Everywhere Babies

By Lisa Cucinotta

Reading to my kids is one of my favorite activities. I have loved it so much over the past six years of parenting that I recently started writing books for kids. Writing children’s books has made me think a lot more about what I love to read the kids. I’ve started noticing nuances about books like which have authors who also illustrate (I’m not all illustrator but admire those like Mo Willems who do both), whether the books rhyme or not, how long they are, etc. Most agents don’t accept rhyming books anymore (no idea why) but I’ve found that the vast majority of the books we own for littler kids all rhyme. I find it very soothing, personally. I also never realized how short many of the “longer” picture books Julia and I read together are, like Fancy Nancy or Pinkalicious. They have fewer words than you might think (418 and 680 respectively).

I’ve also begun to think about who writes the books the kids love.  There are very few books out of the hundreds that Julia and Luca own that I have paid attention to who the author is, surprisingly. Maybe other parents are more in tune with this, but its not something I think about much unless the books are part of a series and I want to buy more of them.  And even then I tend to think more about the series itself (like the ones I mentioned above) than I do about the author.

However I recently had a really special experience with Julia that made me want to reach out to the author of my favorite. When Julia was born my sister gave me a selection of books that were special to her and her kids. One of them was Everywhere Babies by Susan Meyers, illustrated by Marla Frazee. Reading it to Julia and Luca makes me happy.  It’s simple and sweet, and reminds me of both the commonalities of raising babies and their differences.

Each page starts with “Everyday, everywhere babies are….” and then goes into a different topic and all the different ways those topics are experienced.  Like “Every day, everywhere babies are fed – by bottle, by breast, with cups and with spoons, with milk and then cereal, carrots and prunes…” I love that a book for little kids says the word “breast” in it like its no big deal (because it’s not!) and also that they mention both breast and bottle feeding as being normal options (because they are!).

But back to my special experience with Julia. She really mastered reading in first grade, going from a struggling beginning reader to one that reads with enthusiasm and can infuse emotion into her storytelling.  It reminds me of myself actually – I was always really good at reading out loud, probably because I had a mother who was a children’s librarian.  I love seeing that quality in her because picking it up was such a struggle for her, especially as the youngest kid in her class.

On nights when I am home to put Julia to bed, she reads me a book and then I read her one.  She usually chooses Elephant and Piggy books (by the great Mo Willems, mentioned earlier) or a book like If You Give a Pig a Pancake. The other night, I think maybe I’d had a challenging day and she knew that, because she smiled big at me and told me she had a surprise and whipped out Everywhere Babies to read to me. She has outgrown interest in most baby and toddler books but she still keeps this one in her room.

She read it and I had a full circle mom experience. There were tears in my eyes as I watched my beautiful big girl read me this book like a champ.  I decided I had to write to the author and tell her. My hope is that someday parents and children will have special experiences with my books, and I would want to know that. So I found Susan’s website, which contained her email address along with the promise that if you write her she’ll write you back.  I figured it was worth a shot.

To my great surprise, Susan wrote me back the very next day.  I was totally fan-girling out over her response, which was amazing.  Here it is below, shared with her permission:

“Dear Lisa,

Thank you so much for writing to me, and especially for sharing the story of how Julia read Everywhere Babies to you.  That brought tears to my eyes, too. 
You know writing is such a strange experience.  You work hard to make your book as good as you can (and in the case of a picture book the illustrator works hard, too). Then you send it out in the world and suddenly it no longer belongs just to you. It belongs to those who read it. You and your children are the other side of the equation and hearing from you…  Well, it certainly made my day and also inspired me to get back to my desk and finish the book I’m working on now.
So, again, thank you for writing.  Give Julia and Luca a hug for me!
All best,
Susan”

 

I’d love to hear from you on what books are your favorites to read with your kids! Feel free to respond to me here, on Facebook if we’re friends and now on Twitter where I am now writing @lisacucinotta

The present of the past

In college I was obsessed with Sarah McLachlan.  Discovering we looked a lot alike happened after I had already developed the obsession with her music, but certainly didn’t hurt it. When I decided to cut my hair short, I even brought in a picture of her style as inspiration.  But I digress. One of my favorite songs of hers then and now is “Ice Cream”.  It’s both sweet and sad at the same time.  Back then I spent a lot of time feeling angsty, or wistful, or mildly depressed (boy, wish I could go back to college knowing what I know now… I would have had a lot more fun!).  I remember one night laying in the dark feeling particularly low, listening to my six disc CD changer rotate between her, Enya, the Indigo Girls and Sting.

When Julia was a newborn and cried all the time, it turned out “Ice Cream” was one of the few songs I knew all the words of that seemed appropriate to sing.  In the dark, in the middle of the night, feeling scared and sad and unsure of my future but for entirely different reasons than I did as a teenager, singing that song to my baby felt like closing a loop.

Parenting seems to surface more loops than any other experience of my life.  There is something about experiencing things with my children that brings me back to some former place in my life.  Much of the time it’s my own childhood – like when the kids play with a toy I remember playing with or I read them a book I was read as a child.  Reading “Goodnight Moon” to Julia always gives me that little shiver, although as an adult I have a lot of questions about the book, which is incredibly odd (and I’m not the only one, there are many hilarious dissections of the book, like this one.  We actually have many books from both of our childhoods that we read to the kids: Ferdinand which we both used to love, Harold & The Purple Crayon, which I don’t remember at all but was apparently a favorite of Brian’s,  and a particularly obscure one that I adored and my mom somehow managed to find: Bendemolena, later renamed “The Cat Who Wore a Pot on Her Head”.

Barbies are one that I’m a bit bummed out by.  I realize that they present a bizarre idea of femininity but I adored them as a child.  I had a huge collection and played with them for far longer than some of my friends likely did.  Perhaps Julia will get into them at some point, but for now she has absolutely no desire to play with the ones we gave her.  I have such fond memories of styling my barbies, swapping out their clothes, setting up dates for them and all the Kens.  Seeing them lay dejected in her toy box makes me feel a bit sad.  That one feels like a loop I can’t quite connect into a circle.

My most recent loop is a particularly sweet one.  At Barnes and Noble last week we found an illustrated copy of “What a Wonderful World”, the Louis Armstrong song.  While that song well pre-dates my childhood, for some reason it was one of my absolute favorite songs as a girl.  It was so significant to me that I chose it as the song for the faughter/daughter dance at my bat-mitzvah and again for the same at my wedding.  I had thought that loop already closed when I danced to it with my dad almost 18 years after the first time, but here it is again.  I have been reading it to Luca at night before bed, and I can’t help but sing it instead of reading the lines.  Every single time it has made me cry.

My co-blogger Cristina wrote a post about time feeling elastic and I wrote one about how the days are long but the years are short, both which are offshoots of the loop concept, I suppose.   But they are more about struggling with living in the moment of parenting.  The loop, to me, is about simultaneously getting to live in the past and the present.  The nicest part of the loop is that they are (usually) pleasant.  Recollection can often drum up painful moments from our past, but the loop is the reverse – an often benign moment from the past that forms into a new and sentimental experience in the present with your kids.  So take the time to live in your loops and form new memories from them.  Maybe one days your kids will create another link in the loop and make it into a chain.