A Board Book Every Week – No 5:
Clap Hands by Helen Oxenbury (Walker Books 1987)
Last year, on the 25th anniversary of We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, I heard Helen Oxenbury talk about its origins. She said how glad she was to have this lively text to interpret and illustrate. She had been working for ages on a very simple set of baby books – with one image per page – and was bored, bored, bored. The series of little books she referred to (Playing, Dressing, Friends, I Can etc) was one I had relied on heavily with my own babies. Before I heard this I’d been thinking of complimenting her on them as I queued up for my signed copy of Bear Hunt. Instead I kept quiet. I didn’t want to confess that I loved those books that had ended up boring her.
But they really do have their place. I used them when I was stocking a library for very young and developmentally-delayed children. One image per page, and lots of white space to keep it clear, is much more user-friendly than stylised or complex pictures. (See my post about what makes a good first book.) And I also invested in the series that this week’s chosen board book comes from. The babies who people every page have deceptively simple features which reflect a whole range of appearances in a subtle but unmistakable way, so they were good for a diverse audience. And, very cleverly, the clothing hasn’t dated, so the books work well for contemporary readers.
Clap Hands is a large-format board book with four double-page spreads. Big babies take up all the space, doing joyous everyday baby stuff to a minimal text. Actually just 23 words in total. Short rhyming phrases. Perfect for very short concentration spans. (You can tell it’s affecting me now!)
First published by Walker Books in the 1980s, this series includes All Fall Down, Say Goodnight, and Tickle,Tickle. I chose Clap Hands because it has the easiest actions for young babies to join in with – clapping, banging, waving. Waving and clapping are very early physical skills – lovely and sociable, too – and it’s easy for grown-ups to help babies on laps to do the actions in this book. They may not be able literally to ‘dance and spin’ yet like the toddlers in the illustration but they can be danced on laps and even spun about.
The other titles are great, but I’d recommend Say Goodnight as part of a good bedtime routine. The soporific images of babies and grown-ups are enough to make anyone feel sleepy!