Week 34: Build a better bookshelf

As you count down to delivery, count up the books in your child’s library. |  The New York Public Library .

As you count down to delivery, count up the books in your child’s library. | The New York Public Library.

We’ve been tackling some tough topics over the past few weeks. That’s usually because when we’re researching baby questions, we’re focusing on health and safety, with all of the scary “what ifs” that entails.

This week, let’s do some lighter reading.

When I was seven months’ pregnant, my husband and I arrived at my parents’ house to find a surprise Bookshelf Baby Shower: my extended family had filled white Pottery Barn book ledges with my son’s first library. They’d covered the classics--Goodnight Moon, Make Way for Ducklings, Scarry, Seuss, Eastman, and the Reys--as well as family favorites The Monster at the End of this Book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs, and Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. They’d also made enough room for characters born long after me and my siblings, like Llama Llama and Elephant & Piggie.

Because this was my family, there were also baby's first lessons in punctuation (Amy Krouse Rosenthal's delightful Exclamation Mark) and math (Omi M. Inouye's Introductory Calculus for Infants), as well as humor (Avery Monsen and Jory John's wonderfully inappropriate All My Friends are Dead).

The rest of the evening was a lovely vision of our son’s future. The impromptu dramatic readings over creme brûlée were the first times my family read to our son. Since then, he’s worn out every single one of them with another “Again?” whether it’s The Cat in the Hat or his favorite board book about wine tasting.

I love knowing that, before he was even born, my family was building his library and inviting him to share our love of reading.

If your baby registry is at Amazon, it’s easy to add books. This has tons of advantages. Your child will come home from the hospital to a little library, which he can use long after he’s outgrown the tiny bathtub, cozy footed pajamas, and even crib. Well-wishers with less disposable income can buy a lovely present at a low price point…and maybe also find a new favorite author.

Not sure what books to register for? In addition to the books linked above, consider these authors:

If you’re going to read it hundreds of times over the next few years, you can’t go wrong with any Mo Willems. My favorite is the Knuffle Bunny series, the third installment of which always brings me to happy tears.

If you want a laugh, Chris Haughton’s work is full of funny sounds and vibrant colors. Shh! We Have a Plan is sure to be a household favorite.

If you’re feeling sentimental, skip the creepy home invasions of Love You Forever and opt for Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s That’s Me Loving You or I Wish You More. Or just fill your whole registry with Rosenthal’s work. The aforementioned Exclamation Mark. Little Pea. Duck! Rabbit! They’re all delightful.

If you’re feeling irreverent, Lemony Snicket’s your guy. I’ve written about his picture books here and here.

If you want a picture book with just pictures, check out Aaron Becker’s Journey or Lizi Boyd’s Flashlight.

If you want your books to be harder for your baby to chew….try board books like Pantone Colors, Antoinette Portis’ Not a Box or anything by Leslie Patricelli.

If you're interested in an encyclopedic account of all things pregnancy and early parenting, try the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Caring for Your Baby and Young Child or Tara Haelle and Emily Willingham's The Informed Parent. Want a condensed verison? Try Michel Cohen’s The New Basics.

If the answers in those books seem too settled for you, Alice Green Callahan's The Science of Mom is the right book for you.

If you want to take the long view, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish’s How to Talk so Kids Will Listen (and Listen so Kids Will Talk) is in its bazillionth reprinting for a reason. Faber’s daughter Joanna has taken up the torch in How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen, which is geared toward children ages 2-7. Jessica Lahey's The Gift of Failure can help you start thinking now about how to become your child's first and best teacher.

Finally, if you’re worried about the monumentally difficult challenge that is modern parenting, you want K.J. Dell'Antonia's How to Be a Happier Parent

You’ll note that my list doesn’t include many “baby” books, first because you’re probably already familiar with Pat the Bunny but also because the best books are the ones you enjoy reading. Pick books that make you laugh, or cry, or sigh contentedly—really, any book that you want to read—and your child will follow your lead.