Thursday, 9 September 2021

Building a bookworm #1: Baby bookworms - Anne Rooney

A grandchild is an excellent subject for scientific observation. Unless, like Darwin, you are both of the right mindset and have someone else to do all the daily care of your infant, you have to wait a generation to have the leisure to do this kind of thing: you don't have to change every nappy and get your boobs/bottles out at insanely frequent intervals.

I have a new subject of study, who I will talk about online as NanoB (NB). His sister is MicroB (MB). He is four-and-a-half months old, but was seven weeks early, which complicates things a little — is he four-and-a-half months or nearly three months? I'm going to use his actual out-of-the-uterus age, so four-and-a-half months. I give the extra info in case anyone following these posts is an expert on baby development  and is interested in the granular level of detail. 

When MB was born, I tracked her acquisition of language in fine detail. This time I'm going to watch his interaction with books. His parents read to NB from birth. He was in NICU for a while, being premature, and his parents read to him there. These were his most frequent early reads: 

The Yes by Sarah Bee and Satoshi Kitamura.



This tripodic being is constantly subject to negative feedback from creatures called 'the Noes', but always decides to try anyway. The Yes triumphs and eventually dismisses all the negative influences. This is a fantastic book, greatly loved by MB at an older age, but absolutely perfect for a tiny baby facing the struggles of being early. We know he doesn't understand the words or pictures, but his parents do and projecting positivity is a great idea.

Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor and Jean Julien.


Another favourite of MB, Hoot Owl has a good self image ('I am Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise') which remains intact despite many set-backs as he tries to disguise himself in various ways in order to catch the creatures he hopes to eat. He is finally successful in catching a pizza and so his self-confidence is reinforced. NB had to learn and practise how  to suck so that he could feed rather than have his nourishment through a tube. This was his favourite: he looked at the pages more frequently with this than the others.

You Belong Here by M H Clark.


 For a baby who was 'expecting' to stay inside for another seven weeks — or even any baby negotiating the shock of the outside world — this is perfect. It's an 'everything in it's place' book. Reassuring, endorising, unpicking that sense of being a refugee from the womb.


 We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen




An excellent introduction to the inevitable sibling disputes that will come if you have a big sister.



 Now he's out of hospital, we show him smaller books that he can touch. When MB was in the supermarket with her dad, she asked to buy That's Not My Puppy by Fiona Watt and Rachel Wells. He loves it. She puts his hands on the different textures, and he quickly took to the idea that a book is something you touch. 

Last week, I showed him the puppy book and he reached out to open it. The next day, he was turning pages. Not reliably, but always trying. It's given him agency: he chooses when he has looked at the page for long enough and wants to see the next one. Books are already empowering someone not big or coordinated enough to play with toys.

MB asked to read him a picture book I've written for OUP about a baby tiger. It won't be out until next year so she read it to him from the PDFs on my laptop, showing him the pictures. This is not book-as-object, though it will be when it's published as it has flaps. It will be fascinating to see how he responds to the same book in a different format. We'll have to keep on showing him the layouts until it's published so that the pictures and words are familiar.

I read to my oldest daughter, BigB (BB), every day from before she was born until the night before she left for university. By the end, we were doing Homer, Voltaire, Tolstory... I've been reading daily to children for 30 years, with an interlude of three years and then the months of lockdown when I couldn't see MB. I think it's possibly the most important task I've ever done.



MB's extra recommendations for reading to a small baby: Duck is Dirty and Dog is Thirsty, Satoshi Kitamura; Peepo! Janet and Allan Ahlberg; Oh No, George and We Have a Plan, Chris Haughton; Jintzi and Mintzi are Friends and Jintzi and Mintzi at the Playground, Lucy Su.

Anne Rooney


No comments: