To the Bookish Mother of Littles

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"No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond." - C.S. Lewis

You knew having a baby would change things. Nights out on the town would be few and far between. You wouldn’t sleep much during those newborn weeks. But if you’re like me, you weren’t expecting your bookworm tendencies to be so thwarted.

Maybe you were an English major in college. Maybe you studied literature in grad school. Maybe you’ve just always been a bibliophile. But now you find yourself not having picked up a book in weeks.

But wait! That’s not true. You HAVE picked up books, they’re just not books for you. You’ve read Sandra Boynton board books till your eyeballs glaze over and you hum, “Jammy to the left, Jammy to the right” as your pour your 10th cup of coffee for the day. The Little Nutbrown Hare gets less and less adorable as you wear the pages off of Guess How Much I Love You.  You find yourself sympathizing with poor Mr. McGregor who JUST wanted to grow a garden without thieving varmits running off with his produce.

Your reading list used to look like:

1. The Brothers Karamazov

2. Les Miserables

3. The Seven Storey Mountain

Now it looks like:

  1. Moo, Baa, La La La read approximately 587 times
  2. Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs! (489 times)
  3. The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear (675 times)
  4. Barnyard Dance (with motions, 566 times)
  5. It’s Pajama Time! (955 times)
  6. Goodnight Moon (434 times)
  7. My First Farm Board Book (1008 times)
  8. Touch and Feel Baby Animals (899 times)
  9. Dr. Seuss’s ABCs: An Amazing Alphabet Book (binding eaten during the arrival of tooth number 4, 964 times)

You’ve read THOUSANDS of books this year! They just happen to be mostly board books read repeatedly hour after hour. You are not an intellectual failure! Just mother to small children!

Will you gaze longingly at the stacks of books you’re dying to read while trying to keep your little ones alive and well? Yes. But the future awaiting you will be so worth it.

Repeating those board books ad nauseum is laying the foundation for a lifelong love of reading for your child. While you set aside that Russian novel that you don’t have time to finish and couldn’t if you tried because of this sleep-deprived season of mothering a baby, know that what you’re doing is important.

And just wait until your infant is a toddler and is ready for your favorite picture books. And then the excitement and joy of reading aloud your favorite chapter books to your little one! And then the moment when they sound out the first word they can read all my themselves.  It’s beautiful, it’s important, and as you pick up Pat the Bunny AGAIN, I want to commend you and tell you that it will all be worth it.

And sneaking in a few chapters of your favorite novel during naptime, might be just the thing to tide you over!

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  1. Makenzie says

    Oh my oh my oh Dinosaurs. Oh. My. DINOSAURS. That book seemed to be on permanent loan from the library for us because Hewan would NOT let me return it. And then my husband put the words to a little jingle and we all STILL get it stuck in our heads sometimes. Dinosaurs happy and dinosaurs sad…

    • Haley says

      Oh Makenzie, DON’T I KNOW. For some reason Lucy didn’t get as obsessed with that one as Benjamin did….could be because I hid it. Just sayin’. ; )

  2. says

    My oldest son just has to hear one of those Boynton books once or twice to have it totally memorized. And be able to recite it. From memory. In the car.

    But I do love that my children love stories and since we’ve got toddlers to middle schoolers we have a pretty diverse library bag these days. And I do have time to read for myself. But I keep picking silly YA dystopias instead of Russian classics. :0)

    • Haley says

      I think I have more time to read for myself now that I have 3 kids than I did with 1 kid. Maybe because they entertain each other? Anyhow, book-lovin’ kids are great and I dig it. 🙂

  3. says

    And now I am homeschooling teenagers and they are holding up Socrates, Dickens, Tolkien, Aquinas and saying “Mom! You MUST read this!” Full circle. 🙂

  4. says

    This was brilliant!!! So brilliant, that I read the whole post aloud and we both doubled over laughing at how true it all is. We do love Sandra Boynton and Peter Rabbit, but now that our toddler can recite it from memory, our love waxes a little cold. 🙂 Thank you for this encouragement, because I want my girls to love books and love learning–that’s why we turn every chewed up, boardy page and read the same beloved lines again and again.

    • Haley says

      Some of our board books get so loved (drooled on and chewed) that they don’t survive for the younger siblings to enjoy, haha.

  5. says

    I just finished reading Corduroy for the 11th time tonight, just a few minutes ago. How accurate you are haha. Thank you for the encouragement, as I’ve been looking longingly at the books I borrowed from the library but have to return unread here in about a week.

  6. says

    Ha – my husband and I quoted all of Pat the Bunny back and forth to each other the other night…without even cracking the book. I’m sure we could do the same with several others!

    I’ve definitely read a few of our kids’ books a hundred times, but I like to add variety. That’s why I like to keep our supply ever-rotating by picking up new promising-looking books all the time at thrift stores (for $0.25 each), and later passing along any that we didn’t love.

    But I don’t find that I read less adult books now that I’m a mother. In fact, I read more now than I could when I was working. I usually keep one book-in-progress on each floor of the house (three), so I can always pick something up to read when I find a few minutes free. I often find some time in the mornings or while dinner cooks to sit down with a book for a bit while the kids play nearby. Or sometimes in the evenings, my husband rough-houses with the kids on the floor of the living room, while I snuggle on the couch and read, still able to be present for family time. Plus, about a half hour in bed each night.

    I think it’s probably great for kids to see their parents loving to read.

    • Haley says

      Used bookstores are the best! Apart from naptime and when I soak in the bath, I don’t have much reading time for myself (well, evenings after the kids go to bed). But I think it’s mostly due to Benjamin’s personality. He is the extrovert of all extroverts. Lucy could happily play independently while I read next to her, but Benjamin–not so much. At least he’s at the age where he can enjoy lots of reading alouds and I can revisit all my favorites 🙂

  7. says

    Yes, yes, a thousand times, yes! My daughter’s first grade teacher wanted to know our “secret” to her reading skills/ fluency and I told her that we are a family of readers and have been reading to her forever! That’s our secret- read early and often! They are never too young and we are never too old for a good book… After all, while “Hippos Go Berzerk” is a family favorite, there’s so reason why you can’t read a chapter of “Anna Karenina” aloud while nursing! (On an e-reader, ’cause that’s a big one.)

  8. Kate says

    I have found the opposite with having had children. I only have two (and am on-the-couch-unable-to-move-nauseous with our third), and they are too little to homeschool, being 3 and 18 months old, so know I do not have much room to speak, but I have really found that there is a lot of “dead” time in the day with my boys, which is perfect time to delve into a novel in. I still get to read the same children’s books over and over (we have had the same book out the library for a year now and I know all the Shirley Hughes Alfie stories by heart — and so does my son!). I often make my husband laugh when he asks what I am reading: “Brothers Karamazov…and Alfie and the Big Boys”.

    This year alone I have managed to devour The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Tale of Two Cities, Father Elijah (Micheal O’Brien) the entire Harry Potter collection (thanks to you I got very intrigued to see what all the fuss was about and was finishing a book a week and neglecting the classics I had on my reading list!), as well as a few other rather thick books, mainly classics, and a few collections of short stories. I hope to finish Brideshead Revisited and get started on The Lord of the Rings by the end of the year.

    I think a lot of my “dead” time is due to a few set ups which I have intentionally (and some not so intentionally) achieved:
    Our boys are 16 months apart and are inseparable and just play together and delight in each other all day long. I have been careful to encourage play between them, without my constant input as I think this is very healthy for them. However ,still need to be present to make sure that the mischief isn’t getting to danger levels…and I mustn’t be doing anything too interesting to distract them from their play. Reading a non-picture book seems the ideal thing to do while keeping an eye on them.
    We live in a 40 square meter house and have a huge garden. This means very little indoor time, very little time cleaning, and a lot of outdoor time. My children have had the privilege of climbing trees and digging in mud and dissecting caterpillars for the first few years of their lives. Outdoor time is encouraged my me being present outdoors. There is nothing better than sitting in the sun reading away at a novel, giving out the occasional kiss or cuddle.
    We decided not to have a television in the house when we had our first child. This was to avoid the temptation to pop our boys in front of it when a free moment was needed (we figured that if they could sit and watch TV, they could just as easily sit and do puzzles or read to themselves). This as also meant that we, as adults are not tempted to just relax in front of the telly after a long day, but rather, our TV watching is intentional (as we go to the store and hire a DVD and watch it on our laptop). It also means that our relax time is often spent reading.
    I have limited my internet time. After our first son was born I realised that I was spending most of my time following blogs, watching gossip on Facebook and generally having non-constructive time (not that non-constructive time is always a bad thing). I have managed to set up my Facebook so that it does not show me everyone’s personal statuses but rather my news feed is the statuses of the various pages I “like” and a few people I intentionally follow. This saves me the temptation of logging on hourly, and instead I check my news once a day. I also only subscribe to one blog at a time (yours has been my favourite for a while now!), and limit myself to one evening a week to cyber surf (that is why I love your miscellaneous links). And when you don’t cyber surf all that often, when you have the opportunity to, you suddenly can’t think what you want to do! This limited internet time means that I have more time to read too.

    I really think reading in front of my children has helped them discover the joys of “reading” to themselves. My oldest will spend two hours of “rest time” happily reading to himself, and I often find my younger boy sitting on the bed, paging through a board book. Reading my own novels has also allowed me to have a healthy outlet while being at home with my little boys.

    • Haley says

      I want some of that dead time! ; )

      I think so much is due to a child’s personality. Benjamin for instance would let you read to him for HOURS, but he would like my attention every SECOND, thank you very much (although through lots of effort on our part he will play independently more than he used to and now Lucy is becoming a good playmate.) Lucy on the other hand isn’t reading yet, but she probably spends 2 hours a day just flipping through books! So, I can certainly imagine getting lots of reading done if Benjamin also had her personality. Or if I didn’t ever write new posts 🙂

  9. Bernadette says

    Although I am a passionate fan of children’s literature and picture books, I had never heard of Sandra Boynton until someone gave me “Moo Baa La La La” and “Pajama Time” at my baby shower. All I can say is …. I was so fortunate until then. I don’t know why I didn’t give them away immediately, before my son became so fond of them. A friend of ours has set “Pajama Time” to a tune he wrote, and he sings it in a creepy Tom-Waits voice …

    It helps a little to have high quality books. I can enjoy “Jamberry,” “Caps for Sale,” and “Little Blue Truck” several times in a row … although, not quite AS many times in a row as my toddler can …

    The other big help was finally breaking down and getting a Kindle. I was adamantly against e-readers, and afraid that if we got one, there would be NO BOOKS (who am I kidding? that is never going to happen here; we just moved 20+ boxes of them to our new apartment), and the baby would never learn to read. But having the kindle makes reading so easy, and remembering where you stopped (hard to do with little ones) so convenient, that I have read a lot more (not as much as I used to) since getting it.

    • Haley says

      LOVE Jamberry and Caps for Sale! On the other hand, I really don’t mind the Sandra Boynton’s as long as they’re not read ad nauseum (they’re taking a break in an out of the way drawer right now !). And maybe I should just break down and get a kindle but….BOOKS.

  10. Amanda says

    oh my goodness PAT THE BUNNY. my daughter was OBSESSED with that book! she’s still too little to understand actual stories but she loved all the feely and interactive parts of the book. thus, i have the thing memorized. enough, paul and judy. enough.

    also, my husband pointed out that paul seems to be saluting a la nazi on the last page. since everybody in that book but daddy is blond it’s led us to some interesting discussions. especially since it was written in 1940. by a woman with a German-sounding last name.

  11. Kelly says

    and I will add this: As a mom whose oldest is two months into Kindergarten…the joy at watching your child begin to unlock and put together the skills to read is so great. What a payoff for the many hours of reading to her!

  12. says

    I have a long commute to work and the 40 minutes I get on the bus everyday helps save my literary sanity. I hate my commute but at least I can decompress with a book. It’s also been so fulfilling to watch my seven year old lately. He stopped reading for awhile even though we still read as a family every night but now he is devouring chapter books in his free time and it makes this bibliophile mama’s heart so full! And starts to justify the 200+ books he already has… 🙂

    • Haley says

      I cannot wait til B can read by himself! We’re going through some phonics curriculum and he’s doing great at sounding out words so I think this is the year that it will happen. So exciting!

  13. says

    My husband and I have recited Little Blue Truck together in the car multiple times … much to our son’s delight. 🙂

    A month after my son was born, my husband got me a Kindle Touch. BEST gift for a bookworm mother, ever! I could read while nursing, hands free! I could read during in-between moments and set it down at a moment’s notice without worrying about losing my place! I still love and read *books* with real spines and pages (we still have boxes upon boxes of them waiting to be unpacked here at the new house …), but I truly do rely on my Kindle quite a bit as well.

    • Haley says

      See, I keep hearing this. Next time I have a newborn (God willing) I think I might have to get an e-reader. I think I would get so much reading done in the wee small hours of the morning during nursing sessions.

  14. says

    Or, if you’re like me, it looks like an inverse mountain (or just a “v”)–I read Chesterton to him in utero, Winnie-the-Pooh as a nursing infant, board books, and now picture books . . . he even sat for Milne’s When We Were Young poetry book, though he prefers bigger, more colorful pictures more often . . . also, he was sick, and at my mercy. :p

    • Haley says

      Haha! Daniel read Benjamin the Silmarillion and all of LOTR when he was a newborn. I read him Peter Pan. It is really fun now that we’re reading things like The Hobbit as read alouds! He’s so cute discovering these great books.

  15. Alexis says

    I just love how you put everything into perspective! I never looked at it like this until now! I can read some of my children’s books without even looking at them 😉 but you are correct…it’s all worth it!

  16. says

    This is a great post! This is my experience completely. Sometimes I think it’s the repetition that starts driving me mad. I have tried board books that drive me less crazy and pick as many as I can up used for variety. Some of my favorites are: Baby Beluga, Each Peach Pear Plum, The Fire Engine Book, I am a Bunny, The Polite Elephant, Prayers for Children, I spy board books, The Wheels on the Bus, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?, Bunny’s Noisy Book, Early Classic Pooh Books (you can find them by searching individually), My First Real Mother Goose

    That said, I am absolutely loving having my oldest be interested in my favorite picture books, many of which are on your favorites list!

  17. Ginger says

    Can we say “Brown Bear, Brown Bear” and “The Little Engine That Could” in addition to these? Every. Single. Night. In addition to “Goodnight Moon” (and a random book about frogs that the hospital gave us for our 3-year-old son when our daughter was born earlier this year). Oy. But, I remember how much I loved all 3 of those and “Are You My Mother?” when I was 3, and it gives me hope that there are more books on the horizon. 🙂

  18. says

    This is my life. I am an English lit major. I focused on education and Victorian British literature. I don’t read for myself hardly at all anymore. But what I do read with my kids, I truly love. Right now I am rereading The Secret Garden to the kids. I read for the first time last year The Wizard of Oz, it was AWESOME!
    I do get a few books in for me, once in awhile, but it is rarely the meaty stuff. I long for it, but it just so rarely happens. They are usually bubble gum books. You know the ones you really like because they are fun, but you can chew them up really fast!
    8 kids laster I have found that they are so board books that I don’t tire of. Like “I Love You This Much,” Goodnight Moon,” “Madeline” (I have that one practically memorized!). New ones like “Bear Wants More,” etc. So many great books.
    I guess I need to give myself more credit, because honestly if I count all the read alouds and such I am a voracious reader!

  19. Marie says

    I really appreciate this post. I have a big stack of books for me next to my bed that I, err … dust once and a while. I am looking forward to the day when my 3 year-old reads to himself, but in the meantime, I make sure our picture book/read-aloud selection is interesting to both of us. The Lewis quote is spot-on! (And I not-so-secretly really enjoy reading Dr. Seuss’s, Julia Donaldson’s, and Barbara Cooney’s books over and over again.)

  20. says

    THANK YOU. It never occurred to me that board books counted as reading. But it did occur to me that, as I watched my son flip a book right side up and then look at all the pages for the exact same amount of time for each, that he is growing to love books.
    You’re right; so worth it!

  21. Beth says

    That’s how it goes around here too. I really like children’s books though…it’s just having to repeat them so many times!

  22. says

    This is so good. I am now at the point where I’m reading wonderful chapter books to my daughters (currently we’re working through Harry Potter #3 and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), and their love of books makes all those repeats of the old board books so worth it!

  23. says

    I love love love the Little Mouse, Red ripe strawberry and the big hungry bear. Oh how I loved reading that to my first. So, the thing is, now with 4 kids (ages 6, 4, 3, and 15mo), I find that I actually read to them less than I read to the first. It’s kind of sad. But just the rut we’ve dug. Even though I declared that for the summer there would be no TV until everyone reads, writes and does some math. We don’t have much going on this week, so maybe I’ll just sit with them and we’ll fill up our book logs to go turn them in. 🙂


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