two years a reader

Before Hugh was born, I had visions of spending hours curled up under quilts, reading with a small being nestled at my side. I saw me and this small person making frequent trips to the library, hauling book-filled tote bags and reciting poems at every opportunity — swinging at the playground, scuffling our feet through crisped fall leaves, gazing up at the sky, engaging in bouts of emphatic puddle stomping. I saw my imagined small person sitting in a sunbeam shaft, lost in a book.

All of these visions have come to pass, and I feel very lucky, because right from the moment they blink open their eyes, little people have thier own interests and preogatives and there is no guarantee they will be anything like you hope or wish (though when it comes to parenthood, I've found that my hopes and wishes are often at best a sort of dinky cardboard model of the actual experience).

Five weeks old (so tiny).

When Hugh was very new to the world, we mainly read him chapter books and things we liked aloud, because we egotistically assumed that hearing our voices mattered most and baby books can get old fast. The Winnie the Pooh books, E.B. White's Stuart Little, Robert Mccloskey's Homer Price stories, Ruth Krauss's A Hole is to Dig and Randall Jarrell's The Bat Poet were favorites. I also read him poems from The Rattle Bag and the occasional New Yorker article. Ounce, Dice, Trice by Alistair Reid was the first book that made him laugh. Tiny babies are the best, because you can read them whatever you like.

Now that we are firmly in the world of picture books, Hugh has more opinions about what gets read. A selection of some of his favorites from the past year would include:

Best Friends for Frances and Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban.
Best Storybook Ever, by Richard Scarrey (we skip the problematic bits).
A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson.
Du Iz Tak? by Carson Ellis.
The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars by Jean Merrill.
The Fuzzy DucklingShaker Lane, and A Shaker Abcedarium by Martin and Alice Provensen.
Katy and the Big Snow, by Virginia Lee Burton (an underrated genius).
Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena.
The Real Mother Goose.
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole and The Wolf, the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett.
The Snowy Day and Over in the Meadow by Ezra Jack Keats.
Poems to Read to the Very Young, selected by Josette Frank.
Professional Crocodile by Giovanna Zoboli.
Pete's a Pizza, by William Steig.
Umbrella by Taro Yashima.
We Found a Hat by John Klassen.
an astonishing number of books by the incomparable Margaret Wise Brown, but most especially: The Little Island, The Important Book, The Quiet Noisy Book, The Friendly Book, Scuppers the Sailor Dog, The Growing Story, Mister Dog (The Dog Who Belonged to Himself) [ed. note: my personal favorite], The Runaway Bunny, The Little Fireman and Goodnight Moon. [edited to add: somehow this list missed two of Hugh's most-requested titles: The Little Fur Family and Wait Till The Moon is Full.]

We're never far from something to read. There are dedicated shelves for picture books in Hugh's room and in our kitchen, plus book caddies that hold his favorite reads of the moment strategically plopped by comfortable spots (re: book caddies — I like this portable one by Umbra and this stationary one by Ikea). A separate basket by the front door holds library books and seasonal reads. On my bookshelves, the lowest shelves hold children's chapter books and poetry collections, so almost all of the books in our house at Hugh height are of Hugh interest, and he can go and get any of them whenever he likes. To make it easier for Hugh to sort and shelve at the end of the day, each of his bookshelves are organized by color (this also makes it easier for him to find specific books).

In practice, having toddler-height books everywhere sometimes looks like this:

You have to pick your parental hassles, though, and this is one I don't mind. Spending an hour or two with Hugh and a topply pile of picture books he's picked himself is a pure joy, even when it involves reading Make Way for Duckings for the umpteenth time, and who knows how long it will last. Children change like clouds in the sky. I'm grateful to have these days and plenty of books.