When I was researching au pair positions, I was surprised to find that my most desirable characteristic isn’t anything I have worked for–my education, my experience with children–but something I have always had: fluency in the English language.
All of a sudden, I became aware of the privilege of being a native English speaker, how it edged me over other candidates toward desirable jobs worldwide. I’m not completely comfortable with this–because I would prefer to be valued for things I have control over, and because I find the increasing Anglicization/Americanization of the world problematic–but it is what it is. I’m lucky to have found a family who values me for many things besides my language skills, but I know that a big part of my responsibility as an au pair will be to expose little Anna Sophie to English.
Now, her parents are both fluent English speakers, but they have decided that they will only speak to their daughter in German, while their au pairs (I am the second) will speak to her in English. This is a popular tactic for raising children bilingually. In their job profile, Doris and Roland requested that the future au pair (me!) bring English language books to share with Anna Sophie.
Fun fact: I really love children’s literature.
I am currently deferring admission to Simmons College’s MA/MS in Children’s Literature and Library Science. Yep, I will have a Master’s degree in children’s books. My goal is to be both a children’s librarian and a scholar, and my research focuses on little girls in Victorian fiction. I believe that the books we read as children have an immeasurable effect on who we turn out to be. I also just really, really like kids’ books.
So, I feel like I am a good person to pick out the books that will introduce Anna Sophie to English-language children’s literature, although it’s a little daunting! I imagine it’s like developing a syllabus for a class. You want each book to have a purpose, without too much overlap. There are certain classics that have to be considered, but you also have to be practical. For me, I had to think about traveling with these books taking up valuable weight in my suitcase. I also wanted age appropriate books (for a two-year-old) that she could grow with, books that would inspire English learning.
It’s funny, because walking into the children’s section of the bookstore, I naturally gravitate towards collections of fairy tales–my favorite stories growing up. But buying an Austrian child books that are essentially English translations of German stories seemed a little silly, so I had to refocus. After a few trips to various book stores, and a lot of thought, I came up with ten books to take. I think my selections, while obviously limited by space and age appropriateness, cover some major authors and stories. I can’t wait to share them with Anna Sophie!
The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck and The Tale of Peter Rabbit, by Beatrix Potter
These are the only selections on my list by a British author, and as far as I’m concerned, they are some of the greatest picture books of all time. They are small in scale, with tiny pictures about tiny creatures, perfect for tiny hands. The stories are simple, the watercolors are beautiful, and the animal world (with its bonnets and waistcoats) is lively and perfect. These were a no-brainer.
Here Comes Eloise! (a lift-the-flap book) based on the Eloise series by Kay Thompson
Rather than including an actual Eloise book (although they are great!) I went with a lift-the-flap version that I think will be more colorful and engaging for such a young child, while still introducing Eloise, the spunky little girl who loves pink and rules the Plaza Hotel in New York City.
Richard Scarry’s Things to Know
I love Richard Scarry books–they introduce so many objects and concepts to children with funny, vivid pictures, a personable cast of animal characters, and lots of labels. I loved these books as a child, being the kind of kid who wanted to know the right name for everything, and I’m sure they’re even more effective for teaching English. In Things to Know, topics include musical instruments, colors, numbers, seasons, and parts of the body!
The Foot Book, by Dr. Seuss
Of course I had to include a Dr. Seuss–he revolutionized the picture book and the process of learning to read in America. But rather than going for The Cat in the Hat or one of his more complicated books intended for beginning readers, I went with this classic “Bright and Early Book for Beginning Beginners.” It has the classic Seuss style of drawing and rhyme, but less words, less confusion and mayhem. I think it’s the perfect intro to Seuss: Left food, left foot, left foot, right. Feet in the morning, feet at night.
Curious George, by H. A. Rey
This is one that Anna Sophie will probably have to grow into, but it’s such an important classic of children’s literature that I had to include it. Although only H. A. Rey is credited, he co-wrote the book with his wife Margret, as they fled the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940. The little monkey’s move to New York mirrored their own. While the distinctive red and black pencil drawings may be too sophisticated for a two-year-old, it is a great book about a discovering the world around you.
Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell
This book is just perfect. The other day, I was babysitting for a three year old, who requested to watch the Clifford TV show, which is still wildly popular, even though the original book was published in 1963. The expressive pictures and sparse words work together to develop Clifford and Emily Elizabeth’s friendship, despite all the problems having a giant dog can sometimes cause!
My First Mother Goose Treasury
I knew I needed to include a book of Mother Goose. My own parents read her nursery rhymes to me at Anna Sophie’s age constantly, and they somehow get under your skin and into your blood. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know “Jack and Jill” or “Little Miss Muffet.” I picked this specific version because it is a “board book” (a study book with cardboard pages so babies can’t tear them). I feel like Mother Goose needs to be loved and carried everywhere.
Madeline’s Christmas, by Ludwig Bemelmans
This is my favorite Madeline book, of many classic contenders, and when my friend Hilary sent it to me for Anna Sophie, I knew it was a perfect choice, because Madeline is wonderful, and I will be spending Christmas with the Hechenbergers this year! Also (fun fact) although I was always under the impression that the Madeline books were French, because they take place at a Catholic boarding school in Paris, they were actually written in English by an Austrian immigrant!
WeeSing Rhymes, Songs and Lullabies and WeeSing Musical Games, Rhymes, and Silly Songs
Finally, I was very lucky to find this set of song books and CDs of classic English children’s songs. I grew up with tons of WeeSing books (although they were accompanied by cassette tapes back then!) and I know that music can really facilitate learning a language (see my post on German music here). Plus I love to sing, and these songs (there are over 250 of them) will be a great way for me to bond with Anna Sophie, while exposing her to English.
Those are my choices, but I have room for a couple more–Goodnight, Moon, Where the Wild Things Are? Let me know what you think I should bring in the comments!