Our favorite children’s books, illustration edition

It is National Library Week, and what better time to write another roundup of our favorite children’s books?

Especially at Peeper’s age, words are not the only important factor in a great book: Illustration is at least as equally compelling. So when I head to the board books section at my local library, I flip through the pages to see if I like the visuals as much as the topic.

If I don’t like the illustrations, I put the book down and search for another.

Here, then, are a few of our most-loved, beautifully illustrated baby books (along with a few bonus stories!).

i can do it myselfI Can Do It Myself! by Steven Krensky, illustrated by Sara Gillingham. Toddlers love the empowerment that comes from picking out their own clothes and feeding themselves, and this bright book celebrates that independence. Pop art-like illustrations (think Roy Lichtenstein) are fun, visually arresting and unlike anything else you’ll see in the children’s section. I can’t get over Gillingham’s use of contrasting patterns that are, on the one hand, potentially seizure-inducing but are whimsical and exciting on the other.

how loud is a lionHow Loud Is A Lion? illustrated and written by Clare Beaton. Readers tramp through jungle and savannah, wandering past antelopes and zorillas (what’s a zorilla? Read to find out!), and all the while a lion is hiding in the background. Beaton’s hand-stitched work is inspired by folk art, and she uses felt, ribbon, beads and vintage fabrics to create the gorgeous tableaus. Beaton has dozens of other books; we’re reading Who Are You, Baby Kangaroo? right now.

baby bearBaby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Marlin, illustrated by Eric Carle. I couldn’t get away with a list of gorgeously illustrated kids’ books without mentioning Carle, could I? The rich, saturated colors against a white backdrop are his signature, and I love that I can see how he assembles the figures in this book. It introduces us to a menagerie of animals, and I can’t help but sing the text. This book transports me back to sitting on the floor in kindergarten, singing along and staring raptly at the pages my teacher, Mrs. Weineger, turned.

I already wrote about When I Was Born in my other children’s books post, but I have to include it again because I. Love. The. Illustrations.


I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Peeper’s other two favorite books of the moment, even if they’re not illustrated.

dogDog, by Matthew Van Fleet. Peeper has already begun to destroy it (the latest casualty: a wagging tail), but all the interaction is well worth a few rips here and there. She knows that the poodle has a fluffy coat she can touch and that the bull dog lifts its leg to pee. When she plays by herself, she lifts the pages and opens and closes the book over and over and over and over again. She could do it for an hour!

reachReach, by Elizabeth Verdick and Marjorie Lisosvkis. Peeper laughs the minute I pick this one up. I know the rhymes by heart and could recite it any time, but she continues to be captivated by the babies who reach for their toes, milk, toys and daddy.

As a side note, I appreciate that baby faces books, including Reach, feature children of a wide range of races and ethnicities. Baby faces books are perhaps the only ones dedicated to diversity, when shelves are filled with white characters. (Of the 3,200 children’s books printed last year, fewer than 100 were about black main characters, according to this important op-ed challenging the whitewashed children’s book industry.)


What are your favorite books of the moment? What are your favorite illustrations?

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Photos capture slipping time

Peeper was five or six weeks old when I realized that I hadn’t taken a one-month picture of her.

You see them all over Facebook and Pinterest: monthly shots of a baby, often with a button or brightly decorated chalk board marking her age. Look at a year’s worth and you can see a child grow from a slumpy infant to a one-year-old who will hardly sit still long enough for a parent to snap a photo.

I felt guilty that I’d let her month-birthday pass without commemorating it. And since I missed the first one, I figured I couldn’t catch up later. What’s the use of having a “I’m two months old!” photo when you don’t have the one-month-old one?

At the time, I was struggling to do anything besides nurse. Breastfeeding was still an awful, painful, teary, bloody struggle. Looking back, I’m glad I didn’t add one more expectation, even if it seems like taking a photo is pretty minor. Because when something as fundamental as feeding your child is really, really hard, staging a photograph, printing out a sign with a big “1 month” on it and taking a picture with an actual camera is also really hard.

So we don’t have a series of photos that shows how Peeper has grown each month. But we have other ways to mark her changes.

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Peeper’s new favorite food

I was in the kitchen scrubbing dishes when I realized that the sponge-on-plate sound was the only noise I heard.

If there is one truth in parenting, it is this: Silence means your child is up to no good.

I shed the yellow dish gloves and peeked my head around to the living room, where Peeper had been playing. There she was, playing all right, but not with her stacking cups or beach ball.

Somewhere she had found a Ziplock of dog food. She had managed to open it and spill it on the ground. And, of course, she was shoving handfuls of it into her mouth.

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Get dirty and scuff your knees

We’ve been getting phenomenal weather here in Portland this week. I’ve been heading outside as often as possible to take advantage of the sun and soak up some much-needed vitamin D.

Yesterday a friend and I had planned to meet at the Oregon Zoo—that is, until I arrived and witnessed the mayhem that $4 admission day involves. After hunting for a parking space for altogether too long, we scrapped our plans and met at the park instead.

Peeper was probably just as happy playing on the lawn than she would have been looking at the elephants and cheetahs (although she’s really into animal books lately, especially the wonderfully interactive Dog and My Giant Fold-out Book of Animals). She and her buddy zoomed around the small patch of grass we claimed.

IMG_3632_2IMG_3622Peeper picked up leaves and grabbed dandelion petals. She toppled downhill—she’s clearly not used to crawling down an incline—but just looked around, surprised, when she righted herself. She paid no heed to sticks and muddy patches as she crawled here and there.

By the time we left, her hands and bare feet were all dirty, and the knees of her leggings were smudged with grass stains.

During my baby shower, friends and family took turns saying things they wished for my soon-to-be-born child. My mother-in-law wished that Peeper would be unafraid of getting dirty and take time to get acquainted with bugs. I carried the idea behind that blessing with me since, partly because I, too, love the idea of raising a child who won’t let a little dirt get in the way of her curiosity.

Extra scrubbing at bath time and stain remover are a small price to pay for the freedom of exploration. Grassy pants and dirty hands are proof of a day well spent.

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Nine months

Peeper has been in the world almost as long as she was inside me. Today she turns nine months old.

The other morning, Peeper and I were snuggling in bed after we’d woken up. We were playing, and I tickled her belly and armpits. Laughing, she threw herself down. She giggled and buried her face in the pillow as if to hide.

My breath caught. She just seemed so. grown. up.

Ok, so she doesn't always look grown-up.

Ok, so she doesn’t always look grown-up.

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Love your body: My beautiful linea nigra

New mothers find plenty of things to dislike about their bodies after delivery: lopsided boobs, stretch marks, a perma-pooch. Tabloids in the check out aisle highlight celebrities who managed to LOSE THE BABY WEIGHT IN 5 WEEKS! (and shame the women who take longer—not that it’s anyone’s business).

We undergo enormous changes in the 40 weeks it takes to, you know, create an entire human being from scratch. Coming to terms with a body that looks and feels drastically different overnight can be a difficult task.

I have loved one change since the first time I noticed it, though: the linea nigra.

Our Squishface, 2 days old, takes a nap on her mama's belly.

Our Squishface, 2 days old, takes a nap on her mama’s belly.

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Why (occasionally) leaning back from motherhood helps me be a good mom

It has been 6,240 hours since I became a mother. I’m more than 60 percent of my way to becoming an expert.

I’m only half-serious, of course.

Working hard some of the time allows me to play the rest of the time.

Working hard some of the time allows me to play the rest of the time.

Some experts say that it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated practice to reach the top tier in what you’re pursuing—soccer, piano, basket weaving, whatever—research that underlies part of Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers (hence the name of my blog). I’m doing my best to become a good mom. I figure that all these hours of breastfeeding, changing diapers, peek-a-boo, bath time and front carrier walks add up and are teaching me not only about my daughter but about what it takes to be a loving, kind, patient, dedicated mother.

A new book by Daniel Goleman, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, asserts that logging a lot of hours doesn’t cut it, though. This article over at Brainpickings summarizes some of Goleman’s points.

He maintains that your attention when you’re practicing is a necessary component to reaching your full potential: You can’t just phone it in if you want to be great.

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