A Board Book Every Week: No. 6
My Animals by Xavier Deneux (Bloomsbury 2007)
The point of little books in high contrast black-and-white is to stimulate a baby’s early visual development. The newborn’s retina registers only dark and light so the plethora of pastel baby stuff that surrounds them won’t make much impact. Red, black and white, stripes and concentric circles and zigzags will command a very young baby’s attention. (That, and the faces of their favourite people, of course.)
But, but, but – it’s hard to share a book of geometric shapes, and shared attention and cuddles are what board books are really about. Monochrome books get propped up around cots and prams and beside the mat when the baby’s having a kickabout on the floor. Shared on a lap – not so much. They don’t have the content that creates a beloved book you return to again and again.
For most babies whose development is progressing along expected lines they won’t be in use for very long. Like a gorgeous outfit for a newborn, they’ll soon be back in the cupboard, outgrown. So I’ve chosen My Animals because it fits the bill for early visual stimulation but has staying power too. It’s sold as ‘a black and white book for babies and beyond’ and I’d say that claim is true.
It’s a fat book with glossy boards, one animal per page, and a fingertip-sized hole that leads through to the next image. Sometimes the hole highlights a witty detail: a fish, a butterfly, an eye, and my favourite – Panda’s tummy button. On other pages the hole merely shows the line of a back or a few stripes. At first I thought this a bit disappointing, but then I realised that the design is really clever and satisfying, each image echoing the last one or integrated into the next.
Okay, a baby won’t appreciate this, but we adults can – and maybe we’re training up not only immature visual skills but a future eye for art and design elements all around. I firmly believe that you’re going to get more shared attention with developmentally-appropriate books and toys, but within that you shouldn’t just stick to the cute and the bland.
The animals range from cat, bird and dog to more exotic crocodile, hippo and penguin. Never having seen a live zebra doesn’t seem to hold a small child back from getting excited about them. They have the necessary Vis. Stim. spots and stripes but being animals the interest will last longer, and the poke-a-finger-through-the-hole thing is great.
Occasional flashes of vivid petrol-blue or orange lift the monochrome palette. The cover is matte black, a slightly weird texture – to me anyway – and, judging by those on the bookshop shelf, marks easily. But any baby book that gets good use will soon show signs of wear. Like those teddy-bears you can see have been very well-loved.