Lean mean hunting machine: I’m Not Cute!

A Board Book Every So Often! No. 25

I'm Not Cute! by Jonathan Allen

I’m Not Cute! by Jonathan Allen (Boxer Books 2008)

 

This is a book for everyone who’s had their cheek pinched, or been patted on the head, or even had their pushchair stopped in the street to have their cuteness commented on. Shout it out: “We’re not Cute!” …or at least, only when we want to be.

Baby Owl sees himself as a huge, sleek and scary hunting machine. Like every self-respecting owl, he has see-in-the-dark eyes and big soft and silent wings. Unfortunately, the other residents of the wood think he’s small, fluffy and cute, with big baby eyes. They just want to give him a hug.

But Baby Owl’s mum understands. She acknowledges his amazing skills, and he allows her to hug him. Then he rethinks the cute thing and throws a bit of a tantrum. His mum says he’s tired. The book ends with a bedtime story and Baby Owl tucked up to sleep, knowing that it’s all right for a scary hunting machine to seem cute to his mum.

Owl Babies, Martin Waddell & Patrick BensonI have to say this Baby Owl isn’t totally cute. Not as cuddly as the baby owls in Owl Babies, or as sweet as Little Owl in A Bit Lost, or as gorgeous as Wow Said The Owl. He’s got bandy chicken legs and currant bun eyes. He stamps, and frowns, and cringes when he’s patronised by Fox. He’s real. He’s EveryOwl. I'm Not Cute! Jonathan Allen

This simple story is a lovely way to explore toddler frustrations and a burgeoning sense of identity. Jonathan Allen has written and illustrated many delightful picture books and Baby Owl runs up again in I’m Not Scared, I’m Not Sleepy etc. exploring other familiar situations. This one will run and run.

Sleepy Baby for a non-subversive bedtime

A Board Book Every So Often! No. 24

 

Sleepy Baby, Fiona Watt & Catherine-Anne Mackinnon, Usborne Books

Sleepy Baby by Fiona Watt, illustrated by Catherine-Anne Mackinnan (Usborne 2006)

A touchy-feely book about bedtime.

I love Mick Inkpen’s Wibbly Pig books, but the bedtime one, Is It Bedtime, Wibbly Pig?, revolves around our eponymous pig’s joyful attempts at avoiding going to bed. Noooo – not what you want when you’re struggling to establish a smooth end-of-day routine with positive outcomes for all.

Sleepy Baby is just the thing. A simple line of text per page beginning with ‘It’s time…’ takes us through undressing, bath, brushing teeth, looking at a book, and finally saying ‘night night’. By the penultimate spread Baby is looking pretty sleepy, and in the final one is lying down, eyes shut, blissfully snuggled up with a soft blanket.

The cover and each double page has a textured something to explore – socks, nappy, towel, fluffy bunny ears, and Baby’s own snuggly. There are a few familiar toys and objects on each page to talk about, too. The colours are softly bright (that’s not impossible, right?), the pictures are large and clear, and the baby is not obviously a girl or a boy so is perfect for any family to identify with.

It’s a pity that the author and illustrator only get a mention on the back cover in rather small print.

This would be a lovely book to share every night to reinforce a calm, settled routine. Good luck with that, that’s all I have to say!

A toddle by the seaside

I’m definitely behind with this project, for all sorts of reasons. The baby is now nearly 7 months old and yet the board book numbers haven’t yet reached halfway through a year! So…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 23

 

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donaldson and Nick Sharratt

(Macmillan Children’s Books 2015)

 

Another pairing made in heaven – or in publishers’ heaven – picture book superstars Julia Donaldson’s charming way with rhythm ‘n rhyme and Nick Sharratt’s lovely, lively illustrations.

In Toddle Waddle a waddling toddler takes a walk with a mum in flip-flops – ‘Toddle waddle, flip flop’ – on the way gathering more and more characters all with their own distinctive noise. Until the toddler reaches some railings, where we get ‘Stop!’ (always a useful word to know). Over the page the early uncluttered scenes are replaced beyond the railings with a busy beach and all the fun actions and sounds that go with it: boing boing, splish splash, slurp slurp, and so on.

The next page features a bright red train with mum, toddler and friends aboard which delivers them to the pier and finally the end-of-the-pier show with more wonderful noises. The walk and the day finish with a pier beautifully silhouetted against the night sky and everyone waving bye-bye.

I love this book for all the potential in it. You can stay with the easy sound-making text or talk much more about what is going on. And there is a lot going on to talk about and find, but mostly things that should be familiar to a toddler – ducks, dogs, bikes, balls, horses, frogs, slides, trampolines, drums, and more. But at base it’s a simple story of taking a walk and seeing what’s going on all about you. An added extra for me is the bouncy seaside setting.

Diversity gets a mild look-in – the toddler is not obviously boy or girl so you can choose, there are people of different races including a glamorous black lady saxophonist (though I have to say most characters are white) and a boy on the beach is in a wheelchair (love to know how he got across the sand!)

There’s a sunny colour palette and although some pages are busy it still has a great uncluttered look about it – not too hard to find individual people or animals, even the tiny bee or snail.

Altogether this is a delightful book which should have plenty to interest for a long time.

Toddle Waddle by Julia Donmaldson and Nick Sharratt

Where’s Teddy? Bedtime angst addressed…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 22

No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee, Bloomsbury board book

No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee (Bloomsbury 2007)

 

A brilliant lift-the-flaps book written and illustrated by Nicola Smee, combining hide-and-seek, bedtime anxieties, and some delightfully helpful pets.

The little girl at the heart of this story is all ready for bed but can’t go until her teddy is found – but where is it? Cupboards, drawers and tablecloths are lifted to reveal a growing number of animals, but no Ted. I particularly like the flap which shows Grandpa to be sitting on a bag full of – could they be? – Werthers Originals. No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee, Bloomsbury board book

It turns out that Ted has been washed and is outside on the washing line – another anxiety about favourite huggies and suckies and soft toys. I recall one of my children kneeling before the washing machine, paws pressed to the glass door, while his cuddly quilt swished round inside. It had been cut in two and I was hoping he wouldn’t notice when the spare half was in for a much-needed wash.

Happy endings here with everyone snuggled up to sleep, and as the blurb says ‘loads for children to investigate, spot and count’. The little mice asleep in a pair of slippers are a lovely touch.

No Bed Without Ted by Nicola Smee, Bloomsbury Board BookReally simple text, with a rhyme on the short 4-line pages, makes for a manageable and familiar storyline, and the possibility of talking about emotions with a toddler. One flap shows our heroine with a tear on her cheek.

The colours are cheery and bright without being lurid. It reminds me of Where’s Spot?, but is a bit more sophisticated.

Bound to be a favourite!

 

Babies love babies

A Board Book Every Week: No. 21

The Big Book of Beautiful Babies Board Book by David Ellwand

The Big Book of Beautiful Babies Board Book by David Ellwand

(Ragged Bears Publishing 1999)

 

This was a second-hand find which hits the spot in several ways:

  • Babies are fascinated by faces and fascinated by other babies. At the back is a big mirror page to see themselves in.
  • The black-and-white format might make it attractive to the very young who respond to monochrome images.

The Big Book of Beautiful Babies Board Book by David EllwandMostly just two words per page and a rhyme, ‘Baby happy…Baby sad’, it’s a simple book of opposites. Messy/neat, quiet/loud, bottom/top and so on, some more meaningful to tinies than others – but that’s always the case with opposites books, I find.

  • The photographs are copyrighted 1995 and I feel it comes from a happily less gender-stereotyped era than now. The babies come in all shapes, races and sizes but it’s impossible to tell from clothes and hair what sex they are. No flowery headbands on baldies, no frills or car motifs, and of course no colour to give any clue.

It is a nice size, sturdy, and the shiny pages will wipe clean easily enough. The Big Book of Beautiful Babies by David Ellwand

Unlike this little one!

Dear Zoo without the frills…

A Board Book Every Week: No. 20

 Dear Zoo Animal Shapes board book by Rod Campbell - Macmillan Childrens Books

Dear Zoo Animal Shapes by Rod Campbell

(Macmillan Children’s Books 2012)

 

This is a nice sturdy board book version of the famous old favourite. I like it for babies because it simplifies the original (pretty simple) text down to the name of the animal and why it isn’t right e.g.

‘Giraffe … Too tall’

‘Monkey…. Too naughty’

Dear Zoo Animal Shapes by Rod Campbell

We do lose some of the aspects that make Dear Zoo such an endearing classic – the fresh white space on the page, the exciting packages the animals come in, and the refrain of repeated ‘So they sent me a … I sent him back’. The build-up of excitement isn’t so great, but there’s a big bright animal on every page and a description to go with it that prompts exaggerated sounds, faces and gestures. For babies at the stage of flipping back and forth through the pages rather than following a story this is quite enough.

But that leads me to another plus of Dear Zoo Animal Shapes – because the words are pared back none of the animals is a ‘he’. Or a ‘she’ or an ‘it’. As has been pointed out before, every animal in the original is male for absolutely no reason whatsoever except that it’s the habit of writers and readers* to depict without thinking a default all-male world. Here you can choose, swap it about, or not bother at all.

Dear Zoo Animal Shapes board book by Rod Campbell

Of course, we end up with the perfect pet!

*I still find myself doing this, calling animals ‘he’ unless it’s dead obvious – dresses, names – that they aren’t. Yet in the real world, half of all animals are female even though they don’t wear dresses, and they tend to keep their names a secret.

Arf! and Wow! A board book every week – or two

Computer problems meant that I couldn’t post for a couple of weeks, so here’s two for the price of one…

A Board Book Every Week: 18 and 19

Wow! said the owl by Tim Hopgood, Macmillan Children's Books

Wow! Said the Owl by Tim Hopgood (Macmillan Children’s Books 2012)

I know parents who are very very tired of reading the line ‘Wow! said the owl’, but come on, guys, it only turns up seven times in the book, not on every page.

This book isn’t perfect for under-ones: it’s another example of a large-format picture book (published 2009) turned into a board book, and Booktrust give it an interest age of 2+ . The text is not that gripping for real tinies, with some long complex sentences and a lot of words way beyond their comprehension. There’s no rhyme or rhythm to help, either. But I’ve chosen it because…

‘Wow!’ was just about what I said when I first saw it on the bookshop table. It has real eye-appeal.

It is gorgeous! Illustrations and colours to make your mouth water – a beautiful mix of line and wash and collage. The night-time pages are exquisite. I love the idea of exposing tiny children to a wide and wonderful world of images and styles.

The curious little owl is a female lead character – hurrah!Wow! said the owl by Tim Hopgood

She looks like an owl, not a ‘girl owl’. She has a really appealing face, with big owl eyes, but not a girly eyelash in sight!

There are lots of colours – and a rainbow – and a colour palette at the end to recap the colours seen.

The owl’s there to spot and point to on every double-page spread except for one, where you’ll have to settle for butterflies instead.

Any you do get to chant ‘Wow! said the owl’ over and over. We might not like the repetition but babies love it and learn best from it.

Can You Say It Too? Arf! Arf! by Sebastien Braun (Nosy Crow 2015)

Can you say it too? Arf! Arf! by Sebastien Braun, Nosy Crow Books

Now this is age-appropriate. Billed as ‘With BIG flaps to lift’, it’s simple, tough and fun, and the latest in a range of animal noise books from Nosy Crow. It has just five spreads, beautifully bright and sturdy, where different animals are hiding behind rocks, sandcastles and beach-balls.

I’m lucky enough to live at the seaside and I love seaside books. Seagulls, jellyfish and crabs are commonplace – sand not so much, on this stony bit of the south coast! And we would be very lucky if we were to spot seals, puffins or dolphins, though I live in eternal hope. But I like books that reflect some of a child’s own experience; they usually find this much more thrilling than even an exciting but unfamiliar setting. If this goes down a treat, we’ll be getting more ‘Can you say it too?’ books.

On that point, the nice thing about this book is that inside it doesn’t prompt the adult to demand, ‘Can you say it?’ Yes, lots of children love coming up with the right sound if they know it, but equally the pressure can be a real turn-off to any child who’s not there yet. There’s just the surprise picture and the noise to join in with.

Anyone up for a dolphin impression? Eeek! Eeek!

Dinosaurs roar for boys – and girls

Week-by-week I’m building a library of stimulating and diverse books for a baby…

A Board Book Every Week: No 17

Image result for dinosaur roar

Dinosaur Roar! by Paul Stickland & Henrietta Stickland (Doubleday 2015)

 

There’s a weird sort of gender apartheid amongst animals that seems to have sprung up since my own kids were little. You see it if you look at children’s tee shirts, sleepsuits and socks, birthday cards, even baby muslins. Manufacturers, designers and marketers have decided that only large, snappy, vibrant and possibly violent animals are of interest to boys, and only soft, fluffy, pale-coloured and supposedly amenable animals are suitable for girls.

Creatures in the middle of this silly spectrum create a few problems. Do children’swear companies not know that a single sweet bunny-rabbit can ravage an allotment? Badgers seem to be for boys: why? Is it that assertively stripy face, or the big digging paws? Butterflies are deemed girly, but where are we on moths? And the jury’s out on giraffes.

It’s as if no boy ever hugged a kitten, or no tiger ever came to tea with a little girl!

As for dinosaurs, they’re definitely seen as male territory, though there must be some boys who aren’t that interested.

But what’s not to love about a dinosaur for any child? (Or grown-up!) Claws, spikes, scales, tails, big teeth, tiny brains. Roaring about the landscape tearing up trees like giant house-plants. So I’m including Dinosaur Roar! here to balance out the fluffy bunnies, and for dinosaur-loving girls (and boys) everywhere.

First published in 1994 in larger paperback format, this is basically an ‘opposites’ book. Every page has a different adjective for a dinosaur – fast, slow, above, below, short, long, weak, strong. The occasional word isn’t very useful for tinies – meek, anyone? – because it is wanted for the rhyme. The dinosaurs here come in crazy colours and contrasting sizes. They have wonderful expressions. Even the fierce one looks as if he’s having a laugh. Their small eyes make them all look a bit intellectually-challenged. The two vivid spreads at the end of the book with dinosaurs, both carnivores and herbivores, eating lunch and making horrible noises, are great fun. And let us revisit all the different ones, and find our favourites again.

The book is published in association with the Natural History Museum and a percentage of the royalties is donated to this much-loved institution.

Sanguine spider spout situation

A Board Book Every Week: No 16

Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing baby Books (Templar Publishing)

Incy Wincy Spider – Amazing Baby Books (Templar Publishing 2015)

 

We might not be very fond of spiders in real life, but in children’s stories and nursery rhymes it’s quite another matter. Incy Wincy Spider has long been a favourite, with its simple story, easy gestures and virtually one-syllable vocabulary. Again, in real life we say drainpipe instead of water spout, but that doesn’t seem to matter. Sun, rain, up, down – it’s nice clear stuff, and Incy’s jolly pragmatism chimes well with little ones who are constantly falling over and getting up again. Incy Wincy – you are role model.

Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing Baby BooksThis Amazing Baby version is great. The text appears on the left-hand page, with a bright picture opposite, each with textured section – including sparkly textured raindrops (my favourite!)  The sun page is sunny yellows, the rain page is blue and grey. There are dots, checks, zigzags and spirals galore and many of the images have a thick black outline, the patterns and contrasts making this book appeal to small babies as well as older ones. The spider is glittery green, textured, and always cheerful.Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing Baby Books

The only thing I wished they had managed to include – texture on the spider web.

So – simple, effective and fun.

And I’ve just realised: Incy Wincy is neither a boy or a girl. So if it floats your boat, you could refer to our sanguine spider as a ‘she’.

Incy Wincy Spider - Amazing Baby Books

Picture book blogger Library Mice has recently written about another Amazing Baby book here.

 

Oh, I do love to be beside the seaside…

A Board Book Every Week: No 15

(Or almost every week…)

 

Deep Deep Sea by Frann Preston-Gannon (Pavilion Children's Books)

Deep Deep Sea by Frann Preston-Gannon (Pavilion Children’s Books 2014)

 

Being lucky enough to live near the sea – and having been obsessed with the seaside all my life – I like to collect sea-themed books. Illustrated books make this project even more fun. So I’ve tried to find some baby board books that feature seaside stuff that will become familiar to our baby mermaid and here is the first one.

The gorgeous Deep Deep Sea is essentially a simple colour and counting book, with a gentle palette of Deep Deep Sea by Frann Preston-Gannon (Pavilion Children's Books) sea colours – quite unusual in baby books. That may make it less than high-contrast, but there are plenty of bright beady eyes to find on the sea creatures. Okay, I concede that whales, green turtles and seahorses don’t turn up every day on the beach. And I’ve been on dolphin spotting trips and never seen a blooming one! But I live in hope.

Frann Preston-Gannon makes lovely illustrated books: subtle and mainly subdued colours, flattish images, but rich in texture. There’s something slightly poignant about it all. I definitely want more.

One aspect that appealed to me about this book is that after reaching ‘5 red starfish’ it gives up on subsequent tougher numbers and leaps straight to the exciting ‘100 colourful fish’. I haven’t counted them all. There had better be one hundred – but I’ll leave that to busy little fingers a few years down the line.