[Image: R2’s old crib mobile featuring Julian-Opie-inspired high-contrast black and white illustrations of our family members.]
Intersectional Kidlit For Infants 0-12 months
Quick Things You Need To Know:
- Smash the kyriarchy:
- Normalize racial diversity: Our goal at this age is just to normalize diversity. Expose babies to real photographs of a wide range of ages, faces, gender presentation, and races.
- Use real sign language: Teach real sign language (ESL, ASL, etc. whatever your local dialect). It’s awesome and super helpful for pre-and non-speaking folks. Don’t teach them baby sign language or a bastardization of a Deaf language – that’s infantilizing, ableist, and cultural appropriation. We don’t teach our kids baby Spanish, that would be ridiculous.
- Cognitive development
- From 0-4 months: Use books that can be propped open out-of-reach during tummy time. Simple clean lines and high black/white contrast is easiest for newborn brains to process. Periphery vision is better than center vision (which is still blurry), so set books just off-center during tummy time, instead of directly in front of them.
- 0-6 weeks (neonatal) – Stick with stark black and white, it’s soothing and calming for them, since everything else is a big messy jumble. Very basic geometric shapes and very basic faces work well for this age (think smiley faces, not Man Ray portraits)
- 6-8 weeks – You can start to add bold, contrasting colors in big geometric shapes.
- 4-6 months: Hello, wacky-inflatable-car-dealership-mascot arms. Find soft books babies can manage to hold, but won’t hurt when they smash themselves in the face with it.
- 6 months: Babies won’t be able to move hands smoothly until around 6 months. Even then, turning pages in a board book or lifting books up will be challenging for babies under 9 months.
- Look for rounded corners, and thick, staggered pages, that babies can grab, but won’t give them paper cuts. Dishwasher-friendly books (Indestructables, cloth books) are your friend, because these are going to get NASTY when babies start teething and drooling everywhere. Paper ones will warp and disintegrate.
- Non-linear reading: Don’t expect a kid under 3 to sit still and read a book cover-to-cover.
- Quality over quantity: Literally everything is new to them, and babies at this age find comfort in familiarity. Have baskets on the floor filled with 3-5 high-quality books in strategic places (at tummy time station, bedtime routine, diaper changing, potty, and play areas). You don’t need to get a ton of new books, just rotate which books show up in which basket every couple weeks.
- Reading 1 book together for weeks develops comfort, familiarity, and mastery. Those ‘1,000 books before kindergarten‘ programs are designed to shame exhausted and poor parents and are backed by lazy research and folks who need you to buy books to keep their jobs. Owning books is correlated with children’s success (which correlate with having a place to live and money to buy books), not reading them. Don’t fall for it.
- It’s not about you: Choose books for babies, not for parents. They will fall in love with books they can hold, and don’t care about the sappy/creepy Nancy Tillman book Aunt Debbie gave them. Boring books breed resentment and make kids feel overwhelmed. It makes you look cool to have A is for Activist on your bookshelf, but your baby needs a book they can chew on.
- Get some sleep. Babies need well-rested caretakers more than they need story time. Treat story time as a fun and optional way to break up the day, not a lesson. If your child never sees a book until they are well past 6 months, it’s fine. They will be fine.
Quick & Messy Book List:
0-3 Months: Mobiles
Mobiles are better than books at this age Unlike books, mobiles don’t require you sit there, exhausted, flipping pages.
- High-contrast gray-scale portraits of faces, clipped to face downward (so the baby can see them, NOT adults) in a photo clip mobile work well. If you can’t make your own high-contrast images like the one I made (see the image above), you could use:
- Montessori mobiles made it possible for me to entertain Q when R2 was a newborn, brush my teeth, and shower. I wish so hard that I had known about them when Q was a baby. They’re staged week-by-week for eye development. Google it – they are awesome!
Books for normalizing racial diversity
At this age, neurotypical babies just can’t get enough of looking at other babies. Start normalizing racial diversity now. These are the two that R2 liked the most, but I’m sure more have popped up in the last few years.
3+ Months: Social & Bonding Story time
- Kiss, Tickle, Cuddle, Hug – Susan Musgrave. Awesome for practicing consensual touching, and also gives you a chance to emotion labels to create a foundation social-emotional stories later on
- “Gabriel makes a sad face, Gabriel needs a hug.“
- Hey R2 – do you want a hug?
- Gabriel is sad. Look how Gabriel’s eyebrows are pointing up. Gabriel has sad eyebrows.
- My Face Book – Star Bright Books.
- Baby Faces – Orli Zuravicky. So boring, but R2’s favorite from 4-6 months.
4+ Months: Fine-Motor Development
- Indestructibles various – SO AMAZING. GET LOTS. They don’t have words, but they are bath-proof, rip-proof, chew-proof, mangle-proof and can be washed in the laundry. They soften and wrinkle over time – made from the same stuff as a mattress tag. They have been creating new ones every year, and there’s a good mix of representation in terms of race and gender (although I haven’t looked beyond the covers since my kids recently aged out of them.)
- Tiny Board Books – These were beloved and less frustrating than regular small board books. They could hold and flip through pages while developing fine-motor control. Here are some new ones that came out recently, since our favorite series is out of print:
- Neither of the Earthquakes were into the soft fabric plush book we had, but these ones with taggies look appealing.
6+ Months: Sensory Development & Emerging Language
Worth noting that sensory development and fine motor develops in the feet a couple months before the hands, so we set up a danging bell from a string for the Earthquakes to kick from the ages of 4 months+. If you can create an activity that allows babies to access touch & feel with their toes, that would be a good activity for parents to do with babies.
- Tough Chicks to the rescue! – This is a baby spinoff to a wonderful book for older kids, Tough Chicks, featuring a mom who accepts her rough & tumble chicks despite haters criticizing them for not being ‘proper’ ladies. I haven’t gotten my hands on it (comes out 1/8/19), but this looks like a fantastic baby board book version with touch and feel patches, which is huge for babies. It looks amaaaaazing!
- Baby’s Day, Blake – Deceptively simple, this book is amazing. Selective coloring for new language, normalizing a nonbinary Black baby, recognizing daily routines, and very few (re: not overwhelming) staggered pages in a lightweight book for little fingers. SO GOOD. It’s out of print, but I wish they’d either re-print it or someone would take this idea and run with it for a series.
- The Sign About Series, Anthony Lewis – (ASL) Most board books teaching sign language to families for use with children are problematic and often contain errors. Check youtube and/or take a class if you can to clarify your signs. This series has multiple signs cluttered on each page, which is not ideal, but my favorite is out of print and I haven’t found a better version.
- Hands & Hearts, Includes a few signs in ASL. This is NOT a board book, so parents would have to read this with kids and it can’t be left unsupervised with babies.