Only what you need for your baby. Really. (OK – and some fantastic things you don’t that are pretty cool.)
Babies can’t read. Just FYI. In case you weren’t sure. But you’ll receive a little stack of board books at your baby shower anyway. Kids’ books are really cute, some of them are really clever and people love to give you their favorites. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have books to start out, just that you should manage your expectations about your little one’s interest in them and limit your own spending on the baby library until a little later.
Part of this lack of interest is that babies can’t see much in their early weeks and won’t fully engage their eyesight until about four months, so even bright Boynton pictures won’t capture their interest for a while. Also, an infant’s attention span is measured in seconds, so working your way through even a short book with him is a challenge.
Despite these facts, everywhere you read about sleep and how to get your baby to sleep more, you’ll see notes about the all-important bedtime ritual – bottle/breast, bath, book, bed, in some version of that order. This implied to me that Astrid would be down with the book reading right out of the gate, which she totally wasn’t. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include the reading though, just prepare yourself that for at least the first several months, the “reading” may be 30 seconds long and an unwelcome distraction from the bedtime milk.
We stuck with it through her, “I don’t know why you’re bothering ’cause I’m not interested,” phase and the, “OK, we can do this but I’ll take the book away every time you turn the page, so you better bring a stack and not be invested in linear narratives,” phase, and finally, at about fourteen months, she latched into really looking at books. It was worth it: she “reads” in her room by herself now, brings us books to read to her, and happily looks through the few we leave in her crib overnight so we can get another fifteen minutes of sleep in the morning. Hooray!
If you’d like a place to start, try I Am a Bunny by Richard Scary and Ole Risom. It’s the first book Astrid noticed out of her whole little library. The pictures are big and colorful and the text is so short that even a tiny kid can cope! It’s a classic and I now know why.
Someone also gave us a copy of White on Black by Tana Hoban, which I thought looked silly because it isn’t really a book as much as a pack of black and white pictures of objects in a binding. It did attract her interest for a while though because of the black and white shapes (very popular with the tiny, “I can’t see my hand in front of my face” crowd), and I’ve heard other kids like that series a lot. In the same genre, I preferred the Wee Gallery black and white card packs, although the animals are a little advanced for an infant. I wasn’t looking for “octopus” to be Astrid’s first animal word! Hoban sticks with the basics, like buttons and a boat.
Definitely go for board books – even babies can tear up storybook pages – and big, not-too-complicated picture with bright primary colors and your little one will catch on in a few months.