-posted by Meghan
Recently, a friend and I were talking about what books to give a mutual friend (and a big book lover) who is expecting her first baby. We started reminiscing about what we had each read to our own kids when they were newborns. “I read Goodnight Moon, of course,” my friend said, and then in a confessional tone added, “But I think I read aloud more back issues of the New Yorker than anything else. It was the only way I could catch up on them. Isn’t that terrible?” Actually, no. Far from finding it terrible, I think it’s great.
I was reading a book the other day that began “Literacy begins at birth”. I nodded to myself, and mentally bookmarked that thought, as I was planning on writing this post. There is no such thing as reading to a baby too early or too often. We all believe that, right? That’s not in question. But how many new parents want to bash their heads into a wall after the 500th reading of Goodnight Moon? Is that really all we can read to our newborns? I don’t think so. Part of the value of reading aloud comes from the simplest things – from the moment they are born (and earlier!) they learn to recognize our voices, our language (and pick up on the differences in languages being spoken to them) and even specific words. This isn’t something they can only learn from reading aloud the baby classics – this can be learned from anything you read aloud.
So what I want to say to all new parents is, of course you should read aloud to your newborn. Often. As much as you can. But what you should read is this: anything you like. Be it cookbooks, The New Yorker, heck, People Magazine or your own favorite book. Between nursing and rocking our twins to sleep, in their first year of life I wore through the fabric on the arm of our couch, I sat leaning on it so often. Because I was paranoid about exposing them to television (New parents are so cute, aren’t they? They have no idea of all the real worries to come and tend to obsess over the little things…), just dozing, talking or reading them a book, I tired of the kids books pretty quickly. So I turned to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. I think I read it straight through to the kids five times in a row. It was fun for me, it gave me some beautiful language to concentrate on, and it bizarrely made me feel like I was giving them an early appreciation of Shakespeare.
So I ended up buying a mix of books for my expectant friend. I got her Pat the Bunny (Molly’s favorite at an early age), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the latest Entertainment Weekly, and a personal board book favorite, Baby, Mix Me a Drink. I hope she reads them all to her new little one. And I hope she treasures every one of those reading moments now, before that baby can demand the latest Max and Ruby book for the 93rd time in a row…