Some of you kind reader folks know that before Jacob was born, I worked in children’s publishing. Actually, I still work in children’s publishing, but now I am a freelance editor and writer rather than an assistant at a publishing house or a literary agency. (Shameless plug: check me out.)
Children’s publishing is a happy, wonderful world of adorable illustrations, sweetly rhyming texts, and—in my experience—brightly colored office doors and lax dress codes. It’s place where incredibly intelligent, funny, and well-meaning people get together to say “cute” seventeen thousand times a day—and mean it every time.
As incredible as my time in the more corporate side of things was, I didn’t have a complete perspective on what makes a children’s book work before Jacob was born. Sure, I had books I loved as a child, and I’d read to kids while babysitting and during story time at Borders, but before I was a mother, before I held Jacob in my arms, before I watched him react to the stories I read him, I was missing a very important piece of the puzzle.
Most people take “children’s publishing” to mean simply board books or picture books. Those are part of the industry, but not all of it. Middle grade novels (like Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and young adult novels (Twilight and so on) fall under this umbrella as well. But considering Jacob’s less than a year old, I’ve really only had experience as a mother with picture books. So now, finally, we can get to the point of this post.
When I was more thoroughly entrenched in the midtown-Manhattan-based part of the industry, I knew which books I appreciated as an adult. Of course I was more familiar with those published by my house, Simon & Schuster, than any other, so as much as I wanted to make recommendations to friends, I knew I was kind of biased when I did.
Now with some distance (almost a year!) from my time in that office and many, many snuggles with my own little Peanut, I feel ready to make some tried and true suggestions for good books to read to babies. I hope my recommendations will help moms grab some good reads at the library or the bookstore, or maybe even help someone find a baby shower gift or two.
The first book I recommend is All the World by Liz Garton Scanlon and illustrated by Marla Frazee. (Did you know that in German books, the illustrator of a picture book is often listed first? It’s not relevant here, just a fun fact I thought I’d share).
Anyway, All the World is, I admit, published by Simon & Schuster, but not a part that I worked for. It was also awarded a well-deserved Caldecott Honor, which is one of the highest honors for illustrated children’s books, so there’s proof that more people than just me think this book is something very special.
I knew this book was gorgeous when I was at S&S. I had a couple of sample pages taped to my desk wall. I wasn’t the only one. All of us were in love with the lyrical, ultimately spiritual tone of the book and the perspective that it brought each of us, wherever we were in our lives. But even with all that, it wasn’t until I read it to Jacob the other day that I just about cried.
All the World follows a family through an ordinary day and takes note of all the simple things that make our world what it is—the good things and the bad, the joys and the mistakes along the way. There is playing at the beach and sharing of meals, and in the end, it’s all about family and friends, and what we mean to each other. The text rhymes, but beautifully and richly. Take one peek at the illustrations and you’ll want to buy an extra copy (or six) to wallpaper your house. And I don’t even like wallpaper.
I sometimes wonder why we focus on sharing things this pure and true with little ones, and not with older people, who are more likely to be jaded and bitter about the tough stuff. This book puts things—all the things of this world—in a very true and very accessible light.
Moral of the story: Read this book. Then buy a copy for yourself and anyone else you know—baby or adult—who needs a little reminder of all the good that’s in the world, all the love that exists, all the wonderful things that make our world the blessed place that it is.