Books can delight babies too young to understand them


Three of the best baby shower presents I received were copies of "Goodnight Moon."

One hardback copy, its jacket frayed at the spine, maintains a place of prominence on our daughter's bookshelf even though two months may pass before she pulls it down again. She likes to know where it is, just in case.

One paperback copy is bent and bedraggled but still travels well. The third copy, another hardback, was recycled as a shower gift to the next available first-time mom.

The book is in a class by itself, although its popularity has helped spawn an entire classification of going-to-sleep books -- some hokey, some not. Here are a few that "Goodnight Moon" graduates might enjoy. The age range is about 2 to 4, although that can extend in either direction.

* "No Nap for Benjamin Badger," by Nancy White Carlstrom, illustrated by Dennis Nolan (Macmillan, $13.95). Our daughter will be 3 in October, and this is her latest favorite. It helps that Mom and Dad enjoy it too -- it can soothe away tensions built up during the day.

Benjamin Badger the Third and his Mama live in a soft watercolor world that's sort of a cross between Beatrix Potter and Cicely Mary Barker's Flower Fairies.

When Mama Badger calls him into their stone cottage for a nap, Ben Badger responds:

"I'm two and a half

He said with a laugh.

Much too old

For taking a nap."

Mama Badger proceeds to urge him into bed, all the while reciting verse about animals and insects that take breaks to nap. "Grasshoppers rest from the heat of the day. Their hopping has stopped as they flop to the shade. Relaxing in hammocks of green grassy blades."

In the end, of course, Ben Badger is snoozing. And Mama Badger celebrates by writing a verse of her own: "A good book, a rose, and a pot of tea. A pen and paper. What could be sweeter, even more sublime? Ben Badger sleeping at naptime!"

Any parent or grandparent who's home during the day with kids can appreciate that.

* "Going to Sleep on the Farm," by Wendy Cheyette Lewison, pictures by Juan Wijngaard (Dial Books for Young Readers, $13). I know plenty of adults who've never set foot on a farm. The closest their kids will ever get is the barnyard at the children's zoo. Yet the toddlers of the '90s retain what seems to be an innate fascination with farm animals. Kids still learn to say "Moo" at least a month or two before they can ask for "The Little Mermaid" and "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

This book is a beautiful, hypnotic way to end the day. A little boy and his father are playing on the floor before bedtime. The little boy, yawning, puts away his plastic farm animals, one by one.

"How does a horse go to sleep -- tell me how? How does a horse go to sleep?"

"A horse, of course, stands up all night," the father answers, "while he's fast asleep, with his eyes shut tight. And that's how a horse goes to sleep -- Neighh-h-h. That's how a horse goes to sleep."

Mr. Wijngaard, who won the 1985 Kate Greenaway Medal for his illustrations in "Sir Gawain and the Loathly Lady," paints the farmyard scenes with a golden edge of twilight. The end papers are perfect, opening with a view of the farm at sunset and closing with the exact same view at night, when the animals are sleeping and the fireflies are blinking.

* "Sleep Tight," by B.J. Hennessy, pictures by Anthony Carnabuci (Viking, $14). Ms. Hennessy definitely has a way with words, as evidenced in "Jake Baked the Cake" and "The Missing Tarts."

This time she has written a book that can appeal to the youngest listener. Babies won't understand the words, but they will love the way they sound.

"Birds are sleeping in the trees

Clouds are sleeping on a breeze

Trains are sleeping on the tracks

Bugs are sleeping in the cracks

Stores are sleeping in the town

Grass is sleeping on the ground"

Mr. Carnabuci's acrylic illustrations are soothing, too.

* "While I Sleep," by Mary Calhoun, art by Ed Young (Morrow Junior Books, $14). Like "Going to Sleep on the Farm," this book answers a child's questions at bedtime.

"Where does the squirrel sleep, Papa?"

"High in a tree," comes the answer. Mr. Young shows the squirrel curled up in a ball, a gray and sepia and white illustration boxed on the left side of the page. The box floats in the two-page spread, which is a bright daytime scene of a squirrel in flight.

Mr. Young, who won the Caldecott Medal for "Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China," masterfully juxtaposes each sleeping animal against the brilliant, textured scenes of animals (and trains, and planes) leaping off the page.

Try this out as a library book to see if it appeals to your child. There's a haunting quality to Mr. Young's style that might put some kids on edge -- definitely not what you want at bedtime.

Starting next week, Ms. Glassman's column will appear in the Saturday Sun.

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