Audible was one of my favorite things during my first year of parenting. I’ve had a subscription for years, and it is still one of my favorite things, but during that first year, I wanted to be paying attention to my baby. I didn’t want to be looking at a smart phone or a screen constantly, but the days were long and I also needed food for my brain. We listened to a lot of audiobooks that first year. I don’t lean on audiobooks as heavily now that my son is a toddler and he’s more tuned into (and has preferences about) what is playing in the background. These days I mostly use them for long car drives, but they are still one of my great pleasures in life.
Gavin and I like to listen to audiobooks together, and some of our favorite audio books over the years have been the Terry Prachett novels narrated by Stephen Briggs, especially Going Postal, Making Money and The Wee Free Men. I also loved The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians, and Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear. I read Neal Stephenson’s Baroque Cycle in book format, but Gavin is listening to the audiobooks, and they are quite a ride, particularly if you like very, very long rip-roaring adventures (over 100 hours), and you can be patient for the first 14 hours — or about a single normal book’s worth of pages if you are reading — while you wait for it to get exciting. Maybe I’m not selling that one properly — what I’m trying to say is that it was worth it. I got into those during a stretch when my son would nap best if I was lying in the bedroom with him, and I was reading up a storm during those naps, so I was looking for a lot of bang for my buck when buying books. They’re less of a bargain on Audible, because what is sold as three paper books is broken up into seven normally priced audiobooks. Still, if you like long stories, historical fiction and adventure on the high seas, these are about as exciting as it gets.
When we read If You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond, we imagine wading in the pond with Thoreau, sitting on a carpet of pine needles together, walking through forest trails together, watching ant wars, and chasing a fox. We imagine drinking cold, clean Walden pond water, and picking and eating huckleberries together.
I like the idea of reading books for Earth Day that celebrate nature and that remind us how wonderful it feels to be in it, rather than urgent or scary books about what we need to do, especially for small children. I think the deepest, most sustainable action comes not out of fear or guilt, but out of love. I think love is the place to start, especially with children.
We love Who Made This Cake? by Chihiro Nakagawa. I’ve always had a thing for little tiny people living in the big world and for things that should be little being huge — I read all of The Littles books when I was a kid, and I love Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. And my son loves construction trucks and cracking eggs and he also loves cake. So, between the two of us, we can happily read Who Made This Cake? over and over.
Inside this book is a magical world where hundreds of industrious, playful tiny people use construction equipment to bake a birthday cake for a little boy while he is off at the toy store with his parents. They set up ramps and deliver dump trucks full of flour and sugar and baking power to a mixing bowl, and they crack eggs with an impact hammer attachment on an excavator. They cart the egg shells off the ramp on flat bed trucks, and then they mix the batter with what may be fictional beater attachements on excavators. (Remarkably, most of the other equipment looks like miniature versions of things my son and I have seen on construction sites or non-fiction books.) They pump the batter into the baking pan using trucks and hoses a lot like the ones we see pumping cement at construction sites around town. While the cake is baking, the little people — who might possibly be children, or just child-like — order smoothies from food trucks and visit and play guitar and take naps. When the cake is ready to be frosted, they mix whipped cream in cement mixers and pump it onto the cake using cement pump trucks. A tiny helicopter delivers a “Happy Birthday” sign. When the boy comes home from his birthday shopping trip, you can see the little people watching from the window ledge as his mom brings the cake to the table, and the construction machines they used are his toys, which have been put back in the living room. On the end page, they all spread out outside to sing and paint and read books and play soccer and basketball and violin or to just walk and talk together. It’s a joyful book that makes me feel like the world is good and beautiful and full of possibility.
We love the Usborne Pull-Back Busy Car Book.
Each page has a track for the pull-back car to follow, and the car has a fifth wheel underneath in the middle to keep it on the track. The story follows the car as it travels along until it finally arrives at the beach.
Granted, what my son loves most about it is the car. It may be the most expensive (and smallest) pull-back car we’ve ever found! We were shopping for a new book, and when he saw the little car in this one, our search was over. He zeroed in on it very enthusiastically and on no uncertain terms. Usborne knows how to sell books to toddlers. The car is so precious that my son doesn’t want me to take it and run it on the tracks. He likes to hold it while I trace the tracks with my finger and read him the story. To read it properly, I have to take the car while he is sleeping and read it to myself. Which I sometimes do.
The Christmas Quiet Book by Deborah Underwood
All the ways things can be quiet at Christmastime in this book are funny (“Aunt Tilly’s pickle and banana stuffing quiet” and “knocking with mittens on quiet” are two of my favorites), but the illustrations are what make me love it.
Sampson, the Christmas Cat by Catherine Stock
Sampson is a stray who smells the family’s Christmas turkey cooking and sneaks in through a window. The kids find him hide him from their mom, who is not a cat lover. They manage to cover for him until their annoying cousin comes over and blows a tickler in everyone’s faces. Sampson springs out to attack it, and maybe, just maybe he wins their mom over.
I’ll Be Home for Christmas by Holly Hobbie
We love Holly Hobbie’s Toot and Puddle books. Two pigs, one a homebody and one an adventurer, are best friends who live together in the country with a parrot named Tulip. In I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Toot (the adventurer) makes his way home from a family reunion in Scotland, but he’s held up by an ice storm and snowed over roads until finally a mysterious stranger in a sleigh gives him a lift on Christmas Eve night.
You Are My Miracle by Maryann Cusimano Love
I meant to write about my favorite Christmas picture books in December, but getting ready for and recovering from Christmas kept me so busy that I’m only getting to it now. This book made me cry more than once as I was reading it. My son liked it, but I loved it. This might be a book more for parents than for children; it brings up all at once what it feels like to be a mom or dad in all its heart swelling glory.