A book a year for our baby

An illustration of a young boy standing on a blue background holding a book open with lights flying out of it

Not much chop at knitting and uncomfortable about splashing cash on designer baby clothes, Wendyl Nissen comes up with a heartfelt gift for a new granddaughter.

Being a grandparent is something we all look forward to. Some of us hear the news that a baby is on the way and immediately pick up the knitting needles. Others might hit the shops hard. But on hearing of my third granddaughter’s impending arrival, I found myself turning to books. My knitting is not good, and I feel my previous grandchildren suffered enough with my badly put together blankets, booties and hats. I’m also not a great shopper, and I know that this baby is being prepared for with as much recycled gear as possible, so spending up large on unsustainable baby fashion was not something I felt like doing.

Instead I started thinking about the books this baby might enjoy through her life. I’ve always read to my babies from day one, even though in the 1980s, when I began having children, this was seen as a bit whacko. I found that the simple act of sitting down with a baby on your lap, turning pages, and talking out loud seemed to provide a stimulation my babies enjoyed, and it also seemed to settle me.

I wasn’t surprised then, to read about a study which found that parents who regularly read to their toddlers are not only less harsh overall, the children are also less likely to be disruptive or hyperactive. Win, win.

The study, by Rutgers University in the US, published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, is part of a long line of research on the necessity of parental interactions with their offspring. As 80 percent of brain growth occurs during the first three years of life, with an average of 700 synapses forming per second, babies who hear more from their parents learn more words by age two.

Then my mind turned to the many, many wonderful books we have for children in New Zealand. “What if,” I asked my husband, “I found a book for every year of her childhood. And put them on a bookshelf ?” He nodded, his nose in a book as usual. We are a bit of a book-y family. “Let’s make a list of all our favourite New Zealand kids’ books,” I said, pulling up a chair with a pen and notebook.

Half an hour later we had too many. A few books were a great idea, but not the 50 or so we had just enthusiastically remembered.

“Get Dorothy to help,” suggested my husband.

Dorothy Butler was a well-known New Zealand children’s writer who established her much-loved children’s bookshop in 1964. We had both grown up with books from Dorothy Butler’s and bought books there for our own children. The shop has lived in Ponsonby, Auckland, since the 1980s and is now run by sisters Mary and Helen Wadsworth.

I asked Helen if she could do me a favour and name her favourite book for a child for each year from birth to 10 years old. After much thought she came up with a list of 11 books, saying, “Sorry, 10 was just too hard!”

She didn’t do non-fiction, and chose a mixture of old and newish. The 11 books she came up with are absolutely perfect. They now live on a little bookshelf I found in an op shop, and I think our new granddaughter’s older sisters are more excited than anybody. I love thinking of them taking a book off the shelf and reading it to their little sister until she is old enough to take one off that shelf herself. Thanks to dorothybutler.co.nz

Helen’s best books list

0-1 YEAR

Mihi by Gavin Bishop
Mihi by Gavin Bishop ($17.99)

1-3 YEARS

Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd
Hairy Maclary and Zachary Quack by Lynley Dodd ($15.99)

2-5 YEARS

Down the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy
Down the Back of the Chair by Margaret Mahy, ($14.99)

3-6 YEARS

The Bomb by Sacha Cotter illustrated by Josh Morgan
The Bomb by Sacha Cotter, illustrated by Josh Morgan ($23.00)

4-7 YEARS

The Gobbledegook Book by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson
The Gobbledegook Book by Joy Cowley, illustrated by Giselle Clarkson ($39.99)

6-8 YEARS

Miniwings Series #1 Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder by Sally Sutton
Miniwings Series #1 Glitterwing’s Book Week Blunder by Sally Sutton ($14.99)

7-9 YEARS

Flying Furballs Series #1 Dogfight by Donovan Bixley
Flying Furballs Series #1 Dogfight by Donovan Bixley ($14.99)

8-11 YEARS

The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg
The Princess and the Foal by Stacy Gregg ($17.99)

9-12 YEARS

The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble
The Dog Runner by Bren MacDibble ($18.99)

10 -12 YEARS

Sunken Forest by Des Hunt
Sunken Forest by Des Hunt ($18.00)

11-12 YEARS

The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi
The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi ($29.99)
Helen Wadsworth standing at Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop
Helen Wadsworth is the co-owner of the Dorothy Butler Children’s Bookshop. Along with her older sister, Mary, she has owned this Auckland institution for five years. Helen loves her job, especially when she can help a child find just the right book. One of her all-time favourites is The 10pm Question by Kate De Goldi.

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