Choose a bookcase aesthetic. Remember, this background is the only way to establish credibility for your two-year-old in our new world. Are you raising a tiny influencer or a budding anthropologist? Should you color-code the book spines into a rainbow or alphabetize rows of National Geographic Kids? These questions must be answered before your toddler can dominate his Zoom music class or his FaceTime with Nana. You need people to take him seriously when he says, “Me want ’tilla chips.” His bookcase must communicate: I am no basic baby.
So, you’ve chosen an intellectual aesthetic. Classic. Start by packing the shelves with the usual suspects: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, In Search of Lost Time. The more weathered the books, the better. It’s preferable to showcase leather-bound versions. Put the books high enough so that your toddler can’t reach them with his Pirate’s-Booty-dusted fingers. However, they must be low enough for your mother-in-law to see. Yes, it’s a balancing act. No one ever said this would be easy.
Add in picture books. Only hardbacks. Only the smart ones. Caldecott Medal winners. Newbery Medal winners. Finalists don’t make the cut. When parents ask during Skype story time how you keep your toddler from tearing off the jackets, you must explain, “In this house, we respect books.” Don’t forget to include books in other languages: Mandarin, Spanish, French, Klingon. With such a wide array of titles, no one will question your son’s authority when he exclaims, “Nose is bubbles.”
Throw in a couple of curveballs. People expect your toddler to appreciate Klassen, but you can also reveal his quirky side with the Llama Llama series. Include something completely unexpected. What about Amy Schumer’s memoir? You want to communicate that your toddler doesn’t think he is above his classmates. Stay approachable. For this reason, include one or two books that make farm sounds or that feature a cat as the protagonist.
Warning: Do not go overboard on this step. Remember, your toddler’s bookcase will be judged harshly during his Houseparty play date. Other parents will take screenshots and dissect the contents. Your child’s reputation is at stake.
You know what? Forget the Llama Llama series. Replace it with a handful of graphic novels. That will keep them guessing.
Find the perfect objet d’art. Do you have a hand-carved Pinocchio from Tuscany? How about a black and white photo of a lamb’s face? Go ahead and dust off that glass brachiosaurus that is so fragile no child should ever touch it. Place these objects amongst the books in a way that looks both curated and carefree. Methodical and playful. Include one family photo in a gilded frame from the day your baby left the hospital. Make sure no one is smiling.
Now we arrive at the most precarious step. Place your toddler in front of the bookcase while filming his Marco Polo video chat. The illusion of intellectual prowess will be ruined if his friends see the plastic slide off to the side, the fake food that he tried to eat just moments ago, or, god forbid, his Paw Patrol spy cruiser. Keep him centered and focused. Shine a light on his face. If he will tolerate it, dress him in a button-up. In an ideal world, he would refer to a book in the background. But since he is two, we’ll settle for a video chat that doesn’t include a meltdown over his upcoming avocado snack, or him pulling down his pants to pee on the iPad. Promise him unlimited screen time if he can just sit still for the next three minutes.
You did it! Credibility has been established. Intellectual superiority is officially recognized. Now it’s time to dismantle the bookcase entirely and prepare it for your infant’s Google Hangout with the extended family. You do have a first edition Goodnight Moon, don’t you?