Best New Book: Baby Meets World

We’re always on the lookout for the best new books—especially when it comes to reads we think will be great for moms. Well, Nicholas Day, the dad behind Slate’s “How Babies Work” and Food52’s “Dinner Vs. Child” just published a refreshing new book about infancy: Baby Meets World: Suck, Smile, Touch, Toddle. And we think we might have found one of the best baby books for new parents—or for anyone with a curious mind for that matter.

We’re familiar with Day’s work over here at Elizabeth Street. Because, really, how can you not love reading about a man who makes shakshuka for his children? And while we enjoy reading about his kitchen adventures with sons Isaiah and Samuel (a.k.a. Mila), where he writes about “cooking for children, and with children, and despite children,” we’ve been wondering if he would ever write a book.

And here it is.

Yes, Baby Meets World is a parenting book—but not in the way you’re thinking. It’s no how-to and it certainly won’t tell you all about the best kinds of baby bottles or exactly what foods need to be certified organic. Instead, the book wonders (and discovers) why babies do what they do, why they do it, and all the ways we adults have responded to these little aliens. Day explores the work of scientists, anthropologists, and psychologists to pose questions like “What can’t you get infants to do?” and answers them with fascinating anecdotes like the fact that the children of the Aka, a hunter-gatherer group of people in central Africa, expect their children to be fully functioning members of society, which sometimes means carrying baskets and throwing spears. “Over the years, various people in various places have treated babies in just about every way imaginable. Remarkably, they’ve managed to survive most of it,” Day tells Elizabeth Street. “And in fact, they’re capable of way more than we assume: babies with machetes.” It has happened.

We have to admit. It’s a genius concept of a book. But what inspired Day to write such an unusual tome? “After my son was born, I had a lot of simple but resoundingly unanswered questions, especially about the things he spent his time doing: sucking, smiling, touching, toddling,” he told us. While searching for answers, he found that most of the books apparently “treat [babies] as problems to be fixed, like leaky faucets.” But what he really wanted to read was  “a book that treated babies as the fascinating beings that they actually are. So I wrote it. There’s been a lot left out of the baby books. I wanted to bring that hidden world of infancy into the light.” And we’re glad he did