Our First Favourite Books: Reading in the First YearThere are few defined hopes I have for Budster’s future. I would like him to be happy. I would like him to be healthy. I would like him to adore books. I believe that if you are a passionate reader, the world is a much more pleasant place. Bigger, too. In the world of books, Narnia and Oz exist alongside Middle Earth and Earthsea. Books inspire, teach and entertain. If the smell of a new book can make your heart beat faster, you will never have to search long for thrill and excitement.

I loved books for as long as I could remember, but I know that a lot of parents, who wanted their children to finish their literature assignments at school on time, asked my Mom how she did it. When I grew older and started thinking of having children, I asked her the same question. She said, “Well, I don’t know. I just wanted you to like reading, and I read to you a lot.” In all the books on children’s development I have not found a different answer.

I was eager to start right away. When I was still pregnant, I read to Budster several times. It was Oh, the places you’ll go! as it seemed the most suitable. My husband read The Hobbit to my belly. The belly did not react in any special way, so we just keep on reading to each other before going to sleep. :-)

When Budster was born, I must have read him the first book within the first week of his life. He did not seem enthusiastic. The level of The Hobbit must have been hard to beat.

I kept reading, and at times he favoured some books, listening and giggling, while other times he could not wait to turn away from all of them. Once, when he was seven months old, he spent forty minutes with Haiku Baby, turning pages over and over again. He did not notice the pictures, but the mechanism of turning amazed him.

In a retrospective I know that Budster enjoyed books before that, but he was eight months old when he picked his first firm favourite, tugging it around and requesting to read. It was We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rozen and illustrated by Helen Oxenbury. I picked it up first at a library sale, recalling the name from somewhere. My husband later found the book, read it and shrugged, “The story… there is really no story.” Upon reading the book I had to agree with him, but by then I fell in love with the illustrations. We also understood that even without a proper story, but with an abundance of delightful sounds (swishing grass, squelching mud, swirling snowstorm, etc.) it will be a hit for a young reader. I ended up getting the pop-up version for Budster, which he loved to bits – literally. We kept all the pieces and lately put the book back together. I do not feel too bad about it: this book knew love.

Whether a pop-up or not, this is a good book for a baby. The plot is abstract – it is based on a traditional song. The family is going on a bear hunt, but upon meeting the beast, runs away. On their way there and back they come upon a lot of – noisy – obstacles. You can read it and entertain your listener with funny noises, and later add movements, then later still make a dramatic performance that includes your child. Yet another possibility would be to watch the video of the author’s amusing narration of his book.

By the way, did you know that the oldest guy in the pictures is not a Daddy, but an older brother?! I have just made this realization after reading an interview with Helen Oxenbury, the creator of the lovely watercolours in the book. They play a significant role in this book, bringing life to a repetitive song, and if one was to analyze the meaning of the story, it would be more about the illustrations than about the text. Is this all a game? Is the bear even real? Or are black and white illustrations reality, and coloured pages are what is happening in imagination? So many thoughts after reading this story a couple of hundred times to my son.

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Two other books that became Buster’s favourites in that time are also full of interesting noises. Dear Zoo by Rod Campbell and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What do You Hear? by Eric Carle. Our’s have small speakers in them, and as we read them our house was filled with monkey’s screaming, zebra’s braying, and flamingo’s fluting. I must admit, I have never heard a flamingo before reading this book, and it was entertaining for me as well. I do not imagine one can go wrong with Eric Carle after all these years, and the electronic addition seemed appropriate.

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In addition to noises, Dear Zoo has flaps which make the book interactive. Even a very small child can become part of the story, opening the boxes, letting animals out, and then shutting them back again. The story is straightforward, with a mysterious man searching for a perfect pet and requesting it from the zoo. He gets a lot of exotic companions before settling for a good old puppy. The language is simple, but considering the audience, appropriately so. Budster got this book before his first visit to the zoo, and he liked it right away.

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While the above mentioned books are renown classics, Giant Pop-Out Bugs is not. Nor do I think it will be. But having bought it on a whim, we were very happy with it, and so was Budster. He appreciated the folding out photographs of insects, big and vivid; while my husband, who is an insect lover, approved of content. Except for the last page. Butterflies have four wings – not two! The information presented tends to be trivial and partial, but it is as simple as a baby can understand and certainly has valuable educational elements.

I would give this book 3 out of 5, but it is one of Budster’s favourite books.

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The world of English children’s books is fairly new to me – and very exciting! – since my childhood was spent among Russian books. While choosing books for Budster, I read a lot of Goodreads, Amazon and blog reviews to find the ones we will all like. I do believe that it is better to have a couple of books that you will be happy to read to your child a thousand times than a thousand books that you will not want to read more than a couple of times. Though you would never guess, looking at my full book cases…

Anyway, that’s how I chose Haiku Baby by Betsy Snyder, based on someone’s review. I was not disappointed: it has become one of my favourites even before Budster’s birth. The style of illustrating is whimsical and reminiscent of Eric Carle’s, and the choice of colours is pleasantly atmospheric, while the poems are simply lovely. The poems are written in a form of haiku and adhere to the traditional theme of seasonal observations. I admire the idea of introducing a foreign form of poetry to a very young reader. The poems tell children about familiar things in simple words, but the whole impression is just right, and very inspiring. When I read about spring, I want to take Budster outside and splash in puddles. Hopefully, spring will be here soon!

Splish-splash, puddle bath!

Raindrops march in spring parade –

Wake up, sleepy earth.

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Budster has been fond of this book for months, and I see how we can read it for several more years, simple as it is. Hopefully, one day it will inspire him to write his own little haiku, like the ones my husband and I sometimes compose for the pure fun.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle is so well regarded for young readers that I doubt I can say anything new about it. I was not familiar with the caterpillar before, and I was a little doubtful at first, but its charm definitely works. Budster loves it, never grows tired of listening to the simple story of a hungry caterpillar, and has probed the holey pages many times. I like that the idea behind this book gives young children something they can relate to: first, they are hungry, then they eat and eat and eat until, finally, one day, they turn into beautiful butterflies.

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Feathers by Claire Clark was another accidental purchase from a second-hand bookstore. It is a short board book where one page has a feather of a bird with the name of its species and another page has a picture of the bird with the sound it makes. The sounds are not the usual “cheep-cheep!” and are fun to read aloud. We enjoy making impressions of a humming bird, an eastern bluebird, a cardinal, a kookaburra, a saw-whet owl, a mallard and an ostrich, and it always puts a smile on our son’s face.

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Finally, Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton was acquired with hesitation as I was not overly fond of the illustrations. I am still not, admittedly. Yet, I have come to appreciate the book for its simple charm. What helped was Budster’s conviction that this book is worth listening to three or more times in a row. And who would not want to hear again and again how a cow says “moo” in a booming Daddy’s voice? All in all, it is a good first book of animal noises with illustrations that are easy for young babies to concentrate on.

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Thinking back, it is interesting that I could not predict which books will become Budster’s favourites. Some of them were carefully chosen based on reviews and recommendations, but also many were picked up at sales, on a whim. At fifteen months, he still likes all of them, even as his selection broadens.

Do you want to know what Budster and I read next? You might be interested in reading through our list of books for 12-18 months. If you want to stay updated on other stories from Adventure in a Box, consider subscribing to our Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram pages. Thank you for reading!

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