Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gifts for Babies

It's almost Christmas, and folks are probably still wondering what to get for some of the people in their lives, including some of the wee people. Today, I'm talking about babies and toddlers. Some of you have 'em, and more of you have to shop for 'em. But what are some of this year's best baby gifts? Well, I can't speak to toys and creepers and the latest in swing technology, but I do know a little something about books.

For years, a handful of Sandra Boynton board books has been one of my very favorite gifts to give babies. In fact, I have my brother to thank for that. When S's first Christmas rolled around, her uncle gave her Barnyard Dance, Oh My, Oh My, Oh Dinosaurs! and But Not the Hippopotamus (early edition). (*rant* Somewhere along the line in the very late 90's, a different edition of But Not the Hippopotamus came out, and it had been dumbed down, with the effect of mucking up the rhyme scheme and, well, using less excellent words. Original text: "A hog and a frog cavort in a bog. But not the hippopotamus." Dumb text: "A hog and a frog do a dance in a bog. But not the hippopotamus." Other changes were made as well. The ones currently on book store shelves are back to the original text, I am happy to report. */rant*)

I added other Boynton titles to my arsenal, including the smash hit beloved by babies and parents everywhere, Moo, Baa, La La La, A to Z, Hippos Go Berserk!, Birthday Monsters, Bob and 6 more Christmas Storiesand The Going to Bed Book (which has one of my favorite bedtime endings ever, tied with the ending of Madeline). The ending of Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans: "And she turned out the light, and closed the door, and that's all there is, there isn't anymore." The ending of The Going to Bed Book (again, from memory): "The sky is dark. The sea is deep. They rock . . . and rock . . . and rock to sleep." Apologies if I flubbed either line word-wise or punctuation-wise. But I digress.

This year, the new Boynton book that I think is perfect for babies is Bath Time!, which lists for $7.95 US, $10.95 Canadian (which is a ripoff, since the Canadian dollar is currently so strong, relative to the US dollar, but I digress). On the front cover, as you see here, the front of a pig with a towel. On the back? The back of a pig with a towel, of course. The towel says "THE END" on it, and is covering the pig's end, of course. But I remember the satisfaction in my children's voices back when they were toddler/babies, and they'd say "THE END!" whilst closing a familiar book. So having the words there is most excellent. This is no board book, though. It's a bathtub book. A bathtub book with really cute pictures and an actual rhyming story in it, even though it is only 10 pages (including the front and back cover). And it has a squeaker in it, although I cannot demonstrate that for you now because the puppy will then want to play with it. Also, as this is not a sound recording, you wouldn't hear it anyway.

Some folks don't "get" bath books, and to them I say, "why the hell not?" Reading in the tub is a time-honored tradition. And any time or place you can introduce kids to books is a good one, in my opinion. Also, some babies and toddlers need the distraction when they are having their scalps washed (or hair, if they happen to have some; my babies were both bald-ish when they were young, with just a whispy coating, not that you would ever guess it now to see their full heads of hair). In such a case, it doubles as a toy, what with the floating and the squeaking and all. In my experience, these books get slimy and can become a bit mildewy if you aren't careful, but a swipe with some diluted bleachy water or some white vinegar will clean them up nicely from time to time. And if it gets too scungy, toss it.

Looking for a more conventional book? Look no further than Here's a Little Poem from Candlewick Press, edited by Jane Yolen and Andrew Fusek Peters and illustrated with wit and sweet cleverness by Polly Dunbar (list price $21.99). I reviewed this book during National Poetry Month. If you haven't already had a look at the review, but are on the proverbial purchasing fence for the baby/toddler set, I hope you'll check it out. The review features a few poems and illustrations from the book to give you a better idea of it.

But Kelly, you say, I'd like one of those toy-with-book options. This year, check out the new boxed set My Penguin Osbert by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illustrated by H.B. Lewis, packaged with a really soft, squishy stuffed Osbert toy (listed at $18.99). In this story, young Joe has a tradition of asking Santa for something and getting a watered-down version. (A request for a racecar, for instance, nets a Matchbox car.) So this year, Joe very specifically asks for a real, live penguin, then has to handle the consequences when Santa delivers. It is a cute story well-told, and the illustrations are wintry bliss. The boxed book is significantly smaller than the original version, so if size matters, by all means purchase the original book ($16.99) and a separate penguin ($9.99). The boxed set is a better dollar value, in my book, unless this is one of your favorite picture book titles.

Other book picks? Well, I can think of quite a few that I loved this year, but as I'm restricting myself to the baby/toddler set, here are a few picks:

Books by Tony Mitton, whom I interviewed in August. Check out Playful Little Penguins, his new title (I still like "Perky" better) and titles from the Amazing Machines series for starters.

A Good Day by Kevin Henkes, which I reviewed back in April.

By all means, check the picture book nominees over at the CYBILS site, and don't forget to look at the nonfiction picture books as well. And hey, if you are one of those people who orders your books from Amazon (or, for that matter, if you order ANYTHING from Amazon), could you go to the CYBILS site first and click through to Amazon from there? Because if you do, then a few pennies go into the CYBILS piggy bank, which will hopefully add up to enough to fund the giving of actual awards to the winning authors this year. (The giving of pennies by Amazon in no way affects your personal bottom-line.)

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