This is not the time to start challenging your future Walt Whitman to hit the ground running. Start slow. Or even – start later.
Just be. No academics are required. No toy or book will be the deciding factor in whether your child grows up to be Malala Yousafzai or the Fedex guy who ignores the ‘SLEEPING BABY – GO AWAY’ sign to tell me I need to mow my lawn (that guy is a real life guy and I HATE HIM).
You’re doing a fine job just feeding the baby and keeping it warm. You will have time for all of the stories that make life magical later.
Meanwhile, if you’d like some books to play with, these are the best ones (and a bonus idea for how you can buy yourself enough time to shower every day.) Also – there are fart jokes.
Welcome to the World
A collection for the littlest of littles
For Birth through 6 months
Wee Gallery Mobile & Newborn-Friendly Prints
OK – this is a cheat. It’s not a book. It’s a mobile! Bwa-ha!
There are real books listed below, but bear with me because this thing is amaaa-zing!
If you have a newborn, you don’t need to stress out about story time. Seriously. Skip it. Take a nap. It can take as little as five minutes to set this mobile up with some high-contrast black and white photos. Or you can go nuts with it like I did.
You can also buy something with a similar concept pre-made. R2 loved this even more than the pretentious Montessori Munari Mobile I got on Etsy above his changing table.
This one is better, though. Or at least, I that’s what I tell myself when I realize my older son has been wearing the same shirt for the last five days straight.
Hey, at least I nailed the mobile.
Comforting visions & Science!
Frankly, the portraits we made for this mobile kinda creep me out – but R2 loooooves them – and they have happily distracted him for unbelievable amounts of time while I showered, caught up on dishes, read his older brother a story, or slept in an extra 15 minutes.
Newborns prefer gazing at a primary caregiver’s face above all else, and will choose to stare longer at female faces (ugh, sexist babies) or faces with strong peripheral facial details (so…ladies with beards?) At first, they can only focus within the ideal cuddle margin of 8-10″ away.
If you can’t do familiar faces, any human faces will do. Following that, they like strong, basic geometric shapes and patterns. Lacking that, you can use art cards for baby, which happen to fit perfectly in the mobile. Colors are a challenge, so if you want to make sure this is fun and not frustrating, start with basic black and white illustrations.
The most perfect newborn visual
Back in 2001(ish) I had the good fortune to catch a Julian Opie exhibition. Years later, after reading a billion vision-development studies (I’m too lazy to cite references, Wikipedia will have to do), his early paintings came to mind – they fit all the criteria of flat, 2D, simple portraits with minimal color, strong contrast, periphery detail, and that magical combination of eyes/mouth/hair that neurotypical minds are drawn to.
If you’re a terrible illustrator, like I am, you can design your own Opie-inspired print following this 2-part youtube tutorial. Since I have experience with Adobe Illustrator, I did something similar, and it took me about 2-3 hours per portrait. Or if you aren’t on bed-rest like I was, and you have a life, you can probably just draw some stick figure faces.
Movement & Perspective
Infants have an easier time tracking a slowly moving object than one standing completely still.
Start with a cheap Kikkerland wire mobile. It’s easy to swap out items later on, plus it’s lightweight enough that I could move it around the house to our various baby-stations throughout the day. A little nudge or a light breeze helps it sway gently.
This portable mobile hanger came in handy, as I was able to swap it between his crib, playpen, and a baby gate next to his tummy time area, and it was perfect for keeping the mobile just off-center in the periphery of his vision (infants have an easier time seeing items in the periphery rather than dead-center). Or use stick-on ceiling hooks all over the house.
We started it in the 8-10″ cuddle margin (off-center from his gaze) and moved it out of his reach before he got the 4-month crazy arms. Now it hangs about 3′ above his pillow.
Now, back to books!
ART FOR BABY (aka ‘Farter baby’)(Various)
Ages 0+ (best for newborns)
I was totally on-point about the Julian Opie paintings, you guys.
Art for Baby, (or as I read the title ‘Farter Baby’) features a number of newborn-friendly high-contrast illustrations created by some fancy famous modern artists – including – dun dun DUUUN – Opie himself.
Of the billions of black & white, Linenthal-esque books we checked out of the library, this was the only one Nikolai was enthralled by. The large size makes it easy to prop up for tummy time. I thought surely he’d grow bored of it, but given how many times we ended up requesting it from the library throughout his first year, we should have just purchased a copy.
I loved having this on my coffee table when people came to visit. I imagine it made me seem educated and refined – or is it a book about Farting Babies? Who knows whether I am fancy or farty! (You do – it’s the farts).
He particularly loved Takashi Murakami’s manic, hungry-looking cartoon daisy. Babies are weird.
Ages 3 months to 3 years (best for infants & young toddlers)
Unlike many touch & feel books, the textured swatches are large and easy to navigate without fine motor mastery – babies master foot-control first! Calamus was a fan of this book from 3 months through through his third year – first with his feet, then his hands. Nikolai has read it multiple times a week since he was able to control his feet. It’s best saved for after bath time, with care, our copy still looks clean and new (and smells fine.)
Indestructables [Various Titles] (Sickler/Pixton)
Ages 4 months+ (best for infants & toddlers)
So your 4-month-old has realized they can grab stuff!
Made from the same tenacious material as mattress tags, these things are rip-proof, tub-friendly, machine-washable, chew-proof, dirt-cheap, and paper-cut free. Also the ink doesn’t bleed and… just, whatever hesitations you have, ignore them, because these things are magic.
Indestructibles come in various titles (we still read ‘Frere Jacques‘ in the tub). Many first-time parents are put off by the lack of words, only to realize the blessing of being able to say “Honey, you can read that one yourself” once they get old enough to ask for the same story 20 times in a row.
Baby Faces (Suravicky)
Ages 4-6 months
There are approximately ten trillion boring books with forgettable titles featuring random babies making faces. This one was just as boring, but for whatever reason, Nikolai particularly loved this one from 4-6 months of age.
Personally, I preferred ‘My Face Book‘ by Star Bright Books because they featured more racial and gender diversity, but maintained the eye-contact connection with the reader that ‘Global Babies‘ lacks.
Just, whatever, get something small enough that your baby can hold it all by himself. Oh my gosh I hate these types of books. Is it just me? Is it an autistic thing? Anyway, the neurotypical babies here at Bumblebee hollow just eat this stuff up, and it’s helpful for discussing facial expressions for those of us on the autism spectrum.
It just occurred to me that now that Nikolai is older, I never have to spend 20 minutes flipping through one of these inane, brain-melting books again. I am happier about this than I am about potty training.
Mini Board Books (Pantone)
5 months to 4 years (or until they disintegrate)
Any 3″ book with super-thick-pages will do. We loved Roger Priddy’s ‘Little Chunky Books’ but they are out of print. If I still had an infant, I’d try out these gorgeous Pantone Color minis.
I thought these tiny books were silly when I got them as a baby shower gift. So boring! What was the point?!
Turns out, these were the only books Calamus and Nikolai could hold and flip through on their own – for several months. Even after I found Indestructables, these were easier for little hands to manipulate.
When you’re trying to do the dishes and your kid is screaming because he can’t flip a board book page, these things reveal themselves as sacred blessed gifts from unicorn angels. I can’t remember who got it for us, but THANK YOU.
After four years of wear and tear, we had essentially laminated each book in clear packing tape. My almost-4-year-old loved flipping through them because they were simple enough that he could ‘read’ them to his baby brother. They finally disintegrated just before my eldest turned four.
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