Baby showers are mostly terrible. We know this because men are rarely required to go to them.
I can’t help you if you get invited to a shower where one where one of these is being served (although I find the one with babies on carrots bizarre enough to like) or where you’re asked to play a game involving fake poopy diapers (for fun I guess?).
BUT if you’re invited to one of those showers by a person cool enough to request books, specifically—-some people even have exclusively “book” showers!—-I can help you with what to choose.
Of course, you can’t go wrong with classics, like the simple flap-lift action of Where’s Spot? or the calm and bright colors of Brown Bear, Brown Bear. But if you’re looking to mix it up a bit, there are a few things that can help you decide.
- Board books that address a simple concept, with only a word or two on each page, are best for extremely young readers. A very small baby isn’t going to be moved by your dramatic reading of The Velveteen Rabbit, but she will happily gaze at/point to a large picture of an animal on a page with lots of white space and repeat that it says moo or oink. And then she will even more happily chew on it. Durability and simplicity are your key words if you want the book you give to be one of the first ones that gets read.
- Avoid licensed characters. Books that are created based on Disney princesses or cartoon characters are always, always money grabs. These books are meant to be consumed like Happy Meal toys—-disposable and forgettable. Sometimes, kids get obsessed with a character, and want its big dumb goofy face on everything they own, but this kid isn’t even born yet. He has no opinions about Elsa from Frozen. There’s no benefit to saddling his parents with the excruciatingly vapid prose of a licensed-character book written by a computer just yet.
- In a similar vein: when you’re buying a book, check to see whether it’s part of a series or collection. If so, try to find the first one. While books for very young children rarely feature cliffhangers or plot points essential for understanding, the very first book in a series like that typically stands alone a little better, since it doesn’t rely on the audience already knowing who its central character is.
But it’s most important to note that newborn babies are similar to butternut squash in both size and literacy. Though we tend to treat pregnant persons as if they are but incubators of ~*~miracles~*~, the actual baby isn’t going to get much use out of a book for, like, a year from when you gift it, so you’re really choosing the book for the prospective parent—-whom you’re presumably friends with, or related to or whatever—-to let them know you’re a part of their village.
This changes the question you ask yourself as your cursor hovers in the Amazon search bar from “what do newborn babies like?” (universal answer: eating, projectile pooping, being teeny) to “what does my [friend/relative/whatever; hereafter, FRW] like?” which has many possible answers, all of which are likely to be more useful to you.
Is your FRW a graphic designer? Check out Pantone: Colors (which is, incidentally, a board book about a simple concept, per above instructions, and particularly well-executed). A feminist? Perhaps Robert Munsch’s The Paper Bag Princess, or bell hooks’s Be Boy Buzz. (If your FRW is not a feminist and you are, Edwina, the Dinosaur Who Didn’t Know She Was Extinct by Mo Willems is a solid stealth-feminist choice). Still kinda emo at heart, even though it’s not 2004 anymore? Lemony Snicket’s 13 Words.
You could even forget about the book being read to the stinkin’ baby altogether and go with something like Adam Mansbach’s Go the Fuck to Sleep.
The point is, though books are good for brain development and personal enrichment and all that sort of thing, the goal of buying a book for someone else should never be making them smarter. I would argue that this is even more true when you’re buying a book for a brand-new person.
Just think: this creature is an actual human being, complete with its own functioning brain and an itty bitty pancreas and everything, and is as close to a blank slate as exists as far as socialization goes. The best books to give at baby showers, in my view, are the ones that celebrate that; that leave room for the parents and their baby to figure a lot of stuff out on their own; and that help them all to find some joy—-or at least ironic mirthless release—-in the process.