katz

download (4) beach_ball download (5) $T2eC16VHJGwFFZMyS9y!BRpr4D(0MQ~~_35 daddyandme  267460

I’m not going to lie here. I don’t like these books. I find them boring and repetitive and lacking in any regard for parents or older children who might be forced to sit through a reading. I feel like they underestimate babies’ ability to appreciate even a wee bit of depth.

It doesn’t really matter what I think on this subject, though.

Because babies freaking love Karen Katz books.

These books are like baby crack. Karen Katz books are to babies like Hallowe’en candy is to preschoolers. Every time I whip one of these puppies out for my ten-month-old, and we have at least four of them despite never having purchased one or receiving one as a gift that I can remember — I swear they breed like cockroaches when our backs are turned — her face lights up as though I finally agreed to let her put the put that ball of dog hair in her mouth. She delights in the babies’ weirdly large heads; she loves the patterns on their shirts; she chortles with glee at every surprise under every flap (spoiler alert: it’s a baby).

Katz appears to be generating these books at approximately the same rate as my preschooler makes messes (I imagine her rolling around on piles of baby profit cash), so the selection can be a little overwhelming. That’s okay. They’re all exactly the same. You can just choose one at random; every baby in the world seems to be attracted to all Karen Katz books equally.

The books are bland and silly, but do not let that stop you. Buy some for your baby. Because we’re still not going to let them put the dog hair in their mouths, but at least they can look behind the beach ball and find out what’s behind it*.

*It’s still a baby.

Review: This New Baby

download (2) EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book (also available as a picture book)
Age: 1-3 years
Author: Teddy Jam
Illustrator: Virginia Johnson
Publisher:  Groundwood Books (published August 2011)
Pages: 22
ISBN-10: 1554980887
ISBN-13: 978-1554980888

“This new baby / lies in my arms / like summer dark / sleeping on new grass …”

I love a book that is also a poem. This little book’s expressive, rhythmic words and contemplative watercolour illustrations bring to my mind Japanese poetry and Chinese brush painting — and yet are accessible enough for a young toddler to enjoy. Certainly a very young reader will not grasp the finer points of each simile (“my new baby’s cry / chases old ghosts / back into the shadows”), but I don’t believe that’s a good reason not to enjoy poetry together. This New Baby is a book that is impossible to rush through, one where each word dances in the air for a moment after it is spoken.

Please, give this sweet book to all the pregnant women you know. Its small loveliness deserves a presence on their bookshelves.

Review: Everywhere Babies

EverywhereBabies EditorsPick (2)

GoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvarkGoldAardvark 5/5 aardvarks

Format: Board book
Author: Susan Meyers
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Publisher: Harcourt (published Sept. 2004)
Pages: 30
ISBN-10: 0152053158
ISBN-13: 978-0152053154

This charming book uses simple, rhythmic rhyme and delightfully detailed illustrations to draw young readers into the world of babies all over the world: “Every day, everywhere, babies are born — fat babies, thin babies, small babies, tall babies, winter and spring babies, summer and fall babies.” The everyday lives of babies are captured and celebrated lyrically and visually: toddlers and preschoolers will enjoy pointing out familiar items and activities. I consider this book to be a blow for The Powers of Good in the Mommy Wars: a gentle, positive reminder that babies are raised in different ways in different places and we parents are all just doing the best we can. The illustrations depict families and parents of all sorts, including what I think is a same-sex couple, feeding, transporting, and enjoying their babies in all kinds of ways. The message is a lovely one: “Every day, everywhere, babies are loved — for trying so hard, for traveling so far, for being so wonderful…just as they are!”

This would be the perfect gift for a new big sister or brother, who will love combing through the intricate illustrations and will find new pleasures with every read.

If you like this, you might like Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes by Mem Fox.