Here’s the abridged story of how I fell for picture books.
Part I: The Dark Ages
Having a family is the very best thing there is. It’s the reason we’re here. But for the first 13 months of his life, my son Leo did not sleep for more than two hours consecutively. For those 400-odd days, his mother did not sleep for more than two hours consecutive, nor did I. While we were head-over-heels in love with Leo and the life we were building, we were way beyond tired – we were absolutely effing shattered. To pinch a phrase from Dickens, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
We had tried everything to get Leo to ‘sleep through’, but all conventional wisdom had failed us – from Tresillian (baby sleep rehab/respite for puggled parents) to the advice of wise Italian nonnas – Leo would trounce every methodology. He’d let us know about it, too. To pinch a phrase from Nick Cummins, he went off like a raw prawn. For 13 months.
We saw a lot of the dark for that year-and-a-bit.
Part II: The Renaissance
My better half Laura and I had consciously read to Leo every day, from a very early age (from in-utero, in fact). We had always loved reading to Leo, and he always loved being read to… but we’d always secretly harboured hopes that the books would be the panacea that finally got Leo to sleep.
As the months ticked on, Leo’s bookshelves began to bow. We read more and more, until we reached the point of sitting through 20+ picture books every night. And every night, Leo remained wide awake and fully engaged until the very last word of the very last book. He loved books. He didn’t like sleep.
So this is the point in the story where I have to break the bad news… if you’re looking for advice on how to get your baby to sleep, you should look elsewhere. At around 14 months, Leo did begin to sleep through, but it wasn’t the books that got him over the line (we’re not actually sure what it was).
Part III: The Enlightenment
The time we spent reading those 20+ books every day quite quickly became a highlight of the day, for all of us. Booktime had become something much more than a routine, it was the part of the day that I felt most deeply connected to my son, and I’m pretty sure the feeling was mutual. Far from a passive, time-passing activity, booktime quickly became a platform for chatter, play, expression, silliness, stillness, learning, wonder, and bloody good fun. Leo had become truly engaged by picture books, and so had Laura and I.
Some kind of magic kicked in during those few months, that has profoundly connected my family and I to picture books. At the time of writing, Leo is three and a bit, and his little sister Florence (a much better sleeper…) is one and a half, and we still huddle through a heap of books, every single day.
It’s still magic.