When I looked at my curated list of gifts for new parents, I realized that this topic combines the two nicely.
I give books to new parents so they can read to their kids. This is a critical thing in development--both reading and being read to. Most of the books on my list have been on there for years because they turn out to be favorites even if they are frequently unknown to the parents before I send them.
My mom used to take us to the library almost every week and we'd exchange the books we'd finished for new books, whenever we weren't reading the books in their extensive library or our own. She read to us early on. She had us reading back to her almost as early. She remembers me reading to my friends in the car on the way home from somewhere when I was 5. I always have at least book on my phone and, at one point, my tablet had over 2000, but that's hard to manage...
My top books for new parents
Every book on this list is appropriate for both boys and girls, maybe especially girls given the declining numbers of women going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). Education is the silver bullet and STEM careers are the future. Every scientist also needs human connection, empathy, and balance to reach the highest levels, so don't discount the other titles in this list:
- 50 Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do) by Gever Tulley.
It's described as "an activity book about danger, safety, and the incredible world around us." Get your scientist going, make them strong, unafraid, and interested in the world around them.
- C is for Cthulhu: The Lovecraft Alphabet Book by Greg Murphy.
A beautiful book it features "monsters" that are very, very cute. There's a sleepy time book and a plushie too.
- Free To Be...You And Me by Marlo Thomas.
Technically speaking, this is a CD that has a book for an insert. Originally it was a book and record. There is a book, but it's the music that will make this a favorite for kids. It's also extremely funny. All the greats are on here including Mel Brooks, Alan Alda, and Carol Channing. This remains a favorite of mine to this day. It teaches lessons, respect, and good values.
- Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! (Baby Loves Science) by Ruth Spiro
Part of the Baby Loves Science series, this one is maybe the one I like best. The Quantum Physics or Thermodynamics books are tied for second favorite. It's grown into a big series. Get your kid hooked on science early and don't be afraid of a topic you don't know well. It's a baby book, after all. Alternately, This Little Collection by Joan Holub.
- A is for Array by Brandon J Hansen.
Want a different ABC book than the Lovecraft one? Try this. Your kids will know programming before they're out of elementary school anyway, so why not? There are illustrations and examples and, like the Baby Love Science books, don't be afraid if you're not a programmer to give this to your kid. Alternately, you might want ABCs of Programming Languages simply because XSLT is X.
- Goodnight Lab: A Scientific Parody (Baby University) by Chris Ferrie
Everyone loves Goodnight Moon and this book extends an old favorite cementing a love of science firmly in young minds. Another series highlighting science for babies, this parody is absolutely fantastic. Parody is an art form and the author did it well.
- Mrs Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
Mrs Piggle-Wiggle is a series that were originally written in the 1950s, that I read as a child, and that I can remember even now. Some stories stay with you because they resonate. These are full of stories about children, good and bad behavior, and love.
- The E.L. Konigsburg Newbery Collection: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
This is another book that's stayed with me. It's won awards and is beloved by many.
- The Book of Totally Irresponsible Science: 64 Daring Experiments for Young Scientists by Sean Connolly.
Kids need activities that show them science is reachable no matter where you are. This book is filled with experiments anyone can do at home. And they're not all boring. Some ooze, some boom, some stink. It's a great way to get your kids into science early and to keep them from being afraid of it later one.
- Twenty-Two Russian Tales for Young Children by Leo Tolstoy.
Yes, that Leo Tolstoy. The book that was around when I was a kid is out of print, but you can still get his children's stories...just with a much more boring cover.
And one is for parents:
The Three-Martini Playdate: A Practical Guide to Happy Parenting by Christie Mellor. It's one of the very few books that had me literally laughing out loud (on a crowded plane, no less). It's refreshing and filled with useful advice.
What else do I send?
It's not all books. Ok, yes, it's mostly books. But I also send a collection of the best kids wear I can find that satisfies two requirements. (You know how I love requirements!)
First, any item of clothing for babies must be easy for the parents. That means:
- No long sleeves (arms wiggle)
- No "pull overs" (heads wiggle)
- Snaps (buttons are hard when you're asleep in the middle of the night)
Second, avoid stereotypes.
No pinks for girls, no blues for boys; Trucks, dinosaurs, and science are for girls. Boys can like flowers. I get a lot of things in orange, yellow, green, red, brown, blue is OK as long as it's not stereotypical "for boys." It can be tempting to fall into old tropes but it's better for the baby if you, the responsible adult, avoid them.
That's pretty much it.
My favorite piece of clothing is this one from Spasilk.
Some of you may say, "it's so boring!" but when it's the middle of the night and you have to get something clean, you don't want to make choices. You don't want something fancy that's just going to get ruined when you come out again in two hours. You want something soft, easy to get the baby into (and out of), and this has snaps everywhere.
It comes in lots of sizes--I always give a selection that covers the first 18-24 months. The last thing a new parent needs is to have to go out shopping when the baby suddenly doesn't fit into anything anymore. Plus, it gives parents a range for babies. Tall babies tend to need the bigger ones, yeah?
There are others that I give again and again, and I'm always out looking for more.
Here are a few that have managed to stay on my list year over year:
The Babysoy Kimono Bodysuit violates the "no long sleeves" rule, but it has snaps everywhere important. Snaps make it easy to change diapers and get the baby in and out. (Long Sleeves with Pull Over? NEVER. Don't make a new parent's life that hard. Their life is hard enough!) Plus, the Babysoy color choices and designs are super. Who doesn't love turtles? They have an adorable one trimmed in orange that has some kind of bird on it.
The Zutano bodysuits are also at the top of my list. Zutano may wrap their products in the "boy" and "girl" labeling, but the colors and designs work equally well for both boys and girls. Orange with a submarine? Green with owls in flowers? White with an elephant on a hill? Those all work equally well no matter who's wearing it. So, forgive their marketing labels (written for Amazon searchers) and choose something fun.
There is one dress that I will send sometimes. It has dinosaurs on it. There is a t-shirt in my favorites list that is just for girls, but it's to encourage girls to be engineers, not princesses.
The space shirt and the green monster are just cute and anyone can wear either one.
This approach makes it easy for me because everything in my list is good for both boys and girls. And that means that I have great gifts for every baby without a lot of extra work.
That's a good thing.
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