My son Sly had his first birthday on Sunday. Since one of the cool parts about this year has been rediscovering the wonder-filled worldof children’s books, I’ve composed a list, in no specific order, of The Books Sly Has Most Enjoyed This Year.
Knuffle Bunny, by Mo Willems
A toddler named Trixie, her daddy, and her best stuffed friend Knuffle (pronounced Kah-Nuffle!) Bunny take an ill-fated trip to the laundromat in this book, which was the first one that Sly had visceral responses to, likely because of the simple yet profound story and captivating cartoon/photo illustrations. There was a week when, every time we got to the page where Trixie bawls (“WAAAA!”), Sly would open his mouth and make a bawling noise with her.
It was delightful. But then, like so many things in a baby’s always-changing, constantly-ephemeral first year, he stopped doing it a week later, and my fun party trick was ruined.
Mr. Tiger Goes Wild, by Peter Brown
After Knuffle Bunny, this was the next book to get a primal response out of Sly. He would screech along with Mr. Tiger’s first ROAR!
This book has amazing art that pops off the page, and as my wife Katie astutely pointed out, “This is the same story as Transparent.”
My Favorite Thing, by Gyo Fujikawa
Our copy of this very sweet book, which is simultaneously lively and poignant, is actually Katie’s from when she was a kid, so she’s starred all the pages that have her favorite things on them (being in a snuggly bed during winter got a star; going camping did not). Sly’s personal favorite is the adorable two-page spread of a dozen unsupervised babies at the seashore.
B is for Brooklyn, by Selina Alko
We have read this book at least a hundred times, and we’re still discovering new details in Selina Alko’s unique, wonderful renderings of all things Brooklyn, which often include random found materials, like newspaper clippings and ticket stubs. Since Katie and I have lived in four different Brooklyn neighborhoods together, reading it also becomes this weirdly touching nostalgia trip.
Pat the Bunny, by Dorothy Kunhardt
Though it’s been so much fun to see Sly learn to interact with this undeniable classic more and more over the months, I find this to be the most problematic of this list, for two reasons:
1. There’s a subtle, slow-building undercurrent of creepy that runs through the whole thing, and not just because Paul and Judy are vaguely unsettling characters. Patting the bunny? Okay, that’s cute, I guess. Playing peek-a-boo with Paul? All right, sure, why not? Sticking your finger through Mummy’s ring? Um, nope. Shaking Mummy’s button box? I am officially uncomfortable.
2. There’s this one page where you’re supposed to smell the flowers, and it gives off this potent, nausea-inducing fragrance that is highly upsetting.
I feel like having a smell in a book was really cutting-edge when this came out in 1940, but no one’s bothered to update the smell since then. They should. It’s the worst.
Corduroy, by Don Freeman
Here’s a classic that holds up a little better. Sly loves Corduroy’s touching journey to find his lost button, especially the part where Corduroy rips a button off a mattress. One small gripe: I feel like Corduroy isn’t always operating at the top of his intelligence, especially when he gets on an escalator and is like, “Is this a mountain?” You live in a department store, Corduroy. Are you seriously telling me you and the other toys haven’t discussed very basic details of what the other parts of the store are like beyond your little shelf? But maybe they haven’t. Gotta give Corduroy the benefit of the doubt on this one, I guess.
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, by Judith Viorst; illustrations by Ray Cruz
And to complete the Classic Trifecta, this one’s still awesome, too. What’s not to like about a book where the message is, “Some days suck, from morning to night, and that’s just what it is”? I love it so much. And Sly freaks the hell out about the illustrations in here; something about the scratchy black and white art makes him want to shout random noises.
My Very Own Name, by Maia Haag; illustrations by Mark Mille
This is one of those personalized books, where all the animals in the forest, under the firm leadership of the Owl, come together to spell Sly’s name (which, since his full name is Sylvester, means those animals got a lot of work to do). Sly loves this book, and I don’t blame him; all humans love seeing their name in print. It’s a fact.
Fortunately, by Remy Charlip
This was a book I loved growing up, and I still love it now. The protagonist Ned gets invited to a party. Unfortunately, it’s in Florida and he’s in New York. Fortunately, his friend loans him a plane. Unfortunately, the plane explodes. (That is a real thing that happens in this book. Terrifying). You get the idea. It’s funny and dark and clever and captures, in a very simple way, the surprising and unpredictable nature of life. Unfortunately, Sly usually likes us to read this one many times in a row.
We Are in a Book! by Mo Willems
I’m starting and ending this list with a book by Mo Willems because I had never heard of him before Sly came into our lives, and now I think he’s a goddamned genius. Seriously, the man is prolific. As if all three Knuffle Bunny books aren’t impressive enough, we learned he’s also written this fantastic series of Elephant and Piggie books (not to mention a beloved series of Pigeon books we haven’t delved into yet), which are hilarious, sweet, and full of great lessons. This one, a meta- joy where Elephant and Piggie become aware they’re in a book, is Sly’s favorite. There’s a moment where they start cracking up because they’ve made the reader say “banana,"
and one day Sly started doing this fake-laugh along with them, a disingenuous "Ah ah” sound. It was easily one of my favorite moments of the year. As Katie said, “What a good audience member he will be at his friends’ Level 1 improv shows.”
Thank you to the various people who gifted us books on this list. And to the people who gifted us books not on this list! I assure you your books have been in the rotation, too, just couldn’t feature them all here.
And if anyone has suggestions of kids’ books they absolutely love, especially those by diverse authors, please let me know! We’re always looking for new favorites.