Do other families have birthday seasons? In my family, we have three main birthday seasons: From September to early November; from the last day of November through the first week of February; and from May 2nd to June 6th. When I was a kid, we only had the one – November through early February: The time period in which all of my five siblings, both of my parents, most of my aunts and uncles, and several cousins were born. I was all the way out in June, with the only summer birthday. Even as my siblings got older and got married, many of their partners had birthdays in that same winter period as well. But then they started having kids, and now there’s three distinct clumps of birthdays, and the niblings have swarmed my birthday so that I’m no longer alone. My youngest niece missed having the same birthday as me by only a few hours, as a matter of fact. So here we are in the midst of my family’s spring birthday clump, and – as the resident bibliophile aunt – that makes it my responsibility to shower young people with good books. I’m going to work a little bit backwards here, and start with the youngest, because I managed to read all these picture books the day I bought them, where as the older niblings are getting books that would take more than 5 minutes for me to read through well enough to review. So, my soon-to-be three year old goddaughter is getting some good picture books for her birthday: Lemme tell you about them.
I’m breaking them up into different posts, because they fall into pretty distinct categories. These first few are basically pandemic-related picture books. Books about why Auntie still can’t come see her for her birthday, and how I much I miss her and her brother and her mom, and everybody who doesn’t live in my house, and all the ways we still say we love each other even though we’re not in the same space right now, & I don’t know when we will be able to be.
The first, And The People Stayed Home by Kitty O’Meara, is based on the viral poem that was going around about this time last year. You may know it based off the original Facebook post, or this video that went pretty far on the internets: And The People Stayed Home. It’s a very moving – and unfortunately too optimistic – poem about the ways people coped during the first days of the pandemic, and the author’s hopes for how we’d handle it moving forward. I say “unfortunately too optimistic” because you and I, as grown adults, know that there’s been a lot of people who didn’t stay home, who didn’t listen, who didn’t heal, or grieve, or allow the rest of us to heal or grieve. And that sucks. But for my three-year-old niece (and her five-year-old brother, who will be engaging with the text as well, since we do Facetime read togethers every week), I need this optimistic, overly hopeful, ‘hey guess what – the adults are looking out for you and the earth and each other’ type of message. Because that’s what they deserve, and even if it’s not true for the world at large, it’s true for their part of the world, and essential that they know that. I’m so happy to have a book I can give them, for them to see that they haven’t been in this alone, and that we all still care about each other, even though we are apart.
Next, I’m gifting her a copy of Lucy’s Mask by Lisa Sirkis Thompson, which is available free if you use Kindle Unlimited. Reading e-books with kids, especially small kids, has been unexpectedly great, by the way. I’d never really thought about picture books you couldn’t physically hold in your hands and turn pages, but kids are so used to phones and iPads and that kind of media now, that they get such a kick out of being able to read a book on your phone. For anybody who’s my age, it’s the same kind of thrill I remember when books on tape first started coming out, and the message would chime the little bell to tell you to turn the page – seeing two of your favorite things connected like that – in this case books & technology – is something adults take for granted, but little kids think is just magic. It’s also available as a physical book, too though, so whatever floats your boat. This book is more looped into the direct actions & changes kids have seen in others, or have had to make during the past year, specifically mask wearing. Lucy’s mom is sewing her a new mask, and while she waits, Lucy uses the mask she already has – and her vivid imagination – to do all sorts of things. She explores & solves mysteries; vanquishes dragons & becomes a superhero. The author, and the colorful illustrations by John Thompson, are cheery & fun & super relatable – if you have a toddler, and you don’t have sixteen different costumes going at all times: how are you even making it through the days?
And then when Lucy’s mom finishes her Covid-style, over the mouth mask, she puts that on, and becomes a real superhero: “NOW you’re a superhero! With this kind of mask you really will help save the world!” Telling kids that they’re an essential part of not spreading Covid, and keeping themselves, their families & their communities safe is exactly the kind of reinforcement our tiny youngsters need from us right now. (Because let’s not forget that they are not vaccinated. They cannot get vaccinated yet. They can and do get Covid-19, and they still need to be safe, and need all of us to help them stay safe.)
The last pandemic-era picture book (and wow: who ever thought that would be a phrase we’d be saying) talks about all the ways we can show our love and care for each other while we are apart. In While We Can’t Hug by Eoin McLaughlin & Polly Dunbar, Hedgehog & Tortoise aren’t allowed to hug. The book doesn’t say why, but, after a year of living apart, I don’t think they have to – it’s stronger and more relatable for them to have not explained it, honestly – It makes the book more adaptable to personal situations – I was a Navy brat, my dad was away until I was about 10, and I think this would have been a great resource for little me, way back then, for example. But it still fits so perfectly with pandemic expectations of separation, and then flows smoothly into different ways we can show our care and love each other when we can’t be near each other.
From waving and singing and dancing, all the way through to sending kisses, painting pictures and writing letters, I don’t think there’s a small child in your life that you’ve been struggling to stay connected with this year who isn’t going to understand each loving page of this book. (Granted, there aren’t any “I let you explain your Roblox game to me for 45 minutes via Facebook Kids Messenger” examples, but that’s ok: I’m not sending it to the 8 year old, and there’s really no way to encapsulate exactly how much of a sacrifice that experience truly is.) The illustrations here are cheery & bright & simple, and I predict many dramatic acting out of pages when the three year old has her copy in her hands. (I’m also including this link to a BSL version of the story, read aloud, because sometimes we switch up the kinds of read alouds we do, and I’m just letting you know that if you want your kids to learn sign, reading their favorite stories in sign is a great way for both of you to learn.)
I’m going to be honest with you – I didn’t expect these to be this great, but I love all three of these books, and I’m considering taking a deep dive down into the books that have been popping up to help little kids cope during all of this. There are more picture books out there than you might think, and I’m thinking I might read/buy a lot of them, so if you guys want more suggestions, let me know. Up next, a couple other, non-pandemic related picture books my lucky niece will be getting from me for turning three.