I don’t know how we managed to do it, but our son is hooked on books. Maybe it’s because we’re both teachers. Maybe it’s because we never forced books on him, but they are everywhere in our house—in his playpen, all over his room. My own collection takes up three large shelves. Books for school and work clutter the dining room table. Maybe it’s because we’ve been reading to him since his first week of life. Maybe it’s just … luck!
Zade’s appetite for books can best be described as voracious. He literally devours what he sees. Literally. He’s been known to chew up brand new board books beyond recognition within minutes. He tears flaps, wrinkles pages, bends spines in ways they’re not supposed to be bent.
His tastes are not entirely discriminating, though he does have his favorites. He keeps trying to sink his teeth into the novel I’m reading, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I tried to tell him there’s no pictures, that it’s not age appropriate, that it just doesn’t taste good. “Gaaa!” he yells in protest.
Haz has been reading Dr. Seuss’s Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can you? to him since he was a few weeks old. We’ve both read it so many times that we have it memorized. There’s Goodnight Moon, by Margaret Wise Brown, I Love You Through and Through (by Bernadette Rossetti Shustak), I’ll See You in the Morning (by Mike Jolley), Peek a Who (by Nina Laden), My Animals by Xavier Deneaux, and of course, others. The latter two books are the simplest (no plot whatsoever). Peek a Who contains rhymes of the popular phrase and colorful pictures; My Animals is simply a black and white illustrated collection of animals and their names. All of the above have been thoroughly chewed (an entire corner is missing from Zade’s original Peek a Who; the cover of his more recent copy is about to fall off ).
This morning I woke Zade up a little early in order to get him on a more normal sleep schedule (he’s been going to sleep close to midnight and sleeping until 10am all summer). As his eyes reluctantly opened, he looked at me and rolled over. His crankiness continued as I pulled him out of his crib and started to change his diaper. He seemed to wake up as soon as I gave him a book to flip through on the diaper changer (hey, we read magazines on the toilet, so why not?). “Gaaa…. Da da dush… dush…” He pushed the book into my face. You read it, Mom.
And so I read In My Meadow (by Sara Gillingham), complete with bunny finger puppet. As soon as I finished changing Zade, he wiggled in my arms signaling that he wanted to get down and play in his room, which is filled with blocks, too many Fisher Price toys, talking cars, stuffed animals, and puzzles in addition to books.
He went straight to the bookshelf and pulled out Mr. Brown Can Moo!
“Da da dush….!” He yelled, waddling over to me and shoving Mr. Brown in my face.
I realized that he still hadn’t had his morning bottle or any breakfast.
“Dushh!” he yelled.
“Oh, the wonderful sounds Mr. Brown can do, he can go like a cow, he can go MOO MOO!”
I read the entire book and Zade sat, crosslegged, transfixed. As soon as I finished, he fussed. “Da den, dush!” (I swear it sounded like, “again, rush!”)
And so the morning of one of my last days of summer vacation began. I read Mr. Brown about four times in a row, followed by Peek a Who and My Animals at least three times each. Sometime after that I managed to get Zade to follow me into the kitchen for a bottle. He brought My Animals with him. My Animals with the simple words: “Cat. Rabbit. Elephant. Crocodile. Sheep. Cow. Dog.”**
Whenever we get to the page with “dog” on it, Zade exclaims “gog.” He also stops listening once you pass the “gog” page. He has limited patience with most books. Often he’ll hand you a story—such as Mr. Brown—and a few pages in he’ll hand you another—such as I’ll See You in the Morning. Maybe he prefers the colors of some, or the feel of the pages of others. Maybe he gets bored with the rhyme and seeks another rhythm. Maybe it’s the excitement and anticipation of what to look at next. Maybe he simply enjoys the feeling of control.
Zade has always given his attention to books. He loves looking at them while riding in the car, pulling them off of bookshelves, and standing on them in his playpen for better leverag. But his latest quirk—reading the same few titles over and over again, is quite new. So are his emphatic demands—which, for the non-acquainted, might be a little difficult to decipher—but his pushing of books in your face definitely is not.
Tonight, right before bed, the trend continued. We read Mr. Brown, Peek a Who, My Animals, and I’ll See you in the Morning nonstop, on demand. If little Zade were demanding video games, candy, rides on the carousel, or piggy backs on demand, nonstop, I would not give in. But because this is books, I cannot, you know, stop. At least not as easily. I tried to introduce some new books (such as Hurry! Hurry! by Eve Bunting) but he was not interested. “Da dush!” he yelled, pushing I’ll See You in the Morning into my nose.
“I’ll see you in the morning, now it’s time for sleep… I’ll stay and watch a while until you are counting sheep…”
As I put Zade in his crib, he demanded an encore round of My Animals.
I pulled out the book. Cat. Rabbit. Horse. Pig. Cow.
“Gog!” he said, through his pacifier, sleepily. I kissed his cheek as he started to fuss and left him with the book (the pages are too thick to devour so there’s no danger of him eating paper and cardboard with this one).
“I’ll see you in the morning, Zade. Now it’s time to sleep.”
I smiled as I shut the door, realizing this was the only form of poetry I had read in weeks.
**This is not the exact order of animals included in My Animals. I can’t tell you the exact order because Zade is currently sleeping with the book in his crib. I do know that the “gog” page is about halfway through the book, however.